Old Hanzheng Street, reputedly the oldest and one of the largest wholesale markets in China, offers a fascinating spectacle as well as everything from laughing Buddhas to plastic slippers There?s almost a Taoist logic to the flow of people and traffic on Hankou?s bustling Old Hanzheng Street. Shoppers compete for limited space with pushcarts piled high with bananas and motorcycles weighed down with boxes. Shirtless ?stick-men? balance more than 100 shirts on the two ends of their shoulder poles as they bounce down the street in harmony with the up-and-down movement of their heavy loads. The crowd suddenly opens as a porter or vehicle winds its way down the street shouting ?Rang! Rang!?, Chinese for ?Make way!?. And just as suddenly, these deliverymen disappear as they are swallowed by the crowd. Amid all of this, peddlers display their goods on plastic sheets on the street ? or even an odd folding bed ? and hawkers prepare Chinese snacks on makeshift stoves. Two fortune tellers tap their way down the middle of the street with canes, advertising their services by clanging a metal finger clapper. Amazingly, they make their way through without bumping into anyone or anything. For close to 500 years, beginning in the Ming Dynasty, Old Hanzheng Street has supplied Hubei province, and much of central China, with a wide variety of consumer goods and daily necessities. Located where the Yangtze and Han rivers converge, Old Hanzheng Street has been the main street in Hankou since the 16th century. In fact, it is reputed to be one of the biggest wholesale markets in China ? and the oldest, with Wuhanese referring to it as ?the first street under heaven?. This is also home to some of the city?s laozihao, or famous old brand names. The old Ye Kaitai Drug Store was born here, as was the Su Hengtai Umbrella Shop, which specialises in oiled-paper umbrellas. Business slumped to a halt in 1949 following liberation, but the market street was allowed to resume operations with China?s reopening in 1979, when about a dozen intrepid getihu, or small entrepreneurs, began peddling goods here again. Today the area boasts some 12,000 vendors. Rural shopkeepers still come here to buy goods to sell in their villages. It?s particularly crowded during Chinese New Year, when people flock here to buy decorations, food and other goods for the holiday. One can find just about any product here, and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to what is available: table cloths, belts, grass mats, T-shirts, toys, bras, laughing Buddhas, sunglasses, Chinese art, plastic slippers, plants, mahjong sets, bags, pottery. The list goes on and on. And there is more than what you see on the street. Venture down one of the side lanes and you?ll find yourself in a maze of countless tiny stands and snack shops that seems to go on forever. One Wuhan travel magazine boasted about the market?s reputation for customer service, describing a merchant who tied an ox in front of his shop to prove his sweaters were the real thing. This point is also driven home by a series of life-size bronze statues that can be found along the street. One shows a blind merchant and children, symbolising that neither the old nor the young will be cheated here. A statue of a clerk measuring material at a cloth shop signifies that no miscalculations will be made. In recent years, the street has spawned its own urban myths. Wuhanese revel in telling rags-to-riches tales about the street?s entrepreneurs, gushing about how money almost effortlessly flows into their pockets, ?as easily as a child finding his way home?. Hanzheng Street is also a good place to sample snacks from across China. One Henanese has turned a used oil drum into a coal-fired oven on wheels, slapping his dough onto the sides of the drum to bake. Another person sells tangyuan, sweet dumplings made of sticky rice and stuffed with sweet red bean paste or black sesame paste. And there is one seller who never has to shout out the name of his delicacy ? the pungent scent of chou doufu, or stinky bean curd, can be smelled blocks away.