Thursday, June 30, 2011

Markets of Thailand: Chatuchak

Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is, hands down, one of the most eclectic places we’ve seen in our travels. A jumble of food stands, tourists, animals, thais, and merchants, as well as a park and a mall, comprise the majority of this marketplace behemoth. Covering over 35 acres and containing thousands of vendor stalls, Chatuchak is not only Thailand’s largest market, but also the largest open-air market in the world.

Chatuchak is where I finally stopped making Win argue over all the prices and learned to do it myself. A maze of sois (small streets) and roads, Chatuchak is a bargain hunter paradise. Haggling is standard, and this is a great place to practice your negotiation skills. And, as we have discovered, knowing Thai numbers is the best tool to have when it comes to not getting ripped off. I might not be the best bargainer (I don’t have the will to walk away from something I really like), but I’ve certainly improved.

Hidden in the middle of the labyrinth of stalls is a section that resembles a pet store. Here you can buy 
puppies, kittens, birds, or bunnies. And the pets are only outnumbered by the vast selection of dog attire. The Thais are very big on the tiny dog trend. This is also where we nearly bought a $10 squirrel, stopped only by the logistics of transporting a squirrel. They also have hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and various other animals for sale, as well as supposedly being the center of black market for endangered and rare animals.

Everything from clothes and shoes to raw meat and fruits is available at the market. There is a separate fish and aquarium section, where you can get beta, koi, or frogs in all sizes and colors. Trinkets abound --- jewelry, knockoff antiques, candles, incense, windchimes, toys, art --- you name it, someone’s probably selling it. 

A bubble-blowing machine? Sure. Thai silk? It’s everywhere. Looking for a dragon made out of rope? It’s yours. In the mood for an over-priced draught beer while avoiding the mid-day sun? They serve those in the furniture store. Cheap dress? No problem. Bag of crickets? Whatever floats your boat.

Inevitably we end up turned around and disoriented, roaming through the hot tunnels under the protection of the various overlapped tarps, but we typically find something worthwhile. And if not something worthwhile, we still always find something.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Free Little Piggies


 As a huge proponent of spending as much time barefoot as possible, I adore the Thai tradition of removing one’s shoes before going inside. It might be a little time-consuming constantly taking off and putting back on your shoes, but in a country with all tile floors it does keep things quite a bit cleaner. It also leads to an increased acceptability of flipflops in most situations, for which I am more than grateful.

This is customary in all temples, homes and in some smaller, family-run shops. It is also the standard at our school. All students are expected to stop and take off their shoes at the bottom of the stairs, before going to class. They then pick up their shoes and carry them with them to the classroom, where they either put them in one long row at the back of the room or in the hall, or put them under their desks. 

So far I have only tripped over three shoes. Not bad for being fairly clumsy and having taught twenty-two classes each week, each with 40 plus pairs of shoes scattered about, for the past six weeks. My only issue with the situation is that while my students get to run around in stocking feet all day, I have to wear shoes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Coolest Thing Since Doraemon

A new craze has hit CVK. All the coolest middle schoolers are doing it. The official toy of the season: yo-yos. There must have been a yo-yo sale nearby; they appeared in droves and have invaded every classroom.

Never a yo-yo-er myself, I still remember how cool yo-yos were around the time I was in middle school. The tricks were limitless. Clearly, time and patience had been dedicated to learning, practicing, and then mastering each one. Though, this isn’t necessarily the case with our Thai students.

Just getting the yo-yo to do the stall-at-the-end-while-spinning thing is enough to provide them with endless entertainment. Half of the kids are so short that not hitting the ground is a trick in itself.

Was this a problem that we also had in fifth, sixth, and seventh grade? I cannot remember ever being that tiny. Were we technically too short to be using a yo-yo, or are the Thais just smaller by nature? I suppose it’s somewhere in the middle. But one thing is for sure: yo-yos are apparently destined to be popular in middle school, forever. 

Green Thumbin’ It

The gardening process has begun. Though, admittedly, most of the planting has been done by Win. His thumb is just greener than mine. He also has more tolerance for the dirt and heat that go hand-in-hand with gardening. However, I do help with picking out the plants, so that’s something. 

Last weekend’s night market visit was dedicated primarily to buying things that we need around the house, namely, plants. Ranging in price from 10 – 100 baht, we found plants of all shapes and sizes, as well as baggies of seeds (we think). And we have the beginnings of a collection of clay garden creatures, mandatory to any Thai garden.

We perused the flower market around the corner from our school to supplement our weekend purchases, and ended up with a tiny snail escapee.  Plants are being bought in small bundles because we can only carry so much on a motorbike, but every little bit brings more life to our yard. 

