The Sweetness of a Mango
"Innerrrrrr beauty! Innerrrrrr beauty! Innerrrrr beauty woman! Look! Look! Look-y here!" These are the callings of Lily, an auctioneer-like caller for a fruit and vegetable kiosk at Sydney's Paddy's Market. She rolls the r's in "inner" purposefully to capture the attention of passers-by and it works.
Among other attention grabbing strategies, Lily breaks into a sing-song happy birthday tune of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. She playfully flirts with females passing by, some of whom stop to inspect and taste the mangoes.
Some males are called "handsome man", some "boy"; it's all in good humour and nothing short of smart commerce. The customers smile and laugh with Lily and most buy mangoes too.
As crowds swell around Lily to taste the mangoes, the auctioneer-like calling gets more intense and competitive with neighbouring kiosks:
"Mango! Mango! Mango!" says one seller just behind me. "One dollar! One dollar! One dollar mango!" says another to my left. In front of me, Lily bellows, drowning out the others: "Have a look! Have a look! Have a look! Dollar! Dollar! Dollar here! 1 dollar! 1 dollar! Ohhhh! Look-y! Look-y!"
Nobody sells mangoes like Lily; she's absolutely manic. When she stops to prepare a customer order, the traffic of passers-by disappears and the loud callings drop more than a few decibels. A man steps in to replace Lily. "1 dollar mango!" "1 dollar mango!"
There's no conviction in his voice; he's just not believable. A few people walk by and as they do, their eyes pass over the bright yellow-orange-red mangoes with passive interest.
I ask Lily her secret strategy to selling mangoes. "I here for long time, more than anybody. I superstar! Ha-Ha! Like a superstar!" She does not look like a superstar. She stands about 5-feet-tall with a stocky build and an unapologetic pot belly that pops through pillow-soft in a mock Starbucks t-shirt and spills over the waistline of her red and white striped jersey shorts.
But Lily is a damn great fruit and vegetable caller, selling anywhere from 50-200 crates of mango a day between Wednesday and Sunday when Paddy's Market is open. She works 12 hours a day.
I ask Lily how she keeps her voice strong and her energy up at all times. Gesturing with her hands above her head and glancing up to the ceiling, she says it comes from God. And she comes from a country where God is taken seriously too.
Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Lily immigrated to Australia in 1995. She has been a fruit and vegetable caller at Paddy's Market for 16 years. I ask Lily why she left Malaysia for Australia. "I like here. Beautiful, freedom, very good. In my country, I love woman, very bad. Over here no problem."
With no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights in Malaysia, Lily's move to Australia makes sense. Heterosexual and homosexual acts of sodomy and oral sex are banned with severe punishment including fines, prison sentences and corporal punishment.
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, bearing on social attitudes towards LGBT peoples and sex in general. On being gay in Malaysia, Lily says: "Very, very, very strict especially Muslims." They say: ""Haram! Haram! Harami! Harami!"" I want Lily to tell me more about her life as a lesbian in Malaysia, but she does not want to get into it.
And who can blame her for not wanting to talk? Political efforts to reform LGBT rights in Malaysia have been thwarted with rumoured accusations against those that fight for change. Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition party who supports LGBT rights, has wrongfully faced and been imprisoned for repeated charges of corruption and sodomy.
I laugh at Lily as she playfully flirts with female customers and injects sexuality into her sales tactics. A slim Asian woman picks up a mango for a closer look, puts it back down and turns to walk away. As she does, with a grin on her face, Lily says: "Yes, beautiful girl, what's the matter?!?!" And later to a middle-aged female customer: "Oh nice girl here, beautiful! You eat [mango] and your husband in here."
Lily tells me that when she was young she did not know what she wanted. But just like her humorous take on the sexual connection between a mango and a woman's health - "When you eat juicy [mango], you juicy, when you eat dry, everything dry. No good. Juicy make woman fresh!" - Lily knows what her mind and body needed when she left Malaysia: honest and unrestricted sexual freedom. Sweet. Just like a mango.