Written by Tim King
Xi’an’s expat community is becoming increasingly large and diverse. Keeping pace with the city’s development, the Western Peace is now host to people from every continent and walk of life. With those diverse interests, it can be difficult to find common ground amongst ourselves, but one of our own hopes to create a rallying point for the entire community.
Adrian Yeo, who first came to live in Xi’an roughly eighteen months ago, got the idea from similar events happening he had seen in his native Singapore. He shared his idea with several expat community leaders, who were initially apprehensive about the time-intensive nature of such an event. “[They] told me they had always wanted a flea market, but there was no time,” he recalls. “I felt that I could try it…it was a green light.”
The first thing he needed was a venue, a big enough space where everyone could be comfortable. “Back home, we have it in a park,” he recalls. “Initially, we just wanted a space of our own.” After weeks of searching, Adrian found that one of the best options was the Defuxiang Bar Street, and among the myriad storefronts, the perennial foreigner watering hole, 3as4, was the best fit for the market. “[Samantha, 3as4’s owner] gave us the most support, and with the outside, it seemed that this would be the best place possible.”
With a location settled, the next obstacle was finding participants; not just curious shoppers, but vendors. This proved to be a tall order—the community is always growing, but it can still seem very small when compared to other cities with more robust foreign populations. Luckily for Adrian, two of Xi’an’s more established groups stepped up to help make the first Community Flea Market a success: Xianease magazine helped with advertising, and the Hash House Harriers, the self-proclaimed “drinking club with a running problem” provided the bodies.
“Many of the vendors in the first market were from the Hash House Harriers. Xianease helped a lot with advertising and getting in some vendors,” he explains. “They’re a great platform to meet other foreigners; I think without them, this probably would not have started.”
On market days, these vendors set up in and around 3as4’s signature black-and-pink façade to show off some of the finest goods that Xi’an has to offer: jewelry, soap, sausages, cupcakes, coffee, instant pudding, and homemade tortillas are just a small sampling of the trinkets and edibles available for purchase from members of our community. On the busiest days, it becomes something more, packed with customers and well-wishers buying, barbecuing, and imbibing.
Organizing such a gathering is not without its challenges, however. First and foremost is funding. “The financial aspect is the most challenging. I couldn’t find a sponsor for the first event—I sponsored it myself,” Adrian admits. “But it’s not always about dollars and cents…for the first two or three events [the vendors] were using it as a platform, to test new products, to network.”
The vendors themselves all seem to appreciate the experience. Fish, a co-organizer and self-described “girlboss” of her own jewelry shop, says it’s helped add a personal touch to her business, and to put a face to her brand. “People now recognize me as ‘Fish, the jewelry gal’. Many customers turned into friends, they know who to look for when need a genuine piece of jadeite jewelry.”
Javier Munguia, a teacher in Xi’an, can attest to the market’s magnetic appeal, having found himself a partner in Froman’s Sausages after attending. “My wife was planning to sell some granola or cookies or something but she ended up not having time to make those things,” he explains. “A week before, I went to the butcher and made sausages. She didn’t have anything to sell and she really wanted to participate…so I told her to take the sausages from the fridge and go sell them. I went with her. I wasn’t really planning on selling my sausages. I just made them for myself. My friend Patrick had a stand reserved to sell sausages and he had invited me to go sell with him. Since he already had the BBQ going, it was easy to join him. People seemed to really like the chorizo so I was encouraged to take part in the flea market again.”
Shaughnessy White of Ayatana Soap shares a similar story of community support at the market: “Everyone that saw or tried or bought our soap was really happy with it. The exposure was really, really good.” However, he worries that its current Bar Street location may not be the best fit. “It would be great for Xi’an to have a flea market—there’s a lot of artisanal stuff that goes on that people don’t really know about, but I think a place with more foot traffic in the day would be better.”
Adrian, for his part, admits that it’s a work in progress. “Whether this makes money is not on the top of my mind…it’s for the foreign community, for us to meet once a month, see how it goes. I hope it will get bigger and bigger.” The search for sponsors continues. In the meantime he’s experimenting with format and organization, and is ever cognizant of the market’s future as he hunts for a less “al fresco” venue for winter iterations of the market. Fish echoes his sentiments. “We are hoping the after-effect of the impact will get stronger so we can push the market in a bigger scale and provide more services in the near future,” she says, before offering a cheerful summation of what the community flea market is at its core. “Each month, friendship and business grow together, what’s better than that?”