Thai Days: What the train brings in – the local railway market

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Hugh Paxton’s Blog was chatting with the locals and cooking them lunch – I do that, it’s just a normal thing and they cook me lunch back then I’m staple gunned to the toilet for a week – and during the usual roundabout conversation one of the men mentioned the train market.

I had no idea there was one. Or that it was so close. I love trains. And markets! A perfect combination and time to have a look!

Let’s Go!

The train market was a trifle hit and miss/boring/ distressing for Annabel my beloved daughter. She had to get up out of bed early! That was the distressing bit!

An awful prospect!

We ignored her impotent snarls and hauled her out and after she was back in good form (normally takes half a minute for her and annoys me for half a day – why screw things up by being a brat when there’s no gainful result in sight?) strolled along the line and it was pleasantly cool and there were wreaths of mist and the mournful, romantic honk of engine whistles.

Nice rat action.

Nobody eats city rats for fairly obvious reasons. Rice rats are a different matter. They eat rice and taste like…yes, you are ahead of me here, they taste like chicken! Everything seems to, if it isn’t a conventional foodstuff that tastes like cardboard.

I bought some chicken from a beldame who wasn’t serving rice rats. She surveyed her grill with grim concern and a sense of responsibility that I found admirable and meticulous. She’d arranged things well. She’d split bamboo slivers, pincered her flattened musclebound free range mountain chicken between the bamboo cleft, wound one end of the bamboo with a thrifty slice of wire and there was a clearly home made sauce swiped from time to time over the grill.

She wouldn’t let anybody buy it until it was ready.

So I walked. She would reserve my chicken.

Chang, my ever faithful Burmese servant, followed discretely and if I bought a very odd looking turnip he took it and carried it. Useful practice. He’ll be hauling half a ton of stepping stones over here this afternoon in a cart that looks less than half useful. He is also the only Burmese man who sports a decent jacket and an Oxford Uni (Brasenose) tie in Thailand. Rather snappy!

Trains came and went from time to time, at three miles an hour, or less, and when they did everybody who was milling around on the track shuffled off to resume buying or trading or looking half asleep beside the railway.

There were lots of ramshackle stalls and booths but the railway had provided a shelter and an awful lot of empty derelict space. Shrewd shop owners were under railway siding sheet metal cover 100 feet above their heads but that involves building a proper shop on concrete. And is illegal although the security guys at the “early bar” didn’t seem too agitated. They were swilling something virulently pink in tiny glasses that seemed to hit the spot and make life a little easier.

Most vendors did what Thais like. Impermanent, mobile structures, designed to come and go as need dictates.

The little children waved at any train. People waved back, got off, bought something, sold something, climbed back on and I thought to myself “these trains are in no hurry and look pre war… WW I. ”

There weren’t that many trains, lots of carriages looking rusty in sidings with birds in and out of their windows.

For twenty minutes there weren’t any trains, actually. Just a muted hubbub as the market went on and people stumbled about on the sleepers and the rather large gravel.

Then! A train from the north stopped (after 13 hours of casual do your own thing, bring your own food, toilet squalor but on the weekends it’s free! Hence the stampede!) and caused a bustle. Huge sacks and cooler boxes full of catfish, veggies, small trees, insects and crabs were hurled out of the windows by weather beaten muscular hill tribe women who you wouldn’t want to marry, and shady looking masculine characters with dangling cigarettes and lots of religious tattoos. I wouldn’t suggest marrying them, either!

A lot of farmers, Red Shirts, but none of them wear their shirts now. The army would give them a bit of trouble and the Red Shits aren’t being paid any more by their billionaire leaders in exile to escape jail. Over for them. A violent rebel movement squashed. I’m glad to see them finished.

Heaps of veggies and spices and roots and all at absurdly reasonable prices! A small sack of garlic for under a quid, ditto chilies, dwarf egg plants, strange green things that weren’t celery but were making an effort. One old girl was selling mounds of fennel. You could barely see her. There was a crinkly, rather shrewd face but it wasn’t really visible. Obscured by her fennel.

Loads of second hand clothes (as usual) and a wonderful miscellany of objects cobbled together seemingly at random. There was a bloke with two doves in a cage and a watering can and a jackfruit the size of a backpack. I bought a couple of cheap pans that claimed they were stainless steel. Yes, indeed, show em to Sheffield and expect applause. But they are light. Good camping kit.

Nobody was pushy or attempted to slash my bag or tried to sell me a year’s supply of ya ice or a 12 year old girl. Thailand has somehow established a reputation for that sort of thing but it really isn’t the case in most situations.

There was a lot of stuff for sale that made me wonder why anybody made it. Or why anybody was selling it. Or who the hell would buy it. But in every slag heap there’s a nugget of gold! I made a move on some glue sticks. Six in a pack. Two penny a glue stick! Annabel will lose them all or our foul dog will eat them before they’ve stuck anything to anywhere. But that’s the point!

