Saturday, December 21, 2013

Busy Tahsang Village Morning

Dying Reeds Prior to Weaving Them Into Sahts

I drove Duang out to her village this morning so that she could finish her preparations for our visit to family southeast of Bangkok tomorrow. Out of habit, I brought my camera gear along with me.  I did not have any particular thing in my mind to photograph.  However when I get out and about in the countryside I usually come upon something interesting to photograph and eventually share.  Today was no exception.

The roads out to Tahsang Village were filled with vehicles of all sorts and sizes headed to the Kumphawapi Sugar Company.  No matter the type or size of the vehicle, they shared on thing in common - they were extremely loaded with fresh cut sugar cane.  The growers are paid by the weight of the sugar cane that is delivered to the refinery. For that reason alone they are eager to get the harvested cane delivered as quickly as possible after it is cut.  Drivers are typically paid by the weight of the cane that they haul for the day.  With the interests and needs of both the growers and truckers aligned, the trucks are heavily loaded - sometimes too heavily loaded.  Last year we lost electrical power for a couple of hours.  There was a large explosion and then the lights went out.  Lightening strike?  No, not that time.  Sabotage?  No.  A too heavily loaded sugar cane truck, as in too much height, had cause to main power lines to short out as it passed under or rather attempted to go under the wires.

Dried Reeds Are Placed Into A Home Made Pot of Dye

As we entered into the village, I was pleased that I had brought my camera gear with me.  One of Duang's aunts was occupied with dying reeds in preparation to weave them into a colorful mat called "saht".

Bundles or reeds that had been dried and bleached by the sun, were immersed in hot water to which a commercial dye had been added.  A recycled tin can which had previously been filled with either cookies or crackers served as the dye pot.  The dye pot was set on top of a crude stand made from reinforcing steel (rebar).  A fire or four burning good sized logs heated the dye mixture.  As the logs were consumed, the elderly woman pushed each log forward to keep the active flame and coals beneath the dye pot.

She used two roughly fashioned wood paddles to stir the mixture, immerse the reed completely into the dye mixture and after about 3 minutes remove the dyed reeds from the pot.  After three minutes, the mousy brown reeds exited the dye pot a brilliant indigo.

Removing Dyed Reeds From the Dye Pot
When all the reeds had been dyed, the woman gathered them up and placed them along the village street to dry out in the sun.

The woman was not the only person busy at that location.  A younger woman was occupied cooking food over a charcoal fire.  When I write about charcoal fires here in Isaan or in Lao, I am not describing the sawdust, wood char, Limestone, Starch, Borax, Sodium Nitrate compressed briquettes sold as charcoal in America.  Charcoal here and in Lao is lump charcoal, 100% organic and natural - hardwood that has been heated (baked) in an oxygen deficient furnace or more accurately covered pit or earthen mound.

Making A New Khong Kao

Duang's uncle is a skilled weaver, was seated near by working on a new khong kao -apparently khong kao is the name of the woven basket that you steam sticky rice in as well as the name for the woven covered baskets that people store cooked sticky rice in.

Duang's uncle is quite clever.  He makes khong kao for steaming rice, khong kao for storing cooked rice, fishing creels, fish traps, and fish nets.  He uses all locally available materials except for the nylon string, scissors, and needles.  He uses knives just like we watched being made in Laos for shaving, chopping and cutting his raw materials.  He even rolls is own cigarettes.

On my way from his house to Duang's aunt's house across the farm road that bisects the village, I passed several homes where people were busy processing cassava for planting.  The sugar cane harvest is well underway now.  As part of crop rotation some fields of sugar cane are replanted with cassava after harvest.  The cassava harvest is also underway.  Sharing the Isaan back roads with sugar cane vehicles are vehicles filled with cassava tubers similar in diameter to sweet potatoes.  The stalks of the cassava plant are stripped of leaves and chopped into 10 inch (25 cm) pieces.  The woody stalks are soaked in water for three days and then placed in recycled fertilizer bags to be hauled out to the fields for planting.  Planting involves sticking the 10 inch pieces about half way into  newly tilled field.

Processing Cassava Stalks in Tahsang Village
I eventually made it across the road to Duang's aunt's house.  Four women, bundled up in heavy clothing, were busy weaving cotton cloth just as they were doing on my last visit twelve days ago.  Outside weaving is a cottage industry here during the cool months.  A little further north from our home is an area known for its silk weaving,  Duang and I will go visit the area in either January or February.  I suspect that we will also end up purchasing some home spun silk for Duang to make clothes for herself.  Besides supporting local culture and handicrafts, buying directly from the producers is also more economical for us.  There is also a certain degree of pleasure of having items that you know the producers and have watched them make the item.

Tying A Thread On the Loom

Adjusting the Threads On the Loom

I watched the woman weaving for a while and took some photographs.  As many times as I have watching weaving, I am still clueless as to how they are able to make such beautiful designs let alone beautiful designs from their head.  Today I got a little bit more of a perspective as to how they doing.  On the loom where the dark traditional design fabricate for skirts was being woven, the weaver spent a large amount of time counting and separating threads,  I also noticed that the thread that was inside the shuttle was two toned - indigo and white which made sense because the fabric was indigo with a white design.

Sharpening A Saw 
Around the corner of the house, Duang's uncle was busy sharpening a bow saw using his buttocks and foot to secure it as he used a hand file to sharpen the teeth.

As so often happens on these journeys out into the countryside, there was plenty of activity to witness, learn about and to appreciate.

The people may not have formal jobs but they are always busy.  That is the way life is here in Isaan ... there are always plenty of people doing something interesting.  It only takes some time and little effort to discover more of their culture and lives.

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