At home I am frugal. My mom always brags to her friends about how much money I have saved, how well I budget, and how successful I’ll be one day because of my ability to manage money. But in Thailand I have become possessed by a demon. I call this demon Cilohapohs and he has stripped even the lining from my pockets. Every time I walk through a market my eyes grow wide, my hands go wild, and my wallet goes bare.
This demon entered me when I first arrived in Bangkok. For the first few days in Thailand my group and I were not yet students, but tourists. We shuffled around the city taking in the sights and experiencing the different places that Thailand had to offer. One thing that every tourist must do is market hop. Markets are found everywhere in Thailand. Venders set up stations in order to sell their goods. They have night-time markets, daytime markets, and Sunday markets. While market hopping I suffered with compulsions, whenever I saw a unique pattern or something that looked comfortable I bought it. If I saw anything handmade I bought it. And if I thought that there would be someone at home that would just love a trinket or dress, I bought it.
Most of the items that I purchased were not for me, but rather my family, friends, and people close to me. I have been fortunate enough to have encountered so many people in my life who truly care about my well-being and shower me every day with acts of kindness. I would hate it if I came back without at least one gift for those who are in my inner circles. Sadly for my bank account there are about fifteen people on that list. I bought a few items for myself, but the markets were full of exotic items, jewelry and bags made from coconut shells, little skirts that would look adorable on my niece and Thai clothing that would look great on my sisters. So every time I walked by a vender and they gave me that iconic Thai smile, Cilohapohs took control and I was lured in.
The fact that nothing in Thailand seems to be expensive failed to help me save my money as well. Along with the cheap prices everyone bargains in the markets. There is a technique to bargaining. A Thai person gives you a price and then you say half of that price. Once both prices are laid on the table the negotiating begins. The customer also usually gets a discount for purchasing multiple items. I lacked amazing bargaining skills, but I wasn’t the worst at it either. I would get five or six pieces of clothes for 1500 baht, which would average about 7-9 dollars apiece.
After I realized how much I was spending I had to place myself on a budget and get realistic again. I somehow chained up Cilohapohs and he is at bay for the moment, but I sometimes feel that he could resurface against my will depending on what items are in front of me. Luckily I have come to my senses and I still have enough funds to survive for the rest of my time in Thailand. My compulsive shopping had some positive aspects despite the negative effects on my funds, one aspect being that I will be coming home with Christmas gifts for many people and two, I got the souvenirs out of the way early so it has been wiped off of my to-do-list.
Not every market that I have been to in Thailand has been a hub for souvenirs either. They come in all varieties. One of the most unusual markets that I visited while here was a market on the train tracks called Mae Klong. It is in Samut Songkhram, Thailand which is located nearby Bangkok. This market has a wide variety of goods, but mostly the venders sell food. There is a huge train that runs directly through the market so when it comes, all the venders hurry and move their goods off the tracks and people bunch together behind the caution lines for safety. Once the train passes through everyone goes back to making their deals until the next time it comes.
Another unique market was the Thai floating market. There are many of these near and in Bangkok. There are open shacks all down the riverbank where people have a plethora of items on display. The boat driver paddles down the river and if the passenger sees something of interest the driver will pull over to the side. When it gets to the afternoon the boat traffic picks up because there are a vast amount of tourists. My group and I got on the river early, but we headed back in the afternoon, which was river rush hour. It was entertaining watching the long thin boats maneuver past each other, as each diver pushed and paddled down the non-existing river lanes.When I found myself in markets like this I am happy to say that there was no exorcism needed of my demon. My mind was too far out into the world observing the Thai people and how they made their livelihood in such remarkable ways. As we floated down the river I saw a Thai woman sitting with her legs folded in her boat while she cut a large green fruit with a sizeable knife. She wore a straw hat that covered her from the sun and as I watched her, so focused on her task, I realized that although I was sitting in my boat partaking in tourism, she was sitting in her boat because that was her life.