The Xiaohusai Market Experience
By Bennett Tung
In an ocean of people flooding Shanghai’s city center, a bustling pop-up market is alive with the pitter-patter of footsteps and the chitter-chatter of casual family conversations: the Commune Market. Xiaohusai has long been a partner with pop-up markets like these. For our team, it’s an opportunity to not only sell our tea, but to share our message with the Shanghai community. On January 1st and 2nd of 2022, we kicked off the year by doing exactly that.
The selling process is simple, yet deceptively hard to master. We arrive before the market opens to set up our stand, carefully laying out our tea and putting up our signs. As business begins, the pedestrians of the Shanghai streets gradually filter into the venue with an air of curiosity. People on casual strolls through the market stalls are often not in search of anything in particular, but rather perusing through a long stream of potential products to buy. Thus, we always greet people with a polite hello first, and more often than not, they stroll onwards with no more than a courteous nod. However, some do stop to hear our story.
“Hello! We’re Xiaohusai, a student-run enterprise based in Shanghai,” we say in Mandarin or English, depending on the customer. “Would you like to try some of our tea?” Grabbing our thermos, we pour out an aromatic cup of pu-erh or black tea as a free sample. As they take small sips, we unravel our story and our mission, explaining how their purchase can contribute to bettering the lives of rural farming families in Yunnan. If we’re lucky, they’ll decide to buy some of our tea, but often they’ll move on with a smile and an empty cup at their fingertips. That’s the disappointing part, but the market continues nonetheless. These one-on-one conversations make up the market experience. “What we sell at markets isn’t just tea. We sell the feeling of being involved in something greater than ourselves,” says Daniel Wu, leader of Xiaohusai, when reflecting on the experience. “It’s not just about selling; it’s also about making connections with people.”
As the sky dims to darkness, it’s still illuminated by the never-sleeping city lights. We take note of all that we had sold that day and begin to clear the table. While some market days may be less successful than others, we’re always grateful for the opportunity. Carrying our items in a tightly-packed cardboard box, we await the moment that we’ll open it next, knowing that another market opportunity will approach soon enough.