My first foray into Asia was a 19 hour layover in Hong Kong. Fresh off a 15 hour flight, I couldn't bear staying in the shiny airport for a night. Aided by a bodily clock just waking up, I took to the city on the cheapest bus I could to reach a hostel hastily reserved in the Chicago airport by my dad and I. The bus took its time weaving from the airport island through Kowloon and finally entering the Central City. The night gave a vague glittering impression of how densely populated the area was. Mountainous data grid skyscrapers glowed in all directions. As we approached the motherboard of downtown, the sky became a luminescent dome bright as a cloudy day. By the time I exited the bus a few blocks from the hostel, my surrounding had adapted to my biological clock.
After a reasonably restless night in a clean hostel tucked in a side street overgrown with artificial lights and passing cars, I set off early for a trek before my afternoon flight. There was a controlled scramble throughout the streets, being a work day morning. On the main roads, men and women walked briskly with their brief cases. In the side streets market stalls were opening up their goods and smells for all who passed by. Diesel and fish mixed with fresh produce in a scent that was made more pleasant because it was something new. The buildings of the central area towered overhead. Some were the basic rectangles, and others were shapes engineered by a recent artsy architect. Despite the sometimes overbearing material industry, there wasn't a total disappearance of the natural. I constantly stumbled upon parks and patches of trees. Many people were taking to morning stretching before 8 hours scrunched up in an office building. I even happened upon a sizable outdoor zoo where tropical birds and monkeys cried alongside the rare wood duck and raccoon of my Midwestern days.
My desired destination was the top of Victoria Peak. I toke a steep tram ride up most of the way and began to walk up the final bit. Strolling on a solitary road past the highest of high rises and small parks, I felt at ease in the quieter and cleaner air. Near the peak there was a park with dogs and owners meandering about. Verdant landscaping was kept trim by a masked crew making the only conversation up above the city. After a few attempts, I finally found myself on top near a radio tower with no one but the wind. To the south, a few towers clung to mountainsides. Out in the ocean, volcanic islands and boats passed by. The real treat was the city to the north. Until this moment I hadn't seen how much city there really was. I couldn't have counted the skyscrapers if I wanted to. The suburbs were simply more skyscrapers stacked against each other in clusters of identical shapes and colors. Each area pushed up against either mountain or ocean and all pressed up against the ceiling of blue hazy sky above. Despite the undoubtedly large amount of pollution and waste produced below me, I had to marvel at what we can build. Who say layovers are a waste of time.
FIRST DAYS AT MAE MUT GARDEN
There will be more to come regarding the farm and adventures in town, but for now I will give a brief introduction to my stay and work here at Mae Mut. Tucked into a mountain valley amid rice patties, the farm is quite the international community. The land is owned by the Italian born Marco and Thai born Nok. They have a two year old daughter named Serena who is much more successful in her attempts at being biligual than I am. Just north of their house lives an extended Thai family that makes up the driving force if the farm. Pee Hom keeps the gardens, kitchen, and countless other things running smoothly and her son in law, Soo Pan, heads up the work crews that I join in with most days. Another house next to Pee Hom's is rented out by Gaina, a British writer, who moved here recently from Singapore for a more relaxed work atmosphere.
My humble abode is at the north end of the property right next to the road that goes into the village. The ground floor is open with a double squat toilet bathroom. (Despite early reservations I have come to accept squat toilets as one of the great inventions of our world. Don't knock it till you try it). Upstairs are two spacious and sparse bedrooms. Only my is occupied as of now, but there are more volunteers on the way. There is a wooden balcony that looks to the western mountains, one of which is the tallest in Thailand. Every night I end up taking a picture of the sunset despite the awe I feel each and every night as the rays blaze red through the forested peaks and the smoke from the burning rice patties floats through the air. I have slapped together a desk from wood around the house and I am quite sure I won't find a better writing perch anytime soon.
My days are filled with sweaty, rewarding, and informative work around the farm. I have learned so much already from everyone here. Just a few are: how to make a rocking compost pile, how to use that compost pile as a water heater, how to make various organic fertilisers from stuff found around the farm, how to extend your truck bed with bamboo to carry more bamboo in about five minutes, and how to make a mean garlic rice soup.
When I'm working under the taskmaster sun, my mind drifts to all sorts of thoughts. (I think some of the world's best philosophers were and are farmers. They are just too damn tired by the end of the day to write it all down) I find myself often thinking about why we work. If it is purely to sustain ourselves, I am accomplishing that quite well as my pay is a delicious three meals and a roof over my head. But I think there is certainly more to it. Many would say money, but I am not making a single bot during my stay here, and I am the more satisfied than during any other job I have had. Despite an income of 0, I feel as productive as I ever have. My work has quite visible and positive effects on the land and people around me. I am taking my schooled knowledge of chemistry and applying it to a cause I can trust and believe in. Each day provides me with more information than I can process and I am constantly learning more about farming and Thai culture. It will be a lifelong process finding out why I should or want to work. But for now it seems to me that one should work to fulfill their desires, improve something, and grow in knowledge and character. I do realise that outstanding circumstances can make this much more difficult for some than others, but if one has a chance to fulfill themselves in what they work for, it would seem a waste of all the time and potential inside everyone of us not to jump at such an opportunity.
Like I said, there is a lot of time to think on a farm. And at night when the stars are numerous or the moon is as bright as a spotlight above the dark and sleepy valley, there is time to think as well. My thoughts and experiences will continue and I will post as many as possible with the truly wonderfully limited Internet access here. Stay posted.
Last week the whole farm family (Marco, Nok, and Serena) and I went to Chiang Mai for the day. Our first stop was to drop some produce off at a local organic store. After this brief buisness endeavour, I was promptly dropped off at an intersection and saved from any more farm errands. My first stop was of course the shopping mall.
Despite my misgivings of wandering around a neon tower of Dairy Queens and fashion stores, I had an objective. To find the cheapest cell phone available. The purchase would have been quite difficult if not for the aid of the salesgirl's friend in translation. Thai people are quite keen to aid foreigners, especially if one can squeak out a word or two in Thai. With a new phone in pocket and some most needed soap bought as well, I took to the city.
I spent the majority of the day meandering around the central city. This part of town is easy enough to navigate as it is surrounding by a crumbling ancient wall and a moat lined with modern fountains. Inside the perimeter roads, the streets are smaller and the people and buildings are more tightly packed. I passed my time walking from Wat to bookstore to restaurant. The wats (temples) were quite sectacular. Ornately decorated with golden gargoyle-like dragons and plush staircases, they warranted the shoeless reverence asked for at the entrances. The largest one that I visited was Wat Chedi Luang. A complex of various temples, shrines, and libraries, it also had quite the array of taxis and gift shops catering to the flip-flopped pasty legs wandering about. If
Buddhist Jesus had to pick a site for his temple display, this may have been the place. Despite the less than sacred feel, looking at the original towering monolith temple from the 1200s was quite spectacular. Slightly crumbled stone was ringed by steep steps and rocky elephants standing guard. It was indeed a place where one could worship.
Walking amongst the European couples and white haired men with their supple Thai flings was strange after interacting with almost all Thai villagers for a week. Being a tourist felt a bit uncomfortable. Never less I thoroughly enjoyed squeezing through the shelves of used book stores and eating grand Thai food for less than three dollars a meal. I ended the day sitting on the river near a man fishing with a bamboo pole as the sun lost its intensity. As it started to just go dark, I rendezvoused with the truck outside a McDonald's and we rode home to the mountains ahead of the setting sun.
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