Stuff Thai People Like: Shopping!

Terminal 21

I’ve alluded to it before, but it’s worth repeating: Thai people are seriously in love with shopping. They say* that a new shopping mall opens every year in Bangkok, and I believe it. If anything, this estimate seems a little low. You could probably walk from one end of the city to another without ever leaving the air conditioned deliciousness of these temples of consumption. They offer an escape from the heat, retail therapy, and a way to be passionately patriotic – nothing screams allegiance like supporting the national economy.

I was wandering around the Asoke area yesterday, trying to figure out our Indian visas (more on that later). I needed wifi access to sort out the visa application forms (as if mere internet access could ever penetrate India’s ridiculous bureaucracy), and popped into Terminal 21, one of Bangkok’s favourite shopping centres, in hopes of finding it. They had internet. They also had a whole lotta weirdly wonderful consumer opportunities.

Truly, a dizzying array.

Terminal 21 is designed as a departure terminal, and every escalator leads to a new international destination.

Because airports are so soothing

Some of its coolness was lost on me as I was desperately searching for wifi and raging at Indian bureaucracy, but in hindsight, it is pretty epic. The main escalator takes you to Istanbul.

I may have assumed that these folks were retail workers wearing Istanbul costumes… and then I realized that they were my fellow shoppers.

After a quick glance, I decided that Istanbul a) sold nothing that I could afford, and b) had nowhere to rest my weary soul/laptop, so I jetted off to San Francisco.

Apparently the very essence of San Francisco is Italian chain eateries.

And you can’t have SanFran without the bridge.

San Francisco had wifi, which was simultaneously helpful and unhelpful, because I discovered that while I could fill out my visa application, it was too late to drop it off. I gave up and decided to wander around the rest of the strange Terminal 21 world.

London was up next, and it was complete with a double-decker bus, a phone booth, and Princess Di.

Kitschy but kool

Rome was a brief stop, but I did admire its frescoes.

Ahhhh. Just like the Sistine Chapel, but without the entrance fee.

But the real gem of the day was Tokyo. It contained all of the following:

An elegant geisha…

An ancient warrior…

The mother of all cats… (dedicated to loyal blog reader Tim)

And these fine fellas. Really, they could have been advertising anything from weight loss programs to thong underwear.

As I watched consumption rage around me, the loudspeakers blared terrible Christmas music. One song in particular caught my ear – it sounded like the usual “ooh, babybaby, it’s Christmas,” but then it started spelling out J-E-S-U-S in the least reverent tone imaginable. Truly, shopping is a religion in Bangkok.

Taken from the sky train station. Because everyone needs easy shopping access.

* Don’t know who “they” are, but it sounds authoritative

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

The Bag Was Lost, But Now It’s Found 2

Part 2: Stuff you can’t buy in Thailand, or, We are secretly obese

As we were waiting for Todd’s bag/plotting our revenge on the airlines,* it became apparent that we (and by “we” I mean “Todd”) couldn’t wait much longer for several Very Important Items. We were in dire need of a shopping trip. Considering that Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise (during orientation we were taken to no fewer than 4 shopping malls. Forget the temples and palaces – this orientation focused on the important stuff), we figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Until we started shopping, that is…

Something that’s not difficult to find in Thailand: Green Tea Red Bean Frappuccinos!

1.  When you get married, in your blissful naivety, you might assume that you know your spouse well. You can gaze into their eyes and believe that you are glimpsing all the secrets of their soul. As your life together continues, however, you may discover hidden “gems” you never knew existed. I mention this, because in our shopping adventures, T and I each learned something new about one another: we are obese.

We know each other so well we don’t even need to make eye contact any more

This discovery took place when we tried to buy new undergarments. We were shopping at our local Walmart-esque store-on-an-American-diet, and hid some undies under the milk’n’cereal in our cart. I went with the XL size, while Todd decided to really go for broke, and bought the XXL. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that I barely survived with my circulation intact, while Todd’s choice would have been more appropriate as armbands (maybe we’ll re-purpose them). We sobbed into our milk’n’cereal, and had a Fat Day together.

2.Another item that has been difficult to find is basic, run-of-the-mill facial moisturizer. I checked out several drug stores in hopes of finding one, maybe with a little SPF. Other than the hard core, SPF 60 sunscreens, all I could find were moisturizers with names like “Fair’n’Lovely,” “Pasty’n’Perfect,” “Translucent’n’Terrific” – in other words, whitening moisturizers. For the uninitiated, skin whitening products essentially bleach your skin, and are incredibly popular in Asia. They can be found in the form of moisturizers, makeup, deodorant, soap, etc. I can always tell when someone is using the products, because they look like the undead in a B-movie – i.e.: it’s not flattering. Sometimes I like to reflect on this as I smear self-tanner on my face.

An example of the whitening products at our local Big Box.

3. A final “lost item incident,” that probably only Canadian females will appreciate. My lululemon pants were in Todd’s lost bag. I like to pretend that I am So Far Above wearing trendy brands, especially ones like lululemon that attract armies of deranged followers, but I secretly covet lululemon schwag. When I received the pants as a gift, I may have fallen in love, and when our bag arrived, I may have been a little bit more euphoric than I’d like to admit. I wore the pants the next day to orientation. One of the American teachers leaned over and said “Ruth, you have something stuck to your pants,” as she attempted to rip off the silver insignia. Sigh… even when I give in to the trends, I’m not trendy.

            Anyone want to start a new trend with me?

I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Now, if only Todd’s ratty collection of t-shirts would have STAYED lost…

 *China EASTern and WESTJet – their motto: “We scanned the world from EAST to WEST and this alliance is the best we could do.”