I was making a veggie stir fry in the communal kitchen at my dorm when I struck up a conversation with a group of Chinese girls who are also studying at Chiang Mai University. They invited me to eat with them so we traded stir fry for Chinese noodles and planned to make dumplings the following week.
They picked up the ingredients from a Chinese stall near the university and we got to work.
Green onions, cabbage, ginger, and pork were chopped as we traded stories about Thailand and University.
It was pretty great because not only were we making dumplings by hand but we were communicating in a mix of Thai, English, and Chinese. When they couldn’t speak in English they would speak in Thai and I would understand, props to my Thai teacher.
We chopped,mixed, and then it was time to wrap the dumplings. I will never again complain about the price of dumplings or wontons after how hard of time I had wrapping the dumplings. They all laughed politely but I was really terrible at it.
We cooked them and then feasted.We managed to eat four plates heaped with dumplings while giggling over cute Thai boys cooking in the kitchen next to us. They were a very nice bunch.
The morning after my epic dance night I was taught how to make a delicious fried curry by Noina’s mother.
First, Noina and I scootered over to the market for some fresh indedients. Only a few stands I the market were open at 8:30am including the butcher where we bought the pork from. We purchased a fist sized ball of the curry paste for gaaeng pet. Looked a little like red plado.
I cut/shaved the pork for the curry.
Then it was the string beans turn
Time to light up the blaster and heat up the wok
It was a fried curry (pat gaaeng) so we first fried the curry paste in oil.
Then we added some water, sugar, salt and the pork.
I had been to all of three lessons of traditional Lanna dance. One was an informal practice in Noinas home before the show.
So obviously I was not well prepared to get up on stage in front of the entire town! (everyone was coming because they heard I was dancing) I’ve definitely been accepted since they found out I was dancing. I’m not sure if the goodwill towards me will continue once they actually see me dance like tree stump)
But after my hair and makeup were done I felt a bit more confident.
After makeup was a great selfie opportunity for Ma Now, Noinas little sis, and I.
Then I slipped into my outfit and I was as ready as I could be.
There was an actual stage inside a Wat in Phrao. I saw it when Noina and I grabbed our lunch from the ladies in charge of the food for after the dancing. This is a serious thing. A stage!!
The minute I saw the stage I was immediately grabbed by the town leader’s wife and the other women prepping the food and fed many kanom jok sai Ma prow (some delicious coconut dessert wrapped in banana leaf). They not only want me to dance but they want me to be fat as well. Demanding!
Back to the main act:
I got dressed and it seemed like everyone I met behind the temple had something to add to my outfit! A necklace here, a belt there, a sash here, a new skirt there. Everyone smiled at me.
Then I was at the front of a parade of women some with banners others like me carrying platters of curries, fruits, and sticky rice. I was grinning the whole time. Everyone was having a good time.
People sat on mats in front of the templeand ate while they watched the numerous performances.
We had to wait to dance. I was so nervous. But I was also enjoying the atmosphere. I was the only foreigner at this fundraiser and the first foreigner to ever join in in this town. And everyone seemed so pleased I was there. Pretty epic. Definitely the most memorable activity so far:)
The dance can’t be uploaded so I’ll post a link later.
After, they kept me up on stage and spoke in rapid Thai to me while I just stood there awkwardly waiting to tell them I couldn’t understand. 😂😂
Then it was time to eat! Yum the best curry I’ve had so far in Thailand called Gaaeng hang laeh muu. Yum! With sticky rice, of course!
Saying yes to everything offered is the best way, I’ve found, to get to know the people of Phrao. It will surely get me into trouble soon but while my stomach agrees with them, I will keep trying the Lanna specialties: raw meat, live shrimp, and blood soup! Right, so chances are it’s definitely going to bite me in the ass. I mean come on blood soup (raw by the way, and not too bad…pretty salty).
It’s not just food that I’m flexible with, it’s my schedule and plans as well. And I’ve found I have the best experiences when I nod in favor of whatever it is I’m asked to join and hop in the bed of a truck to who knows where.
Today, I conducted another interview at one of the nicest open-air restaurants I’ve been to anywhere. I tried fresh crab papaya salad (som tam pu) and finished it off with a Chang beer, because I’m now a fan of light beer (dammit!).
Then, I was supposed to scooter back to Warm Heart for dinner but was feeling pretty exhausted so I sat down at my translator’s bar for a minute. The restaurant owner, one I interviewed whose kow soy is to die for, and her son who goes to CMU came over and invited me to go with them to the hot springs. Ah I didn’t even ask what hot springs and just jumped into the bed of the truck with her son, James, and two other university students.
The hot springs turned out to be the local hangout.
