Weaving class in Luang Prabang

We’re back in Thailand and back in Bangkok. Tonight we’re taking the night train South to Chumpon where we will catch a ferry to the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.

We are way behind on blog posts, but here is the first of our catch-up posts. This is Mila’s account of the weaving class in Luang Prabang many moons ago!

Hi everyone! We’ve been wanting to post about one of the best experiences we had in Laos…learning to weave! Here is an overview of our day…

We made arrangements to be picked up from our guesthouse by tuk-tuk at 8am and driven a few kilometers from the center of town to Ock Pop Tok, a textile workshop and studio.

Getting picked up by tuk tuk

We arrived safely, and were invited to sit and wait for a few moments down in their riverview cafe. An attention-seeking cat came right up to Jette and decided to get comfortable in her lap. We weren’t too surprised as this is quite typical animal behavior; Jette attracts friendly animals around the world.

Entryway to Ock Pop Tok

Lush entrance

Entering a weaving paradise

Entering a weaving paradise

This cat found Jette

This cat found Jette and immediately snuggled right up to her

A quiet spot in the cafe

A quiet spot in the cafe

We had originally planned on taking a half day class to learn about silk dyeing, but were also tempted by the half day class for silk weaving. Jette really wanted to learn about both, so we signed up for a full day.

We began with a lesson on the silkworm lifecycle and were introduced to the various plants and minerals that have been used to dye fabric for thousands of years. We had a chance to go through the weaving studio and watched some of the master weavers. Shortly thereafter, we walked down a small path into a field of indigo on the property, to collect its leaves as Jette had picked blue as one of her desired silk colors. Other materials were waiting for us; we chopped sappan tree wood pieces for purple and shook annatto seeds from their pods for the saffron color used in monk robes.

A path through the grounds

A path through the grounds

Natural silk skeins drying in the sun

Natural silk skeins drying in the sun

Silkworms

Silkworms

Life cycle of a silkworm

Life cycle of a silkworm

Learning about dyeing silk naturally

Learning about dyeing silk naturally

Collecting indigo leaves

Collecting indigo leaves

Crushing indigo leaves

Crushing indigo leaves

Ock Pop Tok has done a great job of landscaping the property with trees and shrubs that are still used in natural dyeing today. It was nice to find out they they do not use chemical dyes in any of their products. They do, however, have to import silk from Vietnam and Thailand to keep up with demand.

We were shown how to crush and boil everything before finally getting to dip our own silk skeins into the pots of dye. Most were boiling hot, except for the indigo which is a “cold” dye, meaning that darker blue coloration would require repeated dips into the dye bath over many days.

Shaking annato seeds from their podsShaking annato seeds from their pods

Dipping saffron colored silk made from crushed and boiled annato seeds

Dipping saffron colored silk made from crushed and boiled annato seeds

Rinsing indigo silk

Rinsing indigo silk

Our weaving studio space

Our weaving studio space

This cute little guy wanted to watch us!

This cute little guy wanted to watch us!

Some of our dyed silk skeins

Some of our dyed silk skeins

We took a break for a delicious provided lunch and gathered energy for the second part of our day.

A view of the Mekong from class

Lovely view of the Mekong from our studio space

Lunch!

Lunch!

After lunch, we were each assigned a master weaver who would help us throughout our weaving project. Two design options were available, so Jette and I each chose one. Our weavers showed us everything from seat position at the looms, parts of the loom, pattern re-use, and proper shuttle technique. I can’t say we “mastered” the art, but Jette and I worked hard for about four and a half straight hours. We had broken silk strands, frustration, elation and ended with general exhaustion, but with a deep sense of pride in our finished pieces and for the women who spend their days making beautiful textile art and keeping tradition alive, while thriving themselves, with the higher wages they are able to secure in their collaboration with Ock Pop Tok.

An organza silk wall hanging by a master weaver

An organza silk wall hanging by a master weaver

Jette with her instructor

Jette with her instructor

My finished weaving

My finished weaving

Jette's masterpiece

Jette’s masterpiece

We were informed that the women who work there are paid a fair wage for their finished pieces and are supplied with all of the materials they need as well as a loom when they partner with Ock Pop Tok. The relationship provides marketing for the weavers’ artwork, has a website (www.ockpoptok.com) for international sales, as well as two beautiful boutiques in Luang Prabang. The direct translation of “Ock Pop Tok” is “east meets west”, so it is no surprise that many of the pieces have a modern aesthetic incorporating traditional patterns. The quality of the pieces is very high and I was tempted to break our budget (and backpack carrying capacity!) with textile purchases.

Luang Prabang

NOTE: This post is a few days old now, but our internet connections have been so bad that I have not been able to get photos uploaded and finish the post. I managed to get a few photos uploaded so I’ve decided to publish this one without the other photos for now. (Here are some photos on Google that will give you some idea what this place looks like). When we have a functional connection again I’ll edit this post and add the other photos and also add a post or two about the weaving class and our trip to the waterfall.

Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

We’ve been in Luang Prabang, Laos for a week. Jette and I have been fighting colds. Despite being run-down, snotty-nosed, sneezy, sore-throated kids, we have still been exploring a bit and having fun. Of course we’ve spent quite a bit of time just resting and healing too. Yesterday Jette woke up feeling really rotten with an upset tummy. She opened her eyes, rolled over, and puked. Yep, as we used to say in fifth grade, she puked, barfed, blew chow, spewed stew, revealed her meal.

I just puked

I just puked

Thankfully by the end of the day she was feeling much better. Today both Jette and I are feeling good, almost back to normal aside from a bit of lingering nasal congestion, but Mila woke up with a sore throat! Oy vey! That’s how it started for us.

Luang Prabang is the second largest city in Laos. It has a small, sleepy feel, especially in the neighborhood of the “old city.” The quaint old city harkens back to French Indochina with lots of villas and shophouses dating back to the 1930’s and earlier, all fairly well preserved (or at least still standing and in use). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old city sits on a small peninsula about 1 km long and 300m wide, at the intersection of the Mekong River and the Nam Kham River. There are four streets that run the length of the peninsula and a mix of cross streets and small alleys that connect them. Overall, it’s a cute little place that is all about tourism now. Despite the fact this it is so touristy, it has its charms. For us it has been a comfortable place to slow down and rest a bit.

Having ridden and studied the Rhine, it is interesting to now be on the Mekong and to see the similarities and differences. There are common needs and patterns that have driven human’s use of the rivers and settlement throughout history. It’s no surprise that Luang Prabang sits on a peninsula at the confluence of two rivers. It’s a position that has economic, transportation, military, and general resource benefits, and a settlement and development pattern that we have now seen the world over.

Since the French colonial days, the town has expanded beyond the peninsula. The new part of town looks like a typical SE Asian town, perhaps a Thai town from 20 years ago. It is not touristy at all. While Mila and Jette were doing their weaving class last week, I walked through that part of town and one of the markets there and didn’t see another gringo. I also bought an umbrella in the market, which was apparently quite a novelty as my friendly negotiations with the seller quickly drew an audience, LOL. I ended up paying 20,000 KIP for the umbrella. Do you think I got a good deal?

Enjoying some shade

Enjoying some shade

Lao people and culture are very interesting. The stamp of communism is evident everywhere, something I may elaborate on in a future post. Culturally it is quite a contrast to Thailand, though the languages are quite similar.

Anyway, we’ve been enjoying the town’s sleepy vibe and many cafes. Mila and Jette took a full-day weaving class, and we all took a trip to a nearby waterfall. We’ll tell you about these in upcoming blog posts.

Bangkok in a nutshell

As usual, I’m playing catch-up with the blog posts. Documenting our adventures takes a back seat to experiencing them! Before I fill you in on Chiang Mai, I thought I would try to do a quick overview of our time in Bangkok.

Bangkok...traffic!

Bangkok…traffic!

We did a post about the Snake Farm and we posted a couple of rambling video updates. That barely scratches the surface of what we did in Bangkok, and we barely scratched the surface of the city! It is an awesome city with so much going on and we really enjoyed it.

Let’s start with the shopping malls. Like Singapore, Bangkok now has lots of huge, modern, luxury shopping malls. for those of you in Dallas, think Northpark, but add another 6 levels, a Rolls Royce showroom, some avant-garde local boutiques, and about 50 good restaurants. No joke. These places are massive and impressive.

Outside Central World Mall

Outside Central World Mall

One of the malls even features life-size model apartments for a local development:

Life-size model apartments in the mall

Life-size model apartment in the mall

One of the big, popular malls is Siam Paragon, and while we’re not normally drawn to malls, this place has an aquarium – Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World – in the basement and a cool mini-city built for kids – KidZania – on the top floor.

Jette loved both.

Handstand in Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok

Handstand in Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok

I sat in one of the many cafes and worked while Mila and Jette visited Sea Life Ocean World, so I can’t tell you much about it, but I can share some photos…

Hands-on with a starfish

Hands-on with a starfish

Big fish!

Big fish!

Awesome aquarium

Awesome aquarium

On the glass-bottom boat

On the glass-bottom boat

"Oh, they're adorable!"

“Oh, they’re adorable!”

Suffice it to say that much fun was had at the aquarium and Jette learned a little bit more about local aquatic life in Thailand. Jette likes the TV show River Monsters, and having seen a couple of episodes on Thailand, already knew a bit about the giant rays and snakheads found in Thailand’s rivers. Scary!

