Delightful Chiang Mai – Some Shopping There (1/2)
I quickly realize that the slick and sterile Electronic Plaza is no place to shop for cheap ASBP300-based MP3 players; only expensive Sonys here. But hey – they have Toshiba Digital Rice Cookers! Now that is a must-have! You out there with your polyphonic seven megapixel camera phones – can your Samsung cook rice, and digitally at that? I am not impressed.
I'd better look for cheap gadgets in the smallish pseudo Panthip malls on the northwestern edge of the moat. Where I discover whole galleries of single blank CD-Rs sold there, kept on hooks like shirts in the department store: All of these CD-Rs are fancifully colorfully printed – with flowers, comic figures or the amazing look of a vinyl LP. You choose any CD-R you like, and the shop girl counts them for you. I don't know where to find fancy printed CD-Rs in Europe, so I buy a heap. It is fun, and it seems the perfect media to hand over my digital slideshows from Thailand and SE Asia. (But it only seems so. Back home, most of the CDs fail to work, especially those with roses.)
Now I really like what Thais offer for interior decoration, and they make interesting dresses and music too. Shouldn't they make great shoes then? Shouldn't there be great shoe shops? I never found one, not even in Bangkok. The best bet seems to be: Central department store, with shoes from Italy, and price tags to match.
But isn't this Thailand? In the upmarket Kad Suan Kaew shopping center, the clerk shows me a range of 700 Baht shoes; made in Thailand by Findig; you see them everywhere, really not special.
I ask him – nothing else? He takes me to the Italian shoes, 4000 Baht up, wonderful, but those ones I can still buy back in Old Europe.
I ask him again – nothing else? Only now he directs me to another lady. Only she leads me to even more shoes I hadn't seen before. Around 1500 Baht and about what I wanted. Not classy like the Italians, but good enough for someone named Pothole Research. Why didn't they show them right away? Why don't Thais copy Italians and sell them at Thai prices?
— Internet Access
60 Baht per hour is what you pay for internet on Charoen Prathet road between Night Market and riverside. Some of the internet services are even slow, none is any special.
20 or 30 Baht per hour you pay for internet on Rachadarmnoen road in the old city. The shops there are somewhat upmarket, with flat screens, serious interior design and a range of tempting coffees. Connection is fast.
12 Baht per hour you pay for internet out on Huay Kaew road near the university gate. You sit crammed in line with 30 students in front of a big CRT monitor. Connection is faster than anything I had anywhere.
For souvenirs, I head to Central Airport Shopping Center. The whole western wing contains a "Northern Village" – charming mini-shops with scented candles, scented soaps, scented dyed leaves, pseudo antiquities, bizarre lamps, all that. I find nice name card boxes made of tropical wood, made in a style resembling colonial-era suitcases.
The prices are stunningly high. Politely I mention that a discount would be appreciated. But there's only a very slight price drop available. Well, ok: I enjoy the air-condition and the absolutely unobtrusive sales-people, I wouldn't want to shop around pushy Night Market hawkers. When I finally pay, the lady runs away with my money and comes back ten minutes later with a computer-printed receipt of Central Department Store: "Sorry. Cannot give so much discount, because 30 per cent of money go to Cen-ten."
— Used Mobile Phone
Strolling on through the mall, I discover a used Motorola mobile phone in a J-Mart outlet. The phone is really old, but I could use my battery charger with it. Would be nice to have it on hand for emergencies. "600 Baht", says the young guy.
I try to talk him into 500, but finally must agree to 600.
He calls his lady boss. They talk a bit, then she says to me: "Sorry, he make mistake, this mobile 900!" At first, I had been prepared to pay 1000, but now I am not happy. 600 is no longer an option, though. She offers me a free plastic mobile phone case, which I don't need. I say, I don't need the case, I need the old 600 Baht price again. Finally I have to leave with a used mobile for 800 baht; and the case; which I don't need.
— Walking Street
Even 100 meters *before* I reach the event, there is almost no more parking space for a humble Honda motosai. And why, as my destination is called "Walking Street". The clean and upmarket Rachadarmnoen road in the old city is turned into one huge market, apparently regularly on Sunday nights. The market spills out into several side roads.
Now I have seen many an "Annual Fair" or "New Year Market" in all the big towns of Isaan. There were mostly miles of aisles with boring cheap plastic items left and right; then more miles of more aisles with boring generic pseudo-pompous furniture left and right; then more miles of aisles with cheap uninspired clothes; apart from the obligatory food, lots of DVD- and CD-stalls blasted music and Thai pop videos.
Chiang Mai's "Walking Street" is none of this. Two things are strikingly different: It is much more clean, orderly and quiet; and there are different things on sale. Many stalls here sell stuff you see in tourist-oriented venues: fanciful candles, charming lamps, wooden toys, like that. But "Walking Street" is not a tourist show – 95 percent of the strollers are Khon Thai.
I notice not one regular CD-DVD-stall. There is a small CD stall that has no music, believe it. There is a small karaoke contest at the end of one soi, where young kids sing to soundtracks from CDs, and the audience sits on yellow Singha Beer chairs across the lane.
And there are a few music performers scattered along the stretch: one is a solo singer with acoustic guitar and amplifier. He chants soft, sad, moaning tunes and even solos on a harp in between; he is very skillful, his eyes are big, and I am quite touched by this performance. A few dozen Thais like him too and listen for several quarters of an hour, like me. When he drops his guitar and stops to sing, his song continues – now from CD! I didn't really notice when he switched from live performance to CD playback, it sounded quite same-same. Backed with soothing chords and charming voice from his CD record, his sells a few CDs to the audience. I ponder a purchase, too; but while the music is pleasant on this warm Chiang Mai night, back home his songs would be too soft and sweet for me. I'd love to drop some Baht into a hat, though, but he doesn't collect money like that.
Strolling on, finally, I soon run into another couple, killing me so softly with their songs, of course including mellow guitar chords and romantic voices. And they do what I now expect: After some minutes guitar and microphone go down, while their music continues; they start to sell their CD. Only pleasing, worthwhile artists here, no junk.
I wander on, really happy. Delightful "Walking Street" is not too loud, not too crowded, actually it is quite breezy, the night is warm, everybody seems content. You know what, it almost feels like a passagietta on a piazza in Italy.
I step into one of Ratchadamnoern's flashy internet shops and send a few words back home. I soon write the final line, as this night is too nice to be spent in front of a flat screen. I stare at my final line again, and I wonder: Have I written this? And is it appropriate? But yes, this night really feels so, and I still find my words fitting.
So I click Send: "Sabai-dee khrap from Mediterranean Chiang Mai".
Very nice, as always.