Lights, strung out from one end of the McCarthy Quad to the other, bathed me in their warm glow as I hurried in carrying a box full of walkie-talkies and prize mugs. The quad was in shadow in the wake of the sun’s descent — now was the frantic hour we had to set up before Night Market began, and we had much to do. The tents were bare, the sponsors yet to arrive, and we had to tape up posters, set up booths, and bring out all the food and drinks we needed.
You didn’t have to see the food coming in — you could smell it, flavors steaming out from beneath the heavy foil lids of the containers they were enclosed in. Beneath the canopy of one of our main tents, we had a delicious range of cuisines represented: the savory heartiness of Hawaiian food, the aromatic and richly spiced layers of Indian food, the aromatic wok-grilled intricacies of Thai food, and off to the side, Poke — its light and delicate fusions of flavor offering a welcome contrast to the rest of the night’s selection. After set-up was done, I got to snatch a plate full of everything pretty early on, and dug into that as the people started filtering in.
With the rising hubbub in the plaza as more and more people started coming in, and the performances introduced by our distinguished MCs Gabriel Chen and Aaron Ly began, I could start to feel the night market magic I had experienced before in the crowded streets of Taiwan, infused with a new and profound sense of diversity that made the experience feel like something truly USC. Manning the check-in booth for the rest of the night, I saw the faces of people of all different kinds, each as eager as the next to tap into cultures familiar and unfamiliar. I think it’s safe to assume that they found what they were looking for. With performances ranging from Bhangra to Taiko, activities from Filipino tinikling to origami to good old ring toss, and a whole TON of boba, how could you possibly not?