Well, after an 12-hour bus ride with amphetamine-crazed driver playing “chicken” with oncoming traffic (i.e. a thoroughly uneventful, standard Thai bus ride), I made it back to Bangkok at 5am. At the bus station, I was immediately beset with taxi drivers wanting to take me to my hotel for a “mere” 300 baht (3x the going rate)–it’s unbelievably annoying being a farang (foreigner) sometimes. I wound up hiking what *felt* like a kilometer and a half, backtracking the taxi line (“Ambassador Hotel, 300 baht”) to the mother lode, i.e. the main street. There I flagged down an honest taxi driver and got back to my hotel for a reasonable fare.
Highlights of yesterday were the Chatuchak Market (more on that below) and the Ploenchit Fair. The Ploenchit fair is a charity event, sponsored by the British Embassy and normally held on the Embassy grounds, but after 9/11 it got moved to the Royal Grounds. It’s a really odd mix of Western and Thai–probably the highlight of the evening was the Scottish-Irish-Canadian-Thai band fiddling Irish jigs while a bunch of Thai security officers looked on. (Really tight security presence–worried about terrorist bombings.) I went to the fair with the body painter (Richard) and also ran into Siri and Nima (two of Ben’s cousins) there. Siri and I are going off to see the Harry Potter movie this afternoon, Ben and I may get together later this evening. Siri invited me to stay with her–if I wind up staying in Bangkok for a week or so (which now seems likely), I may take her up on it.
Plans for this week include arranging a time for body painting (depends on the artist’s schedule), getting my Vietnamese/Cambodian/Lao visas (etc.) and probably getting a Thai language tutor to teach me basic Thai. Of these the really crucial one is the Vietnamese visa–the guidebook says it takes 3-5 days, so if I go for that, I’m stuck in Bangkok until I get it. Checking into a hotel here usually requires passport ID. So I may take some time off from traveling, catch up on my travel writings, etc.
I forgot to mention that I’ve changed my nationality. I’m now Japanese. With my hair braided and up in a bun, fastened with a chopstick, I’m apparently a Japanese tourist. Down in a ponytail, and dressed locally, I’m Sino-Thai. In conventional Western pants and American t-shirt, I imagine I’d be American, but it’s hard to tell, since English is the established lingua franca in Asia. (“Lingua franca”, meaning English, particularly amuses me because it happens to be Latin for “French”.) In a drapey blouse and loose-fitting silk culottes (trousers that look very much like a split skirt), and especially with the little drop spindle, I’m apparently a very picturesque Japanese woman–I’ve noticed a couple of European tourists surreptitiously snapping pictu
Anyway, I’m feeling lazy, so rather than rewrite things, I’m going to append the Chatuchak Market (and antique charkha) description that I wrote for the handspinners’ list this morning. (Feel free to skip it if you’re not into textiles.) If you don’t know what a charkha is, it’s a spinning wheel where the wheel is cranked by hand and the yarn is spun off the tip of a very sharp spindle that rotates very, very fast.
The Western equivalent is called the great wheel, or walking wheel, with a hand-turned wheel 4-5 feet in diameter–it and the drop spindle were the predominant ways of spinning wool in American colonial days. (It’s generally thought that the great wheel was the wheel that pricked Sleeping Beauty, since the (now) more common treadled wheel doesn’t have pointy ends.) The charkha is smaller than a great wheel, and is designed to be used sitting down. Its modern use was popularized by Gandhi as part of his protest against colonial treatment–Indians were either required to, or generally did, buy foreign cotton, so Gandhi recommended hand-made local spinning as a way to reduce colonial dependency.
This is probably far more about textiles than you really want to know, so I’ll just append the rest of it…feel free to skip if you like.
I got back to Bangkok yesterday morning and went hopping through Chatuchak Market (the Weekend Market), which is just amazing. You can buy *anything* there. Fighting cocks, religious amulets, textiles from Laos, Burma, China, and the hilltribes; antiques, Western oil paintings, dried fish, tasty noodle soup, papayas, gardening supplies, and (unfortunately, in some stalls) bits of endangered species. There are over six thousand vendors packed into a rabbit’s-warren of mazelike paths–you could spend an entire day there and not see more than a tiny fraction of it. Paths are narrow, the place is dark, each stall is maybe six feet by ten, crammed with merchandise.
I bought beads there for my travel shawl (blue pearls, chips of lapis, round amethysts), and also some very wonderful used textiles from Lao. They’re not in the best of condition, being used, (sorry, haven’t taken pix yet), but they’re clearly authentic and handmade–Mary Beth, I got one or two for you, I think you’ll love them. They show off the exquisite Lao weaving–ikat work, some very nice overshot borders done in many shades of silk (looks like embroidery, but is woven–I looked), and some included patterns in the main weave which I dimly remember are symbolic of something. (Now I’m wishing I hadn’t mailed my book on Lao textiles home, but…I needed the space in my pack.) They’re quite worn, but (I think) more beautiful that way…also more likely authentic, as the new stuff in shops tends to be a mix of Burmese, Lao, and Chinese techniques meant to appeal to tourists. I plan to buy more Lao textiles once I’m actually in Lao…I figure that’s probably better.
Anyway, I also found an antique Thai charkha there! I was looking for beads, passed a furniture shop, and stopped short–there was an old bamboo charkha, sitting on the table next to some handmade boat shuttles! I turned the handle and it spun easily–the spindle was bent out of shape, but otherwise it appeared functional. I was thrilled. I asked the dealer and he said it came from northern Thailand, Chiang Mai–asked him how much he wanted, just over $50. I bargained with him for awhile, and got it for 1900 baht, or just about $44. (He also offered me some pig troughs (“cultural artifacts”), but I declined. ) So I think I got a great deal.
The charkha is handmade of bamboo, with a hand-forged iron spindle. It was bent out of shape, but I (gently, gently!) straightened it out and even spun a little silk on it this morning! It’s going to be a nightmare to ship home since it’s quite delicate and is also huge (probably about four feet long and eighteen inches high), but it’s well worthwhile. It’s clearly seen some heavy use, there’s a groove worn in the spindle-wrappings and in the sticks used to keep the drive-band from wandering. But it’s fantastic. I’m going to see if I can find an antiques/textiles expert in Bangkok who can tell me something about its history/use.
Pix of it are here–you gotta look at it, it’s way cool: http://www.travelingtiger.com/travelingtiger/travel_crafts/travel_crafts_index.htm
So, now the question: There appears to be one piece missing from the charkha (it may have fallen off while I was running around the market–hauling an irregularly shaped, twenty-pound object the size of a giant guitar through crowded narrow aisles isn’t the easiest of things), a tiny piece on the end that keeps the spindle from sliding out of the bushings. Clearly, I need to replace it or fix it somehow if I want to spin on it. But, I don’t want to damage its value as an antique, if it genuinely is one (and I think it might be). What should I do? I’m thinking of wrapping it in a bit of waxed linen thread or something just to make it usable–is that OK? I’m hoping some of you antiques collectors can give me some suggestions…
I’m not sure I’ll have the houseroom to keep this once I get back (for now a friend will store it for me), but I just couldn’t let it pass by…I figure, at worst I can re-sell it once I return to the U.S.
The travel shawl is coming along well–I’m on row 64, it’s about sixteen inches across and I’m up to 256 stitches/round–starting to add pearls and other beads. I really want to fix this charkha so I can spin a skein of silk on it before shipping it back to the states–that would be really special, to knit into the shawl. So tell me, how can I repair this thing simply and quickly (temporarily), without hurting its artifact value?
Back in Bangkok–