Worasit “Noom” Kemawat has sold daikon radishes at Pak Khlong Talad for over 30 years. The vendor, who has watched the riverside evolve from its quiet and humble roots, talked with Bangkok 101 about his life and the changes he sees happening along the Chao Phraya.
What is a normal day for you?
At 3am, I get up and drive to Si Mum Muang Market [in Rangsit] to buy fresh radishes from the farmers and middlemen. My pick-up is always full, just brimming with radishes. When I go back to my shop, I sort out the goods and grade my radishes. Then I cut some leaves from the tops of the radishes to make them look more beautiful for certain customers—the hospitals and restaurants and whatnot. My main clients are from restaurants, prisons, hospitals, and factories that make Chinese-style salted radishes. I usually sell in large quantities, but if you only want one or two radishes, it’s no big deal. My income depends on supply and demand, but I earn quite a lot each month.
What’s the future of your trade?
The demand will keep growing, since Japanese restaurants are popping up like mushrooms in the city. And can you picture a Japanese meal without daikon? But I am concerned about the future of my business. If I’m too old to work, who will work instead of me? I actually want my daughter and son to continue doing this job, because it’s our family business and they will earn a lot of money from it. But, you know, kids are impatient nowadays, and they have their own dreams. Being a vendor is tiring work, too. You have to do it every day or you won’t have any money. When my family goes on holiday, I still have work. I don’t have a weekend. I rarely have time for my family, but at least we stay together at night—my kids don’t like to sleep in their own rooms.
How has life on the river changed since you first started working here?
I’ve worked here since 1982. Back then, water transport was the main way to get around Bangkok. People would use poles to row their boats down canals. Very few had motorboats then. Vegetables, fruits, and flowers were delivered by boat directly from farmers and plantation owners in nearby provinces, like Ayutthaya and Chainat. The canals were so clean I would swim in them each day with my friends. We used to jump in at Memorial Bridge and hitch a ride to the middle of the river, grabbing the sides of passing boats. I’m sure this doesn’t really happen anymore.
The market next to river is now a huge community mall [Yod Phi Man]. The canals were filled with dirt and concrete and turned into roads. Cars are the main way to travel, row boats don’t exist, and the water is not clean at all. If it were this dirty when I was young, I wouldn’t want to touch it.
How has the new community mall changed your life?
Our shop was right next to Chao Phraya, but we had to move to the centre of the market, because the new owners [from the private sector] wanted to build a mall. The worst thing is that rental has dramatically increased—five times what it was. Our income remains the same, but our expenses have skyrocketed. We really have no choice but to pay the money, either. I even have to pay to use the street in the market to transfer my radishes to the shop.
The lifestyle here has gradually changed, too, so visitors are experiencing a completely different perspective of Pak Khlong Talad. But the new owners have also improved the quality of the place. The market used to flood during rainy season. Now, it never does, thanks to structural changes. It even stayed safe during the flood in 2011. Still, once the MRT construction is complete, the market will become much more “civilized,” I guess you could say. We’ll see a lot of tourists and fancy cars. Luckily, I bought my house before the mall and MRT arrived, because land prices have gone berserk.
How can we preserve the Chao Phraya and riverside communities as the city develops?
I just want people to take care of the river. Teach children the value of water. We don’t have many water resources left. We can’t let civilization change us. If we’re selfish and thoughtless and we litter and pour concrete over the Chao Phraya, all the beautiful things we have will disappear forever.