A half a year has passed since I have felt inspired to post a blog here. In August, my father passed away and I am grateful that I had the time with him that I reported here among the last blogs of 2013.
And now I am back in Thailand where I was inspired on many levels a year ago – much of which was turned into blogs and poetry. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I am inspired again to share my experiences here on HOPE.
Although Thailand is on the news these days for the passionate demonstrations in Bangkok, those of us away from the capital live in another world that continues despite the political unrest. But we do hope that things settle down. The Thais deserve peace and prosperity as do all nations. It may be that I am falling in love with the Thai people, especially after the last few weeks.
As synchronicity works, it turned out that when we agreed to leave our rented condo in Thailand during the holiday season (as the owner wanted to use it for friends) we opened ourselves up for a special adventure and close-up insight into the “Real Thailand”.
Part of the learning came from the contrast of the two journeys we undertook. The first trip one was to Southern Thailand in the Province of Krabi, a popular tourist destination. This area is known for its natural beauty, sandy beaches and stunning rock-climbing mountains like the lead photo. Staying in a little jungle bungalow was fun and relaxing. Despite the crowds of young rock-climbers, hordes of honeymooners, many families with small children and typical tourist takeover attitude, the nature was captivating and photogenic.
I found myself overlooking the tourists and hardly interacting with the Thais, who spent their time and energy keeping the tourists happy. My pictures were beautiful but the Thais disappeared in the throngs of westerners. The best thing about that visit was the fact that the internet was so slow we were really limited in our time on-line. Instead we lounged on the jungle terrace reading and resting. The quiet was a refreshing relief from the tourist beaches and we were most happy doing nothing.
While the trip to Southern Thailand was all about the beauty of the sea and the mountains, the second trip to the Northeast Thailand in southern Isaan was about the beauty of the people! This trip has had a very strong impact on me and I find myself thinking often of the individuals we met who even for such a short time left an imprint on my soul. It was strangely nourishing to feel such a connection to people who came alive and vibrant when they saw we were interested in them as human beings.
Just this week Jane Brunette posted a very insightful blog about returning to California from being in Bali for a year. She called the blog Facing the shadow of modern materialism: What would love do?. I have been thinking about what “What would love do?” could mean. And I think that the experience of Isaan might explain a bit of it to me. There was a kind of openness and connection with the people there that I believe could really be called LOVE. It blossomed at the moment of contact – even as we were strangers. It left each of us richer and blessed by the connection of of two unique human beings, recognized and appreciated by each other. In Isaan the people’s lives were simple and many would say primitive or poor but their attitude seemed rich and full.
We have heard from several friends, only about 4 % of the vacationing foreigners visit this part of Thailand, so we got a chance to see the Thais in their own environment, going about their tasks in their villages or towns. Being themselves is the best way to put it! As I look back I discover the qualities that made contact and a “love” experience, which left such a lasting impression, possible. Whether in a fancy hotel, a tiny village, whether old or young, the people were friendly, curious, happy, relaxed and extremely “present” to whatever it was they were doing. Of course they appreciated our attention and interest but didn’t seem to be put off by our differences.
Since we were specifically there to see some of the artisans whose work is sold in The Family Tree many were engaged in creative work. I wrote about this shop and their products in a blog last year (Thailand: Community – Culture – Creativity) . This trip opened my eyes and made me really appreciate the dedication, time and effort that is put into producing these beautiful products. It was also clear that the artisans are also proud of their work, with a kind of simple pride that a child has when finishing something difficult – not an ego-trip pride. It seemed that time has another dimension there as people work for months on a project with deep commitment and precision. Very inspiring. We also saw the quiet dedication of living a simple life. Interestingly people can live simply and still have a TV and a smart phone, we discovered. I guess the smiles and the laughter touched me the most.
So let me introduce you to some of the Isaan people!
A weaver in a community of women weavers.
A silver worker who produces lovely necklaces and bracelets.
A cowboy and his family who served delicious roasted chicken from their spit to happy customers passing by.
A shop owner who served us a great Thai breakfast – so proud that his shop was on Trip Advisor! Not quite what you would expect :-)
The massage therapists with the Madame in the front row (in black). We had a very fun time with her. She decided that we were all special, more laid back than most foreigners, she said. When she asked me my age, she said I inspired her to decide then and there that when she became my age she and her husband would go out traveling and see the world! As if to cement this thought, she rushed over to me and put two of her silver rings on my middle finger! I tried to protest but had to graciously accept these simple rings, that I now wear daily, reminding me of this lovely group and the Thais of Isaan!
More weavers and silk worker communities.
Locals sitting about chatting happy to give us directions. Of course having Peter (whose wife owns The Family Tree) doing the talking was key! He speaks fluent Thai and lived for a time in Isaan. He always got people laughing and joking around. He is surely the secret behind our access to the people we met.
Women serving us fresh fried crabs and silk worms! – after they set up a table and chairs for us near the river – all the Thais were eating on the ground lounging on woven straw mats.
A woman at a training school for how to raise silk worms! Here she is working on a new project making small gifts and beautiful flowers from empty silk pupae!
It seemed like it was great fun finding ways to use every bit of the silk worm cycle – sustainability and beauty working together.
And here is the Guru silk dyer and designer, Ajarn (teacher) Koh, and his wife, Khun Paruhatand, whom we were so lucky to meet. He produces silk products for the Queen of Thailand and other dignitaries around the world! All his silk is hand-dyed with natural dyes. He showed us the whole process! He also creates and sets up the designs which are extremely complicated and take months to make.
He is joined by his wife who is a master silk weaver. Watching her replicating one of his intricate designs was rather mind-blowing. It’s also interesting that Ajarn Koh learned about silk dying from his mother in law, who trusted him with this body of knowledge, passed from generation to generation.
Some of their beautiful silks can be bought at The Family Tree in Hua Hin.
One picture I didn’t get was of an 82 year old monk who chatted animatedly with us outside this sweet small temple. This monk is well known around the world for initiating a project of helping the people in his area grow organic rice. And is the rice from here delicious! He actually exports the rice to many places around the world and eagerly gave us two packages to take with us. He was quite excited about his rice and loved telling us all about the effort. A combination of Buddhism and sustainability!
Our journey took us all the way to the Mekong River with views of the hills of Laos in the distance. Here we found more beauty and peace to take back with us in our hearts to busy Hua Hin
I notice that the lessons of this trip have affected the way I interact with the Thai people I am meeting in this more touristy part of Thailand. I feel more open and personal with the people I meet. Plus learning and practicing my Thai brings connection and respect. But I also became more aware of the sullen and spaced-out young people working in the commercial restaurants in Hua Hin. Is the materialism spreading through central Thailand smothering the beautiful Thai spirit that is still so alive in the more rural areas? There are many unanswered questions here and everything isn’t perfect in Isaan, but the warmth, humor and caring of the people we met touched me deeply.
May this country be blessed with Peace.