Friday, October 30, 2015

Cottage Industry of Thasang Village








When I was younger and in Junior High School, I guess what they now call "Middle School", I learned of the term "cottage industry".  Cottage industry was the method in which many goods and services were provided before the industrial revolution and the advent of today's factory system.

In the cottage industry system goods are produced on a small scale often on a part time basis by family members at their home using their own equipment. It is a situation that I have witnessed quite often here I southeast Asia, in particular here in Isaan at my wife's home village - Thasang Village.

The people that I have encountered over the past nine years have impressed me greatly with the self-reliance and self-sufficiency.  Naturally these traits are exhibited most visible in their cottage industry endeavors.

The people weave their baskets, weave fish nets, weave cloth, assemble school uniforms from factory pre-cut pieces, process imported frozen fish, and weave mats from reeds that grow in the local wetlands - to name a few of the cottage industries.

The people do this out of necessity to meet their needs and to make some money to support their family.  There is no welfare system here in Thailand.  People in need are supported by their family, my their community and to a limited extent by the local Wats.  There are some programs largely sponsored by the King and local government.



Years ago, a representative sponsored by the King came to Duang's village.  The intent of the person's two week stay at the village was to teach local women how to be seamstresses.  I am amazed and also proud to see Duang look at clothes in a store or look at outfits in a magazine or book to then sit down with a sewing tape, some large plain paper, a pencil, several metal French curves, "S" curves, and other items and create a pattern to reproduce the clothing in our home.







A couple of years ago, a representative from the local government went out to Thasang Village to teach woman how to prepare and cook popular treats ... food items that can be produced in their hoes and then sold in the local markets.  Here in Thailand people are taught techniques to help them to support their family rather than being sustained through government hand-outs
with no skills that will allow them to rise above their current economic condition.

Federal and local governments do help local people by not overburdening them with regulations.  Local people quite often set up little restaurants - often nothing more than a couple plastic tables and plastic chairs for customers, a small charcoal furnace and a big pot of soup.  Some people, like my brother-in-law and his wife, have sidecars hooked up to their motorbikes from which they sell freshly brewed lemon ice tea, soft drinks, fried meats such as hot dogs, beef balls, and pork balls.  Some other people have a similar set-ups but sell freshly cut iced fruit. There are also other motorbikes with sidecars of fried silk worms, fried grasshoppers, and other bugs that look like cockroaches.

The common denominator of all these activities is that the people are free and unencumbered by regulation to pursue them.  There are no permits, tax numbers, licenses, health regulations, safety and health plans, local tax withholding, national tax with holding. mandatory retirement contributions, and so forth.

Last month when we visited Duang's Aunt who was popping rice as a step to making kao tawtek, we became aware of another cottage industry in Thasang Village.  As we were getting into our truck, there was a shout out to us from the house across the street.  We went over to her cousin's house to check out what was going on.

Making Cookies In Thasang Village
Underneath the overhanging roof of the house, her cousin and some family members were baking cookies to sell directly at local markets or to sell to vendors.

Cutting the Dough Into Bite Size Pieces
At the far end of the partially enclosed patio area, there was a gas fired oven - a sort of pizza oven, that you will often see outside of bakeries in the city (cuts down on the heat inside of the bakery).  The oven was obviously quite old but was "fit for purpose".  There was no need for specialized piping to supply gas to the oven  The oven was fed propane through a regulator and reinforced vinyl tubing from a 15 Kg gas bottle.



Duang's cousin handled the cooking - placing the pans of dough into the oven and emptying the cooked cookies into a large container to cool.



Two family members took large sheets of the cookie dough and cut them into small bite sized pieces to be cooked.  The family had mixed the dough before and allowed it to rest.  The cookies were very similar to "Snickerdoodles" but without eggs of milk.  As best as I could determine the cookies were made out of rice flour, sugar, vanilla, baking powder and I suspect water.  They were sweet tasting and melted in your mouth.  Delicious.

Packaging Cookies For the Market.
After the cookies had cooled, the laundry basket of cookies were carried a short distance to the packaging line underneath a small sheltered platform that is located in front of many Isaan homes - a place to eat, drink, sleep, care for babies, and socialize.

Duang's niece sat cross legged on the rough wood platform, filling cellophane bags with a measured quantity of cookies and sealed the top of the bags with elastic bands.  We enjoyed some samples and ended up buying a good sized bag, enough for three days, for 20 Baht ($0.60 USD).

There is a saying that "Where there is a will there is a way".  Here in Isaan - there is plenty of will and many ways - ways to help support yourself and your family.  People doing what they can and have to do to survive.  Freedom is not free.

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