By Paul Kam
As we walked through the streets of Zheng Cuo An market in Xiamen, China, my senses were flooded with the colourful sights, smell and sounds that street markets around the world shares. Unconsciously, my attention was drawn to specific shops and then I realised why… Innovation.
At its best I saw how an ordinary item was transformed into an extraordinary creation. In Malaysia, the roti canai is simple and common favourite. In this market, it is a tourist attraction and specialty snack. Repackaged as an Indian biscuit with condiments (In Du Bing) and served as a snack eaten throughout the day. The skilled makers attracts hordes of people with their flipping and twirling skills. In a land where food is revered the In Du Bing has transformed into a unique food.
Innovation also makes common products uncommon. In this market, big, fat, small, long or short sausages made of all types of meat are everywhere. And yet, one peddler managed to stop us in our tracks. Sausages apparently taste better when fried together with river rocks! We may consider it a gimmick but it piqued our curiosity enough to try it. And yes, the sausages did taste pretty good. If not for the rocks, we would not even have given her stall a second look!
Sometimes combining a few good ideas makes for innovation. One shop not only promoted their rock bottom prices, they did it with dancers standing on top of boxes! Swaying to the beat of the music, one can’t help but be drawn to the signs they were holding. Inevitably, this corner became a landmark for us.
In the most populated country in the world, there is an intense need for individuals to distinguish themselves and to carve a niche where it is so easy to be hidden amongst the crowd. The daily fight for survival is constant and unrelenting. It has reminded me that individuals are the core of innovation. Not companies. And that innovation is never a one off thing.
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