Thursday, October 11, 2007

Like Halloween, But Everytime You Go Shopping

Yes. That is a pigs head.

I’d like to spend my time in this post taking you (dear, loyal reader) through the mysterious, crazy, joyful, frustrating, smelly and stiflingly hot experience that is shopping at a Cambodian market. A few words about markets generally are likely in order.

First, there ARE in fact grocery stores in Cambodia. If you’d like, you can head into an air-conditioned, brightly lit store, where dozens of courteous (if not incredibly bored) employees will literally jump to your aid should you help finding anything, anything at all. Even if it’s right in front of you and you’re reaching out to grab it at that very moment. Quite helpful. In these stores, you can buy your pre-cut, cellophane wrapped meat, devoid of any notion that this bright pink thing under lights ever came from an animal that is likely walking by outside right then. You can buy beer and you can buy chips and, for some reason, dried squid sold like beef jerky.

But you cannot buy an entire cows liver.

...the cow wasn't using it anyway...

...or an entire plucked chicken...

Did you know that chickens start off with heads? I always thought that came breaded and fried?!? Who knew?!

...or a bizzarelly fileted fish...

....this was so strange as to defy words...except these words...and those just there.

...or a big ol' pigs leg (not pigs foot...pigs leg) and some tripe!

See! How disappointing to miss that.

Now, to say that you can shop at a grocery store is not to say that many people do.

...but if you go to a grocery store you'll make meat lady mad!

The majority of Cambodians go to one of any number of markets for pretty much anything you can imagine.

like custom made 5 minutes...

Need a scarf? Need 17,000 scarves? They’ve got you.

"yeah I'll have the red the OTHER red one. No not that one either..."

In addition to krama’s, most sellers have hundreds of incredible silk scarves that they will force on you. Heaven help you if you show interest in even one, because you will be walking out with about 27. There are also table runners, table cloths, sheets, and towels.

Need an enormous sword and a tiny wooden bowl in the shape of a mangosteen? That’s three booths over. But if you buy it TWO booths over, you can get it for just slightly less.

Ladies and gentlement...chotchkes!


Any chance that you want to buy some DVD’s? Of movies that came out in theaters yesterday? Of movies that are still in post-production? Of a book that a studio just bought the rights for? There are ten different vendors all vying to sell you some. An entire season of Lost? 7 dollars.

Markets are crowded, could induce claustrophobia in mine workers and are so loud that rock stars walk out complaining about the noise. The aisles are as wide as one narrow-shouldered Cambodian, which I can assure you is not nearly wide enough for one narrow-shouldered American, much less two or three of such behemoths. The merchandise is stacked in front and the vendors sit behind it, occasionally shouting out an inducement to check out their wares.

“You need t-shirt? I give you good deal.”

“Fruit? I give you 1 kilo of rambuton for 4000 riel.”

Eating this stuff would have been a lot easier if ol' Babe hadn't been staring at me (see first picture of post)

“I give you good price for scarves, sell you many many scarves.”

Ahhh I'm sideways! Yet otherwise an uninteresting picture! Ah!


There is rarely a moment where your attention isn’t being diverted. Of particular note are the silk and cotton accoutrements. One of the primary items for sale is the krama, a traditional Cambodian scarf that is worn by both men and women, often while bathing, around the head soaked with water if out in the fields, around the neck to wipe sweat, pretty much anything you can think of, you can do with a krama.

Like eat brownies at my apartment back in DC (I have violated the blogger laws of temporal picture relativity! ARGHHH!!)

The best thing that I can compare a Cambodian market to is a haunted house. You’re sweating, nervous, and you pretty much have to be prepared to come face to face with anything, including a disembodied head, a sweaty zombie tourist, or a deeply, deeply drunk group of Singaporeans...