Thursday, March 7, 2013

SE Asia Trip - Day 4, BKK Flower Market

Bangkok, Thailand:  Chinatown flower market.
A Floral Feast for the senses!

Pak Klong Talat is Bangkok's largest flower market.  It's located just a few blocks from the main entrance to Chinatown, just South of Wat Pho, and covers many city blocks.

The entrance to Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand
The architecture of the massive entrance, with it's dragons and red and gold colors are just a hint of the extraordinary sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells that I experienced, once inside the gate.

Upon entering the gates of Chinatown, the first thing we noted were the spectacular Chinese lanterns that decorated Yaowarat Road.  The Lunar New Year, February 10th, was just around the corner.  The year of the snake!  This is a celebration that can last up to two weeks.  Families return home, ancestors are honored with gifts of food, flowers, even beer, debts are paid off, and prayers offered for health, happiness, and success.  

Flowers play a huge part in Thai culture.  As in the U.S., tons of flowers are purchased from the Flower Market for weddings and funerals.  They are, of course, also offered as gifts to ancestors at the many, many private family altars.  

Flowers come to market

Imagine fifteen or twenty bags of these purple or yellow flowers hanging onto, and stacked upon, and tied to... a Honda 90.  These plants come from every flower growing region in the kingdom, and beginning around 2 or 3am, farmers begin arriving with their wares stacked so high on their motorbikes, that the riders can scarcely even be seen.  

The Chinese flower market isn't actually a tourist destination.  It is a real working market, with most of the vendor's booths selling wholesale to florists, hotels, temples, and businesses.  Some retail is done to households and others... some sales to incredibly poor people who sell the flowers on the streets.  Everybody's working hard, long hours here, trying to make a living.  Attempting to rise from the mud...

One of the first things that I noticed, was the veritable kaleidoscope of colors and the symphony of a hundred aromas that assaulted my senses... 
It was only after a brief moment that I noticed the workers... 
These men and women work all day long, stringing tiny flowers into huge arrangements, for very meager pay...
The majority of the flowers that they use are roses, jasmine (the white ones) and Marigolds.  

At work.  All day long.  Every day.
Every.  Single.  Day.

 In Southeast Asia, African Marigolds serve religious purposes. Especially in Buddhism, African Marigold flowers are used for the making of garlands. Garlands are placed upon statues of Buddha after praying. Marigold garlands are also given to those who are respected.

Some of these long garlands may even end up on the bows of the longtail boats plying the Chao Phya River.  It's good luck, ya know?  Boat never leak.

In my element...
Winnie takes a picture of Tim taking a picture.

Soft, thick, marigold garlands for your long-tailed boat?  For your Buddha statue?  For your Spirit House?
How could you not have good luck bestowed upon you?

In Thailand, flowers are the "All Occasion Greeting Card"... and at only 10 baht!
(One baht = 0.03usd)

Once strung, the arrangements are used for weddings, funerals, offerings to honor passed relatives, Buddha, and about everything else imaginable.

Flower baskets, ready-to-go!

In addition to flowers... let there be Food!  Dragonfruit in the lower part of the above picture and Winnie is pointing at Rose Apples

I love this stuff!  It's white inside, with black "spots" scattered throughout that remind me of poppyseeds... It tastes like a cross between a pear and a kiwi.  The poppyseeds offer an interesting little crunch when bitten.  A visually beautiful little cactus that offers good looks, plus sweet taste, plus great texture!  That definitely adds up to Total Yum!

Bob Bradford or Billy Cotten... do you know what this is?  Any other pharmacists out there know?
Betel nuts.  After they ripen they turn kind of orange.  Chewing them up does several things:
Turns your teeth black...
Turns your spit red...
They can be chewed in a similar way to chewing tobacco, producing a mildly euphoric and stimulating effect, and helping reduce tension.

Betel nuts and betel quids are generally chewed for their psychoactive  properties that help reduce tension, produce a feeling of wellbeing and  facilitate social interactions and strengthen social ties.  Does this look cut and pasted?  Hell yes!  I didn't know squat about betel nuts until I  saw these and Googled 'em...

Around 10 to 20% of the world's population chews betel nut in some  form. This makes it the 4th most widely-used psychoactive substance,  after nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.
(Nota bene:  This statement not valid in Colorado and Washington states.  Oh, and Northern California.  Oh, and.... oh, never mind, too many states to list!)

Hey, here's a nice little pepper-upper.  A betel nut snack, with something wrapped up in the ubiquitous banana leaves.  I've chewed coca leaves and drank coca tea in Peru (or was it Equador?), but here?  I think that I'll just have a frosty Dr. Pepper, instead.

Hey, wait... here's something that doesn't smell like cigarettes, flowers, tuk-tuk exhaust, or incense!
Fresh Fish! 
But wait!  No smell!  This seafood didn't smell fishy...  It was swimming in the river this morning!

There are literally dozens of curbside MREs awaiting your gastronomic considerations.
"We got two kinda fish.  With heads, and without heads.  Which you want?"
(Nice boots, Mama)

You want the chicken?  (I think)  Actually they are pork knuckles.  Every bit of each animal is used. Nothing... absolutely nothing, goes to waste.
You remember that "fresh calamari" that you were raving about?
Oh... just never mind.

Fresh bananas and pineapples abound.

Mangosteens have a "durable" (you'll probably need a knife) outer coating that protects the soft, fruit inside.  We had them sliced along their equators, and presented with our daily hotel fresh fruit baskets.  The pale fruit inside is segmented like a mandarin orange, and had the perfect melt-in-your-mouth mixture of sugars and acid.  Sweet, but spit out the seeds... they're slightly bitter like orange or grape seeds.

  One stop shopping... after you've purchased your food, drink, and liquid offerings for your spirit house... Don't forget the incense!  You'll need to burn one, three, or five... at a time.  Even numbers are unlucky, and your ancestors will not be happy with you!

The lotus is very important to the Buddhist countries of SE Asia.
They have a saying, "Growing in the mud, yet not smelling of the mire".

The lotus' growth begins in the mud of the pond.  It's stem rises through the water, and its wonderfully fragrant blossom blooms in the sunlight with remarkable beauty and aroma.

To Buddhists, this pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment.

For those of you who know me, you'll know that I've slogged through the "mud of materialism"... I'm trying to taper off.
I've damned near drowned several times in the "waters of experience"... sadly, I'll probably continue to jump into the deep end.

When?  Oh when, might I get just a little bit of that 
"bright sunshine of enlightment"?
I hope that it's soon.

Until then, Onward!  Ever onward, through the fog!

1 comment:

  1. Flower Power! Hope this new posting means you're getting back on your feet. Or back on all fours, at least! A wonderful, colorful photo essay with delightful commentary.... Larry