Cabbage Companionship

19 Dec 2006

This year the Old Drum Tower Outer Street New People’s Produce Market has become a habitual meeting place for hundreds of old and unemployed people in Beijing. At 8.30 each morning they line up to receive their free head of cabbage.

This seemingly bizarre ritual has benefits for both parties involved: market managers give away cabbage to attract multitudes of fixed-income, older citizens, providing them with a source of food and entertainment, in the hope that the crowds will attract younger, wealthier morning commuters.

Cabbage arrives on the Beijing market in November, and was traditionally used as an insurance against uncertain harvests during the long winter months. Today winter markets have plenty more attractive produce on offer, but cabbage retains its appeal, especially for older people.

Most retirees in Beijing have limited resources and unlimited time to fill, and many of the people queuing admitted that waiting for the free cabbage was a social event as much an economic necessity: during the hours-long wait they sing, argue and keep each other company.

Source: The New York Times

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