This gold shop in a Chiang Mai market catering primarily to local residents is almost certainly owned by a Chinese Thai. Ethnically Chinese Thai families, many of whom have been in Thailand for generations, in some cases for hundreds of years, dominate the small businesses in local markets. While these Chinese Thais are thoroughly assimilated into Thai society, they remain part of the Chinese trading networks that exist throughout Southeast Asia. The Chinese style decoration on the shop’s door and the neon-lit Chinese characters above the woman’s head make it clear that the shop caters to, among others, the many Chinese who visit Chiang Mai every year.
The Chinese women are shopping for cosmetics at the night bazaar in Chiang Mai while their boyfriends look on. In the second image, the vendor in the green tee shirt on the right has punched in a price on his calculator and is ready to begin the haggling festivities. This will take place in English and be rather amusing, as nobody involved speaks much English.
This night bazaar vendor sells colored wax flowers displayed in small black bowls. There are many vendors selling these at the night bazaar. They sit around carving pieces of wax when waiting for customers – there are carvings on this man’s table in front of the wallet. But it was unclear to me where the coloring is done, because I did not see anybody doing this in the market. Nor was it clear to me that vendors like this one personally made all of the flowers sitting on the tables in front of them. In any case, this man is counting what appears to be a fairly meager take for the evening.
Chiang Mai has a huge night bazaar in the downtown area. Shops indoors and stalls that set up every afternoon outdoors, all loaded with plenty of stuff nobody really needs. Lots of people wandering around buying that stuff. And finally, when your bag is full of stuff you don’t need, there are plenty of places to eat. Amongst the restaurants are several fairly pricey—at least by local standards—seafood places. Given that Chiang Mai is several hundred kilometers from the ocean, I could not help but wonder what fresh crabs and oysters were doing sitting on piles of ice in a local night market. Until I recalled that Chinese are obsessed with seafood and will pay big money to eat it. And sure enough, most the diners in the night bazaar seafood places are Chinese.
The young guy in the photo is turning a whole fish wrapped in foil that is cooked on the big open air grill. I did not want to gawk and point my camera at diners in the restaurant, so I did not walk over to the tables to see how the fish is finally served, but I have no doubt it is tasty.
Grapes imported from where else—California—are a pricey treat available in Chiang Mai markets. I have seen them go for about $5.25 a pound in supermarkets, though I am sure they are less in an outdoor wet market like the one in the photo. In a place where a mango costs 50 cents or so, these grapes are expensive. People pick them off the stems and take the individual grapes away in a plastic bag. Thailand has a Muslim minority in the south of the country near the border it shares with Malaysia, but this trip to the market was the first time I saw women wearing the hajib here in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.
The shop across the street buys coconuts in bulk and then prepares them to have the tops cut off and sold as beverages to tourists. Street vendors come along to buy the bags and take them to stalls that can be found all over Chiang Mai. Tasty and refreshing, especially if the vendor keeps the coconuts packed in ice so the juice is slightly chilled. It seems the street vendors pay around (US) 65 cents per coconut and then resell them to passersby for $1.30 to $1.50 each. Sit down restaurants and coffee shops are somewhat more expensive. Still, nobody is getting rich from this business.
I am rather fond of the tree which has grown through the corrugated roofing in the center of the photo.
I went on a walking tour this morning of several traditional markets in Chiang Mai. A local guy organizes the walks through Meetup. I have been on a couple of these now – fun and informative, and a great group of fellow walkers on both occasions.
Many of the shops in these markets are owned by Chinese families that came to Thailand in the past, often many years ago. Today, these Chinese-Thais are assimilated into Thai society and are largely indistinguishable from other Thais. Nonetheless, originally from southern China, Guangdong and Fujian for the most part, these families continue to be a part of the vast Chinese trading networks that have long played a major role in the business and commercial worlds of Southeast Asian countries.
This photo shows a Chinese tourist doing what Chinese do best: shopping and bargaining!