The Market. Blog No 12

14 02 2009




In this space were several photos of the market which , after hours of computer fiddling I managed to transfer and which the miserable complicated programme stripped away. Infuriating! This a log protest!

For years now I have been studying a market in Thailand with a view to writing about it and in the process suffered the worst case of writers block I have experienced for a long time. My current procrastination has lasted two months straight. Why? Because of the complexity of the Asian markets and their place in the national cultures. Asian markets now seem to me to resemble a coral polyps more than anything else I can summon up as a simile.

To walk into a Thai market of this size is a little like being sucked up into a tornado.You know when you emerge that every sense of your being has been assaulted ,but, as in a tornado , things fly past, sensations batter you so rapidly in every shape and texture, that you are only able to remember fragments of a richness and intensity that is stronger than you have ever experienced before.

The site itself- a mixture of  permanent concrete and dilapidated rusting tin trailing faded or rotting tarpaulins, Pepsi signs, Coke signs, flags, cheesy Chinese posters of blossom lakes and pagodas, banners, cardboard, barriers of sackcloth is all a storm of sensibilia. Into this space which occupies several acres of buildings, and crammed into every conceivable site,  are tables, benches,display boxes, sheets of plastic spread on the ground, chairs,show cabinets and old wardrobes used for storage and to delineate territory,—in short every configuration of horizontal space that can hold the multi-coloured arrays of vegetables, fruits,cookies, cakes,crabs, flour,eels,buckets of prawns,catfish finning lugubriously in a half inch of water in plastic bowls, Woodstocks of rice-field eels enacting a slippery and terminal love-in, towers of papayas, clutches of yellow chicken legs bursting out of brown paper bags, hog’s legs, pig-skin in rolls, tubs of frog corpses finally croaked and amidst it all, little old ladies with gold teeth selling plastic bags of curried meats and noodles and a thousand other  goodies all emitting parts of— aaaah emitting The Smell.The indescribable multi-component and powerful odour of a Thai market.

It is three am. A full moon is sailing across a clear night sky like a fugitive macaroon. As during all my life to date I am unable to sleep during full moon. Moons promise everything  and , these days, deliver nothing: but I have to go out and talk to her. So I set out to stroll round the market. At this time of the night it is much quieter even though there are already many people out there in the theatrical night , working beneath suspended, unshaded bulbs.The men and women are preparing their stalls and restaurant areas for opening time. They sweep their areas, wash table tops, prepare meat cuts, arrange displays of vegetables, sort piles of raw prawns and shovel crushed ice over them.The village idiot is asleep uncovered on a bare table top a few meters away from where the gambling set is still clustered around a table where they throw down and pick up currency notes. Here the attention is intense, so concentrated that no one even notices me, a foreigner, standing to watch.From time to time tuk-tuks sputter and pop along the alleys, delivering the raw materials. Other groups of tuk-tuks have men in the back dozing. The motors of some of them tick over, making a warmth that allows the driver to doze in the passenger seat. The cat-fish are out on display, writhing in large plastic washbowls with netting  over the tops to prevent their escape, sliding and tumbling in desperate and ineffectual  dances which, in deeper water might have been the love rituals they dreamed of every moonlit night. The people are quietly busy. The surrounding shops  along the narrow roads leading into the market are still closed and dark where the full moon doesn’t find access between the buildings.The bent old lady who recycles all the plastic bags and bottles is still asleep in her tiny nest resembling a narrow tent whose walls are not sheets of canvas but bags of bags. Only the top of her head is visible from the road; and the twenty two inch colour television propped up at her feet.The rats who scampered around shortly after dark last night (the real landlords) have gone back to sleep. Their time in this scenic drama is over until later tonight.The human species shuffles on stage.Soon cats and dogs will go to sleep in the morning sun and soon too buyers from restaurants and catering establishments will arrive, make their purchases for the day, and loading them onto  pickups or Tuk-tuks before sputtering away. And now , for awhile, it time for me to wander off to my simple little cell. The moon hasn’t delivered. Of course. SHE didn’t materialize and arrive, vital and enraptured, beautiful as washed flowers and love-blind to my age. She never does. She is waiting for me to miss walking her fulgent night streets.And so, until later , goodnight – or rather good morning, Dear World. Good morning.

But there was one more thing that occurred before I finally dragged my monk’s soul off to my bed. I was walking the street playing a little riff or two on my bamboo flute when I was accosted by a young woman. She had in her hands several tiny cages and in them terrified finches—maybe seven or eight. She was poorly dressed and a little ungroomed and  needy looking. She wanted me to buy one or more of the finches to release them. I looked at her. She was not unattractive. I was immediately torn. I wanted to help both her and the birds. But if I gave her money I thought she would hold on to her captives and try to sell them elsewhere. If I bought her captives it would promote her business which involved capturing and imprisoning wild birds.I was not thinking too clearly and probably still am not.I told her that if I gave her money for the birds she would go and catch some more and we separated. But my heart was not contented. Of the two things I wanted to do –to help her financially and to help the birds, I had done neither. I thought of Hamlet’s soliloquy  ” And thus the native hue of resolution is sullied o’er with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pitch and moment by this account do lose the name of action…” I think I have misremembered that speech—corrections  please kids.—But she is the kidnapper. She is the needy mortal who boards a Guatemalan bus and abducts a schoolchild and holds the parents to ransom. Well in those circumstances the price is usually paid. So if the object of the exercise is the transfer of money from the rich to the poor and needy then payment and release is the way to go. But if the objective is to prevent the re-occurrence of this hold-up scenario and the mental suffering to the kids and the parents, then we would lean towards penalization of the girl. Of course the finest solution would be the restructuring  of the socio-economic system so that she was not desperate and needy—a piece of radical socialism which frightens the life out of republicans and  Conservatives.We could even blame mama birds for not teaching their kids to evade the  demons of humanity. But, to tell the truth I feel a sense of failure of my own humanity. Like Abraham, told to prove his love to God by murdering his child  chose law and principle over love. I am less than happy with having done nothing to help both needy parties and if I see her again I will buy all her birds and release them.In the meantime it is a lesson for me – a little “heads up ‘ for me to remember at the station of Rowan. And she—she was one of my kind of teachers who I seek on my travels in Asia. So much to learn. Back to markets.

