I have been going to swap meets (chợ trời) for as long as I can remember with my family. But in my youth I was never very keen on these sites despite my penchant for bargain hunting. That is, until my partner’s strange enthusiasm for swap meets became a little infectious. He has dragged me to practically every swap meet in the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Orange County. We even make it a point to visit the Honolulu swap meet each time we vacation there. Occasionally, when the time is right, we have peddled our household junk at a few swap meets in Riverside and San Diego. The old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure couldn’t be more spot on than at chợ trời.
With an ethnographer’s eye, I have observed the social interactions at swap meets in curious wonder and become quite appreciative of the multi-lingual banter I overhear between vendors and their patrons and among the throngs of bargain-seeking shoppers. A Vietnamese man selling used housewares might declare the price of an item to his Spanish-speaking shopper just so, “Cincuenta centavos, Amigo. Barato!” Hand gestures also assist much of the cross-cultural exchange that occur there.
So when we moved to Orange County recently, we were sure there would be a fabulous swap meet or two to explore given the demographics in the area. What we didn’t expect was a FREE swap meet experience at the Goldenwest Swap Meet (15744 Golden West Street, Huntington Beach, California 92647). No charge for parking. No charge to get in. Not that the swap meets we frequented before were expensive, but $1 per person might seem a waste if you don’t come home with anything at the end of the day. If you are in San Diego or plan to visit, definitely check out Kobey’s Swap Meet at the Sports Arena (3350 Sports Arena Boulevard San Diego, CA 92110). It will cost you $1 to get in but well worth it for the size and scope.
In Orange County, however, I am a fan of Goldenwest. It has the usual swap meet fare of new and used housewares, clothes, electronics, etc. My partner likes this one for the used handyman tools. If you are hungry the swap meet menu includes tacos, churros, and other fried fatty foods. However, Goldenwest offers boba drinks, smoothies, roasted corn and sometimes even bánh mì! There’s a vendor who has a large selection of old records and books for 50 cents a piece. Take that, Amazon.com!
I especially loved Goldenwest’s produce stalls where you can buy in-season fruits and veggies for dirt cheap. I think of these stalls as farmers markets for the working class because their fruits and produce are locally grown and distributed but the price is about half what you would spend at your average farmer’s market. As I was in line to buy my week’s worth of fruits his past Sunday (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, cherry tomotoes, sweet black grapes, and manila mangos–all for $6!) the elderly Vietnamese woman behind me gave the lady in front of me her personal tip on washing fruit: a little dish soap (!) followed by two rinses of warm water. The man behind her raised his eyebrows in bewilderment. And the lady in front answered with, “Tôi để chức muối thôi! (I just use a little salt).” These are the conversations I am privy to all over Orange County, but they are so much more concentrated in small stalls of immigrants speaking either Spanish or Vietnamese at the swap meet. Chợ trời is to the immigrant elder what the mall is to an American teenager–a playground where you put your best social self forward. If you are working on your garden and need plants or trees, you can buy them here as well. There is truly something for everyone at chợ trời.
~Thúy Võ Đặng
Did you like this post? Then please take the time to rate it (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. Thanks!