Journal Entry: October 30, 2013

“I’m in a quaint ethnic Karen village (Muang Paem) that is neatly tucked into a majestic mountain valley in North Thailand. It feels so good to be back in the village, to rest here in this wooden house while in the cloudy bubble of a mosquito net. I was exhausted to the bone from my “work” in the city. Last night I slept, finally.

“I’m deeply appreciating these sounds of silence – the beating of my heart, the singing jungle bugs. I’m happily taking in the wisps of wood smoke as villagers warm water for their morning tea and prepare breakfast. Just a couple years ago, there was no electricity in this village, which has since had a profound impact on villagers’ way of life. Still, I was grateful last night for the opportunity to charge my cell phone, even though I ironically have no service here. :)

“Last night I wrapped myself in a red, white, green, and blue cotton blanket that was handmade by a woman who lives in this village. She was so friendly as she proudly handed it over to me in exchange for money I was happy to give. Although our interaction was slightly awkward, as we come from two different cultural worlds, our connection was warm and welcoming, as are the Karen people. Her blanket semi-warmly insulated me from the cool and clear mountain air. Unlike what it’s like while I’m in the city jungle, it sure was nice to peer into the stars again and feel free, to dream.

“The Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute CBT-I, partnering with UNESCO in Bangkok, organized this pilot trip for those from various professional backgrounds, such as tour operators, journalists, and community based tourism leaders.

Yesterday, we went on a great journey together. We learned a bit about the jungle plucked medicine of the Karen and how ever-expanding government prominence and the modern market system are affecting how villagers can harvest these traditional remedies (and also their food). I felt hopeful while witnessing the younger villagers perched next to the medicine man, eager to share and proud of the goodness of their traditions.

“Well, this is the foundational of (the true) community based tourism. It aims to empower traditional communities by identifying their strengths (and areas perhaps needing growth), which can provide villagers with opportunity to productively harness and share their indigenous knowledge and skills. Villages can then better decide what they want to do as a community while in the face of modern development.

“Anyway, back to pondering our adventure. Yesterday we also learned about Karen textiles (such as the one I have draped over me as I write this), local food, and more. Tomorrow we will go for a jungle trek with a local guide. Each time I have opportunity to visit the jungle with a person indigenous to this environment – who could and would likely survive if the world’s capitalist power grid were to become unplugged- I feel like I am walking beside a giant.

Toward the end of our walk, we will gather and discuss the trip thus far, share our experiences, and further build networking relationships for supporting all this. At this moment, I am experiencing a bit of inner heaviness, aware that I will have to leave this village environment today.

“It’s all good though. Because we will then pack up and travel to a well preserved ethnic Tai Yai village (Muang Pon). We’ll learn about villagers’ traditional ways of life there as well. I’m especially excited to participate in a Buddhist ceremony (Boi Ong Jot), which will involve us parading through the village in celebration of the capstone of Buddhist Lent.

“Okay. Time to peel myself from this bed and experience another day. I’m ready…”