Monday, October 21, 2013

Morning Market - Sakon Nakhon

The Scallion Vendor At 6:30 A.M., Saw Her Again At 5:00 P.M. Leaving the market

This weekend, Duangchan and I drove two hours east of our home to a town called Sakon Nakhon to once again witness the Sakon Nakhon Wax Castle Festival which marks the end of Buddhist Lent which is also referred to as the Buddhist Rain Retreat or Vassa.

We had attended the festival last year, , but did not stay for the night procession of the completed floats or attend any of the formal events prior to the procession.  I wanted to return this year view the procession and perhaps some cultural events associated with the festival.

Using the Internet I was able to determine the dates of the festival quite easily.  However I had no luck in determining exactly what was the schedule of events for the festival.  I sent an email to the Tourism Authority of Thailand requesting specific information regarding the schedule of events.  I received a prompt confirmation of receipt of my email and was informed that my request had been sent to local chapter for reply.  Three weeks later and two days after conclusion of the festival, I have not received a reply.  Just about every Internet site that had some information on the festival provided a phone number to obtain information on the event.  I had Duang call that number four times - there was never an answer.  I then had her call the hotel where we had stayed last year and where I intended to stay this year.  From the hotel, we learned that the night procession was on 18 October, so I decided that we would arrive on the 17th and leave on the 19th.  We had time constraints this year - the 17th was Duang's 50th birthday and she wanted to make special merit in the morning with the forest Monk.  On the 19th she wanted to make her third and last night of women's retreat at Wat Ban Mat.

We arrived in the afternoon of the 17th.  That night we watched many of the wax castle floats being set up in one of the large assembly areas.  The floats were transported on roads from outlying Wats to Ming Muang Ground.

For whatever reason, I woke up the next morning at 5:30 A.M.. Our hotel was located two blocks from the morning markets in central Sakon Nakhon.  I had mentioned earlier to Duang that if I woke up early enough on the 18th or 19th. I wanted to go to the markets to take some photographs.  Having woken up early, I headed down to the markets - alone.

My first stop was at the Municipal Daily Fresh Market on Yuwapatana Road.  I immediately realized that although it was around 6:00 A.M. the market was not really up and running like so many of the other Talad Saos (Morning Markets) that I am familiar with in Thailand and Lao.  Some meat vendors were just setting up their booths and stalls in the market.

Pork Vendor setting Up for the Morning
I commenced to photograph the vendors and their activities.  From the vendors I learned that the market did not really get going until 7:00 A.M. From one vendor I learned that there was much more going on at the next door market, Tor Kam Kar Daily Fresh Market.

All Parts of Animals Are For Sale At the Market

Making Fresh Ground Pork
I have enjoyed and utilized the local markets in Thailand, Malaysia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

I have always been fascinated with the markets be they morning, wet, fresh or evening since first coming to Southeast Asia in 1999.  The markets here are very much different than the supermarkets in western countries.

First of all the markets here, where most locals shop, typically do not have walls.  The roofs, under which the goods are offered for sale, are often a combination of corrugated metal of various degrees of corrosion and other materials such as clear plastic sheeting, tarps, recycled political or advertising plasticized fabric signs and sometimes thatched panels.  The floors of the markets are usually concrete which is often wet from the marketing activities.

Secondly the markets are not creations of large corporations but are rather amalgamations of individual vendors.  Each vendor rents their space from the market owner.  In Kumphawapi, a small space costs $1 a day.

Goods are displayed on raised counters constructed of wood, metal. or tiled concrete.  Quite often the vendor sits on the same platform surrounded by their goods.  Outside of the markets, you will often find vendors sitting on woven reed mats placed on the ground.

Patrons of the markets do not have grocery carriages or carts.  Some people will go to the market carrying a woven bamboo basket to carry their purchases home.  Most people leave the market carrying several small plastic bags in each hand.

Refrigeration is sparse in the markets.  In the case of fish, there are two methods of keeping it fresh.  The first method is to keep it alive.  In the fish section of the markets, the floor is often covered with large plastic tubs of water and fish.  Some of the tubs have air injected into the water through small stone aerators attached to aquarium pumps.  The second method of keeping the fish fresh is to display it on tiled, marble or tiled topped platforms or stainless steel tables and periodically pour water over them.  For me there is a paradox in marketing perishables in this manner.  At first this practice may be disturbing to people who are accustomed to shopping in brightly lit, cool, antiseptic plastic wrapped merchandising temples of the western world.  OMG. Oh My God - how can they shop and eat food in those Asian markets? most likely are in thoughts of many people.  But here, for me is the paradox, in the more primitive conditions people are exposed to fresher food. How?  If the food is not fresh you sure can tell by the way it looks and smells. Having discovered too late horrible spoiled fish from a well known grocery store in California, I am well aware that modern sanitary conditions, specialized lighting, foam and plastic packaging, and utilizing nitrogen gas are no guaranty of freshness.

Pork For Sale
The pork that was being hung from large meat hooks in the Municipal Daily Fresh Market was definitely fresh.  I know because I went up to the meat and smelled it - no one objected because that is how you shop - looking, smelling, and sometimes even touching.  The Asian shopper takes responsibility for what they purchase and bring into their home.

