Goodbye, Thailand

Wandering around the Warorot Market, I flashed a photo to a vendor, who pointed me toward a narrow stall to my left. Down the aisle, I lost momentum, and presented my picture to someone new, who gave me my next direction. After wandering downstream like a lost pinball, I found myself underneath some foreign overpass (again!) amongst the treasures I had been searching for: granite mortar and pestles.

LaMarcus Ford (Class of ’14 and Biology major) offhandedly mentioned a very specific type of mortar he wanted that could be found exclusively in Thailand, and I lightly kept an eye out in Bangkok and the Southern provinces. This quest aligned with my filming process: I began by taping little things and pretty background shots, and capriciously wandered through markets, glossing over soap flowers and sandals. Midway through, I searched more humorlessly to find interviews, and my now-trained eye affronted the markets with Sauron-like efficiency. My last chance for a quality interview was up North in Chiang Mai. After finally wrangling one with a delightful-and-insightful professor at Chiang Mai University, I decided to milk any luck out of the day and set out to the market.

In Seattle (my home,) markets are hip, young things. I wander through the stalls in Ballard on a Sunday morning, and I’m offered flavored olive oils and long-stem flowers and fresh bushels of dewy kale. Musicians that play accordions don suspenders and people passing toss fives into their leather cases. Young couples walk trendy dogs like bulldogs and shihpoos. I go to these with my best friend and we peruse the stalls and imagine our lives as rich, hip graduates who can afford to submerge into this pool of organic goods along with the fleece-wearing, craft-beer drinking people surrounding us.

Thai markets hold nearly no semblance to their Seattle counterparts. Crowded and overstuffed, I feel like a cat squeezing through spaces too small for me. Lanterns hang from the ceilings and vendors sit in stalls and on the ground at my ankles. With fish grilling and vegetables fermenting and flies flying, no one is offering me gluten-free flours or homemade spinach aioli in little glass bottles. Instead, I’m offered mangos at 10 baht, and I’m expected to bargain, and then I’m expected to move along. I suppose they’re so different because they are necessary markets: they serve as the primary income for the vendors, and as a primary source of food for their shoppers. Seattle markets seem like pretty carnivals in comparison (that said, they play an entirely different role to begin with.)

After living in Thailand for over a month, I found myself in a strange limbo: it was homey and familiar, and I was a stark outsider. To my untrained eye, written-Thai looks like a beautiful jumble, or the language of some sea-kingdom, or a precise pattern of an artful pen. By asking my new friends, I knew where to find the best markets, but I still had to carry my trusty little picture around (an effective method, by the way: I did not leave the overpass empty handed [in fact, the mortar was so heavy that I found myself half-wishing I had]).  I feel as though people my age often travel the world, finding themselves in small corners and strange pockets, and they fall in love. Their hearts are captured, and when they return home they feel sensations like culture shock and longing and they dream of building some new life in Ecuador or Laos or India. I’ve never experienced this in the past, and having returned to Seattle, I again do not feel this. This once made me self-conscious: perhaps I was incapable of such a love-affair, and I couldn’t feel like they felt, and I was destined to forever be just an impenetrable American floating in other places. After Thailand I’m more comfortable in realizing this is not true. Perhaps I’m more guarded in my travels, doing inorganic things people seem to hate doing: spending an occasional day indoors when I could be exploring the jungle, returning to Pad Thai despite the cliché, freely accessing the internet whenever the need calls. However, Sawadee-ka has sewn itself into my heart and limestone cliffs have tattooed themselves behind my eyes. The markets and the monkeys and the mangos are still vibrant, projecting themselves onto the walls of my mind.

I miss Thailand, and I, too, love it, in my own way.