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.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Sunday, January 20th marked the 28th anniversary of the best day of my parents’ lives: the day their favourite child arrived on this terrestrial sphere. Sadly, they were not in Bangkok to personally thank me for being born, but T-bone stepped up to the plate quite nicely. He planned a celebration that included two of my favourite things: food and crocodiles. I’m not sure why I like crocodiles so much, but something about their snaggle-toothed grins just does it for me. A group of our friends from school were kind enough to humour me on my birthday, and joined us for an afternoon at The Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. It claims to be the biggest crocodile farm in the world, and after a day of traipsing around its lagoons, I believe it.

I am the Crocodile Whisperer.

We spent a lot of time staring at the baby crocodiles, simply because we didn’t yet realize that the zoo had other exhibits. Besides, it took awhile to fully take in this reptilian goodness.

They just love a good cuddle.

The exhibits were quite strange – the various enclosures clearly contained different varieties of crocodiles, but there were no interpretive signs except this:

It also looked like the crocodile pits were located next to the employee housing. I’d have a hard time sleeping if I lived next to these fellows.

Nothing like Saturday morning coffee on the patio with 5000 of your favourite reptilian friends.

After awhile, we made our way to the crocodile wrestling show. It was pretty lame and mildly depressing. The crocodile wrestlers dragged bored looking crocodiles out of the water, and made them open their mouths and snap them shut.

Come on, crocodiles! Show them who’s boss.

We left part way through the show, and boarded a toy train that looped around the park.

We l-o-v-e riding kiddie trains in creepy animal parks!

We soon realized that the park is huge, and contains a variety of large animals. Some of the enclosures seemed fairly well designed, but others were cramped and dirty. It was sad to the see the conditions that some of the animals had to live in, and particularly sad to see chimpanzees dressed up and chained to tables so that tourists could take pictures with them.

One of the craziest parts of the experience was how close you could get to the animals. There was only a chain-link fence separating us from full-grown tigers and lions, and you could feed and touch (if you’re insane) adult hippos. Actually, you could feed pretty much any animal you chose. I had a small heart attack watching unaccompanied small children near open cages.

Why? We’re so friendly! (Did anyone else play Hungry Hippos during their childhood?!)

I couldn’t resist this little fella

I hardly saw any zoo employees in the whole place, which felt pretty sketchy, especially when we discovered the adult crocodile lagoons.* A wooden bridge wound its way over multiple lagoons filled with hundreds of MASSIVE crocodiles. At several points, we were only a few feet above the crocs, and the bridge was not what you’d call “sturdy.” If you so desired, you could also drop raw chickens in the water for the crocodiles to eat.

This crocodile tried to delicately conceal himself behind a small pink flower.

Perhaps the strangest part of the zoo, though, was the – and I quote – ‘Handicapped Crocodile Exhibit.’ This was a series of small cages that contained crocodiles who were ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. One had a wonky mouth, another had a forked tail, another was albino. The craziest part was that you could easily reach over the bit of fence and stroke the crocodiles should you desire to do so. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the exhibit.

Instead, a photo of a stuffed baby crocodile wearing a shirt. Gotta maintain his modesty.

I finally had my fill of crocodiles, and we left the zoo for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Awkwardly, I managed to get a photo of the food, but not the friends. Oops! Thanks for coming!

yummmmmmmmm

And one last birthday moment: Cute Patriotic Texas Beth made this adorable tea towel for me. I feel that crocodiles will be the next trend in home decor.

He is wearing an apron that my mother made for me. I feel that the universe is conspiring to domesticate me.

* Speaking of sketchy, during the monsoon floods in Bangkok last year, a bunch of crocodiles escaped from the farm. There are photos on the internet of people checking on their submerged cars. They glance behind them, and BAM! Massive carnivores out for a playful paddle…

Delhi ho!

Last travel post from India! We spent our last few days in this strange and wondrous land in Delhi. Before lurching into India’s capital city, we spent 6 hours on a train from Jaipur. Train trips always make me feel melancholy – more than any other mode of transportation, they epitomize “journey” to me, and I inevitably find myself in a contemplative space.

The Indian train, in all her glory.

However, Indian trains are also far too a) bustling, and b) revolting to allow for unbroken contemplation. Todd and I sat in one of the cheapest classes on all of our trips, and there was rarely a dull moment. Apparently, paying for a berth doesn’t mean that it’s really yours – we had endless numbers of villagers “sharing” our seats, and cramming themselves into any unoccupied space. We also watched a dizzying array of activities taking place, including a business meeting between 5 men that lasted for six hours (with breaks for sharing village gossip).

Todd was totally appalled at the idea of chatting for 6 straight hours.

And whenever I felt too melancholy, I just took a trip to the toilet, where I was abruptly jerked back to reality.

And this was one of the cleaner options…

Things didn’t get any more normal once we arrived in Delhi. I booked a place that was highly recommended on Trip Advisors, and we found ourselves in one of the most delightfully bizarre hotels that I have ever encountered. The Hotel Kabli is a converted mansion in a random residential area that appeared to be at the edge of the universe when we arrived in the cold night fog. We were warmly welcomed by the Sikh proprietors, and were soon huddling in our room under every blanket we could find – it was Delhi’s coldest day in 66 years. The next morning, we awoke to find ourselves in the middle of Kabul. There were Afghans everywhere – men chatting in large huddles, and veiled women sitting in a segregated area. We were the only Westerners in the joint. Apparently, the hotel is a favourite stopover for Afghans doing business in Delhi. The men wanted to talk to Todd, but when I joined them, it felt awkward – they weren’t rude, but I felt like I was committing a cultural faux pas.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Before we decided to move to Thailand, I was considering applying for a PhD at the JNU school of international studies. Needless to say, things didn’t work out that way, but it was neat to see the campus. It was an interesting mixture of a stereotypical university environment (political posters everywhere), and unique Indian charm (a walkway covered by a cement roof that would occasionally crumble and drop chunks on students’ heads).

Doing my best to look like a university student.

We also spent time fighting for survival on the metro. I have never seen people push and shove quite like this – I finally understand how people get crushed to death in crowds. And I’ve never seen grown men dive for seats on the metro like I have in Delhi. It is a blood sport.

We arrived home in the wee hours this morning. After a short stretch of glorious sleep, we were woken by insanely bad karaoke music blasting from a celebration across the canal from our building. Nice to know that even though we’ve left India, there’s still plenty of weird to go around.