In Chiang Mai, a Simple Illustration of Market Price


In Thailand, we get caught in a storm in the night market in Chiang Mai. A market like no other market I have ever seen, with technicolor fruits, and men peddling lottery tickets covered in hundreds of rows of hand-written numbers. Boys playing music in the middle of the street. Waffles on a stick. Cut paper and carved wood. Birds in cages. Necklaces on little stands. I try to haggle with a woman over a $4 shirt and fail. I buy it anyway.

And then the clouds shed everything they’ve got — fast and out of nowhere. One thunderclap. And everyone is running for their cars and cowering under the plastic-roofed booths as the owners scramble to cover things up, to poke at the tarps with broom handles to knock off excess water. Electrical plugs sit in puddles. A woman with an exquisitely groomed puppy in a backpack like a baby stands in the farthest corner of a booth and looks up in dismay. We expect it to be quick, but it’s not. Rain is never quick when you need it to be.

One woman, though, hunched and ancient, her face lined as a riverbed, knows what’s what. She totters from one booth to the next with armfuls of plastic ponchos, asking 200 bhat for each. People crowd around her. She wears a poncho of her own, printed with little turtles. She smiles a snaggle-toothed smile and hands them out, collecting cash by the fistful and dropping into a pouch around her neck.

When she comes to us, D___ tries to negotiate. Because that’s what you do in Thailand, right? He asks her to consider 100 bhat and she all but falls over laughing before waving a finger in his face and shaking her head.

“I mean, we don’t exactly have any leverage here,” I say as water splashes up at my ankles. “Supply and demand pricing and all.”

We have to wait for her to come around a second time before we get our ponchos. Once we’re snug inside them, plastic and damp and humid on the inside as a science experiment, we walk. A gutter empties rainwater directly onto the seat of a nice-looking motorcycle. Tuk-tuks lower their plastic sides. People are heading home and so do we.

Later, shivering in the back of the van, our ponchos balled up on the floor, we lament how we would have liked to have seen more of the market, to see it as its realest self. But then, maybe we just did.

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