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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The County Fair

In a previous blog I mentioned that I have been hearing live band music for a few days. Well the few days has now passed the one week mark, and I am serenaded to sleep by various live Thai bands, playing about 1/2 kilometer away.
Each night has been different. One night was country and western Thai music, and then one night I found myself singing along to a popular rap type song. I found I must have lost my place with the words, until I realized this WAS the song, but it was in Thai that I was hearing it performed.
Any time I had to go to Chaofa road, I saw at the junction of a street we use to come home and Chaofa road was a market style activity, with lots of neon lighting in various hugs and colours of the rainbow, some solid, some banded with various colour combination. Along the Chaofa Road they had also stuck these 2 meter long florescent tubes along the roadway, banded in the colours of the Thai national flag.
Despite the activity and my natural curiosity, I never went to see what was actually happening, until tonight. I had not been feeling well for the past few days. Mostly because with Clive in Australia snarfing the wine, I was with the dogs and tend to let my eating habits go to hell. So I am sure my diet was contributory, with my self diagnosis and a strong need to be away from the dogs for a few hours, I decided to walk over to see what was going on and where the music was actually coming from.
My mental space has not been the brightest so a walk along the sparsely light moo's and soi's, I set out taking in my surroundings and venturing out to see something new. The evening was nice and warm, at about 24 degrees Celsius, and a light breeze made it idea for walking without loosing a liter of sweat.

I strolled aware of Clive's advise about walking or running here. Always walk in the direction of the traffic flow, and NOT facing the traffic. Walking towards the traffic flow seems to cause some concern, as they expect you are about to cross in front of them. After 6 months I operate the same way, if they are facing you, they are going to try and cross in front of you. Be it on foot, bicycle, car or bus; they will cross.They are more used to maneuvering around you from behind, than guess where you may veer to, and dash in front of them. A friend recently told me that in Canada you do not pass on a corner, as there may be traffic coming toward you Here they pass on the corner in the belief there will not be anything coming toward them. And so I made my way to Chaofa road and then began the skillful way you cross a busy road with cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles (some with and some without headlights/taillights) and cross diagonally, ideally in a ballet of movement that allows you to weave your way across. Ii arrived at what looked like an outdoor market, but it was instead a setting like a Thai version of the county fair or for those in Vancouver a very mini PNE The set-up was on an open field and it had been raining off and on throughout the day, so the ground was soft and in places downright muddy and occasional water mud puddles. Some of them had been covered in flattened cardboard boxes, and gave a semblance of ability to cross without mud oozing through your toes, if you moved quickly. I stopped to take in every sight, while not jostling with a lot of people, it was nevertheless busy. Young groups of teen aged boys and girls walking in groups and giggling or passing the opposite sex group and making comments and flirting. Young children with their parents rushing to the food concessions and of course the usually present soi dogs looking for snacks.

Before I get too far into this section, I need to set out some comparative pricing, so that the reader can get a better regional appreciation of the actual prices, and as usual I fall back on the Canadian dollar, albeit that the rise of the Thai Baht has outstripped Canada's dollar in the past few weeks.

Baht        Canadian Dollar

5              $0.17
10            $0.34
20            $0.51
30            $1.02
100          $3.42

I wandered down the center row of stalls to a large open field, decked with tables and chairs where people were eating and listening to the free live concert. On either side of the field and flanking the stage were food concessions. Home made ice creams in flavors like coconut, mango, tamarind and the usual strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, plus others I did not ask about; kettle popcorn in syrup type coating and coated in salt and chill powder, sweet, hot and salty all at once; crepes in full and mini sizes and filled with fried coconut; home made sausages, fish balls, squid, and chicken (all the various parts of a chicken including the feet, BBQ or deep fry) and then an assortment of Thai dishes, like curry with rice. Everything was priced from 10-15 Baht. I managed to make it about 1/2 way around before I had to break down and get some "carny food". Unfortunately there are no places that were selling those grease laden, smothered in onions that are also fried in oil like I would get at the PNE, but the diet is not the same anyway and I am not so sure I could eat one of those again as my eating tastes and habits have changed so much. Alas, no cotton candy or beaver tails. But that popcorn was wonderful, and the dogs agree as they finished off a half bag with me later at home and pronounced it delicious, getting non-stop tail wags.