The seed bags have been dumped and watered, and then re-watered by the almost daily downpours as rainy season begins. There’s a chance that we bought fertilizer instead of seeds, only time will tell. To be on the safe side, we used two different bags in the hopes that at least one of them will grow into something. 

While Win’s goal is to dig holes and spread growth all over the yard and transplant little plants into bigger spaces, I am basically trying to make the porch pretty. I have the beginnings of a hanging flower collection composed of a number of orchid varieties. Now, when you walk out our front door, the light, citrusy scent of orchids greets you. 

It’s a small start, but a promising one. And between the abandoned student plants from science class (of which Win has already hijacked a few) and the flower market on the way home from school, we have ample leafy resources. Plus, orchids are far cheaper here than they are back home, which will come in handy when they prove difficult to maintain.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Markets of Thailand: The Weekend Walking Street

Once upon a time in Thailand, it was decided that there should be a fair every week, complete with food stalls, trinkets, useful items at discount prices, and maybe even a concert. Also, in order for this fair to run smoothly, a minimum of three blocks must be cordoned off for pedestrian use only. And every town in Thailand must have one of these walking street night markets (as they are so elegantly named). Based on our experience, I’m pretty sure this is Thai law.

Thanks to the existence of night markets, I not only have acquired lots of useless (read: adorable) junk, but I’ve managed to buff up the parts of my wardrobe that fall within our uniform. Skirts in gray, purple, and red, as well as tee-shirts that look nearly professional (Thais are much smaller than us Americans) were a must for this term. Clearly necessary, as I already have a goofy styrofoam/yarn giraffe, were a cartoon dog to hold my toothbrush, an ashtray shaped like a turtle, a mug with a frog perched on the handle, and earrings shaped like various desserts.

Also thanks to the night markets, I have eaten ostrich, deer, and alligator (crocodile?), as well as numerous other varieties of meat-on-a-stick. Pork buns, fried quail eggs, pad thai, corn with butter and sugar, super sweet fruit shakes, and (if you so desire) the creepy sea version of meat-on-a-stick, whole squid. Dumplings, spring rolls, milk tea, waffles full of raisins, chocolate, or taro, roti pancakes with egg and banana. By definition it’s a smorgasbord.

Plants, clothes, shoes. Hair pins, purses, straightening irons. Helmets, keychains, crocs shaped like dragon claws, sunglasses. Oh, and of course, Thai line dancing (I say line, but it goes in a circle). Inevitably, we will eat on the cheap, but still spend too much. And on Monday morning, we get at least one “Teacher, I see you, walking street.”

A Little House with a Mango Tree Out Front

Our luggage has exploded for the last time (for the time being). After two months on the road, followed by another month living out of friends’ houses and guesthouses, we have a place of our own. 

Two bedrooms and two bathrooms to call home, even an air conditioner to boot. We moved in last night and set to work unpacking, deciding how to decorate, and using old stools as makeshift tables. Last step: figure out how to hang things when all the walls are cement.

With huge windows in every room, the house has lovely natural lighting. Plus, the sounds of nature seep in: frogs and crickets from all sides. A yard circles the whole house, complete with a clothesline (because, as our Thai mother said, all clothes should smell like sunlight). We have a delightful elevated porch, only lacking lounging elements. And, as luck would have it, our two-dollar Cambodian hammocks are just itching to be lounged in. 

When we first looked at the house, we were enamored with the mango tree and the huge garden – pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, and so on. The tree is now mango-bare and the garden has been pulled up and freshly tilled. A bit of a disappointment, admittedly, but also the chance to plant a whole new yard. And, as we are just down the street from the local Flower Market, the opportunity won’t go to waste. 

Given a couple weeks, we will turn our cute little house into a cozy home, perfect for lounging, getting our hands covered in soil, and throwing dinner parties for our lovely Thai friends (without whom we never would have found the house).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Win: Critter Catcher Extrordinaire

I am the proud girlfriend of a creature catcher. Bugs, frogs, lizards, fish -- you name it, he can most likely catch it. And if he can’t, it won’t be for a lack of trying. He even once was part of a project to build a fly-powered airplane, which, as one can imagine, involved capturing a whole herd of flies.

In any batch of Rachel-taken pictures, we end up with a minimum of one picture in which Win has captured an unwitting animal. He stalks, swivels, and hedges them in, just for the fun of it. From my end, there’s something really curious about seeing something so tiny and foreign so close up. Always released in one piece (although sometimes flash-dazed), the critters then hop, skitter and slip away to resume their lives. 

It’s a bizarre talent but delightful nonetheless. I mean, honestly, there’s something magical about a whispered “Hey, I got you something” referring to a momentarily still butterfly.