Greetings from the Northeast of Thailand (also known as Isaan) !
We were able, after all, to arrive in Thailand by rerouting through Hong Kong and landing in Singapore. From there, we travelled overland to Malaysia, where we spent an interesting week on the island of Penang, while the Bangkok airport worked to resume normal operations. Finally, on Dec. 10, we arrived in Bangkok to find that life carried on as usual for most people regardless of the unstable political situation.
[Since then, Abhisit Vejjajivaa has been chosen to serve as the new Prime Minister by a coalition government, despite protests from those loyal to Taksin. He's the previous prime minister who has been out of the country since he was ousted 2 years ago and charged with corruption and tax evasion. The NGO people we talk to are hoping, along with most reople, that the country will now settle down to address the problems caused by both the world economic slow-down and a decreased number of international tourists.]
During the first weeks, our travels took us to the North where we met and made a number of purchases from groups that produce handwoven, naturally dyed cotton textiles. Our 2009 season will include more textiles for the home: cushion covers, tablecloths, table runners and placemats. We also found a new source for cotton scarves, perfect for everyday wear, including some lovely ones dyed with natural indigo.
In Chiang Mai (Thailand's 5th largest city), located in the North, we met 2 local designers: one who sews lovely jackets from handwoven cloth (some of it handspun, which means it was also locally grown and processed) and another who produces a very attractive line of stylish hemp handbags with leather straps, which we're certain will be popular.
We're excited to be able to support local designers and tailors/dressmakers/sewers who have taken the initiative to create their own designs. We recognize that, while the village group model may be well suited to traditional weavings, the added value that is created by those who have the vision and enterprise to create new products is an important part of local economic development.
Aside from doing some initial buying, we have been very fortunate to be able to discuss these types of issues with Thais. Over the (western) New Year's holiday we went 'upcountry' with some of our Thai friends. In between sightseeing in the mountains of Loei and eating (eating and more eating!) , we discussed daily life in Thailand, modernization, the future of hand-weaving, changes to village life and, of course, food!
We'll tell you more about all of these in future postings.
Happy New Year!
Nok Noi & Pii Plaa [the Thai nicknames for us: aka Ellen and Alleson]