Thailand – The Low Down Adventure
Coming off the Morocco sourcing trip, all I hoped for was easy breezy travels. But when I sat down to write this, all I could think about was the string of signs guaranteein’ a trip full of wrong! I tried to ignore ‘em but I couldn’t – I grew up with parents who always had a warning or a lesson rooted in superstition.
My family immigrated to America and straightaway, my parents worked multiple jobs for several years before they saved enough money to open a restaurant. One year later they opened another. My weekends were spent all day and night at the restaurant, and the summer I turned 14, I managed my first one.
One Saturday morning, a customer walked in and sat herself at a table before we were open (strike one). I explained we weren’t open but the lady didn’t care. She said she’d wait at the table until we were ready to take her order (strike two). She barked at me, she was rude, and she left $1 tip (strike three). After she left, I watched my mom reach behind a stack of containers and beeline it to the front door. She walked with purpose, with her lips pursed. She pulled open the door with her left hand and tossed salt out with her right. Confused, I asked my mom why she did what she did. My mom explained that the first customer establishes the patterns of the day. Whatever the first order is, it will be the most popular item of the day. If they’re generous with tips, they determine how much tip we’ll earn. And if they’re rude, it makes for a long day of not-so-fun customers. Tossing the salt resets the day and wards off bad luck. From that day forward, whenever I opened a restaurant and had a crap first customer, I’d do the same – I threw salt out the door.
So much went wrong with this trip. From airline tickets to taxi rides to food too hot for me to handle. When I tried to check-in for my flight in Seattle, Alaska Airlines wouldn’t issue my ticket because they said the reservation was never completed. Huh? In Tokyo, Japan Airlines wouldn’t issue my ticket because they stated I needed a visa to enter Thailand. What? In Bangkok, the taxi took me to the wrong hotel (the sister hotel in a different part of town). Wat the what?!
Gut punched and in tears from the spices… but no pain, no gain. Nothing’s stopped us so far from gettin’ the goods (not even flooding in Morocco!), and nothing was stopping us now! I got a tip from a waitress about a shop that seemed hopeful and set off walking. Occasionally I stopped to ask a local if I was headed in the right direction, they’d nod yes and tell me that it was really, really far. That I should ride a bus. I didn’t care. I was hoping to come across a small mom-and-pop shop. Sure enough – I did! A table on the sidewalk, set up in front of the shop stopped me dead in my tracks. I spied notepads with words in Thai and mini-memo pads with the raddest logo!
(left : inside Chok-amnuay, right : Pornthip’s son and parents // photos courtesy of Pornthip Hanyuenyongsakul)
I asked the lady manning the tables if she spoke English. She shook her head and called out to a gal, Pornthip. Turns out Pornthip is the daughter of the shop owners and speaks English. Being in the shop, my heart raced. I couldn’t stop freakin’ out over all the rad, super lo-fi goods. But it was more than that. Watching Pornthip interact with her parents, looking around the old-school stationery shop, it all felt so familiar. They reminded me of my parents and my relationship with them.
All the goods we selected are super lo-fi. Despite the heat and humidity, the locals move at a frantic pace. Yet the goods seem to be stuck in time. The notebooks are warped from humidity. When I picked one up, Pornthip told me that the locals refer to it as “Thai style” and that it’s the notebook all the students use. Warped and a bit too lo-fi? Maybe. But too cool to pass up. Love the cloth binding, love the texture of the paper and when you put pencil to paper, it writes REALLY well. They’re meant to be together.
It was odd to see sets of rubbers stamps and date stampers everywhere. Fancy date stampers with heavy handles to old-school style with long handles. I had to go with a set for the STMT X Thailand Kit. And if we go with rubber stamps, then we gotta include an ink pad!
I returned home to MIA luggage and a phat cold. Wat the what? Where’s the love? In old-school spots run by families, holdin’ it down. That’s what.