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"I AM going to the city to-day to buy a new waist-cloth," said Chin's father one morning. "Chin, you may go with me, if you like."
A few moments afterward the two were paddling down the river past the temples and palaces which lined the shore.
Besides the homes of the rich, surrounded by stately palm-trees and beautiful gardens, there were other houses belonging to poorer people. These last were built close to the river's edge, but were raised high up above the water, on posts.
This was a wise thing to do for several reasons. In the first place, the river would rise after the fall rains began, and the houses might float away, — or, at least, the people inside would be flooded, unless they had been careful to build high enough to prepare for such times.
The fine houses were of brick or wood, but the poorer ones were much like Chin's houseboat, woven of bamboo and thatched with leaves.
The boy and his father soon left the main part of the river and turned into one of the canals. They were now in a part of the city where a good deal of business was going on. They left the boat, after fastening it to the bank, and walked along through the narrow street.
The fronts of the houses here were ail open and everything within could be plainly seen. In this one was a big counter, almost filling the room, and the merchant himself sat cross-legged upon it with his goods around him.
There was a bakery where the cakes and bread were made and baked in sight of everyone who passed. Chin liked to stop and look at the various workmen. There was much to see and learn. The metal-workers were pounding and hammering away, and, as the boy watched them, he could see bracelets and anklets shaped, and sheets of copper formed into various dishes.
In many places the families of the storekeepers lived in the one room that was both store and dwelling, but they did not seem to be troubled when they noticed Chin's black eyes following them.
In one store a hammock hung from the ceiling and a baby was swinging there. What did he care if he was brought up on the street, as one might say? Care! He seemed to think the coming and going of so many people was meant all for him, and he laughed and crowed at each new face.
"Do look, father," said Chin, as they passed a barber's shop. "There is a Chinaman having his head and eyebrows shaved. He won't be satisfied until his eyelashes have been pulled out. Other people have strange fashions, don't they?"
His father smiled. "Yes, Chin, we are all different from each other in this world. But I know one thing in which we are like the Chinese. We love kites, don't we?"
Chin's eyes sparkled. "Yes, indeed, father. There is a kite store, now. Let us go in and look around. The kites there are beautiful."
It is no wonder Chin longed to stop. All sorts of kites were there to tempt the passer-by. They were in the shapes of flowers and boats, dragons and elephants, and I can't tell how many other odd or lovely patterns. Chin's father was as much interested as his son, and a half-hour was spent before they finally decided on buying a kite in the form of a butterfly.
"We will have great sport in flying it this afternoon," said Chin. "Chie Lo must enjoy it with us."
He had finished speaking when he caught sight of a procession coming in that direction. A moment before there had been so many children, dogs, and cats in the street they seemed to block the way of everything else; but now the children quickly turned aside and ran into the doorways.
As the procession drew near, a great shouting and beating of drums could be heard.
"Father, look quickly," said Chin. "The men are carrying a statue of Buddha on a litter. Isn't it beautiful? It is all covered with gilt. I wonder where they will carry it. Oh, now I see; they have stopped at that open place and are going to have a play. There are the actors themselves."
"Some rich man is doing this," said Chin's father. "He has probably hired the actors, and the show will be free to all. He is making merit for himself, without doubt. We will join the crowd."
By this time the gilded statue had been set up on a sort of throne, and sticks of incense were lighted and placed on the rough altar in front of it.
The strangest part came now, for the actors began to put on their queer costumes right before the people who had gathered around the show. Then came the play.
There was neither stage nor curtain; nor was there any scenery, except that of the place itself. But Chin and his father enjoyed it as well as the other onlookers. They laughed and looked sad, in turn, and seemed to forget that it was only a play, and not real life, that was pictured before them.
When the play was over, Chin's father said:
"We must go back to the stores, for I have not bought my waist-cloth yet."
The place they soon entered was different from any dry-goods store you ever saw. The room was fitted with pigeonholes, in each of which was folded a strip of cloth one yard wide, and three yards long. Some of these pa-nungs, or waist-cloths, were of silk, and others of cotton. Some were striped, and others figured. They form, as you know, the principal part of the dress of both men and women in Siam.
After Chin's father had looked at a number of the cotton waist-cloths, he finally decided on one that was gaily striped. It was of no use for him to examine anything made of silk. It would cost more than the poor man could afford.
"Now, for the tailor's," he said. "I must buy thread and needles."
A few steps brought them to the tiny shop where the tailor sat, working busily, but on the watch for customers at the same time. He held the cloth on which he was sewing between his toes! That did not seem strange to Chin. He had often watched carpenters use their toes to hold boards in place. As to himself, his own toes were put to every possible use, so that you would almost call him four-handed.
As his feet were always bare, why shouldn't he make them useful in other ways than walking and running, swimming and playing games? There was no reason at all.
"I'm getting hungry, and we are a good ways from home, father. I wish we could buy some cakes."
Chin looked longingly at a stand under a stone archway where two men stood in front of a movable furnace. Square griddles were on the furnace, and the men were busily baking cakes. Each one was made in the shape of the figure 8. Curlicue cakes, they were called.
A crowd of boys was standing as near to the furnace as possible, watching the men. Some were buying the cakes as they came from the hot griddle; others had no money and could only look on.
Each of the bakers held in his hand a terracotta bottle with a small hole in the end. He kept the bottle horizontal while he filled it with the batter. When the griddle was hot enough, he held the bottle upright for a moment with his finger over the hole, then, taking his finger away, he passed it quickly over the griddle with the motion you would use in making the figure 8. A minute afterward, a delicious curlicue cake was ready for a customer.
"You may treat yourself here, Chin," said his father, "while I go to the betel stand yonder, to get my box filled."
It was now noon-time, and the sun was very hot. The street, which had been crowded all the morning, was nearly empty. Almost every one in the city, except the poorer people, was now taking a midday nap in the shadow of some tree or veranda.
"We must go home, Chin, for I am warm and tired," said his father, but he smiled pleasantly, for he had enjoyed the morning as much as his son.
On their way to the boat they passed some jugglers treading fire and climbing a ladder of sharp knives with their bare feet. At most times, a large crowd would have been gathered around them, but there were few people now. It was too hot, and even Chin was glad to leave the city street and get into his little boat once more.
Perhaps you wonder if there are no carriages in this strange city of the East. There are not many, since, as you remember, most of the travelling is done on the water. But once in a while one sees a queer sort of vehicle called a jinrikisha.
It is much like an open buggy on two wheels and is drawn by men. It is more common in the land of Chin's Japanese cousins, however, than in his country.
Then, again, if any of Chin's people are in a great hurry (but that very seldom happens), they may hire gharries, which are very light and have canvas tops. These are drawn by small horses brought from China.
"The gharries are strange things," thinks Chin's father; "the idea of using them must have been given by those queer white people, who do not seem to enjoy life as we Siamese do. They move so much faster, and are not satisfied to do things in the quiet, happy way of my countrymen."