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Monday January 15, 2007 // By Sarah

Anthropology, tourist-style

From our four days in Thailand, we’ve determined two things, with a fair degree of certainty:

1. The Thais, they love their king.

This guy is everywhere. On billboards, on the sides of huge skyscrapers, tucked postcard-sized into the visor of taxis. I’m looking at a poster of him on the wall of the internet cafe right now. The pictures are awesome. Occasionally you’ll see a very official looking state photo with him and his wife. Mostly, though, it’s just pictures of a peaceful, slightly geeky older gentleman, looking very serious. This is a typical poster we’ve seen all over town. They are not at all like the type of photos we’re used to of politicians, and they strike me as very sweet, if a little strange in their ubiquity.

But it’s not just the photos. The Thai people we’ve spoken to treat the king with the utmost reverence—I can only compare it to the type of respect you sometimes hear very religious American Christians give to Jesus. The type of reverence that can make a totally reasonable, interesting person sound like a very strange alien abduction victim: “Chiang Mai is hosting a three month international floral exposition to honor my king,” a policeman told us yesterday. “We wear yellow on Mondays to honor my king,” our tourguide told us today.

Sandy and I have, I think done a very good job of not betraying how awfully confusing this is for cynical Americans.

2. The Thais, they love to sell things on the street, often late at night.

Sandy and I have been thinking of getting rich by going into the outdoor table industry in Thailand.

The variety of things you can buy at a Thai market is fairly breathtaking. At Chatachuk Weekend Market, we found a wide variety of fish, birds, rabbits, squirrels, and puppies for sale, not to mention an Eames chair. (Well, an “Eames” chair). At Suan Lum Night Market, we wandered between really cute fashionable clothes, ripped-off Threadless T-shirts, and traditional Thai crafts. We’re currently a little marketed-out, or we’d be at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

As a tourist, it’s easy to get stuck in the tourist ghetto section of markets, and to begin to get that sinking feeling that you’re completely cut off from “real” Thai culture. But we’ve managed to wander off that grid a few times—Aw Kaw Taw Market, near Chatachuk, and we were the only non-Thais in sight, wandering around inspecting groceries and potential meals, the night flower market in Bangkok, which is stall after stall after stall of yellow marigolds to string together for Buddhist tributes.

When you’re hanging out with a bunch of Thai kids ooohing and aahing over the baby bunnies, you realize that the tourist stuff at the market—the stuff we’re bringing home for you all—is just a really great way to make money doing something a lot of Thais would have been doing at 11 pm anyway.

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