Thursday, May 5, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 23: Isaan Silk

Ladies tops and other items made from Thai silk, in a village shop outside of Udonthani

By the time I'd returned to my room the night we were out walking around at the night market I was really beginning to feel congested, which only added to my feeling somewhat out of sorts overall; both physically and emotionally. I'd been away from home for over two weeks, and had been in Taiwan for a few days before landing in Thailand at more or less of a dead run, since I'd over-scheduled the days before heading up into Isaan for a week. Now the changes of time, food, sleep patterns and climate had all joined forces to do a number on me, and I was - as some of you good folks might say - knackered.

I woke up with a sinus headache, unable to breath much at all through my nose and after knocking the box of tissues off of the nightstand I sat up to retrieve them and saw the night lights at the Central Mall a few blocks away. The sky was beginning to lighten, and I decided to stand up and go give a fright to anyone who happened to look up seven floors and see the Big Pink Guy in his boxers. Being 06:30 there was naturally already movement on the street below, so I stepped away to start coffee before coming back to watch it for a few minutes until the hot pot stopped its furious boiling across the room.

Coffee and a decongestant still hadn't done much good by the time I'd checked email and looked at some of the previous night's photos, so I showered, dressed and went down for breakfast. I really felt more like just staying in bed, but it was my last day in Udonthani and I had places to go and people to see so after breakfast I returned to my room and called my friend to settle plans for the day.

Several people back home were hoping I'd bring back something that didn't come from a tourist stall in Jatujak Market - meaning something closer to a traditional souvenir vs a touristy souvenir - and since the fabric shops in the "downtown" part of my friend's village sold items that filled the bill we made the drive out there and did some shopping. The items sold there certainly make their way to other parts of the country, but at least this way I could say I bought them several steps closer to the source.

This woman sitting and sewing was the most accessible for a photo as she was out by the front steps of the shop, and in better light. You could hear machines whirring behind curtains in several other shops that day, though. Not being familiar with what was available I must have wandered into and out of at least 15 places before deciding which to go back to and make some purchases. My friend was kindly tolerant of my indecision, as always.

There were more than a few items familiar to Jatujak and other markets throughout Thailand, such as the pillows on the right, but there were also things that were less common outside of the area, if for no other reason than the silk and fabric itself, which is a specialty of the region. One of those is mud-mee (or mut-mee) where groupings of threads on a loom are wrapped tightly and then dyed like a hippie T-shirt from the 1960s, with the portions wrapped beneath the strings not retaining the dye. This can create amazing patterns. It's usually estimated that over half the silk woven in Thailand is done by hand.

The items are very reasonable, and I came out of there with close to a dozen items. My only regret is that I didn't buy any unfinished fabric pieces to bring home, but the table cloths, table runners, shirts, stuffed items and purses were about all of the gifts I could carry with me that day - and about all the free space in my bags.

Village silk and fabric shops outside of Udonthani in rural Isaan

My decongestant well out of effective range and the heat of the day (plus the onset of whatever it was I was coming down with) my friend agreed to do next to nothing for the rest of the afternoon, so he rode back with us into Udonthani and again watched TV while I napped for a while. After a couple of hours of sleep I was ready to return to collect his family and go out for one final dinner on this, my last day in town.

I also had a visit to make to a place that has become a spiritual spot for me in Isaan, but more about that tomorrow.

[This is Part 23 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 22 by clicking HERE.]

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