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Nakhon Si Thammarat
We stayed for 4 nights in Nakhon Si Thammarat. I enjoy this city very much — we have traveled there before on our own time and it is one of the stops on Kasma’southern trip. It has one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, great markets, good food and a very comfortable, Thai-style place to stay (the Nakhon Garden Inn). Like many southern cities, it contains an interesting mix of Thai Buddhists, Muslims, and ethnic Chinese. Originally we were going to spend only two nights but Sun is from there and had invited us to the ceremony to bless the house that he is building, so we revised our plans so we could attend the ceremony.
One of our favorite places to eat breakfast or lunch is Krua Nakhon (Nakhon Kitchen) — found at the Boron Plaza. They specialize in Kanom Jeen (Noodles in a Skein, often mistranslated as Chinese Noodles), a rice noodle that originated with the Mons people in Thailand, and Kao Yam (pictured to the right), a southern-style rice salad served with all the ingredients in neat piles so that you can mix it yourself. They also have mouth-watering prepared food, as in the picture showing Haw Moek (Fish Curry Mousse) and a curry dish. Notice the plate of vegetables in the background — down south all food is served with such a plate, often containing herbs or leafs from trees as well as more common vegetables such as long beans or cucumbers.
If you walk by Krua Nakhon at night, you’ll find the restaurant left completely open, despite the fact that it has a collection of antique coconut graters plus all the equipment, tables, chairs and so on. If you tried that in the United States, everything would be either trashed or stolen. People in Nakon Si Thammarat apparently still respect what belongs to others.
Luckily we were in Nakhon Si Thammarat on a weekend because there is a weekend market that is great fun. Like many cities, Nakhon has a daily morning market but on weekends the market is expanded and may even be in another location to accommodate the increased number of vendors and shoppers
Nakhon’s Weekend Market
I’m never quite sure how to describe a Thai market. Thai markets can completely overwhelm the senses — there is just so much variety, from fresh fruits and vegetables, to a Thai butcher shop, to fresh fish on ice, live eels in buckets, curry pastes, shrimp pastes, prepared food, noodles being cooked, people eating, coconut being grated, and on, and on. It is much more immediate than even a farmer’s market in the States — there is produce spread out on tables or mats on the floor, meat butchered and hanging up or plopped on the counter, big mounds of fragrant curry paste open to the air.
Always the most memorable occasions in a good market are with people. Most vendors are what we would call “poor people” — they work extremely hard to maintain a standard of living that in the states would barely keep them from starvation. The prices for everything are (from the point of view of an American) ridiculously low. Yet I can not begin to describe what I have learned from these people about the human heart and about friendliness.
How do you capture a smile from the heart? I’m including pictures of some of my favorites from this year. As we walk through the markets we ask people if we can take their picture and at first people are shy. Then their neighbors get involved — laughing that their friend is having a picture taken. Then we show them the picture on the back of the digital camera and that is often when people smile even more. It is often frustrating to see someone with an incandescent smile that disappears when a camera comes out but it is wonderful when the camera catches a great smile.
We always end up buying things at the market that we won’t use and can’t eat (stomachs are only so big) — it seems like a fair exchange when we take a picture to buy something, if we can. It also does wonders for good will. For the markets we return to yearly or even every other year, we bring photographs and do our best to find the people and distribute them — a great way to generate good will! People are genuinely amazed to find someone bringing them a picture they had forgotten had been taken. The smiles and laughter generated are all the reward needed.
I don’t think that I am idealizing the Thai people too much. I have seen instances of cruelty (especially towards animals) and of indifference from Thais. One example: according to the Buddha you can “make merit” by releasing animals that are caged. So outside many temples there is a little cottage industry of people who have trapped birds (into cruelly small cages) that can be bought and released (to be caught again and again and again). Thai people have shortcomings, just as any people do. What I celebrate, however, is the capacity, in the midst of daily living. to have what Irene Claremont de Castillejo (in Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology) called a “meeting.” For whatever reason, in Thailand, more than anywhere I’ve ever been, there are instances of meeting someone’s eyes and feeling “seen,” or “known” — the sense of being accepted for being exactly as one is; as a feeling of appreciation and recognition flows back from me, as well.
| Copyright © 2004 Michael Babcock. |
Last updated 27 August 2004.