Saturday, April 18, 2009

Maenongson 03 April - Poi Sang Long

Thursday 03 April 2009, was the fourth and final day of Poi Sang Long Festival in Maehongson. It was also known as "Kham Sang Day". Although it was the final day in Maehongson, Poi Sang Long festivities were starting on Thursaday at Mork Jam Pae Temple in Muang district, and Wat Pa Kham temple in Pai district. People told us that at one place there would be 100 Sang Long (jeweled Princes). This was good information for future reference for our plans were to witness the final Maehongson procession in the morning and then to spend the remainder of the day at the Baan Huay Sua Tao refugee camp.

The procession on the last day of Poi Sang Long in Maehongson was restricted to circumambulation of Jong Kum Lake three times in front of the Wats. Once again a good number, 3, played a distinctive part in the ceremony. I am sure that the number 3 is representative of Buddha, the teachings of Buddha, and the Buddhist religious community.

Prior to the start of the morning procession, many families posed for photographs with their Sang Long. Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, and siblings assembled around their jeweled Prince to be photographed by another family member or friend. Their sense of pride was very evident much like graduation photos in America.

Today was a little different in that some of the porters carrying the Sang Long around were very energetic. Some of them showed off their strength and agility by dancing around with the boy atop their shoulder. A couple men got into an impromptu competition to see who could bend their jeweled Prince lowest and most parallel to the ground. Yes - the acrimonious banging, clanging, and drumming music continued. There was quite a festive air to the morning event. After the procession, the boys entered the Wat and were ordained. We did not stick around for that and left that as a reason for having to return next year for Poi Sang Long.

After the procession we headed out to Baan Huay Sua Tao. As with the previous refugee camps there were few tourists visiting. As I was pulling over to park the truck along side of the road in the Shan village outside of the refugee camp, I spotted a very interesting sight. Three elephants were walking through the village. Rather than their handlers riding atop each elephant, there was a single mahout riding a bicycle besides the elephants. Occasionally he shouted out a command and all three elephants instantly obeyed. I jumped out of the truck and hustled ahead of the upcoming elephants to get some photos.

As we entered the refugee camp it was very reassuring. The wooden bridge over the stream that runs through the village had been upgraded. The village looked very much like it did two years ago only it had been maintained during the period to prevent deterioration. Soon we were recognizing familiar faces. We stopped by Khun La Mae and Khun Ma Plae's house and learned that they were not home but would return in a while. We headed to the higher portion of the camp and came upon Khun Mudan.

Khun Mudan was the young Paduang mother that I first photographed in October 2006 breast feeding her infant son. She now has a 5 month old daughter named "Peelada". Peelada was a very charming baby. She was very active and curious about all things. Hands, fingers, legs, arms, feet and toes were every where exploring her world. To all of her body movements she had a wide range of sounds. Khun Mudan recognized us and in no time at all Duang had confiscated little "Peelada". We both had a quickly passed 30 minutes playing with Peelada and to a lesser extent her brother. He is a grown up 3-1/2 year old now so he is very independent. This is it for Khun Mudan. She has had two babies by C-section and will have no more children. She lives with her mother-in-law and husband so she has help with the children. It seemed ironic that Duang's 12 week old grandson is named "Peelawat". I am certain between Peelada and Peelawat there is in deed a great deal of "pee".

As Duang continued her conversation with Khun Mudan in Thai, I headed off and took photos of a Paduang women washing and brushing her teeth. I also found an older Paduang woman straining tea into a thermos bottle. These were people that looked very different from all the other people that I have seen in my life all over the world. But they were doing what all other people do every morning every where. Personal hygiene or preparing meals is not much different around the world.

We decided to check in on Khun La Mae and Khun Ma Plae once again. It was not much of a surprise. They were expecting us and warmly greeted us. The camp grapevine had notified them of our presence in camp.

Khun La Mae is no longer the village headman. He was replaced by another man about a year ago. No matter the case, I told him that I still considered him to be a friend even though he was not "big man" any more. I had seen enough of the camp and observed the inhabitants sufficiently to tell in confidently that the state of the camp as well as its people was a testament to his and the new headman's leadership. The camp and its people were in much better state than the other two camps that we had visited. Khun La Mae informed me that the camp was going to butcher a pig that afternoon and that there would be a festival the next day. As tempting as the offer was to stay with them in the camp and to extend our trip by an extra day, we declined. It was getting tiring and we needed to get back home as scheduled. We promised to return later in the afternoon and returned to the hotel for lunch.

