I’m overcome with guilt. How could I have ever thought ill of the three lovely young girls?
The problem is, when travelling you can become paranoid about thieves and scams. And so it is at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market.
Billed as one of the world’s largest weekend markets, with more than 15,000 stalls, it attracts over 200,000 people a day. Selling everything from clothes to collectibles, footwear to furniture, it’s aimed mainly at locals but is a shopping haven for tourists.
The place is thronging with people. Gaggles of girls peruse the fashions, young couples stock up on homewares, and families choose pets from an array of caged animals.
As I walk between stalls I’m approached by three young girls with clipboards. They courteously ask if I would help them with their first-year university English studies by answering a few questions their teacher has prepared.
Why not? I have the time, it’s for a good cause and they asked so politely.
In halting English they ask me my name, trying to write it down as I spell it, but give up and ask me to write it. Then they request my address, phone number and email. Thinking this is getting a bit personal I decline, hoping they will move on to more interesting questions. But the only other question is how long I’ve been in Thailand, before asking to take my photo.
They thank me profusely, indicating the interview is finished.
As I walk away I wonder why they didn’t ask more interesting questions. And why did they want my address and contact details?
My thoughts fly back to last night when, at a street bazaar frequented by backpackers, my friends and I had seen a stall selling fake ID cards, from Proof of Age cards to NSW driver’s licences. We’d joked about getting our own Media cards.
Suddenly a wave of nausea washes over me (and it’s not from dodgy food). Have I just had my identity stolen? What if these girls are working for unscrupulous thieves rather than being innocent university students.
I retrace my steps and catch up with the girls exactly where I’d left them, right beside the market security station. I ask them if they would write down their names for me. They oblige. And the name of their university? They write that too. I ask them if I could take their photo and they happily pose for me (but are probably thinking what a weirdo I am).
Somehow having this information makes me feel better, though I have no idea if the names they have given me are correct.
Now, over dinner with a local acquaintance I raise my concerns. With a giggle she says the university does exist and confirms that English students regularly interview foreigners at the markets, train stations and shopping centres. She has even done it herself.
Now I feel dreadful for thinking ill of the girls when they were just doing their assignment. I’m sure they would have preferred to be shopping than talking to paranoid foreigners like me.
I’m sorry girls. Please accept my humble apology. And good luck with the English studies!
Hint for university English tutors: Perhaps in these circumstances ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Where do you live?’ is more appropriate than ‘What is your address?’.
Disclaimer: I travelled to Bangkok as a guest of Tourism Authority of Thailand.
More: Chatuchak Market is open Sat & Sun 6am to 6pm. Closest stations are Kamphaengpecth Station or about a 5 minute walk from Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT). The closest Skytrain station (BTS) is Mochit. Just follow the crowd. Pick up a map from the information stall below the clock tower, which helps identify specific areas for food, clothing, furniture etc. (However, there are often a few clothes stalls randomly mixed among the food stalls.) It’s best to get there early in the day as in the afternoon wholesalers set up in the limited walkway space making it even more difficult to get around. Take a decent carry bag or backpack for your shopping, as multiple plastic bag handles can be painful to carry on your arm after a while.