Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai Sunday market, held every… well, Sunday, is the mother of all markets. It’s the most touristy and crowded market we’ve ever visited. We loved every minute of it.
Every Sunday night the main street of Chiang Mai was lined with stalls after stalls selling anything from handmade crafts to deeply discounted branded backpacks. The front yards of the wats (the temples) – and there seems at least a wat in every block – are turned into instant food courts crammed with more food stalls than my stomach knew what to do with.
This is what heaven must feel like. To be surrounded with morsels of food (and so cheap) everywhere you look. (Although in heaven, I’d have 4 stomachs like a cow so I could eat 4 times as much).
People come out in droves: tourists and locals alike. By early evening, the speed of the crowd has slowed to snail like.
Then the strangest thing happened..
My brother and I were stuck in this crowd, trying to make our way back when I noticed a crowd of people gathering around a stall. With great effort I elbowed my way through the crowd to see what they were staring at only to be mildly disappointed. They were watching people making smoothies. Wha?
Now that I’m paying a closer attention, the people working behind the booth aren’t even doing that good of a job at it. They look bored, standing around doing nothing. Don’t they realise that there’s a group of people waiting?
Quickly losing interest, I turn around and ran smash into a wall of people. Quite literally. We – as a group of people – have stopped moving and were standing completely, utterly, still.
Just imagine New York Times Square on a weekend night. You’re out and about ogling the orgy of light displays when all of a sudden the thousands of people around you are standing still as if frozen by an invisible light beam of an alien spaceship. Only the movement of their eyes give a hint that there’s life within.
Of course by this time, my brain was whirrring frantically trying to find an explanation to this phenomena.
Is it an alien attack? But no, aliens only attack American cities. Or big cities. I mean, they’d attack Bangkok. But Chiang Mai? No.
The lack of noise was obvious. I didn’t even notice how loud the thoroughfare was until it stopped being so loud. We could only hear the gurgle of static coming out of the loudpeakers spread out throughout the street. It seems that… wait, is it playing a song?
Suddenly everything clicks together. Something I read a while ago comes rushing back from the depth of my memory. They’d play Thai national anthem before every movie in movie theaters and during this time, you’re supposed to get off your butt and stand up to pay respect. The loudspeakers are currently playing the national anthem and this is why everyone has stopped whatever they were doing in the market: to stand up, stay still, and pay respect.
As soon as I realised this, the song ended. As if relased from the spell, everyone went back doing what they were doing before. The smoothie makers go back making smoothie, the shoppers and the vendors go back bargaining, we – as a group – continue inching forward as if the last 10 seconds, when the whole street of Chiang Mai stood still, didn’t happen.
You just have to be there.
I swear, it was the most surreal thing that ever happened.