Amy Stone, 11
Fortified by my Waipio training in bargaining and dizzy from my success at the Sunday Market-so what if I’d had to buy two umbrellas to get them down to a reasonable price—I was over ready to rush out into my very own upcountry market.
I was ground to a screeching halt by my host country national roommate who painted a blood-curdling picture of how the farang would be tarred and feathered pricewise if she went unescorted into the native market.
Four months later, in mild desperation, I decided it was time to venture into the market place, no matter how red in tooth and claw the local salesladies might be.
I was amazed—the salesladies looked like all the other unbloodthirsty members of the passing crowd. I was even more amazed—instead of the vulture-like reception I’d been prepared for, the marketplace’s mother instincts were aroused and I was carefully directed and redirected. When I wasn’t satisfied with one saleswoman’s selection, she even led me over to her competitor.
Now, one year later, a thoroughly hardened—or in this case softened— marketeer, let me offer a few semi-precious gems of wisdom.
The big revelation was Don’t BARGAIN!! Aside from dickering over fruit, don’t ask how much things are, just say how much you want to spend. Don’t ask how much the mouse chilis (excuse loose translation) are, just say you want one salyng’s worth. Don’t get ready to bargain over the shrimp, just throw as many as you want onto the scale and wait for the price.
At first when you don’t know how much things cost, you can loiter around eavesdropping on the satang-pinching matrons. If you have waited and waited and no one seems to be buying pumpkin that day, just dive in with a price. When in doubt, give a low price. Salesladies are only too glad to sell you an additional amount if you’ve started at too low a price. The good ladies are not too impressed if you decide to buy less than you originally asked for (better to cart home the surplus goodies and make merit by giving them away to a neighbor ).
Fifty satang is a good starting amount for most vegetables except for mushrooms and a few other delicacies that escape my memory at the moment. Three baht will buy a good-size pile of shrimp, and five baht will buy a medium-size hunk of pork. Fruit? You have to buy at least a kilo to get a bargaining wedge in. Bouquets for wan phra seem to be fixed at a baht, though I got some interesting bargains before I discovered this.
At first, pick out your own produce and fish—especially shrimp if you don’t mind the telltale smell. Once you’ve established your picayune standards, you can relax and let the saleslady do the picking out unless you’ve become hooked on doing it yourself. The primary scope for bargaining is getting the saleslady to throw in three cucumbers for the price of two or to include inexpensive extras along with the essentials.
Another discovery was that you don’t have to do your marketing by the dawn’s early light. The one exception is meat. At least in Kanchanaburi, meat’s the one commodity that’s gone by noon, and if you want chicken, you must be hearty enough of purpose to get there before 6 a.m. Or get the Chinese merchant to save one for you. (Be alert to local customs. In other towns, meat is available throughout the day.)
It took me a while to catch onto the fact that I didn’t have to buy my fish in the morning and preserve it in the FAB cooler all day. There are two shipments of fish—one for morning fish eaters and one in the afternoon for everyone else.
Be alert to the labor-saving devices available. Ask the fish lady to clean out the fish for you (primitive show and tell will suffice). If you’ve just bought something oozy and dripping, don’t clutch it to your bosom in its banana-leaf wrapping; ask for a plastic bag. If you’ve bought something big and bulky, ask the saleslady to put a string around it so you can carry it. And, above all, entrust yourself to the superior knowledge of your saleslady. Tell the herb-and-chili lady what curry you’re making and she’ll give you a package deal—all the necessary herbs and chilies for one or two salyng. If you can’t remember all the ingredient’s for gang som, ask. If you’ve exhausted your repertoire of dishes, ask your saleslady what’s good to have for dinner.
Public relation-wise I was also in for a few surprises. Whether early in the morning or after school, I seemed to be the only member of my school’s teaching staff making the market scene. Most of the marketing is left to the full-time housewives or children or younger siblings. A technical exception is the teaching profession’s after-school trip to the market to buy khanom.
The market is full of students, on both sides of the counter. Your students’ practice in saying “Good morning,” and/or “Good evening” (depending on how disorganized you are in the frequency of your shopping excursions) immediately skyrockets. Once students have mastered your buying habits, unexpected kindnesses set in. One student presented me with a bag of tomatoes in the middle of English class.
And behind every student, behind every counter is the student’s mother. In this rudimentary PTA framework the alert PCV can pick up hints on how to continue the child’s learning process in a manner not discordant to the way he has learned at home. The parent’s most frequent advice is enthusiastic permission to beat the child.
Once your students begin popping up from behind the cabbages to photograph their teacher in action or once the salesladies demand a full explanation of why you didn’t come to the market the day before, you can accept the fact that you are an Established Marketeer. At this point you can relax your hawk-like eye, stop buying naam prik to impress the onlookers, and join the madding crowd that makes up Thailand’s consumers’ union.
Categories: Past Issue