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Airplanes, chor bazaars and Bangkok jugaad

Updated on: 24 March,2024 06:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Paromita Vohra |

One of my companions learned from a stall owner that some sellers in the market were children of sex workers from around the area and this was now a space of livelihood for them, a story that piqued our imaginations. 

Airplanes, chor bazaars and Bangkok jugaad

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraIn a field off the city-centre in Bangkok, sits a decommissioned airplane—the surreal centre piece of Chang Chui, one among the city’s famed night markets. Shops, bars and stalls surround it like puppies at the teats of a creature who might be either from a mythic past or a dystopian future.

South East Asia’s night markets are an inclusive kind of leisure. The night air more conducive to grazing, browsing, timepass. Tourism reformats everyday life into conveyor belt consumption. So, in more touristy destinations, such markets sometimes feel as uninspiring as malls with repetitive and predictable wares. It’s not unlike how every Indian holiday spot now has a standardised “hippy” market with elephant print cotton pyjamas, straw hats, Kashmiri handicrafts, tie-and-dye sundresses. Chang Chui provides a pleasurable contrast with its eclectic, affordable stalls and the airy plenitude of space to stroll without being hustled. There’s a conscious but understated “cool” aesthetic to the informal architecture of corrugated iron and old wood. Indeed a playful, beautiful place which keeps its own hipness in check.

One of my companions learned from a stall owner that some sellers in the market were children of sex workers from around the area and this was now a space of livelihood for them, a story that piqued our imaginations. 

Chang Chui is the creation of Somchai “Lim” Songwattana, founder of Thai fashion brand Flynow. He conceptulised the space as one that would bring different generations of artists together so they could showcase their work in surroundings devoted to creative practice. The name, meaning Sloppy Artisan, is a tribute to the slapdash creativity he considers a key Thai quality of making something out of limited means—“like Pad Thai”—and a quality of an older culture now being lost to development. In Indian terms, we might call this jugaad and point to bhelpuri as a symbol of everyday creativity.

The term “flea market” comes from the French “marche aux puces” for old furniture and clothing that might actually be flea-infested. Bombay has alluring lore about how Chor Bazar was once called Shor Bazar or how Queen Victoria’s stolen violin was found there. But chor bazaars or thieves markets exist in other cities and countries with their higgled-piggledy mix of discarded, fake, stolen and scavenged goods. This unruly space is a dynamic churning world. Here old is never actually replaced by the new but makes its way back into new things, including as imitation vintage. Counterfeit goods dissolve the “value” of the exclusive “original” item. In goods and fancies that have transited worlds and times lie stories of colonialism and global capital, avarice and desire. Here, the buyer is as much an agent as the seller, deciding if they see value in what someone sees as junk and sometimes re-mixing it into aspirational street fashion. There is the possibility of a creative brashness and unpredictability, that makes the buying and selling fun.

In the more formatted street markets, pleasure becomes functional, the customer a more passive consumer. A curated space like Chang Chui offers relief from that Made in China sameness, but it’s more a space to exercise and demonstrate taste, than creative brashness for the customer.

Nostalgia for a lost way of being often seems strongest among those instrumental to that change as they craft their journeys of upward mobility. Perhaps a plane is an apt symbol for that.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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