Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ban That Rocket Launches


Gunpowder Rockets Streak Skyward Over Ban That
 Yesterday, we attended the first day of the rocket launches of the Ban That Rocket Festival.  The Festival started 22 may and will finish on 28 May this year.  However yesterday, Saturday 25th, was the first day of the rockets actually being launched.

May is the month for rocket festivals as well as just local people firing homemade gunpowder propelled rockets into the sky of Northeast Thailand (Isaan) and neighboring Lao People's Democratic Republic.

The typical rocket festival lasts for two days, with the rocket launching being set for the second day like the Tambon Nongwha Bun Bang Fai that my wife and I participated in, however large festivals can last longer.  The Ban That Bun Bang Fai Festival is one of those longer festivals.

What is a rocket festival?  Why make and launch rockets into the sky?  Why doesn't every country do it?

Well, first of all it is a cultural thing routed in religious belief.

It is believed that these Buddhist festivals evolved from pre-Buddhist fertility rituals to bring the return of the Monsoon rains.  The festivals are held just before the start of the planting season.  It also is one last opportunity for the people to blow off some steam before the exhaustive rice planting season starts.  Some aspects of the fertility rites is retained in the current rocket festivals in that there typically are floats with animals with engorged genitals.  Some men match carrying a bow powered machination - it is wood figurines of a woman on her back and a man on top of her spread legs.  It is very realistic down to the details of pubic hair.  Well close to reality - other than the size of the man's "equipment" or "package".  As the man flexes the bow, the figurines perform the "horizontal mambo", "the nasty", "do it", "hump", "humpty dance", "slapping uglies" or whatever euphemism of your choice and preference.  All this is done to the delight of the crowd people of all ages.  Either to cool off the wood "action" figures or to assist in lubricating them, people walk up and pour whiskey or beer on the moving parts.

Once the Buddhist religion was established in the area, Buddhist believes supplemented and complimented the fertility rites but never replaced them.  A Long time ago, during one of Buddha's many reincarnations, this time as a toad, the rain god (King of the Sky), Phaya Tan  (Taen)was angry with the people and animals. Buddha, Phaya Khang Khok, sermons were drawing people and creatures from earth and sky away from the King of the Sky.  He decided to punish them by withholding the necessary life giving and sustaining rains.  After seven years,seven months, and seven days of drought, the surviving people and animals got together and consulted with Buddha.  After much deliberations, they decided that Phaya Nak (Naga), the giant snake, would lead them in war against the rain god, Phaya Tan.  Phaya Tan defeated the giant snake and his troops.  Buddha and the survivors then sent Phaya Dtaw, the wasp along with Phaya Dtan, the hornet, to battle the rain god.  Phaya Tan was once again victorious and the surviving people and animals returned home to wait for their inevitable death from the lack of water.

Buddha, the toad, developed a plan to attack the rain god by using termites to build mounds up to the sky so that scorpions and centipedes could climb up to battle Phaya Tan and his forces.  Moths assisted the attack against the forces of the King of the Sky by eating away the handles of the enemy's weapons. Buddha accepted Phaya Tan's surrender on condition that the King of the Sky immediately provide the rains and in the future.  If the King of the Sky should forget, the people will remind him by launching rockets at which time he will start the rains.

A Multiple Rocket Launch Into Overcast Sky
Today, the launching of rockets is a merit making ritual for the the peoples of Isaan and their cousins across the Mekong River in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos).  Monks are often involved in the construction and observation of the rocket launches.

Rocket Launching Along the Lake
Our weather is unsettled now with widespread local thundershowers.  As such the area for the launching of the rockets was wet and in many places very muddy.  In the best of Isaan tradition of making do with what they have, the mud puddles have been incorporated into the festival.  Crews whose rockets fail to launch, are picked up by their competitors or friends and dumped into the mud.  With this being Isaan and with the heavy consumption of the moonshine whiskey, Lao Kao and Lao Lao, many people wallow in the mud just for the sheer fun of it all.

Crews Prepare Rockets for Launch

The launching of rockets was scheduled to start at 8:00 A.M..  We arrived at 9:00 A.M. and found the launching of rockets well underway.  Rockets were roaring up into the sky every thirty seconds.  Shortly after we arrived, one of the largest rockets was launched.

