Friday 17 December 2010

A real meat market ...

View from temple across town
It may not look so fascinating on the surface, but Thoed Thai is a northern town rich in history. It used to be one of the main ports-of-call on the trading route from ancient Chiang Mai to Laos, when, believe it or not, cows used to trundle across borders with baskets laden with goods for sale.

And its Burmese style temple -- Phratat Ga Kam stupa, all gaudy gold, red and green -- dates back to 1181. The ashes of that one were incorporated into the new one which sits proud, dominating the small town's skyline. Ornate filigree work sets it apart, as does a stunning interior mural of Buddha and the Bodhi tree. From here you can see a mosque and church, giving you an idea of how diverse its 50,000 population is.

So when I am woken around 6am with an Islamic-like call to prayer, I am not best impressed. The chant goes on in an endless loop, like some sort of CIA interrogation technique designed to break your spirit. As it happened I was going to get up early to visit the Thoed Thai markets anyway ...

A real meat market. Fresh dead stuff.
"It's possibly the most authentic produce market in Thailand, it's a good one," a friend of mine, who knows these parts well, had told me.

The sun was barely up with a bit of mist sitting heavy in the valley. So as we rugged up, with woolen cap and scarf, this chant or prayer or annoyance continued blaring through the town.

The market is held on the street at the base of the 180 stairs that lead to the temple, just around the corner from Khun Sa's previous headquarters. And this is when it dawned (literally) on me. The 'noise' was coming from the temple, not from the mosque. This guy was relentless. He was actually broadcasting live. I know that, because at around the 45 minute mark he paused briefly, coughed and spluttered into the microphone, then continued.

The main street and one lateral street formed the marketplace. And what delightful fresh produce: piles and piles of oranges, bananas, pork legs, chicken legs, fish, eels, and ... uggh ... what's that? Hairy tofu. Tofu with mould growing out of it. And people were paying for this and actually eating it. Jing jing.

A local lovely.
Hill-tribe ladies lugged heavy baskets strapped across their foreheads. Most of the vendors were noticeably middle-aged ladies, many of whom had either had razor blades for breakfast (they're rich in iron you know) or had been chewing betelnut.

We sat down to a breakfast of champions (if you are my family doctor or physical trainer, please turn away from the screen now): jam donuts, fried deep-fried fried stuff, taro and coconut in condensed milk, pork buns and heart-starting coffee with condensed milk. That pretty much supplied my Recommended Sugar Intake for the month in one sitting.

The townsfolk ambled through, making small talk, swapping gossip and buying stuff. Then, by 9am it was all done. Everything was packed away, and the streets were empty leaving me wondering: Did that all really just happen or was I imagining it?

The stains of jam down my shirt front confirmed it was for real. And my ears were still ringing from that chant which mercifully finally ceased after a full hour and a half.

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