Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Market, To Market...

Sorry, but I'm still having problems with photos.  I know they make this blog more interesting, so I've been holding off writing.  But there is so much to tell....So until I can figure this out, it might be few or no photos for  a while...

While we were in Battambang, we wandered around Phsar Nat, the local market.  Located only a few steps from our hotel, we ate our breakfasts of Cambodian noodle soup every morning with great delight. 

The main entrance in the middle is where almost all of the 'restaurants' and food concessions are located.  Here you will find tables set up with plastic chairs where you can get noodle soup or a dish of rice and barbequed chicken for $1.00.  Perched high above the table are three or four plates with towering stacks of BBQ'd chicken legs and hard-boiled 'tea eggs', uncovered, unrefrigerated.   Farther down the aisle is a glass display case of pastries, and another lady that walks around with a huge wicker tray loaded with goodies from the pastry case.  Baguettes are very common here, a leftover from French colonial times.

Condiments for soup with insect in the sugar....extra protein!

Baked or barbequed chicken,  tea eggs, all stacked up for breakfast

Fresh veggies for stir fry on display

Stir fry vegetables and rice with fresh squeezed Battambang orange juice

The pastry display - difficult to resist!

The main entrance is also the gathering place for beggars.  In Cambodia, there is no social assistance  so the crippled, poor and elderly must resort to begging to survive.  Wandering between the diners in supplication, hoping for a hand-out, they mostly target foreigners.  Surprisingly, most turn a blind eye, which I do not understand.  To us, a dollar (4000 riels) is not much.  To them,  a few pennies is a lot, so in the morning, I would change a couple of dollars into 500 riel notes, and spread these around to the beggars.

No social assistace for the elderly

Can you spare some change?

Handicapped man


Phsar Nat lacks the masses of gee-gaws, T-shirts, and general crap (mostly made in China) that the Siem Reap Old Market, Phsar Chas, is famous for.  In fact, Phsar Nat is just a huge 'general store' for the locals.  It's organized into departments, more or less, so that you can pretty well figure out where to go if you know what you specifically want to buy. 

East meets west
Khmer woman selling horns - talking on a cell phone.

One entire area is dedicated to fabric, and sewing, with aisles and aisles of every imaginable fabric. Much of the fabric is for evening and formal wear.  Even the poorest Cambodian woman owns a fancy dress covered in beads, lace and sequins that she wears to weddings & special events.  Men and women, busily working away on treadle sewing machines abound in this area of the market.  With the scarcity of electricity in Cambodia, modern electric machines have all been converted back to manual powered treadle machines.

One of many fabric aisles

There is a large area where glass cases are filled with gemstones, and every type of jewellery imaginable.  Lovely to look at, but suspiciously too abundant to all be real, so I avoided the temptation to browse.  Cambodians mostly wear gold jewellery, and silver is very hard to find here.  As I have discovered, sterling silver is not the best jewellery for hot weather where perspiration tends to oxidize the silver, and I end up with black rings around my wrists and neck.

There are rows and rows of clothing, both mens' and womens'.  Brand name knock-offs like Calvin Klein, Boss, Dolce & Gabanna are far less common here than in Siem Reap.  This is a place for the locals to buy.  Gordon gave up looking for a hat large enough to fit his head.  Large sizes simply are not available here in this world of small people.  Most interesting are some of the underwear items for women.  We saw many examples of undies with padding to give women a more shapely derriere.

There are sections for kitchenware , dried goods, health & beauty products.  There is a hair-dressing section.  But the most interesting and widespread section was the fresh meat, fish & produce, which were mostly around the outside perimeter of one side of the market.  Here vendors jostle for a spot, often on the ground, to set up their 'stalls'.  Here you will find buckets of fish still alive & flopping, the occasional fish that has manged to flop out of the box, and is wriggling away on the pavement, giant prawns, crabs crawling and clambering up the side of a box,  freshly cut meat, sometimes swarming with flies, women scaling fish and cutting off their heads. 

Fresh shellfish

Live crabs

Giant prawns, about the size of a tennis ball!

The fish lady - Fresh cut up meat (chicken?) in the background

Small fruits with salt & chili, carried to market atop her head

And everywhere there are vegetables and fruits.  Battambang  is a very rich and fertile agricultural area.  Here they grow Battambang oranges , (which are green on the outside, not orange), pomelos, papayas, mangoes, bananas (which are about half the length of what we get back home).  Every sort of vegetable imaginable, and some unidentifiable.  I love vegetables, and I would love to have this variety and abundance in Canada.

Battambang oranges - the peel is green

Fruit stand with perfectly stacked produce

One of the things I am most proud of is my new-found ability to carry out a transaction in Khmer.  The question 'How much?'  is 'Bon man?'  If I want one or two, then I ask 'One, how much? or Two how much?'  (Mou-ey, bon man? Pi, bon man?)  If I want one kilo, I ask 'Bon man mouey kilo?'  And the answer I will get is usually a price in thousands of riels, like six thousand, or six thousand five hundred.  And I know my numbers (sort of) so I can usually figure it out and pay the correct amount.  Now that's progress! 

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