The next morning, our Mafioso Taxi driver arrives at the foot of our hotel, doors swung wide open to collect us for our morning trip to the Bosung Umbrella Festival. We duck our heads into the back seat and bounce to a stop on the leather cushions. We love cultural festivals produced for the community; they are always one step closer to the real life of the people we meet.
Mr. Taxi Mafia closes the doors on us and folds his side mirrors inward so he might wheel us down the narrow alley without collision. We proceed, flowing inside a river of traffic that splits over random tributaries or trickles through the back allies that only Taxi Mafioso know for short cuts. Soon, he launches his blinker and we turn into a driveway before a large warehouse type building.
“Where are we?”
“Oh, a stop on the way! On the way! I thought you might like to see how silk is made in Thailand.” We shrug. Andrew’s core philosophy on unexpected opportunities floats around the back seat: “If its not inherently fatal…” So, we unload from the car and take a tour of the silk fabric factory.
Admittedly, it is fascinating and beautiful. Silk worms eat the leaves of a Mulberry tree, then spin webs of silk fibers. Those fibers are harvested, cleaned, spun, and then dyed to make single threads of the soft and delicate fabric we know as silk. Then, using a technique similar to what we saw with Timor Leste’s woven fabrics made of cotton, the Thai women weave intricate patterns with the thinnest of silk threads, one at a time. It’s a full body activity, in which they use both hands and feet to move the loom. Even after watching them, I still have no idea how they keep their pattern straight in their minds. The result is fabric that shimmers at different angles, with colors and patterns as beautiful as any piece art I’ve seen.
It is then that we are shuffled into the “shop” where we are persuaded to buy a light blue silk nighty and some ties because they were the only things even reasonably close to our “souvenir” budget. The $3,000US patterned cloth was not in the cards for us today.
We climb back in the taxi, “Okay! Bosung Festival!” I clap my hands. Mafioso says nothing, our tires spin in the loose rocks on pavement until we zip out into traffic – only to turn into another driveway a few blocks down. “Ah! Do you want to see how we make the eggshell lacquered art?”
We hadn’t witnessed this “eggshell lacquered” art, yet, in our travels. So, again, we shrug and say, “sure.” He stops, and we are ushered into another warehouse where we are shown displays of crushed duck or chicken egg shells and the jet black lacquer harvested from a relative of the rubber tree. “Neat!” I say. And we are shuffled into the shop to select our trinket. We gracefully decline and escape their clutches this time, beginning to be a little bit suspicious that we are being kidnapped and taken against our will on the “Shopping Run” that Mr. Mafioso had insisted no Thai experience would be complete without.
“Bosung.” Andrew says as we get into the car, a bit more firmly.
“Oh, yes, yes. On our way!”
“But, first! Thailand is known for it’s beautiful sapphires! You wouldn’t want to miss the world’s biggest sapphire jeweler? Would you?”
Andrew sighs, and I’m sure if it were any other gem I wouldn’t have agreed to the stop but my wedding band has a sapphire, and I generally like sapphires, and I think jewelry is very pretty… “I promise I won’t buy anything, I just want to look!” I tell Andrew.
Apparently, Thailand mines all sorts of sapphires: Pink, yellow, the light blue and the bright blue, and even one called a “Star Sapphire”. I had never seen a Star Sapphire until we started traveling in South East Asia. It is a stone that can be black or goldish-grey, but when light hits it from the right angle, a five pointed star appears in the stone. The large sizes can be very interesting and sometimes multiple stars appear. It has to do with the stone’s mineral formations. You have to be careful, though, there are many fake Star Sapphires floating around out there. Any “stone” in which you can always see the star no matter the angle of light is a fake.
“Oooooohhhhh! Look at this Star Sapphire!” Is say to Andrew, pointing at a small one set in a smooth silver setting with no prongs. He raises his eyebrow at me. “My mom and dad sent me birthday money.” I say as I take my purchase to the counter. One star sapphire acquired.
Taxi Mafioso. Demand for Bosung. Another stop at a silver factory.
“No, no, no. Umbrella festival!” I say. Mr. Mafioso laughs.
“The festival doesn’t even start until later this afternoon. This is on the way.”
Andrew submits to his fate and we walk in to see how they make silver. He becomes enamored with a silver chain that clasps together with dragons on either end. He puts it on. “Should I get it?”
“You are insane.” I say. The dragon chain is definitely NOT in budget.
“But DRAGONS! Every good Captain needs a neck chain with dragons.” I shrug. Sensibly, he puts it away and we escape with an uneasy feeling that we should put an end to this whole thing now. Our defenses are starting to crumble.
Taxi Mafioso. Demand for Bosung. A cotton clothing shop.
Taxi Mafioso. Demand for Bosung. A leather shop.
Taxi Mafioso. Demand for Bosung. A stop at a scarf shop.
Here, we are greeted at the door by a handsome young Turkish man. “Oh!” I say, “are these Turkish scarves made in Thailand?” I’m not intending to be snarky, but at this point this “souvenier escapade” has completely jumped the shark. Now, we are being shuttled to Turkish Scarf Emporiums with goods and wears that aren’t even Thai?
