Friday, December 7, 2012

The Battle Has Been Lost, Hopefully The War Will Continue

The battle has been lost but I hope that the war will continue.  What?  Is this another bitter article regarding American elections.  No!  Is this about whatever may or may have happened in Libya? Nope, not that either!  What about something to do with what may happen in Iran?  No, not today.

Today's blog is actually a follow up and update to a blog that I wrote at the end of November 2009,

"Big Box Battle - The Struggle Against The Multinationals" documented the battle to prevent the British multinational grocer, Tesco-Lotus, from building a big box store in Kumphawapi.  Local people, suspected Chinese merchants, had posted a sign in Kumphawapi stating along the lines that if you helped Tesco-Lotus to locate in Kumphawapi you would die.  Perhaps not necessarily a direct death threat but in a land of many spirits, karma, and things that go bump in the night something to take seriously.

Well now three years later, Lotus-Tesco will shortly be opening their Kumphawapi "Super-Store"  This pains me on a personal level.  Since the exit of the French multinational grocer, Carrefour, I have been doing most of my grocery shopping at Lotus-Tesco in Udonthani.  I have many fond memories of when I first became associated with Kumphawapi of shopping at the local market with Duang. Some of those memories and experiences were written about in August 2009:

Duang and I continue to use the Kumphawapi market as well as the local small shops to purchase food, beverages, and household items for the family out in Tahsang Village.  Every shopping trip to the markets and shops has been a pleasant experience and sometimes even an adventure. My blogs are not so much about my personal experiences but rather the documentation of some unique aspects of a special culture - a special culture like so many other cultures that under attack today by the forces of globalization and one world governance.

Outdoors Portion of Kumphawapi Market
On Father's Day here two days ago, we shopped at the market in Kumphawapi.  It was more than a shopping experience it was also a social experience.  Many of the vendors recognized Duang and had to share some kind words or gossip with her.  I was content to wander around taking photographs in an attempt to capture the atmosphere of a way of life here in Thailand.  Soon I had attracted the attention of some men who good naturedly pointed out things that I should photograph.

Fresh Bananas For Sale - $0.15 USD A Pound
Besides the social and communal aspects that the local markets provide, they also provide a greater variety and higher degree of quality of produce, fish, and meats.  The sellers at the local markets are independent vendors.  They pay rent for the space that they occupy at the market.  The market provides space and electricity.  The individual vendors provide the fixtures and equipment.

If they sell bad product, they will quickly be out of business.  Since most items are not packaged, it is easy to determine if a product is not at its freshest. The vendors are not capitalized so they must ensure that their customers are satisfied and perhaps just as important trust them. The market vendors are also more sensitive and responsive to the needs of their customers.  They have no corporate mangers to please, no corporate policies or procedures to follow or to hide behind.  All profits also remain within the local economy - locals helping locals.  Local solutions for local problems and situations.

Vegetables For Sale At Kumphawapi Market
Vendors often sell products from their local farms or products that they have gathered from local waters or nearby land.  Many local people have started to grow mushrooms as a cottage industry.  The fruits of their labors, both in variety and quantity, was readily apparent at the market.  There were also many tables of fresh vegetables; unpackaged vegetables that you could closely inspect, and smell before making your choice.

Fresh Fish Being Prepared For Sale

You Can't Find Fish Any Fresher Than These
One of the vendors that attracted my attention during our last visit to the market was the pumahlai vendor.  Pumahlai are fresh floral arrangements that are given as offerings to Buddha in the Wats, hung from rear view mirrors inside of motor vehicles, and given to people as gifts as well as demonstrations of respect.  In urban areas you can buy pumahlai at the intersections of major roads and at the markets.  They typically cost from 20 to 80 baht ($0.60 USD to $2.60) depending upon size and type of flowers used.  They are available year long and are one of the affordable luxuries that add to the quality of life here in Thailand.

Mother and Son Making Pumahlai For Sale
Since we visited the market on a holiday, there was no school in session.  The pumahlai vendor had her school aged son helping her to make and sell the floral arrangements.  here in Thailand and in Isaan in particular children help contribute to the family's economic welfare.  In extreme cases, such as was the case with Duang, children have to leave school after four years to work in the fields.  In other cases the children help to sell handicrafts along the highway when school is not in session.  Children are not sheltered for a long time from the responsibilities and accountability of adulthood or at least the awareness of contributing to the family's welfare.

You can buy products other than meat, fish, vegetables, and flowers at the Kumphawapi Market.  There is a section where you can buy fresh baked goods - one of my favorites being fresh waffles with corn and shredded coconut in them - great for breakfast and good for any other time.  In the covered portion of the market, there are stalls that sell dry goods and canned goods.  Other stalls sell the ingredients necessary for betelnut chewing - large sacks of the stuff!  Some stalls sell clothing, while others sell toys.

A Clothing Vendor At The Market
The market also has bathrooms, bathrooms where you need to pay a small fee to use them.  I always want to be honest and truthful in what I write in this blog so I have to  admit that I much much more prefer the bathrooms at the multinational big box stores than at the local markets.  I actually prefer the sugar cane fields to the bathrooms at the local markets.  This just reinforces the adage that no one is perfect no place is perfect either.  The market does provide a janitorial service to keep the area somewhat under control.

Sweeping Up At the Market
Our visit to the market was accented with the sounds of cleavers chopping fish or meat, various radios and CD players blaring ethnic music, the rasping sounds of fish being scaled, the din of good natured banter between vendors and customers, as well as the scratching sound of the market janitor sweeping up with her long stiff broom.  The music was so infectous that the man who was pointing out things for me started to dance.  I joined him in dancing Isaan style much to the amusement of everyone.  The vendors told Duang to bring me back some day - some day soon!

Janitor Wishing Me A Happy Father's Day
Adjacent to the market are several small shops that specialize in selling dry goods.  These are small family run operations typically by ethnic Chinese.  These shops will transport your purchases across the main road to the parking lot - just part of their customer services.

A Small Dry Goods Shop

Lotus Tesco has won their battle to built their "super-store" in Kumphawapi but I hope that people of the area continue to support their local solution for shopping.  I hope that they work to preserve their culture and traditions in opposition to the pressures of multinational corporations for mono culturalism.  Perhaps s I write this blog one Thai or hopefully more than one Thai is saying something along the lines uttered by Bluto from the film "Animal House" ... "What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is!"

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