Large Rocket Building Up Thrust
Lesson for watching rocket launches - the larger the rocket the greater amount of smoke generated during the launch.  I had moved in close to take a shot of this large rocket launch.  Besides being fairly close, I was also downwind of the launch.  I managed to get a couple of shots of the rocket ignition but I was quickly engulfed along with everyone else in a thick choking blanket of smoke as the rocket was held in place by vines to achieve maximum thrust before climbing skyward.  The roar of the rocket was deafening, a deep and thundering continuous blast.  Smaller rockets were a sharper raspier sound.

A Whole Lot of Smoking Going On
Besides launches of single rockets there were several multiple launches.  Some of the multiple launches were by a team firing up to three rockets from the same launch pad.  Other multiple launches involved several teams launching one of their rockets concurrently.

Besides the roar of the rockets, there were the sounds of the announcer blaring out the play by play of each launch.  Play by Play?  Yes, rocket launching is a big deal in Isaan.  Officials track and announce the time for each rocket to reach its apogee and total elapsed time from launch to return to the ground.  The total time is important as well as smoothness of flight along with stylistic points for the smoke plume are important in determining the winner of the prizes for the festival not to mention the side action.  There is no gambling in Thailand but you can see many people with wads of cash in the hand despite not being anywhere near booths selling food or drinks.

Scattered about the launch area were pavilions underneath which, rocketeers were making the final adjustments and preparations for their rockets.  Many of the rocketeers were being assisted by Monks.

Using Remnants of Monk's Robe Has Got to be Helpful

Reaming Out the Rocket's Combustion Chamber
Both sides of the roadway along the perimeter of the land side of the launch area were lined with booths selling all kinds of food as well as drink - fruit, beer, whiskey, donuts, corn on the cob, water, fruit juices, soft drinks, fried shrimp. noodle soup, chicken feet, grilled dried squid, and other ethnic delights.  Other booths were selling umbrellas, hats, clothing, balloons, and inflatable toys.  It was a grand atmosphere made even more stimulating by the motorbikes trying to navigate what remained of the street available to the shoulder to shoulder phalanx of pedestrians many who were already drunk and some covered in fresh mud.

At the far end of the launch complex there was a large stage were a grand show commenced at 11:00 A.M.  I made it to 11:30 A.M. when I gave in because I was having too much fun.  I was hot and sweaty - although it was very cloudy the temperature was around 95F and the humidity was up.  My eyes were stinging from the sweat of my brow.  My shoes and trousers were muddy.  When I told Duang that I wanted to go home, she was also more than ready to head home.  Although it was a short time, we had enjoyed our stay at the rocket launches and there was no sense in risking it all due to a false sense of time being important in this endeavor.

As we walked along a narrow side street to get back to our truck, I discovered a scene that I could not ignore.  Off to the side, across a ditch filled with water, were some Monks sitting out on a dike around a rice paddy under the shade of a tree watching the rocket launches.  The colors of their skin, their robes, and the newly germinating rice, to me, were striking.  I pulled off my camera backpack, pulled out my camera once again and set across the bamboo bridge to get better access to the area where the Monks were seated.

Monks Watching the Rocket Launches

I go out on every photo shoot with a goal in mind.  The goal typically is the type of shots that I want to focus on, mood or moods that I would like to capture and a story or stories that I want to tell with or through the photographs.  Well life at times is very much like photography.  You may have your priorities and your goals which are all good and necessary.  However we can not let our goals and priorities blind us from seeing, experiencing and enjoying the unexpected opportunities that present themselves along the sides or margins of our awareness.  Often  it is these unexpected moments, situations, and opportunities that can give us the greatest pleasures.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tasty Treats?

Driving along the back roads of Isaan can often present an opportunity for a unique experience if not an opportunity for some interesting photography.

Last night we drove out to a small village on a small back road in the vicinity of Tahsang Village.  Duang's brother was performing in a Mohlam Lao show that was part of a Tamboon Jaak Khao (Bone Party).

While my East Coast of America friends were eating their lunch, Duang and I started our drive back to our home at 11:00 P.M.  After a short time we were out and about driving through the farmland of Northeast Thailand - sugar cane fields a waiting the arrival of the rainy season to commence their rapid growth, the rice paddies are also a waiting the return of the rains, and the new cassava crop is just starting to grow.  Fields that will be planted with peanuts, sweet corn, or other vegetables are laying fallow until the return of the rains.

