A Day in Bangkok’s Chinatown

19 Jan

I had a mission.
My mission today was to get information about Chinese Opera Troupes in Bangkok. With Chinese New Year coming very soon, I thought that it would be nice to check out if they are playing at all in Bangkok.

When I was young, I would hear them play in my neighborhood, but after the highway was built, the vibrant Teo-Chiew opera stage was gone. So where would be more appropriate for me to start searching for the Chinese Opera than going straight to Chinatown? So off I went, but not without a friend from China who wanted to find some Chinese groceries as she’d rather cook than eating spicy Thai food every day.

Chinatown in Bangkok, known locally as Yaowaraj,  is full of life and surprises. Within three hours of walking I had found many interesting things that I hadn’t seen before. Actually….I could’ve if I had walkedaround and paid attention to the details instead of going straight to the food as I usually do…

Various dried goods, dried plums and dried herbs

From the main street of Yaowaraj, for which the gold shops are famous, I took my friend into the fresh market for her to see and for me to take photos.

At the Market in Bangkok's China Town

The market is long and narrow and full of shops that have been therefor generations, selling various goods.

Nguan Soon Pepper Shop

The one that I know best is Nguan Soon Pepper shop, a famous pepper brand in Thailand that you can buy at supermarkets nationwide. It also has a shop called “Spice Market” at Siam Paragon as well. But I really like the shop in Chinatown’s market more.

Fresh Ground Pepper

With the freshly-ground pepper selling at 40 baht per 100 grams, it is much cheaper than buying packaged pepper, and of course it has much stronger aroma. My Chinese friend ended up getting white peppercorns instead, saying that it is much nicer to ground the pepper yourself, which I totally agree.

Ducks, geese and chickens

Young people in Chinatown can mostly speak Mandarin, at which I am quite amazed, since the Chinese-Thai are mostly from Shantou(汕头), where they speak a different dialect, but after  listening to their accent, I immediately knew that they are not from Thailand. Some of them actually came from China.

Siu Mai, Chinese dumpling

After a walk in the market, we were hungry, so we stopped for noodles and some siu mai. The uncle that sells siu mai is very famous locally. He’s been selling siu mai for 50 years and every time I pass by the area I always make sure to buy some from him.

Siu Mai Uncle @ Plang Mam Road

He sells it cheap too — four pieces for 10 baht, that’s like….US$0.35– very inexpensive indeed. I asked him what if he can’t come to sell siu mai, anymore will his kids take over? He wasn’t so sure about that, and I would be sad to see him go, like the Chinese opera troupes.

From what I heard from him and a few other elderly people living in the area, Chinatown used to have five Chinese opera troupes, and they used to perform in various local events. Hiring opera troupes eventually became less and less popular and was replaced with cheaper outdoor movie…so…you guessed it…no more Chinese Opera Troupes in Bangkok.
If I want to see them in Bangkok I guess I’ll have to wait until 2-3 February, during Chinese New Year, when there will be performances and education on the Chinese opera in Chinatown, otherwise I’ll have to track them down and follow them to wherever they are performing.

A 73 year-old man I met in the Chinese medicine shop

Towards the end of the trip, my friend needed to buy Chinese medicine, so we went into the first shop we saw. The owner spoke Chinese so I let them do business while I chatted with the owner’s friend, a 73 year-old man, second-generation Chinese. He had interesting information about being Chinese living in Thailand which was very fun,
but…the medicine shop’s owner’s life was way more interesting!  He wouldn’t let me take a photo of him, saying that I should call him for an appointment next time, so he would wear his Red Army uniform with all the medals he got while he was in China. He even showed me his photos when he was young in the uniform with that furry Russian looking hat…and…

Wait…a minute…the Red Army?… He was in the RED ARMY? Fighting for Chairman Mao?.… He’s cool already…and he speaks…Thai, Mandarin, English, Japanese, Russian, Mongolian and Korean…

I have found a perfect subject to talk to about life as a Chinese-Thai who was stuck in China for 10 years in the 1940s and 1950s.

So I will make sure that I go back to his medicine shop next week to talk to him, and yes, I’ll definitely call him first. I can imagine myself sipping some tea with him already. (He’ll have to have Coke as he’s off tea for a while now, it upsets his stomach)…


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