In full [virtual] bloom
“Can you tell where the flowers come from just by looking at them on the stall?” Pornsomjai “Oy” Huadhoon, asks as she leads a group of visitors through Bangkok’s well-known Pak Khlong Talad.
For outsiders or newcomers to the country’s largest flower market, that question is hard to answer unless, of course, you are an expert in all things floral. Yet those at the market can easily tell the origin of a flower, not from the species, but from the language of the newspaper in which they are wrapped.
Thai newspapers indicate locally grown blooms but those in the Chinese language don’t mean the flowers are from China, Oy explains. Flowers from China come neatly wrapped in white or brown paper, with a barcode that allows you to trace both the origin and the grower.
This little gem of information is largely unknown to those who have never visited Pak Khlong Talad. And it is what inspired Asst Prof Supitcha Tovivich of Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Architecture to launch her project, the aptly named “Pak Khlong Strikes Back!”.
Having witnessed first-hand the massive slowdown of trading in the market as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Supitcha wanted to inject new life into the area. To draw people not familiar with Pak Khlong Talad, Supitcha designed four activities to tempt young people enjoy a new experience and have some digital fun at the same time.
The “People of the Flower Market” component allows visitors to discover portraits of those involved in the market and their missions. They are then invited to take part in a quiz to find out which flower matches their character before following a map to get a bouquet from one of the shops.
The third activity, “Flower Tracking: Hide and Seek” focuses on finding hidden augmented reality (AR) flowers behind a pole or on a wall and capturing them with a smartphone, while the fourth involves taking a photo of yourself with your flowers and sending it to the People of the Flower Market page to receive an interactive filter.
“The quiz isn’t psychologically accurate,” a laughing Supitcha admits. “It’s more of a gimmick to get those taking part to buy flowers.” The portraits on the walls, she adds, are of the real people who work hard to make this market run smoothly yet are rarely noticed.
Looking at the flowers through a smartphone app might sound strange to some, but the project actually aims to feature the “sense of place” or the identity of the flower market as well as the people who work hard to keep it functioning around the clock. The app is only a starting point and the hope is that it will convince the users to go and look at the real flowers in the market.
Pak Khlong Talad has become less busy since the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration launched its clean-up campaign in 2015, banning dozens of street vendors from plying their trade on the pavements.
Without the vendors, the market has undoubtedly become cleaner and more orderly but it seems lifeless to those who visited and loved the chaotic Pak Khlong Talad of the past. Some foreign tourists couldn’t even locate the market as the newly neat landscape doesn’t match the messy pavement they have seen in the media or in guidebooks.
Supitcha has been visiting the market since 2016 when her post-graduate and PhD students were working on an architectural project that led to the People of Pak Khlong Facebook page. She also worked with them for her talk at TEDxBangkok 2018.
Supported by Thailand Science Research and Innovation and the Office of National Higher Education Science Research as well as the Innovation Policy Council, “Pak Khlong Strikes Back!” is a collaboration between the Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University, the People of the Flower Market Facebook page, and Splendour Solis.
“AR can’t change Pak Khlong Talad, but it offers a new perspective about the market and draws newcomers to have a first-hand experience at the market,” said Pornsomjai.
“Pak Khlong Talad has survived all kinds of ups and downs and all the [Yellow and Red Shirt] protests. Now it’s the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m sure people at the market will manage and get through this together,” said Pornsomjai.
“Pak Khlong Strikes Back” runs until October 11. From Sanam Chai MRT station, get a map from Sunflower Cafe for you to “get lost” in the market and find the colourful images of “People of Pak Khlong” hidden in the market.
You can also download or print your own map from <https://flowerhub.space/quiz/about/?fbclid=IwAR2zTh2wGyfKpU7bt4DzYjBcCghio009JQ21lUI6_AHhlEfSNKq5Du8PGkQ>.