Tiny Potted Plants & Other Less-Nice Things

There are few things in the world that don’t bring me joy these days. Living in Chiang Mai has that effect on me. But one of the main givers recently is tiny, potted plants. Tiny, potted, hangingby-beaded-strings plants, even. One or two will do, though every Sunday evening I find myself strolling Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street Market again, stopping to cluck over little plants. 

Those plant stands are a bit nondescript, if that’s possible for a miniature jungle temporarily residing on a slab of concrete in the middle of a bustling urban-Asia market. But they’re easy to miss because they’re somewhat hiding between handcrafted brass lanterns, mind-blowing local art, and stacks of handmade tie-dye everything. 

They don’t demand the eyes’ attention in the usual Thai market way. They don’t sizzle or smell like heaven (or even tender slabs of dehydrated fish). They don’t spray your visual field with light and color. They don’t make a sound (that we can hear). They just sit there, supporting tiny plants’ efforts to do what tiny plants do: look cute and make people happy. And through their wispy blades, snappy fronds, slender spikes, and fat tongues, they give out little bursts of O2, too, to be sipped in through our lips and down into our lungs, to land home in our million gazillion cells.

So, there they are, every Sunday, coaxing me to take another baby home. It’s impossible not to. They’re a fresh litter of pups to a dog lover. They beg for our warmth and heart strings. And so they shall have them. I don’t know what type of plants they are, or all that much about caring for them, so I guess I’m a bit like every new parent. If I treat them right, they might live a very long time. So I give them a good home, sunlight and water, tender loving words to grow up on, and each other. I could read them books… but perhaps I’ll draw the line there. I’ll sing them songs instead.    

After I gush over the plants for a few moments and maybe buy a wee succulent to join the family, I spy a tented table pitched near one of the city’s 117 ancient wats (Buddhists temples). Traditional Thai medicine. The best of homeopathy. The stuff of ancient indigenous folklore that helps foreigners recover from jetlag in 2022. Dried herbs curled into snail shapes. Smelly balms. Jars of paste in 1974-brown. Then there are the labels detailing their purpose and benefits. Oh if only I could remember them all. (My request to snap a photo was declined, likely because I lost face to a fit of giggles over said labels). 

The main players they were fit to treat read hemorrhoids, arthritis, psoriasis, lesions (dear Lord), and more that I can’t remember. There were herbal tonics promising to increase vaginal moisture, firm breasts, and reaffirm the male organ’s presence. I made a quick recovery and even quicker departure when I saw the glossy, budget-made, zoomed-in photos of the thick-with-lesions undersides of male scrota (or scrotums, whichever word doesn’t make you shudder). It’s never nice to see a diseased perineum up close. A picture truly is worth a thousand words branded forever in your mind’s eye.

And in the background, sounding a usually-blaring pitch from a loud phone in the temple grounds, came the sweet, wafting Thai-accented voice of a young and delightfully articulate boy. In gentle English prose, he requested all market guests to please cough and sneeze into a mask, please wash hands, and please observe a safe and respectful distance from each other, thank you every much.

In my opinion, that is an effective way to influence compliant behaviour from adults. Get polite, honey-voiced kids to present the rules. I’m sure there’s another slant on that particular approach to obedience, but I’m not overly concerned with it. It was darling, as most Thai-market things are. ‘Cept for the graphics. Ah but those tiny potted plants.

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