Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bangkok vignettes

Sidewalk amulet sales are a common sight everywhere in Thailand. People take their amulets very seriously. Some sell for hundreds, and occasionally thousands of dollars. 
I love Bangkok's street life. Thai culture is displayed in the events that are continuously being played out on every street in the city. People jam the sidewalks to buy, well, just about anything. I am always astonished at the sheer volume of fresh produce, meats, clothing, sweets, eggs, trinkets, amulets, ice cream, hot dishes and cooked food available all day every day. I often wonder how anyone can sell enough to sustain their families. But judging by the masses of people that buy, apparently they do.

As one wanders through the streams of people, stepping around sleeping dogs, being jostled by strangers on the crowded sidewalks, and exchanging smiles and greetings with vendors, there is a kaleidoscope of images that meld into a wonderful microcosm that says "This is Thailand".

This post is a collage of my most recent photos on the streets of eastern Bangkok.

Photos by the author. All rights reserved. Do not use without permission.

Early morning alms. Monks make their rounds, chanting blessings after receiving food from the pious.

A man sells cooked corn and other vegetables from his baskets that he carries slung from a pole across his shoulder from place to place.
Students at a barber school give free haircuts on the street as their instructors observe and assess the techniques.

 A man plays a kaen, a complicated reed instrument, on the sidewalk 
for spare change.

A common open air kitchen where rice and noodle dishes are cooked and served at sit down tables or in takeaway containers.

A young girl naps on a rice bag between rounds of begging.

These street-side vendors show why Thailand is known as
"The Land of Smiles".

A vendor softens grilled dried squid by passing it several times through a ridged hand-cranked wringer.

A tailor in a covered market.
His old machine is operated by a foot pedal.

 Kanom krok, a traditional Thai sweet. A soft cake made from rice flour and dried vegetable pieces, it is topped with a sweet coconut layer, covered and baked over steaming water. Aroy mahk! Delicious!

As in most cities of the world, some people must find places to sleep off a night of heavy drinking, as they have nowhere else to go. This man was on a pedestrian overpass at 8:00 in the morning.
 A man begs in a busy intersection near a large market.

 Scene at a small Chinese Buddhist temple. Many Bangkok Thais have Chinese heritage and such temples are commonplace, frequented by all Thais, whether Chinese or not.

 Vendors peel and section jackfruit on a sidewalk next to a bank.

 Flower vendors sell masses of blooms every day, as people buy them for placing on altars in their homes or at the office or to take to a wat  (temple). The two people on the left are stringing together garlands of jasmine and marigolds that they will sell for 20 baht (60 cents).

 It is common to see flowers and multi-colored fabrics encircling very large trees. Often it is a bodhi tree, the tree where it is said the Buddha was meditating when he reached enlightenment (this one is not). These locations act as places for prayer, or to mark the scene of a fatal accident, or near businesses as good luck.

Time out for homework at a busy market.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Growing up poor in a Thai village (part 2)

In my last post of a narrative from a young Thai woman who grew up poor in rural Thailand (see post below, April 26), I wrote about the conditions as her widowed mother struggled to care for her three children. Since then, more details have emerged in casual conversation. At first, I could hardly believe what I was hearing, as I have never witnessed, nor ever known anyone in this type of situation. But as she told her story, I realized that it is not so unusual, as her co-workers laughed and nodded as she recounted what I think is very remarkable, but apparently very common...

"I kamoey (steal) mangoes when I am young. I go to neighbor's houses at 4:00 in the morning and take so many I cannot carry more, then sit and eat until I am full."

Me: How old were you?

"About seven year. I kamoey eggs, too. I go at night, no one see me, and take eggs from chicken house."

Me: Why did you do that?

"We do not have any food! Hungry a lot. I take pak (vegetables) from gardens too. We very hungry all the time."

Me: And the neighbors did not know?

"No, they never see me. Maybe they know, but they not scold me."

Me: What did your mother say?

"She never know. She work in Bangkok after father die."

Me: Who took care of you?


Me: What? You lived alone without an adult?

"My sister take care of me and younger brother while mother in Bangkok. We take care ourselves."

Me: How old was your sister?

"Ten year old."

Me: How far was your village from Bangkok?

"Far. Take 6 hour by bus."

Me: Did your mother come back every weekend?

"Sometimes, but not most weekends. It too far and she need to work."

Me: Did you have money?

"No, she gave us some, but we spend fast. When I go to school, I kamoey from other student lunch."

Me: They didn't see you?

"When time to go outside, I say I have to go to toilet, then come back to room and smell each bag. Then I take a little from each, so no one know."

I still marvel at this tale of growing up poor in Thailand. Unfortunately, this still occurs, especially in rural areas. Now, whenever I see poor children with their mothers in Bangkok, particularly those begging on the street, I feel such sympathy for them, and do not question their motives. I now know that they are struggling, and often cannot find work, even in the city. I am also amazed by the happy attitudes of those who had so little as a child. Perhaps they are grateful for steady jobs and full bellies, regardless of the unreasonable hours they are expected to work. Thailand has many similarities to the U.S. in the 1920s: no organized worker unions to fight for dignified compensation and safe working conditions, little or no government support, lots of despair, alcoholism and domestic violence (it is not unlawful to hit one's spouse or child). Retirement pensions average 500 baht ($15 US) per month, hardly enough to buy food for one's self.