After breakfast I wanted to do the laundry at the coin operated machines in the basement of the hotel. They told me at the reception that the washing and drying machines would require 100 THB each and they changed notes to coins for me. Armed with a whole lot of coins and a bagful of soiled clothes I reached the machines. I could not locate the balance of the washing powder I had purchased in Koh Lanta and settled to innovate with a bar soap. A truck was unloading freshly washed linen with the driver overseeing the operations. At the washing machine I was stuck because all instructions were in Thai language. He seemed to have sensed it for he called one of the hotel staff on his phone to come and help me. Goodwill has many ways of manifesting itself.
The Chatuchak (Jatujak or even JJ) weekend market is considered one of the largest markets in the world covering over 35 acres and having more than 15,000 booths and stalls. Goods from all over Thailand are sold in this market. The large market has been open for more than 60 years now. This was once popular among wholesalers and traders, as I had experienced during my trip here in 2000. But it is now a very popular shopping centre for locals as well as foreigners visiting Bangkok. The latter constitute nearly 40 per cent of the quarter million footfalls each day of the weekend. Most organised tour groups include a visit to the weekend market as part of the ‘attractions’. Almost anything can be found in this market at a bargain; the diverse merchandise from python to antiques and sheer size will bring even seasoned shoppers to their knees. Most often people who visit the market do not know exactly what you want, but end up picking stuff they never thought possible. Bargaining is a must have negotiation skill in the market. The vendors are either from local factories or source their materials from there making them cheaper than the tourist prices found in the rest of the city. The clock tower in the weekend market, built to commemorate the King’s 60th birthday, is the most popular meeting point.
Moncy said that the market will become active only after 11 am and therefore we (Thomas, his precocious son, included) had a late start to the day and reached Chatuchak market by sky train. It was already hot and humid by the time we reached there. The main entrance was so crowded that we walked further ahead and took another. One of the things that immediately struck me was the unusual stuff vendors do to attract attention of potential customers and turn them into actual ones. There was this vendor selling coconuts who had all foreign tourists hooked to him with his peculiar style of aggression and war like cries. They flocked to picture him and he would then point a machete in their direction aggressively and ask, “COCONUT?” Many surrendered! And then he would dramatically open the nut with four blows of the machete, all the time mouthing loud war cries.
I walked into the market and was swept away by display of clothes, accessories, footwear, luggage, food stalls and much, much more. I was not prepared for this. Shoppers could be seen sifting through merchandise, bargaining and moving away if the right price was not struck. I was discouraged from bargaining as I found that most of the items were already very low priced; a selfies stick and remote was priced at Rs. 340, a fraction of what it was in Cochin. My poor negotiation skill was soon discovered by all of them with who I feebly attempted it on. A particular item of clothing was 100 THB. I asked the woman who tended the stall how much she would price it at if I bought four pieces. Pat came the reply, “400 la”. Without another word I picked up what I wanted and paid for them. That was the limit of my bargaining!
I may have bought more than what I wanted – that is the lure of the market. You buy and then find a use for it! Moncy and Thomas took me to the food court of the newly opened Emporium shopping mall. Thomas told me that the huge mall was completed in less than 6 months. Unbelievable, but that seems to be the pace of construction with pre-fabricated material. The mall had displays of even top end cars. Posing for pictures by the side of such machines that you motor only in your dreams is a popular past time.
The food court had many restaurants. I settled for a Piri Piri chicken. The huge portion needed special effort to get through fully. After lunch it was Big-C, the large retail store, to buy biscuits, candies and souvenirs for distribution. I reached the hotel with a whole lot of stuff in a taxi after bidding goodbye to Thomas, who I would not be meeting again before leaving Bangkok. Moncy said that he would come to the hotel the next day to see me off.
I had got in touch with the Thailand Malayalee Samajam (TMS) prior to leaving on the expedition. Filsuf Navas was my contact and he had confirmed a meeting in Bangkok. A week back I confirmed to him the dates on which I would be in the city. Yesterday the TMS confirmed the venue and time of the meeting. It was to be at the Royal Dragon Restaurant at 6.30 pm. Rajesh Pillai, the President of TMS who coordinated the meeting, offered to pick me up from the hotel. TMS has its roots in 2001 and has been active ever since. Rajesh gave me a good feel of their activities on the drive to the restaurant.
TMS had specially chosen the Royal Dragon Restaurant for a reason. The seafood restaurant was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1992 as the world’s largest restaurant. A large wooden inscription at the entrance to the iconic hotel sets at rest any debate that one may have on the status of the restaurant. I was told that the hotel has seen better days and that it has been on a steady decline over the past many years. However, I saw many large batches of tourists brought here to witness the restaurant’s unique style of serving its customers never seen anywhere else. Some of the waiters walk on water, others fly on zip chords in ceremonial dress and most skate to bring speedy service to their customers, 5000 of who can be accommodated in one sitting! More than 1000 staff serves a wide variety of cuisine to guests from all over the world. The restaurant also arranges cultural shows, showcasing traditional Thailand, in an ambience that is magical and romantic.
It was a wonderful networking session, attended by about 25 members of TMS and WMC (World Malayalee Council). What fascinated me, as I have found in most foreign countries, is the success Malayalees have achieved as executives, managers and entrepreneurs. The potential that the state has is appreciated most when you with the diaspora abroad. The evening went on and on with lovely talk, informative exchange of views and a fabulous dinner. Almost all the popular Thai dishes were on the table from Tam Yum soup to steamed fish to minced chicken. Generous helpings of Vodka in Coke added lustre to the evening.