Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thailand villages revisited

Fresh vegetables from the garden will be sold at the local daily morning market. A bunch of long beans sells for 5 baht (15 cents).
Once again I had the opportunity to travel outside of the bustling metropolis of Bangkok and visit three of the northeast's small country "moobahns" (villages). Life in Thai villages is similar to that in traditional villages everywhere, and even in developed countries to some extent. The pace of life is slow, most people have little money yet are happy, food comes from local gardens instead of supermarkets, and yearly income may be only what is sold from the family's rice field or backyard garden. People in villages often sit for hours on a platform or in a hammock, chatting with occasional passersby, or gather vegetables or eggs to sell in the market, work on home improvement projects, or prepare vegetables and meat for meals

Construction workers in a small village. The man makes 300 baht ($10) per 10 hour day, the national minimum wage, while the woman makes 200 baht ($6). That is the way things are in rural Thailand. The woman told me she is happy to have the work so she can pay for things her daughter (7 years old) needs for school.
It is important for people to connect with one another in the traditional villages, and if not done walking by a neighbor's house, then it is most certainly accomplished at the local market, regardless of its size.

A woman proudly displays her beautiful 100% Thai silk. This intricate piece (2 meters long) required 5 days of work. Small village markets in Surin Province have the most sought after Thai silk at very reasonable prices. I bought three.

A baby sleeps while her mother shops at the local market.

This woman sells "mahg", the Thai version of betel nuts and does a brisk business. Like many places in Asia, people chew on the very bitter and dry flesh of the nut and frequently spit into, well whatever is available or just on the ground. When I asked why one would want to chew on something that tastes so bitter (I tried it), I was told it is because of the "buzz" one gets, kind of like chewing tobacco (which is also done by many in Thailand).
Mahg (Thai betel nut)

One can buy herbal cigars at the market. Older people gather herbs to make them using traditional methods. This particular herbal blend is for sinus problems. 

Every morning at the same time, these monks from the village temple make their rounds gathering alms and then chanting blessings in return.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hong Kong wanderings

The Hong Kong that most often springs to mind.
Hong Kong is no secret: it is one of the world's great cities. The center of Asian financial markets, it is a famously vertical city of iconic high rises squeezed between forested mountain peaks and the sea. Yet, as in so many modern cities, the "old" Hong Kong still exists, even though not at first glance. Sleek skyscrapers and brightly lit neon shopping areas border the flow of human waves that swarm the streets, and if one cares to look a little closer, the side streets bustle with the commerce of traditional markets at all hours. That is what I set out to find.

On a five day trip to give a workshop at one of the world's top international schools, I was able to find time to explore the Hong Kong that still echoes with times long gone, even though often butting up against ultra modern buildings. In many ways it is like other cities in Asia, but Hong Kong has its own flavor, its own heartbeat. I decided to seek out the lesser known neighborhood street markets, and though not having enough time (I will be back), I was able to return to my hotel with very sore feet and the satisfaction of experiencing many aspects of traditional China among the incredibly fast pace of 21st century Hong Kong.

What follows is a selection of my trips on Hong Kong island as well as Kowloon across the harbor. I hope you enjoy the tour!

Across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon is the connection to mainland China, and indeed is now part of it, although designated along with Hong Kong as a "Special Administrative Region" of communist China. Several large well-known markets draw tourists as well as locals, but I gave those a pass in favor of some smaller ones and their side street connections in the Yau Ma Tei and Jordan areas of central Kowloon.

Reclamation Street fresh market

This area had several Thai restaurants and fruit stalls.

Bicycles with large baskets fixed to them are commonplace in Kowloon. They carry produce and other goods from place to place.

This tiny old lady slowly and with great difficulty pushed her cart with recyclable cardboard right down the middle of the street.

Back streets reflect a simpler and quieter life behind Kowloon's bustling main streets.

Fresh vegetables on Reclamation Street.

Workers at a poultry shop take time out to play "mah jongg", an ancient Chinese puzzle game with tiles.

Like in many other Asian markets, the variety of produce is amazing.

Typical daily market scene in Kowloon.

At the Kowloon Jade Hawker's Bazaar, men trade jade pieces outside the market.

A delivery bicycle at the jade market.

This man had several interesting pieces that were unique among the jewelry and carved jade in other stalls.

This unusual carved jade caught my eye. These were used as good luck charms for the deceased and buried in graves in the 18th & 19th centuries. I cannot verify the age of this (and two others I bought) but I got them because of their unique style. No other stalls had anything like them.

Typical small market. This one is across the street from the jade bazaar.

Sisters Ann and Angie, merchants of Burmese jade for 30 years. They are very knowledgable, and their prices quite reasonable, about half that of others.


Now connected to Kowloon by a modern subway system, Hong Kong Island is the glitzier of the two, known for its financial sector, sleek office buildings and high rise apartments that crowd the north shore. Yet, Hong Kong has its quiet places, too, particularly on the south side of the island, where beautiful forested mountains have a network of trails for the adventurer, runner and nature lover. It is a stark contrast to the downtown district.

Tai Tam Bay. View from Hong Kong International School.
It is possible to find a more traditional side of Hong Kong Island, but one must look a bit harder than in Kowloon. Even in the glare of hundreds of neon signs at Times Square in Causeway Bay, it is possible to find little out of the way places and street markets.

Assortment of fruits in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong.

Traditional sausage and noodle stall at busy Times Square. They did a brisk business every time I passed by.

Turtle jelly and herbal teas are very popular as a kind of "fast health food" in Hong Kong. The teas are brewed in and dispensed from large shiny copper urns.
Times Square.

Preparing fresh oysters for grilling. How long before they're done? "Three minutes."

Modern Hong Kong: Times Square.

Pawn shops are found throughout Hong Kong.

"Century eggs" are buried raw in salty mud and left for 15 days. This process preserves the eggs and breaks down many of the less flavorful proteins, making them much tastier. I have tried the Thai version and do not seek them out.
Newspaper vendor, Causeway Bay

A small alleyway night market among the towering skyscrapers. This one is  in Causeway Bay between Times Square and Sogo.

A newspaper kiosk in Causeway Bay under a circular pedestrian walkway. Hong Kong's double decker electric trams are Hong Kong icons.