Ode to my dearly departed 7/11

This wasn’t the post I planned to write today, but I find that the grief in my heart begs to be expressed publicly. The 7/11 across the street from our apartment building suddenly shut down this weekend. It was unexpected, and it has left a gaping hole in my life. I didn’t know how much I needed it until it was gone.

 

Dear 7/11

You were always there when I needed you. Your brightly lit sign was like a beacon of hope on those nights when I realized that I really, really needed a Magnum bar. You sold me dietary staples such as eggs, bread, and fish sauce at prices that did not exceed what major grocery chains charged. Your beer was always cold, although you would not sell it to me between the hours of 2pm and 5pm. Sometimes I secretly thought that your chocolate bars had melted and re-solidified several times before I bought them, but you always had them in stock, which is the important thing. The air inside your walls usually smelled of the fishballs and fluorescent hot dogs that were so inexplicably popular with your Thai customers – how I miss those aromas. Your staff sometimes had a hard time counting change, and they loved to grab handfuls of my baby’s numerous thighs, but they were familiar faces in a cold, cruel world. I still have at least 100 of the plastic spoons that you snuck into my bag every time I bought yogurt – I use them to catch my tears. Truly, our neighbourhood has lost its most important landmark. Now I have to walk 5 extra minutes in the opposite direction to get to your inferior sister store. Please, please come back.

I’ll be waiting. So will the disgusting fleabag carpet dog that used to lie in your air-conditioned doorway. Don’t do this to us.

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Chatuchak Market: organized insanity

Like any good gallivanting mother, Momalot wanted to buy a few stereotypically Thai trinkets for her brood back at home. In a moment of blind stupidity, I suggested that we check out Chatuchak Market. Chatuchak is located across town from us, which in Bangkok terms means that it’s basically in another galaxy. However, it is probably the biggest market in Thailand, and maybe even the world, so it seemed like a logical starting point for souvenirs. Armed with her water bottle, rickety wooden hand fan, and gimped umbrella, Momalot figured she was ready to brave the market.

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Pink, gimped umbrellas: so hot right now.

Turns out she underestimated the beast that is Chatuchak. The market is comprised of thousands of stalls laid out in a loosely structured grid. Some of the stalls are outside (as in the photo above), but many are inside, in cramped, sweaty rows that barely accommodate two Thais (let alone farangs) trying to pass each other. The whole joint is bathed in a certain ‘eau du garbage’, and the odd rat scampers over the open sewage system.

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But there are many extremely attractive artificial flowers to make up for these deficiencies.

The market does, however, contain basically every item known to man, from clothing to puppies to pirated DVDs, vegetable seeds, fish balls, and photos of the king. Basically, it’s the Thai version of a Walmart. We wandered for what felt like hours between row after row of stalls filled with t-shirts covered in obscene slogans. Good thing Momalot’s vision isn’t as keen as it once was. When it all became too much to process, we stopped for some tasty fried food. The best thing about Thailand/Chatuchak is that calories are never far away.

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Grease bombbbbbbs

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You can’t see it, but my handy styrofoam lunch container is catching the sweat that’s pouring down my face.

While Momalot could handle the rats, obscene t-shirts, and crowds, the heat really did her in. Something about 40C/100% humidity was just a little more than this gal from the Great White North could handle, and she quickly lost interest in shopping.

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The smile was a little forced.

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She tried to persuade these vendors to throw water on her (seriously), but they weren’t biting.

She finally said “screw the souvenirs. Let’s bounce.” Ok, so those weren’t her exact words, but you get the gist of it. After very little prodding, I relented, and we clambered back on the train for the ride back to our galaxy. Once we reached the southern echelons of Bangkok, we decided that our equilibrium could only be recovered by getting pedicures for our nasty, battle weary feet in an air conditioned mall. Don’t worry – we tipped.

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And this smile is real.

