Sunday, January 6, 2013

Local Markets

On New Years Day morning, on our way out to Tahsang Village, we stopped at the local market in Kumphawapi.  We needed some offerings and food for our visit to a special Monk near the village where my Mother-in-Law was born. 
At the local markets, just about anything can be purchased - clothing, hardware, prepared foods, flowers, plants, DVDs, CDs, meat, seafood, turtles, eels, snakes, frogs - basically if it is alive or was once alive, it is for sale. Local people and people from outlying villages shop at these local markets.

In all villages there are small, very small, markets where villagers can buy certain necessities such as cooking oil, sauces, soap, shampoo, canned mackerel, soda, beer, whiskey, snack foods and sometimes eggs and a few vegetables. These markets supplement villager's shopping trips to the local markets.

Local markets are located throughout towns and cities in Isaan. In rural areas, there are markets set up alongside the road where people gather to sell and buy. Some of the markets are temporary setups on specified evenings of the week (night markets).

Duang Buying Some Live Eels to Bring to Monk

Local markets are a combination of indoor permanent facilities and temporary outside facilities. The indoor facilities are large dark open sided buildings or a series of connected buildings with corrugated sheet metal roofs. Inside there are rows and rows of fixed raised tables where the vendors set out their goods to sell. Outside facilities consist of a low raised wood rough platforms typically covered with plastic tablecloths upon which the merchandise is displayed along with a small spring scale to weigh the goods.

A large umbrella protects the goods and vendor from the elements. Sometimes there is a small plastic chair or aluminum lawn chair for the vendor but quite often they sit atop the platform along with the goods.  

We were shopping at the local market because the food is cheaper than at the big international stores, and most importantly the selection for the types of foods that the Lao Loum people eat is much greater there.

Fresh Food Being Cooked Over a Charcoal Fire
Shopping in the local market is not just the matter of going in, grabbing what you need, paying for it and getting out. These local markets in Isaan also are centers of gossip and social interaction. People end up meeting their friends and relatives at the market so they stop and talk. The vendors also join in and ask questions about family matters. The simple task of selecting vegetables to buy also requires an involved conversation - to ensure the best quality, best price and most likely most importantly of all be perceived as a "kuhn jai dai" - a good person, someone with a good heart.

Part of the Fresh Fish and Seafood Section of the Market
Dried Fish For Sale
Pig's Heads At A Station of One of the Pork Vendors
Scattered throughout the interior of the indoor portion of the Kumphawapi market there are large charcoal grills where fish and meat are cooked. Large metal ducts take the smoke and fumes up and out through the sheet metal roof. Cooked products are lined along the counter for sale. In other areas people use propane gas burners to cook sweets. The sweets are typically corn or rice with coconut as well as sugar added. I particularly enjoy the corn kernel- shredded coconut waffles fresh out of the waffle iron.

Fresh Fruit, Mangosteens, 25 Baht a Kilogram ($0.38 a pound)
Another Fruit Vendor, Everyday Is "Wear What You Want Day" At The Talat Sao
Inside the market the aisles are very narrow as well as crowded. We had arrived around 7:30 A.M. so it was the height of the morning market rush.  In addition to buying items for the day and days ahead, many people were buying their breakfast. You need to be careful walking because the concrete floors are not level, have abrupt changes in elevation, and are in various states of disrepair. Lighting levels are low inside the market with illumination provided by a small number of exposed fluorescent tubes and bare light bulbs. Interestingly, many of the bare light bulbs are now the eco-friendly fluorescent type. An occasional cat or street dog will also wander by to further complicate navigating through the market.

A Stall Selling Dry Goods and Some Goods that are Wet in Bottles
Some of the vendors, typically those who are selling canned goods have updated their booths with small TVs or stereos. This provides some entertainment and distraction for their children or grandchildren who accompany the vendors.
Typical Thai Desserts Being Made For Sale

Soup's On!
Between the sights, sounds, and smells, a stop at the local market is always entertaining as well as interesting.  There is also no telling what you may learn about just anyone, too.  I have written several times before that there are no secrets in Isaan.  The local market specializes in ensuring that and for free!
Duang Headed Out of the Talat Sao in Kumphawapi

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