Whispering Fish Market of Penang, Malaysia


There's a fishing village on Penang's border.  Here you find a long-kept & unique tradition. The fishing village is called Kuala Muda. They run a fish market, &  hold an auction to sell their catch. But what’s really unique is that for some wildly bizarre reason they hold a whispering auction.

You approach the market via sun-baked alleyways lined by old wooden fishermen’s houses.

Soon you see the fishermen coming in from their catch . . .

securing their gear & fishing boats.

Deckhands prepare their nets for the next catch . . . 

while an old, rough-faced fisherman watches.

Buyers hang out in front of their shacks as the fishermen stroll to the market.

This poker-faced agent steels himself for the upcoming bartering, his business phonebook conveniently displayed behind him.

A single customer comes in & surveys the fish offerings while preparing himself for hard negotiations.

Praying mantis shrimp fill a basket tray. To the uninitiated they’re notoriously hard to peel, but they’re a local favorite among the Malay.

A fisherman apprehensively sizes up his potential buyers.

A couple of old Chinese men—one mostly blind—sit nearby watching the antics. 

One Malay customer brings his beautiful little daughter along . . .  

perhaps correctly thinking that her presence will gain him a better price when he buys fish.

A young buff guy looks over the fish market scene, careful to guard his cool essence.

A young Malay teen laughs after finding that this ancient jukebox still works. For a couple cheap coins he will annoy the auction buyers & sellers with loud pop music.

A Malay housewife carefully considers her purchases & how she’ll haggle to get a fair deal.

Another Malay mother has made her first offer. But the seller mocks her, saying he’d have to call to the boss before he could ever sell fish that cheaply!

A seasoned old Chinese buyer and a Malay fisherman size up each other as they prepare to barter.

The whispering begins, participants hovering close to make sure no one else overhears.

The Chinese gentleman has learned the importance of confidentiality, cupping his hand over the seller’s ear as he whispers.

Nearby other intense negotiations quietly erupt.

One man visibly balks at the offer he’s heard.

A fish buyer strains to hear a whispered counter-offer.

Then a real player steps forward. This Chinese man communicates an air of intense seriousness as he approaches the deal.

Breaking the intensity, an Chinese lady offers him some advice . . . ,

& they banter back & forth . . .

lightening the mood.

Final negotiations close in on the deal as others cut separate deals & many look on.

Finally, a catch is sold & wrapped up to be taken away.

A father departs with his son . . .

taking purchases back to be inspected by the women & children.

There’s serious talk about this whispering fish market getting relocated to a new, nearby location in the near future due to flood mitigation.  That makes sense. But some locals insist that they have not been consulted in the plans about the new location, & they fear that their market may just get the axe. 

As a photographer, I’ll mourn seeing this old, original location destroyed, though I understand that places do need to be upgraded. I just hope they don’t kill this unique cultural phenomenon—Malaysia’s only whispering fish market.

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