Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No Hinting. Stay on Trial.

At Mae Mut Garden, we typically work six days per week and take Sunday off. (Partly this is because the Karen staff, being Christian, take Sunday off anyway.) On our Sundays, we go out and see the surrounding area. The first two times, Step and I went out on a motor-scooter by ourselves, to chase those infamous waterfalls. Since then, we have been fortunate enough to go out with the whole family, including Pii Hom and her 14-year-old daughter, Nong Nam.

No hinting.
Stay on trial.
Don't write.
One of our recent such outings was to Mae Wang National Park—home of strange, amazing sandstone-like formations as well as many ambitious pebbles. Originally, weeks ago, we had been discussing the aforementioned Sundays-out-in-the-world plan after lunch. Marco disappeared into the house and brought out a glossy tri-fold brochure with beautiful photos of this place and much writing in Thai. “Where is this?” he asked one of the staff in Thai, pointing at the photo, and thus our adventure was born.

Fast forward. After breakfast and watering, we pile in the pickup truck. In the cab, we have Marco, Nok, Her Highness Serena, Pii Hom, and Bruno. In the bed, facing backwards and waving at two intrepid Thai children doing the same thing but standing up, we have Step, Molly (our super-co-volunteer—American, my age, superb company, former New Orleans mule driver and tour guide), and Pil. We just go where they take us, you know? As we rumble down the road, all four dogs sprint after us. We discuss the logistics of stealing one and bringing it to Burma. We do not. (Editor’s Note: We haven’t gone to Burma yet, so the possibility has not been ruled out, and also, it’s not stealing if every other day your host tells you to take every single dog except for Spaghetti.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Khao Tom Muu

The smell of fried garlic and steaming rice broth is what greets us on our way down to the farm house, three out of seven days. (On the other days, it’s porridge and bananas for three, and the day after we make bread, it’s toast and a plethora of jams). Khao tom means rice soup in Thai, and it’s one of the most simple, unglamorous things you could make: rice cooked in pork broth. It’s become one of my favorite things to wake up to, especially when it’s got a garden of cilantro and scallions on top.

On New Year’s Day, Nok’s best friend Nok1 fried garlic and onions to serve alongside, and made the broth using a pork bone instead of a bouillon cube. Ever since I’ve been utterly captivated, and this is absolutely one of those dishes that I’m going to keep making once we leave this continent.

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Interview with Two Village Elders

This morning, Phil and I spent three hours clearing around tree trunks, piling on cow shit, and then rearranging hoses. This afternoon, we played with colored pencils. “There are a lot of things that you can do that don’t involve a shovel,” Marco told us at the beginning of our stay here. So Phil has been working on a map of the watering system here, which is complex, and includes a spot on the map lovingly referred to as the Land of Five Valves, because all the trees there are on a drip-line—no hoses! I've been drawing a kind of welcome map of the property, so that nobody gets lost in a banana grove when they come to the farm for a visit.

Last week, we had an especially cool project, with Marco immediately suggested after we said that we were writers. (Mostly out of relief that he could begin having us write his blog posts for him). We interviewed two village elders, Ooey Khambao (age 84) and Ooey Jum Supaeng (age 77), and wrote up what the village was like when they were born and how it's changed. (Ooey is a Thai term for grandmother or elder that precedes their name.)1

So with Marco and Nok translating (and, of course, in turn fielding questions about Empress Baby Serena), we wrote a story that synthesizes their voices and their experiences. There's probably a little that we missed, but we tried to catch it all, and swear that we didn't make anything up, not even the tigers.

Two Village Elders

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Like a Ton of Bricks. Or A Pit.

Every day when we head back up to the house to shower, Phil and I are faced with an insurmountable number of bricks. The first day we were so impressed to learn that they were made by hand, and we were even more impressed later when we saw them in action, and realized that they were also made by foot. And now, we've made them ourselves!

Something like 2500 bricks are going into the addition to the farmhouse, which is being built now. It's been awesome to see the ground go from being shaded by an enormous banana tree, to being a square of cement, to being a skeletal brick frame, to reaching over our heads. The biggest lesson we have taken away from this: "Be very careful where you plant banana trees. They are a piece of work when you want to get them out."

Friday, January 3, 2014

I Ate All of the Bananas on Doi Pha Ngaem (ดอยผาแง่ม)

©2013 Stephanie Bastek

Happy New Year! To celebrate, the whole Mae Mut Garden Gang climbed up to the highest Buddhist shrine in Thailand, on Doi Pha Ngaem. The whole time we were hiking, I was deceived that this was Doi Inthanon, the most ultra prominent peak in Thailand, and even repeated multiple times in Thai, "We are hiking up Doi Inthanon, I am very tired!" but I guess I pronounced "Inthanon" with such mangled tones that it was perceived to be farang1 gibberish.