In a line stretching from Sayles Hall all the way down George Street, scores of eager and hungry students waited patiently to enter the Brown Taiwan Society’s Night Market on Sunday. Normally an annual event, the market took a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, however, the market returned with what BTS Secretary Hailey Chen ’24 dubbed record-breaking crowds.
“Night Market is modeled (on) the urban street markets that are really common in Taiwanese nightlife,” Chen explained. “In Taiwan, you’ve got these really narrow streets and urban areas that are really densely packed with people sampling all the little dishes … Here at BTS, we really wanted to channel that energetic atmosphere into what we thought would be well-received here at Brown.”
The event took place in Sayles’ Main Hall and brought together 12 of the University’s Asian American cultural organizations, each hosting a booth featuring different Asian dishes such as scallion pancakes and shaved ice, Chen said. The night also included performances from some of the University’s dance and arts groups, including Impulse, Lion Dance and Daebak.
Night Market is just one of many events BTS hosts throughout the school year, many of them focused on food and performance, she added.
“At its core, (BTS is) just a group of people who want to learn more about Taiwanese culture and also get to know other people who have similar interests and or heritage,” Chen said. “You definitely don’t need to be Taiwanese to join, we take anyone who wants to come. We take anyone who wants to get to know a little bit of the culture.”
“It was genuinely like that type of market feel, which is cool — especially post-COVID,” said Tanya Qu ’25, who attended the event with her friends.
Qu and her group waited outside for an hour and a half to enter, a wait she said was “definitely worth it.”
“We had six of the security guards and the fire marshal and the police counting for us, and we had almost 800 people enter, but the line (was even longer)” Chen said.
Once inside, market-goers were given tickets to use to buy food at the various stalls, said Grace Samaha ’25, another event attendee.
“You’re drinking Thai boba and then you’re also watching these performers do insane breakdancing tricks,” Qu said. “It’s like being at a sports stadium and everyone’s cheering for your team. It was a good environment to be in.”
The group usually aims to host Night Market within the first two months of school, but due to the uptick in cases early in the school year they had to postpone again until this semester, Chen said.
Planning for Night Market begins months in advance, with preparations often spanning at least a semester, if not more, Chen explained. Because many of BTS’ board members weren’t even at college when the last market was held, the group felt a disconnect in its institutional knowledge base that made organizing particularly tricky, she added.
“It’s completely student-run,” Chen said, adding that BTS reached out to the Student Activities Office, the Undergraduate Finance Board and Media Services for logistical matters. “But then, we have to rent all the equipment and book the rooms. Those big logistical hurdles have been going on for months.”
Even on the day of the market, Chen was still running errands to ensure the event ran smoothly.
Chen and another BTS member went to Good Fortune, an Asian supermarket in Providence, to “get last-minute dishes,” she said. “Then I showed up (to Sayles) at two, helping move the equipment and figuring out audio services. Then I (ran) rehearsals for all the practicing performers, and then help(ed) set up the booths for all the clubs that come at five.”
Still, the satisfaction of seeing months’ worth of work come to fruition was unparalleled, Chen said.
“As an organizer, to put in hours of work and witness a concept turn into reality is really incredible, especially in the context of Night Market,” she said. “It’s all about reaching people and having a good time while also appreciating Asian culture.”
Now, the team is right back to work preparing for next year’s Night Market.
“Last night we had a meeting where we kind of reflected on some of the feedback, both positive and negative, (and) how we can improve for next year,” Chen said. “Because this is normally a fall event, we are planning on resuming that and going back to doing it at the beginning of the school year.”
“None of this could have been done without the support of the Brown Taiwan (Executive Board),” she said. Chen also commended “the other cultural organizations who put in the work to make so many amazing dishes and all the incredible performers.”