The farmers have just started to return to the fields.  They have commenced to repair the small berms that surround the rice paddies and are necessary to retain the rain waters for the wet cultivation of rice.  The soil inside of the paddies is being turned over using small tractors, water buffalo, and iron buffalo to ensure that when the rains do return the moisture will able to deeply saturate the ground and create the sloppy muck necessary for starting of the rice crop.

We were not very long into our return trip home when I noticed a great deal of confusion as well as congestion up ahead on and along side the narrow country road.  There were beams of light erratically piercing the night time sky.  There were red lights from the back ends of stopped motorbikes.  There were headlights shooting in all angles into the night from stopped motorbikes.

I have come upon scenes like this all too often here in Thailand.  As I slowed down while approaching the group of people rushing about the scene, I mentally prepared myself for what I suspected was yet another motorbike accident.  As we drew closer, Duang told me that people were gathering food or rather "food".

Many of the people were wearing headband flashlights hence the various lights erratically pircing the night.  Other people were using hand held flashlights for illumination.  The headlights from the stopped motorbikes were also being used to illuminate sections of the road as well as the margins of land along side of the road.

The people were gathering bugs and placing them in containers to take back home for the next morning's meal.  As Duang started telling me about the bugs ("food"), I began to see in the light from our pick up truck, many insects flying through the air and landing on the road.  People would rush over and pick up the bugs with their bare hands and place their quarry into empty 1.0 or 1.5 liter plastic soda bottles or plastic grocery bags.  Having seen many times cooked grasshoppers for sale in markets, as well as vendors at many events, I asked Duang if they were catching grasshoppers.  I had read recently that cicadas were returning to the East Coast of America after seventeen years of hibernation and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps something similar was occurring here in Isaan. Duang said no that these were different.

It was then that I had an Isaan moment - I slowed down further and stopped the truck next to some people who were in the middle of the road.  I rolled down my window, which here in Thailand, is the window that is closest to the middle of the road, turned on the truck interior light and Duang yelled out to the people.  They came over to open window and showed me the bugs that they were capturing.  There are many things that I like and enjoy about living in Thailand, Isaan in particular, one of them being the ability to approach people and ask questions and photograph them without fear, fear on your part or their part.  Here we were, in the middle of no where, in the middle of the night, approaching strangers, and asking them what they were doing - all without fear or hesitancy.  There is a richness to life here that is not measured in material items but is defined in the quality of the life here.  We are still able to share our life experiences without a sense of fear or paranoia.

The bugs looked like large fire flies but did not emit any light.  They were softer than grasshoppers and did not have an external exoskeleton.  They would definitely not be crunchy like a grasshopper or as squishy as silkworm larvae.  The bodies of the bugs were about 1 inch long (2.5 cm) and they were attracted by the lights.  As we remained parked in the road for a while I yelled out to some of the women and pointed out the location of some of the bugs in the road that were illuminated by the truck's headlights.  We remained for a short while until Duang became embarrassed by my behavior   The people were smiling and seemed appreciated by my efforts to help out.  You see, here in Isaan a great deal of what it is all about is to have fun.

The people gathering the bugs roam the roads looking for where the bugs are hanging out. When they find them, they stop their bikes and commence to gather the bugs up - in the road and along the road.  It is a sort of feeding frenzy-  not by sharks but by the people.  Some of the people had soda bottles filled with the bugs and a few others had plastic bags filled with bugs.  Men, women, and teenagers were all involved in the harvesting of the bugs.

As we recommenced our trip back home, I could tell that Duang was excited about the bugs.  She told me that they tasted very good.  The bugs eat sugar cane, flowers and trees.  Since there is no mature sugar cane around the bugs eat special red flowers.  The bugs were not available all along our route - only where the flowers were growing either naturally or where they were being cultivated.

I asked Duang if people fried the bugs in oil like they do grasshoppers, spiders, and scorpions.  She told me that they cook them in sauce with a little bit of water.  She said that they sell them in the market "inside" Udonthani and the next time that we go, she will show me.  She will also buy some ... for her to eat.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Shan Farmers", New Gallery Available

A new gallery, "Shan Farmers", is now available at my personal photography website for viewing.