So the quarium was on the bottom floor, but 8 floors up is KidZania. KidZania is basically a mini-city for kids (4-14 years old) built indoors. Imagine a Disney city with shops, car dealers, beauty salons, restaurants, firemen…a place where kids can learn, where they can earn their own money and make their own financial decisions…

KidZania entrance

KidZania entrance

Cashing a check at the bank, just before Mom got kicked out. Sorry Mom, this place is for KIDS ONLY!

Cashing a check at the bank, just before Mom got kicked out. Sorry Mom, this place is for KIDS ONLY!

Adults please observe outside!

Adults please observe outside!

Upon entry, each kid gets a check for 50 “kidZo” (the currency). Inside the “city” they can spend their money at the local shops. They can also choose to work or study and earn money. They can even open a bank account.

kidZos

kidZos

For example, they can work at the Vet CLinic and earn 8 kidZos:

Vet clinic

Vet clinic

Or pay 10 kidZos to  take a course at the local Culinary School:

Culinary School

Culinary School

Here’s the story behind KidZania:

How it began

The history of KidZania starts like all great stories start with unwavering passion, idealistic vision, and the desire to be a catalyst for change. This particular story happened across cultures, across continents, and, more importantly, it happened in the minds of kids. The kids of the world became fed up with the current state of world affairs. They wanted a world where governments operated efficiently, societies were equitable, and resources were valued. This collective state of mind led them to envision a better world full of possibilities.

A nation is born

In development of this new world, they recognized a need to document their beliefs and their wish for independence. They began by establishing 6 fundamental rights: to Be, to Know, to Care, to Play, to Create and to Share. Inalienable and timeless, these rights are more than just entitlements; they are the foundation for real world training and the achievement of happiness. The children proclaimed their beliefs by writing an official Declaration of Independence, a statement of their independence from adults and an unequivocal announcement of their new nation’s existence. Next, they made a great leap by calling themselves a nation united on ideals rather than geography or culture. The kids decided on a purposeful name: KidZania, which means ‘Land of Cool Kids.’

Cities Evolve and Continue to Grow

Since they wanted a place where KidZanians could experiment and train, they decided to create their very own city. This is because cities are places where people live, share ideas, care for those around them and contribute to a greater whole. Since they wanted to learn quickly and retain their knowledge, the kids knew that the environment needed to be fun and realistic. After much work, they settled on a design and the first KidZania came to life. It was in Santa Fe Mexico City because that city has the largest population of children in the world. Thousands of children came and the success of their first city drove the kids towards growing their vision to more and more cities around the world.

Rights are Kept

The kid founders of KidZania gave a great deal of thought to their nation’s future. They knew they would each outgrow their ability to be active members of the community they founded. To guarantee that KidZania’s belief system would continue even after the original kids departed to participate in the grown up world, they created “Rightskeepers” that would live at every KidZania and never outgrow it. These rightskeepers – Urbano,Beebop, Chika, Vita and Bache – would help carry on the traditions, serve as role models and represent the values at the core of KidZania. Urbano represents KidZania’s infrastructure and learning, Beebop symbolizes its artistic phase, Chika characterizes its trends,Vita personifies the commitment to the environment and Bache reminds everyone to have fun. Each would remain a particular age, but could evolve over time in personality and thinking to reflect the fresh ideas every new KidZanian brings. The characters would be exemplary in their thoughts and actions and would be model citizens the kids could look up to as they looked to ready themselves for, and help create a better world.

Our favorite vet

Our favorite vet

Our vet waiting in line

Our vet waiting in line

Neighborhood signs

Neighborhood signs

Neighborhood theatre

Neighborhood theatre

Yep, even a 7-11

Yep, even a 7-11

One of the really fun activities was a climbing wall that was a building facade!

Ready to climb a building

Ready to climb a building

On the way up

On the way up

Getting to the top

Getting to the top

Coming down with a smile

Coming down with a smile

Our photographer on assignment

Our photographer on assignment

After the beauty salon

After the beauty salon

Jette had a great time at KidZania and is eager to go back!

When I think of Bangkok, I think of traffic. There is a LOT of traffic.

More traffic

More traffic

Of course there are tuk-tuks:

In a tuk-tuk

In a tuk-tuk.

Tuk-tuking (is that a verb?!)

