Whispering market continues 100-year tradition

Secret bargains: Two buyers whispering their bids to a seller at the Whispering Fish market in Kuala Muda.

KEPALA BATAS - For decades, it has been hush-hush and murmurs at the Whispering Fish Market where sellers and buyers conduct their transactions discreetly.

A fisherman strode in with his catch, and a hush fell over the buyers.

The fisherman just stood silently over his pile of about 1.5kg of fresh, mid-sized prawns.

Interested buyers gathered around and pondered on the value.

Soon, a man stepped forward and whispered an offer price into the fisherman's ear, who shook his head.

Then organic farmer Kim Chuah, 55, came up and murmured her bid.

"I offered him RM40 and he agreed. It's much cheaper compared to other markets," she said later. The prawns were hers.

The business practices of confidentiality and "willing buyer, willing seller" have been observed strictly for over a century at the Whispering Fish Market.

Set by the banks of the river of Sungai Muda at the northern border of mainland Penang near here, all bids are whispered into the fishermen's ears.

Money is discreetly passed between the buyer and seller once the amount has been agreed upon.

"Except for wholesalers who buy large amounts, the rest of us don't weigh what we plan to buy. We just assess the offerings by sight and make a bid on impulse," said Chuah, a regular customer.

However, she cautioned that the highest bid might not clinch the deal.

"We were told that the fishermen sometimes accept lower bids because the bidder is a regular customer or a friend.

"It's just like how shopkeepers give special discounts to loyal customers," she explained.

Among those captivated by the practice here was French fishmonger Sebastian Trochon, 34, who was on holiday at Chuah's organic farm in Machang Bubok.

"In France, our wholesale fish markets use large screens to display the fishermen's offer prices. All transactions are openly declared.

"I have travelled to many parts of the world and love to visit fish markets. This one is truly unique," Trochon said.

However, this has been a practice for decades in the markets on both sides of the river in Penang and Kedah.