I listened to the band play for a while, as I had one of those ice creams that were screaming for me to buy them, then made my way to the far side of the stall I had come through earlier. I came upon the amusement park area. There were some children's musical rides. One of them was a slow moving carousel and seated on elephants that were painted in bright enough colours to be able to be seen by the international space station, were small children screeching in glee or in one case abject fear. Moving along, I came across a few of the standards games of chance. The dart and balloon booth, the pistol target shooting gallery and a various of the fishing game, but in this case they were live fish. The object was to catch the live goldfish with a very tiny net amongst the 100 or so black fish. Then on to the games of chance. I felt it strange to see what looked like a bingo game in a carnival standard bingo tent. I even thought that I might sit and play a game just for the fun of it, but some of those players looked so fierce and determined, I thought that a farang walking in and winning the Hello Kitty body pillow may not be a welcomed intrusion, no matter how much I like the pillow. I then noticed, that they were calling out the numbers, but there was no B I N G or O. There was instead each player with a wooden board about one square foot divided in a grid of 4 across and 4 down assorted numbers from 1-100. Each game uses a different coloured board and they are all collected and used for another game. There are no bingo dabbers or paper to get rid of. Instead each player has a plastic strainer type basket that is filled with pop bottle tops, which are then placed over the number that has been called. I heard at least 2 winners, although I am not sure what the call word was, I am sure it was not BINGO! Then there were the spin the arrow games, that looked similar to a roulette designed table. In the middle of the circular board was an arrow on a pivot that would be spun around and where the arrow head pointed was the winner. Each player got 5 small plastic coloured rings, a different colour for each player that they would place at various locations on the board. I was wondering why they did not place all of the rings, until I saw when there was a winner, that you presented your matching colour ring to validate that you are the winner. Each place had various prizes, some had children's wrist watches at each marker station and you won that watch, other had the usual collection of stuffed animals such as elephants, snakes and of course the usual Hello Kitty collections. Similar to what I experienced in Canada, a win was not an automatic win of that stuffed elephant. You got a small prize and could trade up in subsequent games if you won them. If not then you got to keep your plastic dinosaur figurine or rubber snake. It was after a while that I noticed actually how quiet it was in the arcade area. Normally I am used to the various games stalls barking out to get customers, trying to over shout the carnival music or the screaming of the amusement riders. This was serious stuff.

Then I moved on and found myself between the 10 Baht shop and the 20 Baht shop. The 20 Baht shop was selling anything you can think of you would find in any hardware or kitchenware store in North America. Most of it plastic, all of it made in china and all of it only 20 Baht each. I was tempted when I saw the special promotion of 5 sink strainers and a bonus sponge for 20 baht, when I noticed the humidity of the past few weeks had begun to show the rust on the "stainless steel" strainers. Hack saws, rubber mallets, switchblade knives, ashtrays, kitchen storage containers, peelers for just about any type of fruit or vegetable, rat poison, rat traps and electrical tape. Across the way at the 10 Baht shop, a place I felt I could justify ANY purchase to Clive when he gets back, the stall was devoted to hair related items. Thousands of types of head bands, ear muffs and hair beads, combs, brushes, tweezers and the like, all only 10 Baht each. I did spy some rubber mallets, that looked suspiciously similar to those across at the 20 Baht shop and wanted to buy one, just to feel I had found a great deal, even cheaper than the 20 Baht shop, when the man from the 20 Baht shop came over took the box and put it on display at his shop. So I had just witnessed a 100% price hike or he owned both shops.

From the Baht shops, I found myself in the clothing section. Selling a large variety of clothing, some specializing in women's clothes to men's wear. The underwear and bra booths seemed to be doing a brisk business at 3 pair of underwear for 99 Baht. Men's dress shirts selling for 50 Baht and T shirts going for 4 for 100 Baht. Men's and women's shorts, mostly designer label were on blow out for 100 Baht. Next to the new stuff were used clothing stalls, selling everything from used running shoes and flip-flops to dress shoes. A one of a kind selection of all manner of used clothes, averaging 30 Baht each for adult size and 2 for 30 Baht for children's sizes. I could not resist a new shirt and picked out one that actually was in my size and felt guilty as I clutched my purchase, parting with 50 Baht. Clive will be so proud of me, I think, unless I can find a reason to explain why I need a new shirt anyway. Having worked my way just about through the horseshoed mud paths, I came upon the must have stalls, similar to the encyclopaedia salesman at the PNE, you don't need them, but you buy them anyway and spend the 2 hour drive home rationalizing it.  I know from first hand experience. In this particular fair however the collection of goods ranged from rice cookers to plastic machine guns, tasers and mirror balls. A replica handgun, that gives you an electrical zap when you pull the trigger. Good for a party laugh I guess, but man that thing stings, much to the amusement of the patrons who urged me to try out the handgun. And then my second impulse buy of the night hit me. A large corner booth that had the largest array of designer reader glasses. In Canada I would find reader glasses at the dollar store and the best I could do was a +2.5 magnification and always in brown or black wire frames. Here the selection was amazing and then I spotted it the rare and necessary +3.0 wrap around Gucci styled reading glasses. My look of captivation brought a salesperson out of nowhere to conclude my deal.

It was time to go. My night out had been fun and educational. I had amused some people, some just stared at me, being the only non-Thai at the fair. I had spent some money and made at least one man light up with my shirt purchase and ask me to come back again please. I know ice cream woman ripped me off for 5 Baht, but I really did not care, that coconut flavour still resonates in my taste memories and you can't buy that for 5 Baht! So with a full belly and my treasured possessions, sadly minus any Hello Kitty body pillow, I began the walk home. I added up my purchases and they totaled 130 Baht for the night. More than it would cost me in gas to go from Mission to the PNE.

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