I had hoped to visit Pansar’s village for Chinese New Year, however commitments at the café prevented me from participating in what, from all accounts, is one of the best festival/celebrations in Thailand. Determined to make sure that I get to experience as many aspects of this country as I can before I leave, I arranged to visit Pansar’s family home outside Tertai last weekend. Our HR Manager Beth, who also shares a close bond with Pansar joined me.
To set the scene you need perhaps some background….about Beth. American, tiny,drop-dead gorgeous, vivacious, energetic, loud,funny, generous…and a TOTAL city-slicker. So with Beth in tow we headed into the hills to spend a weekend in a Hill Tribe village. I think the first challenge for the American was the local bus to Mae Chan. Whilst we were fortunate to actually get seats a further 34 people crammed into the aisles and doorways. I suppose when you pay 70 cents for a one hour bus ride you can’t complain when you get what you paid for!
The next leg was on a songtaew, not really any more comfortable than the first part of our trip but made a little more uncomfortable by the winding road that we climbed. When Beth, who is a very friendly gal, caught the eye of the soldiers at one of the four checkpoints we went through, I must admit that I was a little nervous. They bantered back and forth in English and as the driver pulled off the soldier called to her “I love you”. Now that is what I call making an impression!!!
The US could use Beth as a secret weapon to undermine the Thai military!!!
Pansar’s family home sits outside the village and consists of several houses and outbuildings. Her grandparents, her uncle’s family and her family live in close proximity along with several groups of family friends. Sort of extended family meets commune type of thing. Pansar’s grandparents and parents were away working at their farm about 10 minutes ride away and so Pansar settled us in and introduced us to those of her family who were around and set about playing the perfect hostess. By Hill Tribe standards (and what I have seen in other villages) Pansar’s family are very comfortable. Their houses are made of cement, with solid roofs, electricity and in parts…running water. The set up is very functional but also kept immaculately clean. The area also includes a creek, pig sty, chook house, corn field & vege garden, fruit trees, storage houses, bathroom, outdoor kitchen and eating area and an indoor kitchen. I would think all told quite lavish compared to others.
Watching Beth’s face as preparation for dinner that night began was worth millions. Pansar’s family raise black chickens which have black meat and watching Pansar’s aunty kill the chicken by placing a small cut in it’s throat and catching the initial blood flow in a cup to be used for…it didn’t bear thinking about. Finally the chicken stopped moving and then for the first time in her 37 years Beth witness the plucking of a chook. I told the story of how my grandmother and I raised 24 day old chickens that we killed and plucked for my wedding feast. Pansar didn’t understand why we chopped their heads off…such a waste…the head is good to eat!!!
When Pansar’s family arrived back from the farm her father brought a delicacy for us which Pansar promptly began to prepare…FROGS. Not big green ones but small dark ones which Pansar gutted and cleaned then washed in cold water, hot water and cold water again. Although I have eaten frogs legs I admit to being a bit nervous about eating whole frogs…and as I watched Pansar cook them… my nervousness grew.
Pansar preparing tonight’s delicacy!!!
Testing the heat of the wok. Yep it’s hot enough!!
The finished dish. Arooy maak maak
Dinner that night was fried frogs, live maggoty things, rice and black chicken…YUM!!! Actually the frogs were pretty good but Pansar’s dad kept putting more of everything on my plate…I finally convinced him though that one maggoty thing was one too many for me…consequently I think I ate most of the frogs!!!! Pansar’s little brother Bas ( youngest in family, only boy and spoiled by everyone) had the honour of eating the chook’s head…now watching that was a real test for my frog-filled belly I can tell you!
It pays to be the youngest and only son????
After dinner we finally hit the showers. Actually I went first and coped well with the facilities that were available (remember I was brought up in the bush and we had limited facilities for most of my early life). Beth went next…and was back within a minute. “Ummmm Kerrie where is the shower head?” Response “There isn’t one” I am guilty of laughing at my friend’s expense…terrible I know but totally unavoidable. She looked as horrified as she did when she watched the chicken being killed!!!! Shock…Horror!!! I finally relented and explained that you used the dipper in the trough of cold water and just dumped it on yourself. I think the squat toilet AND the lack of a shower combined was perhaps a little too much to take in all at once. Wow did she get an education!
We had a bedroom to ourselves and a fan so the night was very comfortable and we were well rested for our second day. It was decided that we would go to the farm and see Pansar’s grandmother who stays up there for four or five nights at a time. After a breakfast of rice and chicken we jumped onto the back of scooters and were ferried to the base of the hills that are farmed by the locals. We then had a 10 minute walk through some of the most spectacular countryside…steep slopes terraced by hand ready for rice to be planted, corn and pumpkins and other vegetables growing in every available spot, bamboo shacks, buffalo working the fields…magnificent!!!
Rapid fire from a slingshot nearly bags us a bird.
Meeting grandma at the farm
Pansar’s family grow tea to sell and rice for the family (and catch frogs). The “house” at the farm is no more than a lean-to with a thatched bamboo roof, open on all sides with a raised floor which is for sleeping and resting and sitting. Pansar’s grandma is gorgeous and along with her dad, asked us many questions and told us about their lives. None of Pansar’s family speak English and she is my best English speaker at the café so the role of interpreter was not that difficult. At one point grandma asked Pansar which of the two of us (Beth and me) was the mother to her and which was the sister. Not surprisingly she pointed to me as the mother and Pansar’s grandma then touched her heart with her hand…yep that said it all!!
My delight in the day was heightened when I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my girls who left the café last year. Mon was a favourite with all of the DR staff and is a real sweetie. She lives just up the road from Pansar so it was such a blessing to see her again and check on how she is doing. Napa (one of my current girls) was also attending a wedding in the village so she popped in as well…quite a Destiny Café reunion!
Reunited with my beautiful Mon
After copious cups of green tea served in bamboo stem cups we headed back down the mountain to the village for a day spent teasing Pansar’s younger brother and cousins, trying to communicate with her family and generally hanging out with Pansar, Mon and Napa. With the constant flow of family and friends that exists at Pansar’s home I don’t think we made much of a difference except that other villagers would walk past the front gate to get a look at the falungs that were staying with the family (I think a first in the village).
Arriving back from the farm. Can’t believe the big fat falung fitted on the back!
Dinner that night was Muu Gutargh ( pork barbeque) and one of my favourites. I managed to avoid the liver and other unrecognisable things and thoroughly enjoyed the vegetables, noodles and pork taking care to avoid the very spicy dipping sauces that the family enjoy. “Showering” that night caused less of a reaction although I did stop to wonder how the family managed during December when the temperature drops to almost zero. No hot running water in that bathroom!!!!
We had agreed to travel back to Chiang Rai with Napa on Monday which allowed Pansar to spend the whole of her little brother’s fourth birthday with him. Forgetting to take something for travel sickness was an omission I sorely regret making the trip back tedious to say the least. Apart from that though I have to say this was an absolutely amazing experience that I will treasure for as long as I have my memory. I am hoarding these memories and experiences to me like a squirrel gathers and stores nuts…knowing that I am going to bring them out and examine them often in the years to come.
Modelling traditional Lahu dress
I did say she was gorgeous…even as a Lahu
How blessed am I!!!!!
Love and hugs