The words 'Southeast Asian wet market' bring to mind images of bounty - heaps of gorgeous fresh vegetables, showy mounds of extravagantly colored fruit, the glint of sun off the scales of dozens of varieties of fish.
We find the opposite at this weekly market in western Sumatra, about thirty kilometers south of the Aceh border. Though it's lively in the way that once-a-week markets are, the selection of produce is limited. Stall after stall of dried fish is a testament to the local standard of living. Fresh fish and vegetables are expensive, dried fish can stretch a meal among family members and over days.
This woman sells cabe, or chilies. Tiga tumpuk - three piles - of cabe, to be exact (the chilies in the basket are another vendor's and she's selling the stink beans in front of her chilies for a neighbor). Each tumpuk sells for 2,000 rupiah (foreigner's price?), or less than 25 cents. She grows them in her garden and makes the trek to this market every week to sell her 'harvest', rarely more than five tumpuk in total.
'They're good chilies! Very hot,' she assures us. And agrees to pose with her produce.
Catcalls ensue immediately. 'Look pretty! Smile! You're going to be on TV!' Most of the hecklers are young male CD vendors with outrageous haircuts.
She doesn't know what to make of it, at first. But then she gets into the swing.
We're on the road and have no kitchen, but buy two tumpuk anyway. It's the least we can do, for a smile like that.