This gallery of  29 photographs from last month's trip to the Thai-Myanmar Border documents the harvest activities of Tai Yai (Shan) people.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery

Yesterday I wrote about becoming reacquainted with the Monk of the forest monastery. Today I will be writing of our visit to him.

After our visit to Ban Huaysuatao, we drove over to the Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery.  The Monastery is located 37 km from Maehongson on Highway 1095 headed towards Pai.  The village where the monastery is located is called Mae Suya.  Although 37 km is not that long of a distance, travel to the monastery takes longer than expected due to the many curves and elevation changes along Highway 1095.

With Highway 1095 In the Background, Yong Boy Does Flip
The side road off of Highway 1095 leading the 1 km to the monastery is well marked with a large sign for the monastery as well as many yellow Buddhist flags.  At the intersection there is also a small bridge crossing a stream.  In 2009, I photographed young boys enjoying themselves in a pool of water created by a sandbag dam at the bridge.

This visit, there were no boys enjoying a swim on a hot April afternoon in Maehongson Province.  There was no deep pool of water to dive, flip, or even to swim in.  The sand bag dam had been removed and was in the process of being rebuilt.

We drove the narrow lane back to Monastery and parked the truck on the flat grass tract of land next to the entrance of the facility.   We had arrived at 4:15 P.M. so the people staying at the monastery were busy cleaning the area.  Men and women dressed in the white modest loose fitting clothing of Thai mediators were busy sweeping the grounds and facilities with brooms.

In the dining area, Thai people were making preparations to serve tea at 5:00 P.M.

In a pavilion located between the parking area and the entrance to the facilities, local people were being paid their weekly wages in cash with entries and acknowledgements being written in a bound accounting ledger.

We asked around regarding the location of the Abbott and were told that he was not expected back until 6:00 P.M. for evening chanting and meditation.  This was of some concern to me because the sun was getting low and we were also leaving the next morning at 4:00 A.M. to drive all the way back home.  Duang was also concerned.  I told Duang that we would wait until 5:00 P.M. and if the Monk had not returned by then we would return to Maehongson with what little light remained.  I had no sooner said this when we became aware of some commotion at the entrance to the facility - it was the Monk and his superiors from Bangkok.

The Monk invited Duang and I to accompany him on his afternoon rounds of the facility.  I walked beside Ajahn Luongta Saiyut and Duang followed a few steps behind.  In the late afternoon light we toured the facilities that are nestled between tall craggy limestone hills on three sides.  The grounds are park like in nature - many trees, shrubs, flowers accentuating the lush green grounds.  The air was only interrupted by the sounds of birds and insects - a definite refuge from the onslaught to the senses that modern life presents.

Sprinkled about the grounds were small wooden huts where the guests stay.  A small stream divided the grounds into an area where the guests reside as well as study and the area where the Monks live.  On our tour of the area, the Abbott made a point to greet each of the guests who were busy cleaning their hut or the grounds.  All the guests seemed happy and relaxed.  Everyone was smiling and the smiles were not smiles that tend to make me uncomfortable.  Last year people from 109 countries visited the forest monastery.

When we arrived at one of the huts, the Abbott had one of his Thai helpers go in and come out with the special amulets that Ajahn Luongta Saiyut wanted to give us.  We knelt on the ground facing the Abbott as he faced a tall craggy limestone hill and chanted before placing the amulet around my neck and then repeated the process for Duang. I attempted to make an offering to the Monk but he politely declined.  The Monk excused himself to go prepare for the evening's activities but not before making sure that we were advised to walk a little further to visit the fish pond.

Duang and I walked a little ways further to the fish pond. As we walked along the edge of the pond, fish of various sizes would surface as if expecting to be fed.  At one end of the small pond was a covered bench where a young Monk and three local Novice Monks were seated.  We stopped and socialized for a while before making our way to a pavilion where Duang worshiped.  We then made our way back to the truck but not before encountering Ajahn Luongta Saiyut (AKA "Luang Ta") and his guests from Bangkok.  They wished us a safe journey and good luck.

Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery is a place for meditation, refuge and self discovery.  At the monastery, people are taught meditation methods with "Vipassana" (Mindfulness on Breathing) being the focused practice.  Two vegetarian meals are served each day with tea, coffee, juice or milk served in place of dinner.

Participants at the monastery are asked to observe 5 Buddhist precepts - refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, drug abuse, and no smoking.  Men and women have separate housing and people are expected keep their hut clean, help out in the kitchen, and clean up after themselves.