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My gorgeous feet against a stylish backdrop of a MEC backpack and a bored boyfriend.

With prettified, extremely exfoliated feet, I was able to more calmly contemplate the Chatuchak experience. I realized that I have visited it approximately every four months since arriving here, because that is how long it takes me to forget the heat and horror of it all. After four months, though, my memory involuntarily resets. So if you ask me in September where you you should go to buy souvenirs, I’ll probably recommend Chatuchak. And I’ll probably volunteer to take you there.

Stuff Thai People Like: Makro!

It’s time for another addition of stuff Thai people like! I’m going to apologize in advance for the photos in this one – they contain neither me nor my more studly other half. I’m sure you’re all deeply disappointed.

For some reason,* when I moved to Bangkok, I expected that most people would do the bulk of their grocery shopping in cute’n’tiny markets. While markets are popular (see, for example, this post), massive North American-style grocery stores are ubiquitous. I have easy access to the Thai equivalents of Safeway, Superstore, and Walmart. Sometimes their offerings are a little different than in the west (an entire aisle of fish balls, for example), but the concept is the same.

In spite of the massive stores right in front of my eyes, my brain still harboured doubt – “They may have duplicated Safeway, but surely Thailand does not contain a Costco clone.” Costco was our dear friend and neighbour in Calgary – there’s some part of me that always wants to prepare for a potential famine. By now, though, you know where this tale is going. I was forced to abandon my doubts when I was introduced to the joys of Makro (thanks, Tut and Erin), Asia’s answer to Costco. When a new location was built directly across the street from our local grocery store, we knew that we would never again have to go without enough food to feed an army in wartime. While they operate on the same principle of largesse, Makro is uniquely Asian, so I thought I’d give you a tour.

Starting off with the outside: Makro is built right next to a massive temple. I feel that this is particularly appropriate for Thailand, because shopping is pretty much its national religion.

The orange roof in the background is part of the temple, but really, it could be part of the store.

And the inside. Concrete is de rigueur, as in all Costco-esque stores. It just screams “bulk!” It also has an appliance section that is pretty straightforward, although it’s heavy on the rice cookers and electric food steamers.

And washing machines and salespeople and bad lighting.

It starts to get a little more intriguing when you head to the meat section. Thais are less squeamish than Canucks when it comes to acknowledging the deadness of their animal protein sources.

“Pick me! Pick me!”

“Pick us! Pick us!”

And in true Thai style, multiple freezers full of tentacles.

Because who doesn’t like a good frozen brick of suction cups?

The fruit and veggie aisle is fairly similar to Costco, although you won’t find these in Costco:

The bland-but-beautiful dragon fruit. Sort of like a pretty girl with no brain.

Plus the produce workers wear nifty rubber boots and enjoy hacking up fruit with large cleavers.

They also like wearing hats.

The spice centre is full of fun. It’s here that you can finally buy enough powdered chillies to satisfy your family’s needs. Nothing but options and choices, folks.

The most important section in the store.

You can also pick up a heapin’ helpin’ of goji berries, which are apparently a super food. You’d never guess that based on the price – $5 for a couple of pounds.

The alcohol section is smaller than Costco’s, and demonstrates the Thai penchant for random bluntness:

Apparently they want you to chug the sickly sweet wine coolers on the spot?

And finally we come to the bakery, which I have to say, contains a lot of pretty mediocre baking. Thailand does a lot of foodie things incredibly well, but the baked goods still need work.

White, white, white, blah, blah, blah….

And that sums up the highlights. The rest of the store is an interesting mix of ingredients that I find exciting and useful (20lb bags of peanuts for homemade peanut butter), and stuff that I just don’t get (how does anyone need an entire aisle of oyster sauce or instant coffee?).

Either way, I’m relieved that Makro has arrived, because the one thing that was really missing from my new Thai life was massive massive quantities of random food items that I do not necessarily need.

*ignorance/stereotypes/being dumb