Saturday, June 25, 2011

Home Stay: Part 2

After our breakfast of rice, omelet, and long green beans sautéed with pork we headed out to Mr. Keaw’s farm where we (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean our Thai partners) asked him about his crops, farming methods, and pesticide use.  We were mostly doing this because it was part of our final class project but I enjoyed learning about the methods used and challenges facing Thai farmers.  We learned that Mr. Keaw has rice, corn, and ginger crops (which he rotates with peanut crops to keep the soil rich) along with rubber trees, bamboo, chickens and fish.   He does use pesticides on his crops even though he knows how unhealthy they can be. He says that he doesn’t have a lot of choice because using pesticides is less expensive than hiring more labor or other less harmful techniques.  

Since we left for the farm so early, we were back at the house relaxing by 8:30am. After a lunch of fried fish, rice, and left over beans and pork we were off to our next adventure.  Now, I would like to mention one thing that I noticed and found a bit odd.  Our home stay family did have 2 small refrigerators however, they seemed to be only used for water.  Leftover food (including the beans and pork from breakfast) were kept uncovered in a cupboard.  That seems pretty unsanitary and potentially unhealthy to my western mind but our Thai partners seemed to find it quite normal. Anywho… I can’t stomach most traditional Thai food so I mainly at the rice.  Maybe this is a good time to show you around the house!

the house! (Mr. Keaw's wife on the left)

the garden

cooking area and stove (under the towel)

kitchen table (they sit on top)

the 2 small refrigerators

kitchen area (cupboard to the right where food is kept) the sink is outside

living room
Our next adventure was going to the top of Phucheefa mountain. Thankfully, we drove most of the way!  On our drive up, we came across some Hmong farmers planting crops along the hillside.  
 They are known for having harsh farming methods. They use the ‘slash and burn’ method of clearing land as well as a lot of harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  We saw one Hmong woman mixing these chemicals with the seeds which they will then plant on the hillside.  Dr. Sakda told us that many of the farmers use these harmful chemicals without any training or knowledge of what chemical should be used and the proper quantity.  The people in the lowlands are complaining about this extreme use of chemicals, claiming that it is contaminating the ground water that they rely on for drinking, cooking, and washing clothes.  In fact, all of the water that our family was drinking was bottled water, possibly because of the contamination. 

Mixing chemicals and seeds (no gloves!)

Evidence of slash and burn farming

Cabbage growing on a hillside
 Ok, onward and upward to Phucheefa which is literally translated to ‘points to the sky’.  I forgot to get a picture of phucheefa from where we started hiking but once the vans were parked, we had about a 1km hike straight up to the top. It was pretty steep and slippery but totally worth the work for the view up top!  

if you look really hard you can see the tiny people up top!

about 1/2 up the hike...

 The top of Phucheefa is about a mile up and the point hangs over the Thai/Laos border.  From the top you get a magnificent view of Laos and the Mekong River.  It was a beautifully crisp and sunny day with a welcomed cool breeze.  I even had a Titanic moment once I reached the top, opened my arms as wide as they would go, and leaned into the strong wind.  It was a breathtaking moment.  I could see for miles and miles and I was so close to the clouds that I felt I could almost touch them!

Mekong River

Queen of the world!
 Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay there forever and it was time to head back to Baan Huak. I only slipped and fell once on the way down the mountain (which is way less than I thought would be the case).  We headed off down the mountain in the vans with some pictures, a sun burn, and a bee sting to mark the trip!  When we got back, the village threw a goodbye celebration for us!  It started off with school girls performing a traditional dance in traditional costume.  

When the music failed ½ way through their routine, the local 5 piece band came to the rescue and the teacher started singing! Quite a save!  This was followed by a sort of good luck ceremony where we all held one long string while the village elder gave us a very long blessing of good luck and fortune.  After he was finished, the string was cut into pieces and the elders went around to each of us and blessed us individually while tying the piece of string around our wrist.  

The band saves the day!

String ceremony

Elders tying string on Noah's wrists
 About 5 string bracelets, numerous blessings, and an hour later it was time to eat!  Some of the students helped to pull apart a (cooked) chicken which was put into a soup and served alongside other dishes and yes, more green beans and pork. Haha 

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

 After dinner, we were introduced to another popular tradition of lighting and releasing a sky lantern! Sky lanterns are a traditional good luck custom in Thailand.  They are usually made out of oiled rice paper and they have a fuel cell that, when lit, causes the lantern to float up into the sky. The Thai people believe that this is symbolic of problems and worries floating away. It’s a beautiful sight, like a sea of glowing jelly fish in the night sky.  

Lighting the lantern

Waiting for it to heat up

They are all lit, now it's time for the blessing!

And off they go..

Up, up, and away...
After thanking the villagers, we went back to the pond with the Thai students like the previous night to unwind before heading to our assigned homes and beds for a much needed night sleep.   Convinced that if I could fall asleep before the roosters started their crowing wars I could stay asleep, I was determined to fall asleep as quickly as possible.  It worked! I got a wonderful night’s sleep and woke up refreshed and ready to go! After breakfast, we walked around the local market where the Lao people had come to sell their goods.  This apparently happens twice a month and we were lucky enough to be staying right across the street from the street market on one of those days!
Around 10am, we say our goodbyes to our home stay away from home, away from home and head back to our home away from home.

Oh, I almost forgot to show you a couple of things...
#1: Evidence of the freakishly huge cicadas!

 #2: A mummy! In the village temple, there is a mummy of someone who was important to them. Apparently he has only been dead 2 years. I thought I was going to see a cool and rare tree climbing turtle so, imagine my surprise when I ended up staring at this guy!

 What an adventure, huh?? :)