The monastery is operated through donations.  There is no charge for staying at the monastery for the public who seek to learn practices of spirituality however the sacred grounds are not a hotel or resort.

Ajahn Luongta Saiyut is a remarkable man.  He is very outgoing and personable.  He speaks impeccable English and in addition to Thai he also speaks Burmese, Lao, and Chinese. He founded Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery.  He has been a forest monk for over 38 years and spent over 17 years as a wandering Buddhist monk.  Based upon our visits with him, I have no doubt that he is an inspiring as well as an effective teacher.  His phone numbers are +66 (8) 1031 3326, +66 (8) 7982 1168

Even if you do not want to study meditation, I suggest a visit to Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery - if for no other reasons than to experience the peaceful surroundings for an hour or two along with an opportunity to meet as well as to speak with Luang Ta.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ban Huay Sua Tao, Ban Huaysuatao, or Ban Huai Sua Tao

People travel for many reasons.  Some travel to escape their past or present; not necessarily to evade legal difficulties but more likely to escape the disappointments and unfulfilled personal expectations of their lifetime to date.  Others travel in order to tick off a destination on a personal, or often public quest, sort of like defining their personal worth and meaning by a series of exotic locales.  We travel in order to learn more and experience the unique locations and people that we can share with others who do not have such opportunities.

It is our desire to learn more and to experience that often leads us to return to specific locales - to better comprehend and understand the land and people.  There is a reaffirmation of the human condition and spirit that comes from learning that others in different lands, as well as cultures experience the same triumphs, disappointments or challenges that we do.

One such locale for us is Ban Huay Sua Tao which is sometimes spelled Ban Huaysuatao. or even as Ban Huai Sua Tao. Ban Huay Sua Tao is a small refugee camp located near Maehongson in Northern Thailand very close to the border with Myanmar (Burma).  The village is a refugee camp for the Karenni (Red Karen) people.  The Karenni people are known for two subgroups, the Padaung and the Kayaw people.  The Karenni are involved in a struggle (war) back in Myanmar (Burma) for independence.  The people in the camp had fled the violence as well as persecution back in Myanmar.

The Padaung people are the people that some of their women wear brass coils around their neck leading to the phrases "Long Necked Women" or "Giraffe Women" terms that I am not comfortable with.  I prefer to refer to them as "Padaung" people.  The Kayaw people are distinguished by the practice of the women to elongate their ear lobes with heavy objects or large objects.

I first visited the village in October 2006 on my first trip to the Maehongson.  Huay Sua Tao was the first of three Padaung villages that my personal guide brought me to.  Prior to going on the October 2006 journey, I had done some research.  Like many others who research the area I was made aware of the "human zoo" nature of the camps.  My sharp sense of curiosity and desire to take some unique photographs, overcame any trepidation or hesitancy that the unflattering information the guide books could have caused.  I was so glad that I went.  I was also infuriated at the arrogance exhibited in the guide books as well as the Internet. I spent over two hours at the village and got to meet and befriend three remarkable villagers.  Yes, the people were asking you to look at their souvenirs and hopefully buy some.  Yes, tour buses would discharge their tourists who would make their mad dash along the main street of the village blasting away with their point and shoot cameras, but in 15 minutes they were gone.

What I found were very interesting people maintaining their culture as best as they could in not the best of conditions or circumstances.  The people were proud and dignified.  They were willing to share their culture and life story with people who were willing to spend some time with them.  They were just as interested in learning about your culture. They were also very willing to have their photographs taken.

Our trip to Huay Sua Tao last month was my 5th and Duang's 3rd visit.  It was an opportunity to visit with old friends, catch up on what has happened during the past four years, and to reminisce about past visits as well as experiences.

Padaung Woman Weaving Cloth To Sell At Her Souvenir Booth
Just as we noticed through out Mae Hong Son Province this year, the number of people visiting Ban Huai Sua Tao was down significantly. The main street of the village was deserted except for children returning home from filling their squirt gun with water from the stream that flows along the edge of the village.

