The Journey Om

Night Bizarre

After leaving the amazing Good Earth restaurant, we headed back to the much talked about Night Bazaar.  One thing we had been forewarned about was the ‘steep’ cost of items for sale.  At the night bazaar, no prices were written on anything, and would be made up on the spot to suit the appearance of the customer.  If you are a westerner, it is usually several times the normal asking price for the item.  The assumption, of course, is that you would haggle over the amount, or not, if you weren’t savvy to the ways of the market.

The mainstay of the night bazaar is a string of booths on the sidewalk, running along a 1.5 km stretch of road between two main roads.  There are several plazas and buildings that also form extensions of the bazaar, and it is strategically located within walking distance of several major hotels.  It is a living, breathing outdoor Thai tourist market, and most of the people you will see shopping are Farang.  For a real Thai market, where everyone but you will be Thai, head one block up to Wororrot market.  You won’t be disappointed by the selection of far more authentic décor, goods, and the lack of knock-off items, but be forewarned, navigation and communication can be far more challenging.

I personally found the night bazaar a little overwhelming, with the heat, the press of bodies, and the constant calls for attention from the hawkers.  This was topped off by having two children who insisted on pointing out every single item they saw, and touching half of those items, which amounted to a guaranteed sale in the eyes of the Thai merchants.

There is an equal blend of items for sale at the bazaar, from pirated movies and cd’s to ‘genuine’ Rolex watches and Nikes, but the real show stoppers are the arts and crafts.  There are sculptures, artistic photos, statues and even hand carved soaps mixed in with the clothes and trinkets.

I must admit, buying things at the markets can easily become an addictive pastime.  Who can deny the urge to haggle over prices?  I became so accustomed to it, that I found myself asking for lower prices when in the grocery store or 7-11, which was usually met with blank stares or a laugh at my ‘Farang Humour”.  It is crucial to be careful in the market not to let your desires run away with you.  There are so many things worth spending your money on, for such low prices that you will have to exercise the utmost self-restraint to not buy one of everything you see.

As for the kids, they kept getting caught up in ‘I need this trinket’ fever too.  At one point, Violet was starting to have a meltdown because she had to have the paper fan to keep cool.  That, or the plush stuffed elephant that was beside it.  Lacking either one of these items was guaranteed to cause her total anguish and suffering, and her mood was rapidly deteriorating.

It didn’t help that I was in the middle of negotiations over the price of a pair of Thai fisherman pants.  Now haggling over 100 Baht may sound like a lot, but to us, that’s $3.33.  To the Thais, that’s their food budget for the day.  Nonetheless, it would be insulting to both parties if some form of haggle were not involved.

So, whining girl on one side, haggling shopkeeper on the other, I was trying to keep my cool in the intense heat of the market.  Wafting through the hubbub of the market, I became aware of a sound coming from behind me, reminiscent of crickets or frogs.  I turned to look at the source of the sound to see a lady dressed in traditional hill-tribe garb holding a small, hollow wooden frog in one hand, brushing its ridged back with a tiny stick held in the other.  This was the source of the ‘frogs chirping sound’ and the annoying clicking could not have come at a more inopportune moment.  The hill tribe garb is colourful, with black, red and gold fabric woven into intricate patterns, and a flat-topped hat adorned with various jewels and decorations.  It is lovely to behold, but did nothing to diminish my annoyance at the sound.

As the African proverb goes, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a tent with a mosquito.”  It was certainly hard to ignore, and was probably an effective sales tactic, akin to swatting the annoying blood sucker to find relief from its incessant drone.

Turning from the lady to look at the shopkeeper, then at Violet, I was touched on the shoulder by the lady.  Looking at her and admiring her persistence, I looked away again.  I can understand the desperation the makes people aggressively hawk their goods, but I had no time for it.  However, trying to be polite, I said no thank you, and tended to the business at hand.

Then she touched me again, offering a frog for my careful inspection.  Violet was crying, I was trying to save two dollars, and the lady seemed oblivious to the fact that she might not be welcome in my bubble at that moment.  I said no again, more forcefully, which seemed to be the signal for a second lady to join her.

Having arrived at a suitable price for my pants, I paid for them and started to walk off to deal with Violet, and the ladies and their incessantly chirping frogs followed me.  I finally turned on them and said ‘NO THANK YOU’, much more forcefully.  In response to this, I was greeted with two more frogs.  Realizing that the only course of action was to completely ignore them, I picked Violet up, and set out to find Theresa and Cyrus.

The saddest part about the experience was that I subsequently ignored the hill tribe people completely.  I would just tune them out, pretending they weren’t even there.  I always did so feeling somewhat guilty that I was shunning another human being, but they so completely ignored common human boundaries that they left me little other choice.

We finally found Theresa and Cyrus, watching a traditional Thai dance on a small stage.  This seemed to placate Violet, and Theresa and Cyrus wandered off to find more goods while Violet and I watched the show.  I was beginning to suspect that they enjoyed shopping more without my skeptical voice beside them, questioning the quality and authenticity of each item.

After a few minutes of relaxation, Violet decided that she had a question that only her mother could answer.  “I’m sure that I can answer your question” and “You can ask her when she gets back” seemed like incorrect responses to her, which only strengthened her resolve to see her mother.

“Daddy, I have just one thing to say, and you need to listen and say yes, just listen… ”

“Okay, I’ll listen, but I can’t promise you anything,” I replied, trying to hold in my chuckles.”

“Um, I’m going to find mamma, and you can wait here, I’ll be fine, I just need to ask her something and don’t worry, if anyone tries to steal me, I’ll just say ‘NO THANK YOU’, so please daddy, let me go find her…”

This seemed like the perfect excuse to get up and wander, so I told Violet I would help her find her mother.  As it turned out, the crucial matter revolved around whether or not Violet could finish the remnants of soda that Theresa had left in her cup.  But I needn’t have worried.  Apparently Violet can take care of herself.  As Nancy Reagan taught us so well, “Just say NO” (Thank you!)

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