I never went to the real animal markets in Guangzhou. I arrived in the city as a vegetarian, but after a couple of weeks working in Dongguan and the ATV Performing Arts Academy living on a diet of cafeteria food in which the choice was vegetables with indecipherable ground-up dead animal or fish with vegetables, I went for the latter.
Later, I went through a stage of eating everything offered. This was partially because my vegetarianism had caved in and partially out of a curiosity about just what did pickled cow intestine taste like (car tyres, I imagine). Later still, having tried many things once, and certain never to try them again (all forms of offal being number one on the list), I cut back my ravenous dead animal masticating to almost pre-China levels, accompanied by a rise in moral repulsion at the abattoir-centred industrial slaughter of meat units.
So, I never went to the Guangzhou animal market, but heard stories of gargantuan horror from old Guangzhou residents, accompanied by the pacifying coda of, “it’s alot cleaner now”, though many of my friends would never go there, being as repulsed as I was. Even still, I saw some fairly upsetting sights of caged animals waiting to become dinner at my local restaurants.
On the flip-side to this, I shopped at markets almost daily, and it didn’t take long to recognise which markets were good (smell nice, lots of people, fresh everything), and which were on the dodgy side (smell skanky, everything a bit wilted, but most importantly, few people and friends advising me to go somewhere else). And while I saw some less than pleasant sights, there was nothing comparably worse than the vileness of western battery hen cages. The difference is in the west it’s concealed behind happy packaging, whereas in China it’s in your face. I’d think many more westerners would be vegetarian if they had to watch their evening meal have its neck sliced open every day.
CNN, which I’m very reluctant to recognise as a legitimate news source has this piece, ostensibly on the Guangzhou fresh meat markets, but more on building hysteria through a chain of locations and events which go something like this: atrocious and squalid conditions in the markets – mixed groups of stressed animals – humans ‘cheek by jowl’ – cross-pollination of viruses and other biological nasties – irresponsible government prone to cover-ups – Baiyun International airport … SARS, bird flu, death death death …
My scepticism of which is not to be interpreted as being commie apologist, or ignoring the potential pandemic if things turn ugly. But in response: Maleria, Cholera, Typhus … until the world leaders stop pissing around with the lives of millions with diseases which have been curable for decades, the SARS/Bird Flu story reads like a rather lame beat-up.