Butchermen of Sakon Nakhon
Since I was pressed for time, our hired driver was picking us up at 8:00 A.M., I did not spend much time at the first market.  I moved down to the next market which was a bee hive of activity.  It was everything that you will come to find in a Southeast Asia market.  It was crowded.  It was noisy.  It was, in certain areas, smelly.  It was interesting.

Outdoor Charcoal Grill - Fish On One Side, Fish On the Other Side

As much as it was a market, it was also a huge restaurant.  Charcoal grills were cooking fish and chickens.  Propane burners were fueling the local versions of deep fryers.  Smaller table top sized grills were used to cook small kebabs of pork or chicken parts. The pungent odors of charcoal, fermented fish sauce, and spices permeated the atmosphere.  Although it was "breakfast" time, patrons were very likely purchasing grilled fish or even chicken for their first meal of the day. Here food is food without distinction of when it should be eaten.

Sidewalk Grilled Chicken Vendors
Inside the covered market, vendors were selling all kinds of goods.  Selling goods was not their only activity.  Vendors were heavily engaged in socializing with other vendors as well as their customers.  Markets are wonderful places to catch up on all matters, great and small.

Chilies, Tomatoes, Limes - All For Sale

The Cabbage Lady

It Would Not Be A Market If There Were No Rice For Sale
Since it was around 7:00 A.M., there was an opportunity to photograph a local Monk on his morning alms walk.

People Make Offerings of Food to Monk

I have often written about the ways things are supposed to be and the way they actually are.  I have read about Buddhism and how the Monks are to receive alms.  From what I have read and understand the giving of alms is not a quid pro quo exchange.  The laypeople offer the food for the mere act of kindness.  They should not expect anything in return for their act although the pure act itself earns them merit.  The Monk is supposed to accept the food as it is offered without judgement and without reward to the donors.

I have seen many Monks just very slowly walk by the people so that they could drop food in his bowl.  They would not stop.  I have also seen Monks in Thailand stop in front of donors and recite a chant upon accepting food - I presume that it was a sort of blessing.  In Lao People's Democratic Republic, I have witnessed Monks accepting food, walking past the donors, stopping in front of the people's home or business and then chanting as if blessing the structures.

Monk Chanting After Accepting Food Offerings
In Sakon Nakhon the Monk, after accepting food offerings from a group of people, stood before them and chanted before continuing along on his alms walk. I point this out to demonstrate that things often are not what they appear to be or should be.  Examples such as this, for me, are reasons to be more open minded and tolerant in trying to understand things.  Things are often more complicated than is conveyed or communicated.  Often it doesn't really make a difference.  It is often a matter of personal experience and perspective.

The Egg Lady
One of the vendors that I photographed several times was the "Egg Lady".  Eggs are handled very differently here than back in the USA.  Eggs are not refrigerated here.  Our weather here is either hot and dry or hot and wet.  How hot is hot?  Typically our highs are 90 to 95F.  During our really hot months the highs are 95 to 105F.  During our cool month the highs are 85 to 90F.  No matter the month, you will see pick up trucks stacked high, high as in 6 to 7 feet high, with compress cellulose flats of eggs.  Once they arrive at their destinations, the eggs are offloaded and displayed in the open air for sale. We shop at an English multinational grocery chain and even their eggs for sale are not refrigerated.  Customers keep the eggs that they purchased on a counter in their kitchen or outside area where they cook.

The Egg Lady at the Sakon Nakhon market was no exception to the normal practice. Her eggs were stored at her side in the open air.  Many of the eggs were flats that had earlier been on one of those pickup trucks speeding along the roads and highways.  Part of the vendor's tasks was to take eggs from the flats and place them in small cellophane bags for sale.  The eggs were carefully placed in the bag so that they formed a small pyramid - I don't know if that was for cosmic energy or for style but it is stylish in my opinion.

Chicken is also not given the special attention that it gets or is supposed to get back in the USA.  When Duang and I were in the USA, I read the warning labels on the chicken that we purchased in the supermarket and along with all the news stories of people getting sick from contaminated poultry, I wondered why we or any one else would buy let alone eat chicken.

Here in Isaan, especially during holiday periods, you will find steel half barrel charcoal grills along the roadside where grilled chicken is offered for sale.  The chicken is grilled in three different methods.  In the first method, a chicken half is flattened as if by having been rolled over by a car and skewered on one or two bamboo sticks sort of like chicken satay.  The chicken is not flattened by a car but rather by a heavy wood club.  The second method is similar but involves a whole chicken and two bamboo skewers.  The chicken is butterflied and flattened  with the club so that it resembles a desiccated bat or sting ray.  It is placed on two skewers and typically grilled in a somewhat vertical position.  The last method is where a whole chicken is skewered by a long bamboo pole about 5 to 6 inches in diameter.  Several chickens are placed high above a charcoal grill in staggered arrangements.

These roadside kitchens have neither water, let alone potable water, or refrigeration.  Once the chickens are cooked, they remain exposed to the air off to the side on a cooler part of the grill.  I have written before that I often write what I have observed and do not necessarily understand or necessarily believe.

The handling and storage of poultry and eggs here in Isaan is another example.  I don't understand why we are not all dead yet or at least hospitalized every month due to our practices.  Perhaps the lesson is that there are alternatives, alternatives that are vastly different than western standards, that do not necessarily condemn one to sickness or misery.

In a dark and narrow corridor, chicken is processed

Prepared Foods For Sale

Market Girl

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