My wife and I went to Chinatown to buy some Christmas gifts, per usual just a couple of days before Christmas day. I made two quick stops in familiar tea shops, and bought some tea, but it wasn't mostly about that theme. I'll pass on what the Bangkok Chinatown experience and feel is like these days, more or less at a low point in between covid waves here. Omicron should probably pick up and cause us to close contact back down over this month but so far that hasn't happened.
at the subway / MRT ready to put in some kilometers, how Chinatown works out
It was great to be back there. Logistics for visiting that one shop and the owners I really feel a connection with weren't ideal, because we had to walk a few blocks in the wrong direction to get there, and then to walk back. It was a little strange going in there and saying that I couldn't stay, buying some tea in a rush versus visiting, then moving on to sorting through blocks of local warehouse market style shops, with some walking in the middle.
the owners of Jip Eu, my favorite Chinatown shop
The tea was nothing special, just some low cost Shui Xian that I could buy for a number of gifts without spending much on it. Those were around $3, and probably 200 grams of tea each, although maybe that's not right. I bought enough one is for me, so I can taste it and see how moderate the quality level really is.
At the end of the rushed path I stopped at a second shop and bought a couple of Dayi sheng pu'er tuochas and some Thai oolong, mostly for one monk who I give tea to who loves rolled oolong, with one of those tuos for me. I had bought an older Xiaguan version at the first store, one I've reviewed a couple times here; it would be interesting comparing the two. I think I'm pretty clear on how that would go but it would still be interesting.
I bought some inexpensive Thai oolong at Sen Xing Fa as well, near there
Chinatown isn't dead, at all; it was nice contrasting that experience with visiting Pattaya not so long ago, which is really struggling. Half of all the businesses in Pattaya have closed over the last year, and bars there are lucky to have some patrons in them to offset costs with some revenue. We went there because my wife was taking a short training course on how to cut hair, one more odd and likely pointless venture on her part. Since the kids go to school online and I work online in a sense we can do that from other places, and Pattaya is just a 2 or 3 hour drive away, with some hotels there quite inexpensive at this point.
Chinatown had lots of people eating in outdoor cafe themed restaurants, like a hybrid version of street food dining. The wholesale oriented shops and market spaces we visited were as crowded as ever. If it felt like the risk of covid was high I suppose that might've been uncomfortable, even though essentially all of it was outside, or only related to stepping into an open shop briefly. We did eat in one enclosed restaurant, in Hua Seng Hong, which isn't something we've been careful to avoid over the last few weeks. Covid stats are pretty low right now, and of course my wife and her mother and I are vaccinated, a process that ran so late that our booster requirement isn't quite timely just yet.
foot traffic picked up later
Thailand just matched the US for vaccination rates over the past two weeks or so, so likely has pulled slightly ahead now. I just checked that; Thailand has 63% fully vaccinated, and 72% with at least one shot, with the US at 61 and 73 respectively, so nearly even still (with Thailand's stat counts running a few days behind in that Google dashboard). I probably should skip interpreting what I think that means here, since to some extent it's all anyone's guess at this point. It must help, having more people partly protected.
There aren't that many tourists in Chinatown compared to Thais. One might wonder if I can reliably tell the difference, since a tourist from any Asian country could look Thai to me. I can tell whether someone is speaking Thai or not if I'm overhearing them, but of course I was going mainly by appearance of the hundreds or thousands we walked by. We might've saw a few dozen "Westerners" over a few hours, including on the subway to get there, nothing like the normal pre-covid case.
It was nice feeling that free, to just be there. I had missed the smells and the feel of Chinatown. It's never completely routine to me, always a little like I'm on vacation, even if I'm visiting there every other month or so. We stocked up on chrysanthemum but didn't really buy much for my wife or I, besides very little tea.
It's not an ideal place for Christmas shopping for an 8 and 13 year old but we found some interesting things, toys, inexpensive jewelry, and clothes and such. The night before we checked out a department store, to buy a purse I think Kalani will like, and after visiting Chinatown we crossed Bangkok to a sporting goods store to buy them snorkels, something they've somehow never got around to trying out. Christmas will be ok.
Later update: for the kids being 8 and 13 we're at turning point for Christmas not being the same, and they helped exaggerate that by waking up at 5 and starting Christmas without us, opening almost everything on their own. A year or two earlier I would've been disappointed, but now it just is what it is, at the end of their experience of such things, at least that earlier form. Kalani is onto how the Santa thing works, even though she maintains the pretense out of respect and hopefulness.
The did love everything. By far their favorite gift was a 300 baht / $10 Roblox gift card, which my wife didn't want to give them, because them playing games and watching videos instead of joining online classes has been a huge problem for over a year now. It's what they wanted though.
We were that close to skipping Christmas, since if we had went on a planned trip to Chiang Mai almost none of those gifts would've worked out, and the only decorations we experienced would be in malls and a hotel lobby. I'm glad we did it, that we changed plans to put emphasis on that holiday experience form instead. I skipped a dinner outing to put up a tiny (very tiny!) Christmas tree, and to wrap everything, listening to those old "crooner" carols, and it was nice for me to think it all through again too. Christmas here has never been a match for the old, traditional form I experienced in rural America (PA), but it's nice that we could give them as much of the experience as we could manage.
Christmas at home 5 years ago; covid prevented planned visits for the past two years
It's funny how every year it seems new to my wife, who is Thai, that each time she asks how many gifts I think they need, and how things work out with Santa giving things and also us. Her take is that she hopes this is the last time we need to go through this same form of the experience, and unfortunately she is partly right about that, that a 9 and 14 year old will relate the experience differently.
Merry Christmas to all readers! I hope that your life has a bit of extra magic in it, and that if it's not these traditional forms then it's something else that helps you connect with a feeling of hope and positive reflection. Everything is ok, and it's going to be ok, even when parts aren't working out.
of course the Charlie Brown Christmas special came to mind setting up that tiny tree