Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thailand Tales 5

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

"You have to go fabric shopping," said Shelley the niece-in-law, who was here the first term the school was open.  She told Paul, not in quite so many words, that he'll have to put a leash on me if I follow her suggestion.

Dorcas Nissley, who was here last year and now lives in Oregon, said it too.  And I heard it from different ladies after I got here.

The director's elegant wife, Renita, offered to take some of us.  I accepted even though the RealFeel prediction on Accuweather was something like 113.  That fabric was calling my name.

There were six of us.  Renita and her daughter, Theresa and her daughter and the family's nanny, Charity, and me.  My dear daughter didn't want to come along.

We drove to the old part of town, a huge square in the center of the city still surrounded by a moat and remnants of an ancient brick wall.  That part of town had much more of the flavor I was expecting from visits to other countries--busy, crowded, overpowering in sight and sound and smell, little shops on the sidewalks and on every corner, beggars, people of every description, tarps tied up to make a bit of shade, open-air food carts, and much more.

But first Renita parked in a parking garage and then we took an elevator down to the depths of the earth, it felt like, and wove our way through the back alleys and pathways of dozens of little open-air shops down underneath that parking garage.

The floor was concrete and covered with a dank smelly liquid sheen, and we stepped over grates that apparently covered the sewers, as the smell was so terrible I would gag if I breathed through my nose.  We passed the back passages of a fish market, and went by a place with cuts of meat on open tables, with flies feasting.  How Renita knew her way through that dismal maze I don't know, but she marched along confidently.  The rest of us followed, stepping gingerly and stretching shirts up over our noses.

And just when things were really disturbing with that raw meat piled on a table to our right, we glanced to our left and there were two pots of live snakes, a mass of moving slithers.

I don't think we screamed, but strangled gasps, yes, and horrified exclamations, and shudders.

It was horrible.

Finally we emerged into the bright sunlight on the other side and headed down the street.

Then we saw these bags in the back of a truck and Charity said, "Look, Dorcas, there they are, all fried up."


[I don't know if they were actually fried snakes.  They just looked a lot like it and it was too much, too soon.]

We were further down the street and regaining our composure when we got to thinking.  Shiny and slick.  And in water.  Maybe they were eels instead of snakes.

But still, for all practical phobia purposes, they were snakes.

Renita marched on and we followed, through the blazing heat, past cycles and shops and people, to the first fabric store.

Folks, you have never seen a fabric store like this in your life.

Picture a room the size of the Dollar Store in Junction City.  In it are untold hundreds of bolts of fabric on cardboard rolls, set on end, almost as tall as you, clustered in groups of maybe a hundred, with only the narrowest passages winding between these clusters.

And here and there the fabric is lying flat, piled high.

There were florals and stripes and solids and wild prints, satins and cottons and upholstery material and suiting and laces, darks and pastels and brights and whites and everything you can imagine.

It was like walking into a dream.  I couldn't stop touching, feeling, looking as I wove my way through and around, trying not to knock the bolts over as I stepped carefully between and over and around.

Somewhere toward the middle of the store I realized, "This place is so beastly hot I might die."

If the RealFeel outside was 110, I'm guessing back inside it was something like 125.  I don't know if I've ever been so hot in my entire life.  The infinite piles of fabric seemed to trap the heat and keep the air from moving.  I felt like my face was radiating heat like a rice bag out of the microwave, and I could feel little rivers of sweat running down inside my clothes.

It was bizarre, this combination of extreme misery and great bliss.

I was never sure how much I would be willing to sacrifice for the sake of my fabric addiction, but now I know.

I kept shopping, and somehow kept breathing.

Many of the fabrics were only 68 Baht, or a little over $2, per meter.  Some were lower-quality cottons, but many were really nice, with a tight weave and a nice drape.

Finally I decided on some fabrics for myself, including a lovely old-fashioned floral.  There were no cutting tables, so an employee with a meter stick came over to each fabric that I wanted, pulled the bolt out, and somehow unrolled, measured, snipped, and then tore the right length in that tight, hot, little space.

I also got a cute black and white elephant print for skirts for my girls, and a zebra print for Jenny.  And maybe a few more.

Then we headed out to the blessed comparative coolness of the street, and went to two or three more stores.

These were organized a little more like American stores, with bolts on racks, and kind of organized by color and type, but they still had that sense of overwhelming the senses with color and texture and sheer variety.

Here's Renita debating about a black/white/red print, with RaVonne at the front waiting for her to make up her mind and Theresa grinning at the back.

Note the lady in the lower right corner, just for perspective.

Finally we wove our way back through the dank market place, past the snakes and the smells and the backside of the flower shop, and found the car, and settled happily back into the air conditioning, and came back here to IGo.

Jenny said, "That's all you got??  Mom, that is amazing!!  I am so proud of you!"


  1. Oh my! I don't even want to imagine the stench as you were going by the raw meat and snakes! Will the images of the slithering mass come back to you as you are sewing your fabric, do you think? I do enjoy reading about your adventures!

  2. Francis Burr6/07/2012 7:11 AM

    Yikes those snakes look vicious. I hope you are enjoying your time in Thailand. Praying for you.

  3. Wow I needed the fabric pictures to calm my nerves after seeing the writhing mass of snakes then fried up yet!!O my I'am still trying to catch my breath,You are either a brave lady or need to be because your married to a that case I can identify. Grace

  4. I am so jealous! Having lived in Chaing Mai for almost 2 yrs, I recognize all those places. Would love to go back. The picture where the fabric is hanging from the ceiling is the store where I bought the fabric for my wedding dress. 7 meters for 1,000 baht or around $20-$25. I miss that place so much. Thanks for bringing back those memories for me.
    Natalie (Overholt) Helmuth

  5. I am soaking up these Thailand tales. I gave my Mom strict instructions to read these as well, they will be following in your footsteps in a few weeks.

  6. I would love to go shopping with you ladies for fabric! I am just about jealous! Reckon the sight of the snakes tempered that a tad bit! :-)


  7. Oh my your descriptions are so good, I can almost smell it. :-) Having lived in Chiang Mai for seven years (and now home for 1 and 1/2 years), reading all this makes me dreadfully homesick! I know all those fabric stores and the winding little allies with "snakes" (they are actually eels) and raw meat with flies buzzing, and all the market stands, and oh what I wouldn't give for a fresh cold mango/orange smoothie from the market, and then a good foot massage at one of those little hole in the wall places. Oh dear. Now I really miss Chiang Mai! I was a nanny with GTO. Blessings on your time there! Dorothy Beachy

  8. I love your floral fabric choice! Looks a lot like a blue-on-white I bought at good ole Walmart some time back. Mine probably won't wear as well as yours, though! :)
    The bagged "snakes".... Reminds me of a time in my teens when we went to a Korean store in Columbus. I was looking at these bags of noodles, when I realized that every "noodle" had a pair of eyes!!
    Are you running into Titus and Evie and her sister Naomi? We attended church with them for many years here in VA, but now we live an hour away from that community. -PC in VA

  9. Trivia: Did you know we have a Renita? She and Richard (or Rick, the one who got squashed under a wall a couple of years ago) will be 22 next month. :) -PC in VA

  10. Me one more time-- since I left that comment, I ran across the actual date of that construction mishap. It was July, '09. Almost 3 years! -PC in VA

  11. I LOVED your "fabric store jaunt" story! I experienced a store like that in San Pedro Sula, Mexico! The enormity of it overwhelmed me, but also delighted me with the "possibilities". I love reading your blog and read your book which was posted in the Mennonite Weekly Review- I believe it was "Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting"
    Miriam Miller (cousin of Susan Hochstedler!)