Wet markets are what us Dutchies would call a "markt", a place where people buy and sell fruit, vegetables, dry goods, meat, poultry, fish, frogs and an assortment of other food stuffs (ready made dumplings, tofu in all size and shapes, you get the picture). They are called wet markets, according to my tiny Lonely Planet city guide, because the floor is regularly cleaned with great bursts of water, leaving it wet at almost all times.
Wet markets are generally inside, in designated areas and run from early in the morning until early afternoon - no surprise there, unless you factor in the fact that all other Singaporean shops do not deign to open their doors before at least 10 am and don't close until 10 pm (which is how I ended up maternity shopping with my very pregnant, long time friend L. last Sunday evening).
Us living in the centre of all things happenin', we do not have anything as suburban as a wet market nearby. They are generally located within HDB estates (where 80% of Singaporeans live, and I am quoting the guide book again here), near to hawker centres and local shops selling, well, local stuff (incense, red gift envelopes, very cheap and slightly dodgy looking flip flops and clothing, tents to use for beach outings, you know the sort of thing.)
Fortunately, the nearest one to us is actually not only really big, but also located in the middle of one of the liveliest and most fun ethnic areas of the city: Chinatown. The touristy bit doesn't really get going until the wet market closes, which means that during the morning grocery run, I rub shoulders with hard haggling aunties and determined uncles who know exactly which roots and seeds are supposed to go into which medicinal soup.
(As a side note: Chinese medicine is a protected area of expertise in Singapore, and if one wants to practice in Singapore, as my fully qualified friend S. would have liked to, one has to apprentice with a local doctor for a few years first. This whole herbalism/nutritionism/acupuncture-thing is taken Very Seriously in these parts. Up to the point where the principal of our childcare centre offered to hand me a traditional recipe for E.'s coughing and colds, since regular medicine wasn't helping. Oh, and he told me not to give her too many citrus-y fruits. Like oranges. Apparently they make it worse.)
But. On to the goodies! What do you actually get at a wet market?