Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Garlic Workers of Ban Nai Soi

After our visit with the Monk who lives in a cave, we stopped at  Tham Pla Forest Park (Fish Cave).  We did not stop to see the fish.  We stopped to eat and drink.  Over the years of traveling throughout the world I have developed some rules that help make travel more pleasant.

One of the rules is "Go to the bathroom where you can".  The best time to go to the bathroom is when you find proper facilities or what you suspect are the best facilities for the remainder of the day.

Another rule is to "Eat where you can".  The best time to eat is when you find a place that meets your expectations or at worse, your minimum standards.  This helps to reduce the number of times that you may be forced to compromise.

Following the second rule dictated that we stop at Fish Cave.  We had eaten there four years ago and enjoyed the variety as well as the quality of the food.  Once again on this trip we were shocked at how few tourists there were.  We ended up eating at the same food stall that we had enjoyed our meal on the previous trip.  There were only three other people at the stall and roughly a total of 5 others at the other food stalls.  The owner of the food stall remembered us from our previous visit when we had spoken with her for about an hour.  In talking to her this year, we found out that tourism is down significantly starting about three years ago  After a relaxing lunch of sticky rice, grilled pork ribs, and a coconut water/sugar cane soft drink, we left and continued north to hopefully achieve another objective of this trip.

Duang Helping With the Garlic Harvest - 01 April 2009
Four years ago we had witnessed porters carrying bunches of garlic from the field, across a bamboo bridge, and up a hill to store them alongside the road to be picked up by trucks.  We followed the porters on their return trip to the garlic fields - down the rather steep hill, across a flowing stream using a rickety bamboo bridge, and across the dry rice paddies to where a crew of men and women were harvesting garlic.  It was very interesting and I wrote a blog about our experience. 

The Garlic Porter - 01 April 2009
One of my objectives this year was to revisit the area and photograph the people harvesting the garlic.  We had checked with the staff at our hotel, and they had informed us that the garlic harvest had concluded.  We had seen many pick up trucks stacked 10 feet high above beds with bundles of garlic, so I expected that there were some activities associated with the harvest still ongoing.  It is always good to ask around for information but in the end the decision has to be your decision as to what YOU will do.  The information from the hotel was valuable in that we knew not to expect a great deal of opportunities for photographs of people working in the fields.  Undeterred we set out for the fields along Highway 1285 on the way to Ban Huai Phueng.  We spotted some motorbikes parked along the road  and a very large square mound of garlic - a definite sign that people were working down in the fields.  Down and some distance from the highway people were working.

I parked the truck a little further down the road to ensure our safety as well as others along the narrow road. I walked alone to scout out the area down the dirt road that lead from the garlic pile to a bamboo bridge that crossed the same stream that we had encountered four years ago.  Tentatively I climbed up the wide pace rungs that brought me to the bridge.  From my vantage point on the bridge I could see people working the fields.  Pleased and excited at this discovery, I returned to the truck to get my camera gear and Duang.

Porters Bringing Garlic to the Highway
We were soon joined by some of the workers transporting garlic bunches suspended from both ends of  bamboo pole balanced on their shoulder.  One of the people appeared to be the big boss and commenced to be a great model for me, sitting on the garlic mound and redistributing the bunches on top of the mound.

The Big Boss

More Garlic for the Pile
After talking with the people along the roadside, we walked down the dirt road and crossed the bridge to where the other workers were loading up bamboo poles with garlic bunches.

More Garlic to Be Hauled Across the Bridge
We had apparently arrived at the worker's lunch break, because after photographing for a while all the workers walked across the bridge to a small raised hut that dot the fields of Thailand.  These raised huts are constructed of timber and have thatched roofs.  The huts provided shelter from the sun during breaks, and are the locations where the workers eat their meals.

