I was standing at my hostel’s reception desk, talking to the guy there when a Dutch tourist rushed in, breathlessly asking, “How much does a horse cost?”
The receptionist was a bit speechless at first, but eventually responded with, “You want to buy a horse?”
“Well, just, how much would it cost? If I did want to.”
“Why would you want to? What would you do with it?”
“I just want to know how much a horse costs.”
Reception guy was laughing by now. “I don’t really know.”
The Dutch tourist was getting frustrated, while I was quite amused by the whole thing. “Ok, just very roughly, how much for one horse?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” said the receptionist, laughing quite hard by now, “I’ve never bought a horse.”
I had arrived in Shaxi the previous evening, and my timing was impeccable. Today was Friday, market day.
Shaxi has not only its main market in the centre of town, but also just across the river you’ll find the animal market, which is where my tourist friend had been. He explained that he’d been watching the negotiations and was trying to see how much money was changing hands, but was unable to get a good view.
I decided to check it out for myself. Maybe I could buy a horse too.
As I walked in several pairs of eyes turned to look at me and I felt very self-conscious. What was I, a white tourist, doing in the animal market? With a giant camera, no less?
Was it ok if I took pictures? The animals’ owners do tend to stand around with big sticks used for pointing, prodding and occasionally whacking them. Maybe they didn’t want all this documented. I didn’t know, so I decided to be very cautious about what and who I took photos of.
The market is in a big fenced-off dirt lot, and there are roughly sections for horses, cows, and pigs.
The pigs are in small pens, often a bunch of smaller piglets within and what is obviously their mama just outside, not even tied up. I guess the farmers know mama’s not going anywhere when her babies are all there!
When a pig is sold, they have to get it into a truck somehow. With the small ones it’s not a big deal, but for the bigger ones it’s kind of tricky. You can’t just pick a large hog up around its middle, it’s too big and heavy and awkward. The pig, of course, somehow knows what is happening and resists, squealing with everything it’s got and squirming out of the way of any grabbing hands.
So how do you get a reluctant pig in your truck? Two or three people get on either end of it and pick it up by its ears and tail. Needless to say, the pig doesn’t appreciate this, and the squealing increases in volume and intensity. The people struggle, they maybe drop it once as it struggles, and finally piggy gets very ungracefully chucked up into the truck. It’s not pleasant to watch. Or hear.
The rest of the market actually seems to consist of a whole lot of people standing around staring at the animals.
I guess buying livestock takes a lot of careful consideration and examination. You’d be sure to look closely for any kind of ailment. You’d want a strong, well-built cow, probably one with good child-bearing hips and a well-developed udder.
They’re probably checking out behaviour too. Nobody wants an aggressive horse. Or a timid one either. A certain temperament would be required for a horse you plan to ride.
I also think it was part of the negotiation process. Like in any kind of bargaining, you don’t want to look too eager! So it’s better to stand around nonchalantly, chatting with your buddies and pointing out the animals’ faults instead of just going up and buying the one you really want.
And when they weren’t busy staring at the livestock, well, they were staring at me. I guess they don’t get too many white girls with big cameras coming to visit their market!
When you’re finished at the market, if you don’t have a truck, you walk your goats home.
And you know what? I still have no idea how much a horse costs.