“I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.” Woody Allen
The first time my mother came to visit me in Bangkok, I was expecting my second child and was very sick. Still, I wanted to show her as much of our city as I could. I took her to our office and to one of our favorite street vendors for lunch. We shopped and had a great time, but I was getting sicker by the minute. I remember looking at her and saying, “Do you mind if we don’t go to Chinatown today?” She laughed and said, “I thought we were in Chinatown.”
One of the most fantastic things about living in a metropolitan city like ours is the variety of cultures living together. As immigrants, we learn to take and to give the best of our home and our host cultures. I must admit that I love entering for a few hours a window of China tucked into one of the corners of our city.
Today, we had a goal. We’d get to Chinatown by the bus (25 cents per person) and take a taxi home in order to speed up the trip. Unfortunately, the bus took a different route today and we ended up walking very fast to make up the time. Here’s what we passed along the way.
Cloth World- I usually go to Chinatown or to the Indian cloth market whenever I need material. It’s the cheapest place to get whatever I need. They have everything from show costumes to rows of stores with buttons and notions. Today we were looking for yarn, so we stopped into the cheapest store we know for yarn. The people know us when we come and get ready to take our order. My daughter purchased 38 rolls of yarn for about $25. That’s hard to beat anywhere.
Traditional Spices and Medicines- Today, we passed many Chinese medicine shops. One of my favorites is a shop that sells cinnamon sticks in foot long pieces as well as fresh cardamon, large alum crystals, and other spices and medicines displayed in large open bins. The familiar smell of herbal and traditional medicines add to the feeling of being in a different culture. I believe that even blindfolded I would know Chinatown by its smell.
Man’s Market- One part of Chinatown sells hammers, screwdrivers, electrical switches, and wire. They even sell lawnmowers. I actually needed a clock face, which they do have, but we were too rushed to stop.
Music Row- Today, I brought my daughter to the music row in Chinatown. We were looking for a ukulele, which we did find. Since they are popular now, we did not buy one as they are overpriced, but we did find a great deal on trumpets.
Bakery Section- On the way to the next stop, we needed a Thai version of Karo syrup (about a dollar for a kilogram bag). We stopped in our favorite cooking shop. Crowded into a small glassed in bakery store are all of the baking supplies I need including the Wilton cake colors, food colorings, flavorings, decorations, special decorative boxes, cooking sugars, gels, pans, cookbooks, nuts, cheeses, dried fruits, flours, and creams. We were in and out in about three minutes.
Lights, Camera, Action– We passed the light market where I’ve shopped for stage lights, camera lights, fog machines, and floor lights. We even passed the camera section.
So, if you need anything and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, you’ll need to go to Chinatown. In addition to getting my shopping done, Chinatown allows me to visit, more than vicariously, a different culture without paying for an airline ticket. If only we could transport a portion of the Great Wall, we’d all be happy.