Everything Is Illuminated

James Oseland

My favorite time of day in Southeast Asia isn't day; it's night. In countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and, Indonesia, that's when the afternoon's scorching heat wanes and a parallel world of shopping unfolds. Starting around suppertime, vendors at the earliest pasar malam (as night markets are called in Indonesia and Malaysia) lay out a gorgeous banquet of dishes, most of which they've cooked in their homes earlier in the day: grilled fish, an endless array of curries, stir-fries, and much more. As the night progresses, markets selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients crop up around town, too; Pasar Tuman Ciledug, in Jakarta, zigzags through block after block of the city's streets. At full swing, around 4 a.m., it's a remarkable experience: thousands of shoppers, from housewives to students, browse tubs of shrimp and piles of coconuts under low-hanging bare lightbulbs. In one stall, a child sleeps atop a bag of rice. At another, a group of friends smoke clove cigarettes. Everything is hushed yet vibrant. I drink it all in.