The OTOP (One Tambon One Product) marketplace I wrote about a couple years ago is now booming. For the first few years of its existence, it struggled along as a ragtag gathering of unsuccessful vegetable vendors and farmers selling homemade charcoal and surplus rice from the curbs. I visited twice a week to buy organic vegetables and freshly slaughtered/butchered meat (that are, as yet, completely unappreciated in this neck of the woods) for years, and nothing ever changed. The entire market seemed to be run by people too old and frail to work any other jobs, and I was in a small group of regular customers who were barely keeping them going. It was depressing, and I dreaded the imminent demise of my fresh-from-people’s-backyards produce source.
The change came very slowly. From about a year ago, things started picking up. Food stalls that set up on the perimeter of the covered market area (actually in the parking lot) in the evening started appearing. I recognized some of the vendors from other markets around town: A grilled egg vendor from the bi-weekly night market on the Khamriang curve, a fried doughball cart from my university’s food stalls, a smoothie vendor from downtown. I asked around, and there was no consensus as to why vendors had started gathering, except that there was no fee for setting up there in the parking lot – with good reason, as it might have been impossible for most shops to regain any fee at all in sales back then… but the traffic slowly increased. More vendors and more customers started appearing, a fried chicken stall here and a prepared-entree-in-plastic-bag cart there. Villagers started coming in by the pickupload in the evenings to buy cheap veggies, and day laborers would wander through for cheap snacks to go with their white spirit dinners.
A couple weeks ago, when most people were still off work and visiting home from the big cities, I found myself trapped in a crowd at the marketplace. I had to wait in line to buy pork and there were more stalls than ever. Compared to a year ago, the marketplace seemed to be doing twenty times more business. It made me feel all warm inside for a second, and then I remembered how much I hate crowds.
Still, I have a soft spot for this market so I want to see it grow, I guess… It was so unpopular for so long, people who drive by it to work every day forget that it’s there… Whoever thought I would be nostalgic for the bad old days?