Sunday, July 3, 2011

Election Sunday. And Zebras.

I got up early on election day Sunday...not to vote, of course. It's Thailand. I can't vote. But because I figured today would be the perfect day for visiting the chaotic, crowded, weekend market.

Everyone else was up early too as liquor sales had been banned during the election and last night had been a slow Saturday night. But the Thais were all out doing their civic duty, not heading out to go shopping. This election was big...the first election for prime minister since last year's "Red Shirt" protests had shut down Bangkok, since things had gone off the rails. No one was sure what the result would be today and some people had left town in case of post-election violence.

I caught the bus towards Chatuchak (or J.J.) Market and somehow I ended up a little off my intended route. Some friendly Thais put me on the right bus and we headed north then east, passing lines of voters at roadside polling stations. I've been to Chatuchak a few other times, once in 2000 and once in 2001, but I'd sworn off its chaos after that and decided never to return.

But here I was. Why? Because I'd stumbled over a website that sang the praises of a small indie designer market underground at the metro stop on the far end of Chatuchak. And I needed clothes. My T-shirts were disintegrating and stained. I'd left home without flattering 3/4 trousers and had been wearing ick ones all along, and the only skirt I'd brought had been worn out when I'd packed it.

If only I could get to the indie market without wading through the chaos, I thought. I could, I realized, get on the metro where the bus let me off at the main market entrance, and then get off one stop later, right by the indie market. And when I returned a few weeks later, that's exactly what I did. But for now, I walked. The market wasn't crowded. I'd gotten there before noon. I wandered over, ducking into the shade when I could and walking through the aisles rather than out in the main thoroughfare.

I had to go through the metal detector at the entrance to the metro to get to the shops—which amused me—but I was too early. Many of the stores weren't even open yet. I didn't find anything that suited me, though when I returned a few weeks later, I found two great skirts, one cotton and one linen, in a second-hand store. They were too big but the man with the sewing machine who sits on the sidewalk at the curve of Rambuttri was able to bring them in, and Cherry Laundry washed and ironed them.

I wandered upstairs to the indie corner of Chatuchak that my friend Zora had mentioned. I was also looking for a handbag—the one I'd been carrying around, which I'd made myself, was worn out—and while there were some promising ones here, the best were back in Banglamphu, where an independent designer has his own little shop over by the river.

And there they were.

Zebra T-shirts.

I had to have one. No, I had to have one of each. There were two different zebra T-shirt designs. And later, I'd realize I needed more of these since they were cheap and would wear out quickly. That's why I returned to Chatuchak a few weeks later.

You may not be aware of my fascination with zebras. I was not previously aware of my fascination with zebras. This was a new development that occurred after I'd started to notice ceramic zebras at roadside shrines all over Bangkok.

"What's up with Thais and zebras?" I started asking around. No one was sure. One blog said someone had mentioned it could be related to zebra-crossings being safe areas. Poppycock, I say. I wholeheartedly buy into the explanation given to me by the receptionist at Sakul House when I got home that night, just before the reliable rain, proudly bearing my new zebra T-shirts.

"Why are there zebras everywhere?" I asked.

She turned to her computer to see where I could buy some, and I now regret not letting her finish. My friend Helen pointed out that a half-dozen ceramic zebras would look fantastic on a traffic island in Jersey City.

"No, I don't want one. I just want to know WHY."

 She smiled and shrugged.

"They're nice. Like..." She pointed to the little turtle and flower sculptures on her desk.

So that's it then. Zebras are big in Thailand because they're nice like turtles and flowers, not because Buddha made an undocumented trip to Tanzania. I'm good with her explanation, which makes a lot of sense to me. Because now that she pointed it out, I realized that zebras ARE nice, and not only that, they look really cool.

I'm down with the zebra shrines.

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