Thursday, October 16, 2008

Karen Village Visit

As part of my tour of Thailand, we spent a day in a Karen village in Thong Pha Phum (close to the Kanchanaburi area). The Karen people are Tibetan in descent and live in both Burma and Thailand. In Thailand, they constitute the largest of the hill tribes. Although I couldn't understand their language, they appeared to be a kind, gracious tribe, eager to give foreigners a taste of their daily life and customs.

Like many tribes, the Karen women use the universal art forms of song and dance to tell traditional stories. The one we watched was a love story.

After the dance, we played games with the village kids (the good ol' Hokey Pokey never fails to entertain), and distributed fruit and drinks that we had bought from a market earlier in the day. The children were so well-mannered; they always said "thank you" both before and after taking the fruit. It brought a smile to my face when I saw how happy they were.

I think we could all benefit from practicing how to communicate with children. Even if you and the child speak the same language, the child will still be limited in terms of vocabulary, comprehension, and social cues. Consequently, we have to choose our words and gestures carefully to allow them to understand. We also have to really listen to what they're saying, and also what they're not saying, since their non-verbal signals can often clue us into their thought process. Maybe we adults can learn to be better listeners if we just pay more attention to the other person.

Next, one of the village women demonstrated the rice-making process. The rice is pounded repeatedly in a large stone bowl to loosen the husks from the grains. See the wooden contraption in the photo below? The woman stands on the far end of the wooden beam and uses her foot to push the lever up and down to pound the rice. It looked like quite a workout!

Then the woman collects the rice into a circular straw basket and sifts out the husks by tossing the rice into the air. The heavier husks fall to the ground (where they are quickly devoured by the village chickens), while the lighter grains fall back into the basket.

Trust me, this is much harder than it looks.

And finally, the women prepared a lovely lunch for us. This was one of my most memorable meals while traveling. It was just a nice reminder that simple homemade food can still be delicious. No fancy kitchen or expensive ingredients, but still an incredible meal with flavors that can only be found in these little villages tucked away in the Thai forests.

Our delicious lunch

A light broth with vermicelli, pork, and cilantro

Fried papaya - crispy and sweet

Fresh veggies right from the hills!

Corn cobs and fresh fruit for dessert

As cheesy as it sounds, traveling to these village areas really made me appreciate how "luxurious" my life is in the States. Even with "basic" things that we might not think about - like hot running water, flushing toilets, television, cars, education - these villagers may never have a chance to experience them. But from what I can tell, they are still leading good lives. Maybe we don't really need that much to be happy.


Jonathan said...

The food looks awesome! But what I loved most about this blog were your final comments at the end. Indeed, we don't need all those extra luxuries in our lives for a "happy" life. After all, material things like big tvs, cars, etc... can only provide temporary joy. There's so much more out there =)

Erica said...

Aww what a great entry. Sounds like you really got a good chance to get to know them and their culture despite the language differences, which in my opinion is the best part of traveling. Oh yes, and the food of course! I love the fact that communication with kids (and through music) is so universal. :)

Jamie said...

Just back from a Thailand trip and was doing some surfing for Baan Unrak orphanage and the Karen hilltribes when I found your post.

It brought back some great memories of our trip (think we must have been on the group a couple of weeks after you!).

Our day in the Karen village was just as you describe. I can still taste the fried shredded papaya...

Oh - and I think we stayed in the same room in the teak house! We want one too. :-)

We also discovered a delicious street-stall sweet snack called (I think) Khanom Buang. Probably just as well we can't get them at home or I'd need to buy a new wardrobe.

Keep travelling and tasting!