Taxi Mafioso. Demand for Bosung…
It is at the second Turkish Scarf Emporium that Andrew’s “Well fine, let’s see how desperate you are to sell me something, former sales guy mentality” displays itself. We were just popping in to get our Taxi Mafioso Man another “parking validation” when I accidentally gave it away that we had already been shuttled to a different Turkish Scarf Emporium. The Scarf Man’s assistant scurries away to speak firmly to the keeper of parking validations to ensure an undeserved validation is not handed over to our Taxi Man.
“This is a nice one, very colorful.” Andrew says running his hand along the length of a soft silk and cashmere woven scarf. The pattern is intricate, and looks equally beautiful but different on each side of the scarf. “Which one do you like better? This one or that one?” Andrew asks me.
I blink at him. What is he doing? The sales guy smells the blood of a man who wants to please his wife with a scarf and starts unfolding more and more scarves on the table. He drapes two more scarves over Andrew’s open arms. Seriously, what is happening here?
“I don’t need a scarf!” I laugh. “We live in the tropics.”
“How about a nice bed cover?” The sales man offers. He pulls out a woven masterpiece big enough to cover a bed. With flourish, he waves his arms up and down once, and the blanket unfurls in all it’s glory to float like a parachute onto the floor.
“Oh, wow! Yeah, but we would need two that match. Sonrisa has two beds.” Andrew says. “Do you have two like this?” With this statement, I cock my head to the side. What is my proper role in this negotiation? The sensible wife? The Little Wifey who likes blankets? Andrew is still donning his flat lipped smile – his poker face.
“No, no. I don’t have two of that one, but I have two of this.” The salesman unfurls two more blankets.
Now, there is a pile of scarves and blankets forming. Andrew looks at me. “What do you want? A scarf? A blanket? A scarf and a blanket?” I start picking around the different fabrics. None of them are cheap, so now I am in a predicament of choosing something I like best. Andrew holds up one thing then the other toward the salesman. “This one and this one – for this much.”
“Naw, no, no. I can’t do that. But I could give you this one and this one for THIS much.”
The two men are WORLDS apart in the numbers that are flying around. Worlds. Galaxies. Andrew is aiming to get a two for the price of one deal, and the sales guy is aiming to sell two full sized blankets at full price with an additional scarf for 15% off. The sales guy, caught in the blind stupor of a hopeful sale, continues to unfold option after option of scarf and lay it out before me. He drapes another one around my neck, one over my arms; he places one in my hands. There is a veritable mountain of Turkishness piled around me when the discussion turns to wall tapestries or maybe a rug. What the salesman does not realize is Andrew’s extremely low and non-negotiable starting point has not moved in all this discussion. In fact, Andrew’s number has only gone down. Once the rug is involved, we aren’t just galaxies apart, but possibly the whole solar system.
Suddenly, the scenario comes clear before the man’s eyes. “I can’t go below X. You are going to have to re-think your entire starting basis.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Andrew says. “I can’t go above Y.” Both men look over at me, scarves and bedspreads dripping from me like frosting melting off of a warm cake.
I don’t say anything.
“You can’t come in here and have me take out all this merchandise if you are not going to buy anything.”
Andrew just stands there with his smile. Oooh, do I know how enraging that smile can be in certain moments. They look at each other for a long and awkward pause until they both look at me again. I can see in the back of both men’s eyes a spark of challenge and a flint of rage.
“That’s it!” I take Andrew’s arm at the crook of his elbow while de-robing myself of all excess scarfery. “Thank you for your time, nothing for us today. Come on, let’s go. We’re leaving.”
“What!? You can’t leave!
You can’t make me take out all this…
it is so rude…
I unfolded everything…
…such a waste of my time if you knew you weren’t going to buy anything.”
I can hear the man cussing us out, a selection of scarves being waved and shaken in his fists. Andrew is resisting my pull, looking over his shoulder, and shrugging with his free hand at the salesman. “You could just lower your price. Your decision, not mine.”
I drag Andrew through the parking lot and shove him by the elbow into the car like a petulant child. I swing around the trunk and tell Mr. Taxi Mafioso “No. More. Shops. We are done with the shops.”
“…yeah! At least with the Turkish Scarf Shops.” Andrew says, still wearing his smile.
Mr. Mafioso says nothing; he is mad that I didn’t play the game about the parking validation properly. He steers us down the road and pulls into the parking lot of the Umbrella Factory. “No! I want to go to the Bosung Festival.”
“Its not until tonight. You can see all the same umbrella things here.” He responds.
We get out. We peruse umbrellas. We acquire Andrew’s targeted souvenier: two umbrellas built with strength and waterproofing adequate to actually function as umbrellas. Then, we clear out. Without even asking us, Mafioso turns back toward our hotel and returns us from whence we came.
“So, what do you have planned tomorrow?” Mr. Mafioso asks. “I can take you to see the live tigers?”
Andrew pays the man, and I say “No, no. No, thank you. I think we’ll do fine on our own, thanks.”
We settle in at a café for a late lunch and to rejigger our plan. We still need to figure out a strategy to get to the real Bosung Umbrella Festival.
“What is the lesson we learned here, today?” I ask.
Andrew shrugs. “Can’t escape Thailand without a day offered up to the Taxi Mafioso? Cheers.”
We clink two frosty mugs of iced lime juice.