The Central Market is a huge dome shaped building about 3 blocks north of our hotel. It looks like a rising sun. The building is a key landmark in the area and has helped me get my bearings when I walk around the area. This morning was another early one as I woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. After laying in bed and trying to get back to sleep for an hour or so, I got up, brushed my teeth, grabbed my camera and started walking to the market. After seeing some of John McCollum's photos of the market opening, I wanted to experience it first hand.
As a side note, next to the Central Market is the Sorya Mall. Sorya is the name of one of the kids at Prek Eng 2. She is the biological daughter of Narun and Sopol, the parents who oversee and run the orphanage. She was born and named a few years before the market opened but now has gotten the nickname among the other kids as a "super market." I'm generally really bad with names, but hearing little stories like this help embed them into my brain as I'm trying really hard to call the kids by their names. It's challenging, but the kids are very forgiving especially when I mispronounce them. They usually bust up laughing and try to help me with the correct pronunciation which I can rarely achieve; thus adding to the laughter. The amount of subtlety in pronunciation is crazy. The word "Krang" can either mean "strong" or "oil" depending on how you finish the word with that "g" sound. Narun and Sopal were trying to teach us the difference but none of us could distinguish it and much laughter ensued.
Back to the Central Market...it is very similar to a maze of mini storage units with roll up garage doors. When a shop opens, the doors slide up and the shop owners start arranging their merchandise, most of which spills out into the long hallways that run through the market. The market is divided into various areas. There is a central food area where you can get fresh food made to order. When I say fresh I mean, slaughtered within the last couple of hours. Fresh meat is abundant. There are noodle places, stir frys, and several more exotic food vendors that look a bit challenging to consider eating their food. It's a very lively and busy part of the market. Then there are the fresh fruit and vegetable vendors that make our "farmers market" look like a joke. The fruit is so colorful and strange looking. Coconuts, lichi, dragon fruit, durian, mangos, and many others are neatly displayed for anyone who needs to grab their produce for the week. The dragon fruit is my favorite so far. When sliced in half it has seeds like a kiwi and tastes similar as well. Some of them are bright red all the way through and others have a bright white center.
In another area of the market, you can get anything you need from shoes and sandals to bags, clothing, accessories, toys, local crafts, you name it. This area reminds me a lot of the markets in Mexico that I have seen; only much more organized and clean.
Inside the dome of the market is where you can find jewelery for sale. Bright cut jemstones in silver settings are king. Silver is very affordable here compared to the United States. You can also get your tech gadgets here. Knock-off headphones and Apple accessories rule this area; from mobile cases and speaker systems to connection kits and software. All at extremely low prices, all bootleg and knock-off. I figured out that they keep the more expensive merchandise inside the dome area because it's the most secure part of the market. I could not get in there this morning. If you wanted to rob it after hours, you would have to get through several of the heavily fenced ares in the outer market to get to the dome. Very secure.
On the east side of the market, I watched the women arrange freshly cut flowers. Again, making anything we consider a "florist" look like a tawdry flower stand. The colorful arrangements had every color imaginable and each one was designed by hand. Each one a unique work of art made out of the freshest flowers you'll find anywhere. I'm not usually a flower guy but these stopped me in my tracks.
Back home, when we think supermarket, we think Kroger or Giant Eagle. In every way, the Central Market beats them hands down. Each time I visit, I think about how much Becky would enjoy it.
Bargaining is expected here. Some good advice we were given was to start at about 60% of the asking price and go from there. Sometimes they take it right away but usually there is a lot of back and forth. Many times I have seen the shop owner drop the price in half as I walk away. Nothing is marked so if you are interested in something you have to ask. If you aren't interested in paying that much or you're just checking the price because you plan on coming back later, the price drops drastically when you walk away. They want to make the sale. None of this "I'll come back later" stuff.
Next Monday we are bringing all 27 kids and the staff from Prek Eng 2 to the market and giving them each $5 to spend on themselves. They are beside themselves with excitement. In fact, we gave them the option: we can either go to the water park for the day or go to the market, They all answered in unison " Sorya Market." Not one of them said water park. I was stunned. Then I began thinking about it. If the first 7 years of your life were spent digging through trash to collect plastic bottles or having to steal food in order to feed yourself and your siblings, your priorities are much different than the average kid in the US. To be given money to spend on something that lasts beyond the water park experience is far more valuable. They are survivors.