One of the Garlic Workers Prepares and Serves Lunch
Curious as to what was going on I wandered over to the hut.  I was immediately offered a cup of cool water from the communal water jug.  In the 95 to 100F heat, I definitely needed a drink and gratefully accepted their hospitality.  Duang caught up with us at the hut.  We were offered to share their lunch but since we had already eaten earlier, we thanked them and declined.  I may be going out on a limb but I do not believe that anyone would go hungry or thirsty in  rural Thailand.  The people are all too willing to share their food and drink; even with strangers.

Workers Eat Lunch With Fresh Banana Leaf "Tablecloth"
As I wandered about taking photos and the workers ate their meal, there was a very animated as well as loud exchange between Duang and the workers.  As much as we were interested in their lives, they were interested in our life - especially about Duang's experience living in America.  This is typical of all our travels, people are curious and interested in others; especially those who obviously have come from far away.  I suspect that these workers in a secluded area of Thailand and out in their fields have not encountered too many foreigners let alone to be able to speak with them for much time.  Our stops along the roads and streets of Southeast Asia often last one hour or more - better opportunities to understand what we are witnessing and to share our experiences with others.

A Worker Crosses the Bamboo Bridge
We left the workers and continued our trip to Ban Huai Phueng.  We encountered some soybean workers further up the road and spent two hours with them - or rather I spent two hours with them while Duang rested in the truck.  As I was returning to the truck she was coming down the trail looking for me.

During our last visit in 2009, we discovered a large open barn where garlic bunches were hung at multiple levels to dry.  Several workers were also working in the field adjacent to the barn which made for some nice photographs - photographs that hoped to replicate during this trip.  I was not exactly sure where the barn was.  Fortunately when we stopped at the Fish Cave to eat there was a loaded pick up truck of garlic.  I had Duang question the driver about the garlic barn.  Although we didn't remember the exact location, we were able to give him a very good description of it.  Without any hesitation, he told Duang that it was in Ban Nai Soi.  I remembered seeing the signs for the road to Ban Nai Soi so on our way back to Mae Hon Song, we took a side trip to Baan Nai Soi.

The Garlic Barn of Ban Nai Soi - Late Afternoon April 03, 2013
We found the garlic barn without any difficulty.  Unfortunately, the field next to the barn had not been used this year - it was just a mass of dry weeds.  I got out to photograph the garlic barn and noticed that a large area in front of the barn was covered with garlic stalks laid in orderly rows.  A man came along and Duang talked to him.  She told him of our wish to take photos of people working the garlic harvest.  He told her that the next morning starting at 8:00 A.M. he would have people working at the barn.  We thanked him and promised him, or maybe we warned him, that we would return the next morning.

Workers Tying Garlic Stalks Into Bundles
We returned to the barn in Ban Nai Soi the next morning and found several Shan workers squatting on the ground gathering stalks of garlic and tying them into bundles using strips of bamboo that had been soaked in water to make them flexible. I am often amazed and impressed in the ability of local people here in Southeast Asia to utilize and incorporate readily available and cheap materials into their work.

Under Smoky Haze, Shan Woman Bundle Garlic In Ban Nai Soi
I was thrilled to achieve another one of the objectives for this trip - much to the amusement of the workers.  They were quite amused and entertained as I crouched and squatted amongst them getting different angles and perspectives to photograph their toil.  My antics and sharing some of the photographs with them put them more at ease and consequently better photographic subjects.

Some of the women had yellow faces.  They were not suffering any type of liver failure or disease that I was aware of.  Rather than suffering liver failure, they were wearing  the traditional Myanmar make up called "Thanaka" or "Thanakha".  Thanaka is a yellowish white paste made from ground up tree bark.  Men and women in Myanmar (Burma) use it as a sunscreen, perfume, and refresher for their exposed skin.  Some women press a leaf into the paste on their cheeks to make a pretty leaf patterned stencil print.

A Shan Woman With Thanaka On Her Face

Shan Workers Amused by a Foreigner
We left the garlic barn to continue our quest for the day to achieve more objectives of this trip.

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