If you hang around markets long enough you become aware of their tempo-their flux and ebb and flow. There is no time when the markets are completely deserted . Around 1.30am the tuk-tuks begin arriving bringing in people’s products—the vegetables, meat, fish and other goodies. The market stall owners who have perishables and  elaborate preparation procedures are already working towards the next day’s business. Around that time there are already between fifty to a hundred people  at work and as the night progresses this number grows towards its peak time which is between eight in the morning until one pm. By that time all the food stalls have been set up and thousands of people fed on their way to universities, to high schools, to offices and other jobs. As the sun reaches its apogee and the temperature rises things slow down and while walking through the market you can see many of the stall owners asleep. They have cleared off the counters and lie like beached walruses doing some heavy snoozing. Another aspect of markets is the incredible diversity of professions that interact there to make this huge ramshackle assemblage the complicated human accessory it is. There is a group of women who sit all day around plastic washtubs shucking hard boiled duck eggs. Another family  squats all day on a tarpaulin sorting and de-stalking huge piles of bright red chilles. A third family squats up on their stall counter armed with spoons with which they scrape the meat off fish fillets to make the paste that is the principle component of the delicious fish ball soups in all the surrounding restaurants the entire city over. Another woman has a sleek and modern stainless steel juicer designed especially to process coconut meat, separating the juice.There are people who spend all day cleaning and slicing vegetables into the attractive tiny crimpings that characterize Thai food., There are two beauty shops along the side road and two hairdressing salons. The strange mongol youth who wanders around wearing a jeans jacket with the words “fighting spirit ’ on the back and who begs for his survival has his tiny nest of old rags there amongst a pile of broken furniture, near the woman who makes and sells coffee and beside the largest of the professional gambling schools, whose intense preoccupation with the behaviour of two dice marks them as people possessed.There is a full size pool table and a public T.V. It is all there. The entire rambling collection is an intense and vital coral polyps of interractive vitality and, when you think about it a little , you can see it as Thailand’s hedge fund. Let me explain.

When we in the west go into our supermarkets ( how the  devil did that name stick– ‘super’?) we take in our money and go out with our puchases. The purchases come from sources that are daily more mechanised, more industrialized more remote and collected and delivered by massive suppliers which are daily more monopolistic. Agriculture in the west constantly becomes more organized and concentrated in the hands of fewer people so the diversity of our food suppliers diminishes and our dependency and vulnerability increase. As we have learned to our cost in the current financial problems large scale concentration of capital and supply is inherently socially dangerous. Furthermore the money that flows from our hands in the supermarkets flows back up the system to smaller and smaller groups of investors and financial interests and, again, this vital link in our survival mechanism means that less and less people are financialy sustained by the distribution system. Our  food arrives in massive trucks that run up our interstate highways and depend on vast  supplies of fossil fuels. If a major trucking industry goes bankrupt or loses its ability to find economically feasible fuel prices, our food is threatened.Furthermore our development of refrigerated transport has allowed us to harvest unripe goods which mature en route. I use the word ‘mature’ because they don’t ripen and the exciting flavours that foods develop during the ripening processes are lost forever.Supermarkets are inherently inferior.

Asian markets on the other hand are supplied by thousands of individual growers who bring their products to market daily in their own vehicles or cheaply rented individual tuk-tuks etc.There are no freezer trucks and no giant organizations  that could be destroyed by fuel shortages, strikes, political crises, or severe freak weather conditions.There are no huge financial organizations that might suddenly declare bankruptcy and cease to function.And perhaps most importantly of all the money that flows into the market from a million pockets flows out of the market in a million pockets. That is why I call Asian markets their  hedge fund. Regardless of global financial crises there will always be food in the Asian markets, it’s prices regulated by the market. And perhaps most importantly it will have all of it’s freshness and flavour and quality. There is no ‘best by’ date on Thai food and if a hundred thousand Lehmans go bankrupt with billions in their pockets, there will always be good , fresh food in Thai markets.We had that system once. How the hell did we lose it? Was it our climate? How well would a Thai system function at minus 30 Celcius? Whatever the answers, if any, Thai markets are wonderful even if they would give our health authorities conniptions.




3 responses

15 02 2009

Comment: In January 2007, Lereah said, ‘It appears we have established a bottom.’ Right. Now, I think people like Carlton Sheets are more to blame than Lereah is, encouraging everyone to flip houses time and again and create an artificially rising housing market. So what IS the NAR head supposed to say? ‘We think a house is really the worst investment you could make with your money…’? Plus, I expect Congress and Freddie Mac and easy lending did more than any book or comments by Lereah.

24 02 2009

Ahh, how fortunate to have brave capable people explore the world and continually educate us with something beautiful. How interesting to see the organic nature of this resilient natural market. Yet somewhat free from the contagion. Thanks for a translucent view upon this colorful reef.

Of course she is there. She delays, calling out your passions in words of colour.

Be vigilant in distant lands. From the snowy northern forest, a raven’s glance.


14 01 2010

Hi…… I’m Ploy!!! I love ur pictures and now I’m back to work!! Yesterday I wasn’t here and my boss told me that u had bough some sweet to us.. Thanks for the gift and hope to go to the Veg. food with u soon!!!!

Happy New Year!!!

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