After lunch and relaxing for a short period of time in our air conditioned room, we drove back out to the refugee camp. I did not know if I would have to pay admission to reenter the village. It turned out to not be an issue. I showed my receipt from the morning and was waved through.

When we got to Khun La Mae and Ma Plae's home, they were busy with some friends. The men were drinking Lao Kao - the infamous moonshine of the region. I was given a glass with two shots in it and downed it. I then made sure that everyone knew that I would not be drinking because I was driving. They respected my position and from then on only kept offering me and filling my glass with rice wine. There were three plastic garbage cans of the fermenting brew awaiting the festival to start the next day. The rice wine was exactly like the brew that we drank at the Khmu New Years Festival in Laos during our December trip except that it did not have vinyl tubing to suck on. Khun Ma Plae served the wine in a glass direct from the fermentation vat - complete with rice grains, chaff, hulls and assorted other debris. I quickly developed a techinque where I strained the drink with my teeth and then discretely picked and spit debris out of my mouth onto the dirt floor. Even so it was hours before the last of the debris was finally expelled from my mouth. All in all it was some pretty good stuff.

Writing of good stuff - Khun Ma Plae was also preparing food. She prepared the food and the men grilled it on an open wood fire. It was just as well that she prepared the food because some of the men did not appear to be in any condition to be handling knives. Although I refrained from drinking moonshine, there was no reason for them to refrain or even moderate their consumption. We ate with the people - the first time that I have eaten grilled pig intestines. Actually the first time that I have knowingly eaten pig intestines cooked in any manner or raw. It was not that bad tasting - sort of like eating a hot dog with very thick casing and nothing inside.

While we were eating and drinking, two Kayaw men walked by with a pig slung underneathe a bamboo pole that they carried between them on their shoulders. This was the "guest of honor" for tomorrow's festival. I ended up going to the back part of the village to photograph the children playing a game on the school play field. It was an interesting game. It appeared to be a fusion of cricket, dodge ball, bowling, and baseball. Lacking a ball to play with, the children had created a ball out of a plastic sandwhich bag and some small rocks and forest debris. A stack of empty metal "Birdy" drink cans was erected at one end of the field. A girl threw the "ball" at the pyramid and missed. The boys taunted her. A boy picked up the "ball" threw it and knocked down several cans. The girl ran and picked up the ball as he ran to a "base". He got off the base and taunted the other players to throw at him. While this was going on some of the other players were hustling to reerect the pyramid out of the cans. This action appeared to be correlated to the time that the boy spent off or on the base. It was confusing to watch but the children were enjoying themselves - except for when they were arguing over some fine points of the game - which was often

After observing the children playing and realizing that I would never understand their game, I headed over to where the pig was being butchered. The animal had already been dispatched when I arrived. The men with assistance from the women were busy shaving the hair off of the pig. The men used long knives to scrape the hair and bristles off of the pig. The women were busy in the houses boiling the water required to scald the hair and bristles. Children of all ages gathered around and watched with great interests. No doubt these children can answer the question of "Do you know where your meal came from?". I am certain that they can even tell you how it came to their plate. I photographed the process and left shortly after the insicision had been made and the men were pulling out the pig's entrails. I left just in time. Not that I was squeamish - surprisingly not but Duang had set out looking for me and was wondering where I had disappeared to. I guess she had her fill of intestines.

During our little get together, we were joined by a Kiwi (New Zealander) who now lives in Australia. Wayne had spent the night in the camp and was going to stick around for the festival the next day. He was an "alright and decent chap" as they say. He offered to burn some CDs of Ma Plae's music on his computer so that she had more copies to sell at the family's booth in the camp. Wayne is one of those people who are travelers and not tourists. He spends time to learn and experience the lives of the people that he encounters on his journeys. More importantly, he takes the time and makes the effort to help out in any way that he can. In our conversation about taking photographs, he mentioned about the things that you could do on the Internet. I told him that I had a blog as well as a photography site. He asked who I was, so I gave him my name and the name of this blog site. He exclaimed "I know you, I read some of your blogs and I have seen your photos!" It was a very pleasant surprise to meet someone who follows these efforts. I know that to date since February of this year this blog site has been visited 408 times from 43 different countries. The top two countries are USA (29 states) with 123 visits and Thailand in the lead with 139 visits. The associated photography site has had 307 visits from 41 countries. For the photography site, the leading country is the USA (33 states) with 132 visits followed by Thailand with 66 visits. It was a pleasant surprise to meet and talk to a human associated with some of those numbers.

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