Tuk-tuking (is that a verb?!)

and taxis:

Sleepy taxi

Sleepy taxi

and river taxis:

River Taxi

River Taxi

On the river taxi

On the river taxi

And perhaps best of all, the Sky Train (or BTS). The Sky Train is an elevated train that snakes through the city above the traffic. Nice! Like Sinagpore, it is clean, cool and very orderly. Folks like up in single-file lines at the station:

Waiting in line for the sky train

Waiting in line for the sky train

But enough about traffic and transportation. We also went to the Bangkok Zoo:

This croc don't bite

This croc don’t bite

At the zoo

At the zoo

And Chinatown:

In Chinatown

In Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown street

Shopping on Sampeng Lane

Shopping on Sampeng Lane

Sidewalk vendor

Sidewalk vendor

More shopping

More shopping

Panda ears for Halloween

Panda ears for Halloween

We also went to Wat Po – the temple of the reclining Buddha. In addition to being a beautiful temple, Wat Po was the first institution of public education in Thailand – the first University if you will, and is still today a teaching center for traditional Thai medicine and Thai massage. We got massages while we were there 🙂

Most Thais are Buddhist, though Thai Buddhism has it’s own own unique “flavor” heavily influenced by local traditions, Chinese traditions, and Hinduism, among other things.

Bananas at Wat Po

Bananas at Wat Po

Arm of the reclining Buddha statue

Arm of the reclining Buddha statue

Whimsical statue in Wat Po garden

Whimsical statue in Wat Po garden

Into one of the temples

Into one of the temples

Temple complex

Temple complex

Of course, we did a lot of other things too, and ate A LOT of yummy street food!

Bugs anyone?

Bugs anyone?

Bangkok was fun.

If cities are not meant for children, they are not meant for citizens either. If they are not meant for citizens -ourselves – they are not cities.

– Aldo van Eyck

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Back in time…to Disentis

So much has happened that we haven’t had time (or power/internet) to blog about, so before it is lost to the mists of time, let me tell you about our time in Disentis-Sedrun. After Andermatt, we took the train to Disentis.

Looking back at Andermatt from the train to Disentis

Looking back at Andermatt from the train to Disentis

Arriving in Disentis

Arriving in Disentis

We rode our bikes through town and down the steep hills to Camping Disentis where we pitched our tent. This place turned out to be something of a paradise, especially for kids. The European campgrounds we’ve experienced have been very nice, with excellent facilities. Camping Disentis puts them all to shame. All the basic facilities – showers, bathrooms, etc. were very, very nice, and super clean. They had a nice restaurant with a patio facing a lawn with a bounce house for kids.

The cafe at Camping Disentis

The cafe at Camping Disentis

It is just out of frame, but there was an ice cream stand and a small shop selling all sorts of goodies. You could also place orders for fresh bread, delivered each morning. The Rhine River ran along the edge of the camp. Because we were still so close to its source, the Rhine here is often called the “Young” Rhine. The waters are still crystal clear and cold, and known for hiding gold! Many of you may know Richard Wagner’s famous opera The Rhinegold. We didn’t see any Rhinemaidens, but we did see lots of people panning for gold!

Pannig for gold in the Rhine at Camping Disentis

Panning for gold in the Rhine at Camping Disentis

Rhine on the right tents on the left

Rhine on the right tents on the left

Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source

Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source

The cold waters of the Rhine near its source in the Swiss Alps

The clear, cold waters of the Rhine in Disentis

Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source

Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source

Jette loved wading through the river and jumping from stone to stone

Jette loved wading through the river and jumping from stone to stone

We spent hours exploring the shallow rapids of the river, panning for gold, and just having fun. We even had a favorite spot for having our meals in the river. We had boulders for seats and the cold water of the river to chill our feet and our drinks.

At camp, there were clear streams and springs feeding a beautiful swimming hole, with a raft that the kids can pull across like a ferry.

Swimming hole at Camping Disentis

Swimming hole at Camping Disentis

Another view

Another view

The ferry docks

The ferry docks

Swimming at Camping Disentis

Swimming at Camping Disentis

The clear water of the swimming hole.

The clear water of the swimming hole.

There were hundreds of kids and families staying in RV’s and tents, but surprisingly it never seemed too busy. We learned a little bit about Swiss culture in our stay here. The camp was crowded, but it was never noisy. There was no music, much less loud music playing anywhere, ever. There was constant conversation, but no one was loud. In the mornings, when we awoke, we could hear the birds sining and the rushing sounds of the river, but not our neighbors, even if they were in the tent just feet from ours. The Swiss campers all seemed to adhere to the same routine. Most had breakfast at their tent or RV. Breakfast was fresh bread with jam and butter, muesli, or yoghurt. On to the daily outdoor activities. In the late afternoon a sweet treat, perhaps ice cream around 3:30 or 4:00.

Ice cream!

Ice cream!

Late afternoon everyone headed to the shower to clean up, followed by dinner. After dinner there were three main activities: badminton, cards, and reading. Many of the kids quietly played cards or badminton, some sat quietly and read books. Yes, actual paper books. No one had electronic devices. No cameras, no phones, no iPods, no computers. Compared to home, it was shocking how many people actually read books! What a nice surprise. It was also interesting to see how virtually everyone was on the same schedule. I guess that’s a function of Switzerland being a small, homogenous country. It was nice.

Cozy in our tent

Cozy in our tent