It was a great railway market!

Then we almost hit the bloody bits. Gore.

I was there, yes, eco-warrior Hugh, with a purpose. I wanted to find evidence of endangered species.

According to Chang some of the northern trains (which, as I mentioned, but it bears repeating, are free at weekends) carry animals, dead or alive, poached from the Thai/Burma (Myanmar) border.

I saw one woman selling juvenile ibis but they were plucked and prepared and it clearly was a case of selling what gets stuck in a fishing net in a rice paddy or shot with a sling. Not worth bothering INTERPOL!

Trivial. Not for the ibis, obviously. It was dipping for tadpoles or mozzie larvae and then ended up in Bangkok and made four or five mouthfuls.

A bucket of turtles I checked. But the same. Nothing to report. No players here in this train market. Just wild life killing peasant opportunists and the majority of people in search of a T-shirt, lunch, veggies. No evil in evidence.

I prowled in search of more. There were still piles of fruit, very leafy vegetables, and suspiciously yellow chickens with legs born to run, dangling, all dignity lost, with claws designed to slay. But my eco-bust was a bust. Nobody was breaking the law. Let em get on with the market – why be sour?

Annabel was in bored neo-adolescent “I want to go back and play with my i-pad and text my friends with “What R U up 2?” mode, and was being tedious and getting on my tits. She’s seen too much. It’s become very normal for her to do and experience things that for most people are wonderful and once in a life time.

A blessing in its way, but also a shame.

But enough thinking!

We hit the cut, gut, slash and chop zone and she forgot about the i-pad.

Fish, eels, a terribly unhappy squirming thing, shrimp, angry squid – they were all taking a bloody bashing. Grab a large cat fish, wrestle it into submission, stop it worrying about its possibilities and pop it, dismembered, in a bag then a wok.

Annabel woke up.

She was appalled at the holocaust and the temporary living conditions of the impending Bangkok breakfasts.

She watched the fish panting in very shallow water, gills flapping, tails uselessly spanking the tank and the turtles foolishly and impotently clawing away seeking for purchase in their pails and striving for a pond. Annabel wanted to set them free. I understood her sentiments exactly.

One little catfish did a runner from his shallow tank while his buddies were being filleted and this one sensed he might be in the wrong place. He catfished off on his tummy and I’d have intervened and bought him, but no dice. Rainy season he’d have made it to a drain or a decent puddle and burrowed. But this was dry dirt road with hundreds of Thais.

And the catfish saleswoman hadn’t been up since 2 AM organizing her shop to see her stock wiggle away to be eaten by a feral dog. The fish was nimbly caught and had his/her head chopped off.

Pigs were next. For me, I admit, this was a first! A peeled pig’s head. Looked like a rubber Halloween mask! Just the face, ears, snout. What on earth was anybody going to do with it?

Swift Paxton thinking! It’s for a feast! You cook lots of other bits, buy a small pig, then you roast this big face and stick it at the front of the whole shebang to make it look bigger! Annabel wandered away before I could explain. She’d seen a dog. Not a dog being cooked – Thais don’t cook dogs, just sell them to Vietnam and China to be cooked there – just a dog.

When Annabel’s seen a dog there’s no point in continuing the conversation. Dogs and I-pads. Berlin Wall to a father.

I browsed.

The water beetles were already dead. Call me a coward but eating one is not a thing I’d consider unless I’d had eight pints of rum. There’s just too much of them. Too big, big as a child’s hand. A greasy black syrupy coating. Spiky. Usually upside down. Tumbled together. Extended pincers.

I bought two huge bullfrogs from a seething pan of the doomed. Bought them live, got scolded by Midi for screwing up the local ecology by buying with a view to release. These were local bullfrogs!

Blimey!

Then a scolding from Annabel that the frogs were too big and would eat our fish. And would eat our toads! They were hopping about in their plastic sock and goggling through the plastic in the back seat of the car! This, too annoyed my gals.

I was scolded and I thought this rather ridiculous.

During our market visit:

My esteemed wife had suggested adopting a white, well behaved, dog infested with fleas.

My beloved daughter had agreed with enthusiasm.

My beloved daughter had suggested adopting a bucket of turtles, two doves in a cage, an eel. Something furry.

My revered wife tends to waft away from public discussions on animal welfare in markets where things are squarking, squealing and being beheaded. Leaving me to explain and sound like a horrible heartless stinker to my daughter!

This frog thing was meant to be a happy affair! A surprise!

Two frogs in luck! One dollar the pair. I should have bought two kilos!

Their journey could have ended very differently.

Frogs in good shape! I don’t regret a moment!

For reasons I cannot fathom, I am now in disgrace. I am a reckless ecological hazard! My gals belaboured me with good reasons why I shouldn’t have bought the frogs. The whole market thing was my idea.

Sheesh! Try to do a good thing then taste the results. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter. Sometimes, and usually, bloody confusing!

Cheers! From Bangkok!

Hugh

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