Denizens of the Green Lake area and other passersby may have noticed that hip shopping and dining street Wenhua Xiang has become increasingly crammed at nighttime over recent months with street vendors.
A surprising aspect of this illegal street bazaar is that many of the vendors are apparently affluent twentysomethings who are selling clothing and other items out of the back of shiny new cars.
Despite the swelling tide of private cars in Kunming, they are still considered a luxury in China and it has raised some eyebrows that people who could afford one would want to sell clothing on the street.
It appears that the phenomenon is at least partly caused by car ownership itself, as young car owners make ends meet by generating extra income at night as vendors, according to a Kunming Daily report. But it has also been spurred by Kunming's spiraling inflation and stagnant wage growth for younger workers.
A women selling winter coats on Wenhua Xiang out of the back of a red Chevy explained how her business worked.
"Our coats are of similar quality to the ones in stores, but we're selling them for half the price," the woman told Kunming Daily. "We make a profit of about 200 to 300 yuan a night. We just need to work here a few days every month to earn enough to buy fuel for the car plus have some extra spending money."
A new university graduate surnamed Fan said that she had first started selling notebooks at Wenhua Xiang last year with her university roommate, but that it had been as much a hobby as anything else. But once she entered the workforce she felt compelled to once again start working nights as a vendor.
"I started working a full-time job this year, earning 3,000 yuan a month," Fan said. "But the way prices keep going up, I've been spending practically my whole salary every month and I started thinking about how to supplement my livelihood."
Upon returning to Wenhua Xiang, Fan noticed that the number of vendors had increased from an average of around 10 at a time last year to 70 or 80 by the end of this year. "It seems as if everybody's having a hard time [making ends meet]," said Fan.
"If it weren't for these vendors, the whole street would be empty by 10pm," a Wenhua Xiang resident surnamed Zhang told Kunming Daily. "Instead, at 10pm the racket is only starting. The noise interferes with kids doing their homework and elderly people sleeping." He added that the booths often block the way when he is trying to drive his car home.
A chengguan officer said that the urban enforcement workers patrolled the street every day from 6pm to 10pm, but that vendors laid out their wares as soon as the patrols passed by. He said that chengguan officers had a mandate to punish everybody who violates regulations and Wenhua Xiang vendors were not being given a free pass just because they were white collar workers.
For their part, vendors said they wished they had a legal place to set up stalls or sell from their cars.
"Maybe we can imitate foreign countries and open some designated flea markets," one vendor said.
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