Children Filling Their Squirt Guns From Local Stream

"Main Street" - Ban Huai Sua Tao

We found Ma Plae and La Mae without any difficulty.  La Mae was Village Headman when I first met him and his wife, Ma Plae, back in October 2006.  La Mae is no longer Village Headman and has been in the refugee camp now for 22 years.  He hopes that he and Ma Plae will be able to immigrate to New Zealand in the future.  It appears that Ma Plae may be sponsored by a relative already in New Zealand.  If successful she will go to New Zealand and then sponsor her husband.  La Mae is hopeful but remains somewhat pessimistic of his chances.

Kuhn La Mae
While we were visiting them, another villager came over.  After visiting for a while she went back to her home and returned shortly.  She is in the process of applying for immigration to New Zealand.  She had a packet of documents that she was asking for help to better understand them.  I read the documents and explained them in English, sometimes more than one different way, to Duang and Ma Plae, who then explained them in Thai to the woman.  I was amazed at the complexity of the process.  One difficulty that the woman was experiencing was that she did not have a birth certificate.  Because she can not go back to Myanmar to get one, she can make a written statement as to her name, date and place of birth.  The problem is the requirement be signed by a judge, court official. or Justice of the Peace.  From the woman, I learned that it was not possible to get this from local Thai officials.  I suggested that she get her statement signed by an official from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) organization that periodically visit the camps or some NGO official to sign as well as stamp the document.

Kuhn Ma Plae Playing and Singing
Ma Plae played her guitar and sang some traditional songs.  We reminisced about the two previous times that she and I had sung together.  Sure enough we reprised those occasions with another duet.  She singing her song and I singing "Jambalaya" lyrics to the same tune.  Soon our concert evolved into me teaching Ma Plae the English lyrics or rather teaching her the lyrics that I remembered!  I am sending her the full lyrics to prepare for our next visit.

As Duang and Ma Plae socialized I wandered about the village renewing acquantainences and making new friends.

Village Friends

Padaung Mother and One of Her Nine Children

One of the young women that I photographed had an amazing resemblance to one of my favorite Padaung subjects, Ma Jon also known as "Freida", from the camp at Baan Nai Soi.  It turns out that this woman is 29 years old which would also be roughly Freida's age today.  I knew it was not Freida because I heard 4 years ago that she had immigrated to another country, "Finland" if I remember correctly.  In talking with La Mae earlier I had learned that Ma Jon had actually immigrated to New Zealand.

Padaung Matron - Mother of Nine, Six Still Living
I returned to Ma Plae and La Mae's home to visit some more.  Soon a group of Buddhist Monks stopped by.  The leader of the group is a friend of La Mae's.  He is a Forest Monk from a retreat off of Highway 1095 on the way back to Pai.  He spoke excellent English.  As he was speaking, I realized that I too knew the Monk.  Four years ago when Duang and I last visited the area, we had visited him at his forest retreat.  At the time we were not officially married.  He told Duang to take good care of me and he told me to listen to Duang.  In the four years since then, Duang has taken very good care of me.  As for me, I listened to her quite a few times.  I mainly don't listen to her when she wants me to go to the clinic, doctor, or to the hospital whenever I first get a runny nose or other minor ailment.  When I told the Monk that I knew him from 4 years earlier, he remembered and shared his memories of the visit.  He invited us to visit him at his retreat later that afternoon.  He had some special amulets that he wanted to give us.  We promised him that we would visit later in the afternoon.

Mudhan Sewing a Blouse
On our way out of Ban Huay Sua Tao we stopped by Mudhan's booth.  She was busy sewing a new blouse - zig zag stitches by hand that looked like an electric serge machine had produced the.  Mudhan is another special person that I met on my  first visit to the camp in October 2006, when she was nineteen.  I had come upon her when I was exploring the upper street of the village - the street that few tourists wander along - no souvenir booths.  She was sitting outside her home breastfeeding her infant son.  I pantomimed a request to photograph her and her son and she allowed me to.  The photographs are some of my all time favorites.  On my return visit in December of that year I was pleased to give her prints of those special photographs.

On our last visit in April 2009, we got to play with her infant daughter, Peelada.  We asked her if she was planning on having any more children and she replied that Peelada was going to be her last child.  During this visit I made a point of reminding her and she laughed as she informed us that she had not had any more babies.  She asked if we had any babies together.  I told her that Duang could not have children now but we still keep trying!  She laughed and was still laughing when I told her we would return someday, hopefully in the near future, and check to see she had any more children.

It had been a great visit to the camp; an opportunity to share experiences with friends and to make some new friends.