Mosaic hot tubs had been carved into the ground and natural sulfur smelling hot water was pumped in.
Some people were bathing in the larger pools, some were boiling eggs 😂 and some were just dipping their toes in. A group showed up with beers and whiskey playing loud music. Party.
A beautifully tiled serpent (ngu) ran along the northern edge of the pools guarding the hot springs from the mountains beyond.
We all soaked our feet and two of the students jumped in.
Then it was a homemade meal of chicken blood and noodles, sticky rice mixed with blood, raw pork liver, bean sprouts, and chilis. I’m surprised I haven’t keeled over from another parasite yet, honestly. It was delicious.
The students and I chattered away. I have new friends to go to dinner with in Chiang Mai now. How great.
I also met some Chinese students in the kitchen of our dorm the other day who also study at CMU. They are going to teach me how to make Chinese dumplings by hand on Monday. We are also going to go out and listen to their teacher sing at a bar. Ha! How cool.
Making connections is what I’m here to do. Just being open to everything and willing to try is the way to get the most out of my experiences. Nice to put out energy and have some returned to you in unexpected and fun ways.
I showed up Friday morning at Warm Heart and was informed I had the option of going to one of the nearby villages for a New Years celebration the following afternoon. Of course I jumped on the offer having no idea what I was in for. I was in for one heck of a celebration.
We showed up around 1pm to see most of the girls and women of the village is their celebratory costumes.
We then sat around in a house away from the center eating flavorful mini pineapple sandwich cookies with the other women while the men drank and the food was prepared.
Then it was a feast!
What isn’t in the photo is the Chang beer bottle filled with the village’s homemade whiskey, made yesterday! There were probably forty Chang bottles filled with this liquid. The head of the village came and sat down and poured Hillary, Leslie, and I more whiskey. He also got us the traditional outfits:)
Then the whiskey hit and the dancing started.
Found my new gay best friend. This guy was chatting with me about his boyfriend who played soccer for Manchester United. 🙂 hilarious conversation and lots more whiskey and Chang.
The whiskey consumption exhibited diminishing marginal returns in terms of dancing abilities. At first it was liquid courage that allowed me to dance with the villagers in the center square and learn the steps then it turned into anti dancing liquid. It was good entertainment for everyone else. I was just trying to focus on my steps not all too well obviously! 😂😂😂💃🏼
It was supposed to be my first week of classes at CMU.
And then I decided I would go to the wedding of one of the cooks and house mothers at Warm Heart. That was that. I asked Evelind for a seat in the bed of the truck and drove up the Monday classes started so I could leave for the wedding on Tuesday. I’m laughing as I write this because it was so awesome and completely worth it.
7am Tuesday January 17th. Myself and 2 other volunteers, Hillary and Jayne, along with Nit, a Warm Heart university student, hopped into the bed of a pickup truck.
The two and a half hour ride was thrilling. Just look at our facial expressions:)
We never once stopped climbing high up into the mountains.
The entire ride, we were surrounded by incredibly dense Jurassic park like jungle.
The mood was only slightly dampened by the fact that the road was so incredibly bumpy we all were thrown around and our tail bones bruised perhaps forever. Worth it.
We arrived at the small village just as the sun hit the mountainside we were on.
Everyone had gathered in the center already. The women wore beautiful skirts and woven tops. Some of the men had woven tops as well. All very colorful.
The bride and groom came out of one of the houses on stilts and everyone fell into step behind them as the village leader and the priest led the way to the church. She was beautiful.
Above was the church. Just a single room structure.
Somehow I got a seat inside next to Josephine, the badass head of Warm Heart’s Microenterprise. She was reading literature during all the speakers. Ha. I tried to listen but it was futile because my Thai is so basic, so I just watched. The ceremony was simple. The couple sat in the front facing the guests.
They never touched or looked at each other. The village leader, the priest, each village elder, both families, and other notables in the village all blessed the couple and spoke at length in Thai. The marriage contract was signed and the rings were exchanged that was the only time the couple touched, to shake hands over the contract.
The marriage was, in essence, a contract. They were both getting something out of it. Then there was singing, lots of it. Finally the priest gave his final blessing and everyone followed the new couple outside for photos. Dried rice was thrown over the new couple.
That was the view from the church.
Then it was time to eat! Big pots had been bubbling and boiling since early this morning in preparation for the wedding feast.
Sticky rice is delicious.
Then I got to listen to stories of Michael in Zamibia interviewing miners and Josephine working in the garmet industry and then as a business journalist in Bangladesh.
After, the kids from Warm Heart decided it was time for a swim next to the village.
We were exhausted by the time we loaded back into the bed of the pickup truck. I wasn’t too tired to snap a few more pics of the landscape as we cruised home.