Regaining my Equanimity at You Sabai

[Various excerpts from my journal… Bit fragmented, sorry!] 

I can’t manage to slip my gaze past the valley without it getting caught. I find myself staring off into the view, which is nearly omnipresent. (I find the other guests – even the other residents – doing the same on a regular basis; to say that the view is distracting would be an understatement.)There are more shades of green on display than I had imagined existed.

The peaked roof of a Buddhist temple stands out, as do the red-tile roofs of the larger houses. Rice fields form a patchwork quilt, held together by various crops and decorated by random trees. Untamed patches hover at the sidelines; palm trees fill the margins.

There’s a village below (it owns the orange grove between You Sabai and Pun Pun). On the other side of the hills, I’m told, is a traditional “hill tribe” (the rural people are called in Northern Thailand) village.


I decided to stay for a few more days after the cooking course ended. After the others left on Thursday, You Sabai got quiet. The interns at Pun Pun had also left (the two-month internship ended Wednesday) and several of the residents decided to head into town for the weekend. A glance around those of us left at lunch and we all reached the same, clear, inevitable plan for the evening: Girl’s Night. Even the cat was female – there was some testosterone at Pun Pun, sure, but we pulled out the chocolate at You Sabai. Along with the blankets, pillows, and DVDs. (”I’ve got nail polish!” Theresa had squealed, but it didn’t quite reach that point. Thankfully. I’m not sure that my brain could handle the juxtaposition of You Sabai and nail polish.)

It’s been raining on and off the last few days – so the lying-about, hot-chocolate-drinking, movie-watching marathon has continued. (Punctuated, it should be noted, with serious conversations about globalization, racial discrimination along international lines and how it relates to sexual attraction and – inevitable given the gender balance – the efficacy, legitimacy, and importance of “women’s groups” and “feminist circles”. I’m blinking at that last sentence; the conversations sound so pretentious written out like that but, honestly – it all flowed naturally. It just happened – and it was wonderfully exhilarating.)

While I’d intended to hit the yoga lessons, go for some walks, and begin to get in better shape, I’m not even feeling guilty about having been lazy; it was exactly what I needed.

——— The rain let up a bit yesterday [this was, by now, several days ago] so I headed down to Panya to find the batik painting teacher.

It took me an hour to get there – but I got back in a flat five minutes.

I managed, of course, to miss every single last landmark that Theresa had described (in meticulous detail) to me. I waded through shin-high mud and waist-high brambles, trotted along paths which may or may not have actually been paths, and repeatedly made the subconscious mistake of heading towards the mysterious music in the distance. It was only after I turned away from the music and began to consider turning back that the “landmarks” appeared – all of them on stretches of the road that I was sure I’d already walked a half-dozen times. The bent tree. The stream with orange water. The “earthen staircase” (steps formed out of the mud on the side of the road).

The entire thing reeked of fairy-tale.

The lovely people at Panya directed me to Chui, the teacher, who gave me some basic instructions and a piece of muslin stretched over a frame to draw a pencil design on. (I held it high above my head on the trip back, afraid I’d trip – again – in the mud and ruin it.)

——– I absolutely love batik.

It’s the perfect outlet for my obsession with (hot) wax and my tendency for abstract doodling. More importantly, it’s a medium of art that doesn’t have to be entirely envisioned beforehand; I prefer it when I don’t have to create meticulous expectations of the finished product, but can let it… evolve. Develop. I get to change course halfway through, follow my mood, and – rather than fretting over discrepancies between what I end up and what I’d planned – I get to be pleasantly surprised at the end. Plus it’s terribly fun to do. Hot wax and paint. What is there not to love?

Chui (the batik teacher) has a studio down at Panya, but she’d brought all her supplies up to the Coffee Shop to teach everyone there while teaching me (and to let her studio dry out from the rain, I think, and be closer to the coffee). We used up all her fabric (I only did one small piece!) but I’ll be returning next week to do as many as she’ll let me. (And to keep gorging myself on Yao and Krit’s cooking.)

I’m going to ask her to buy me a set of tools when she goes to the batik shop in town so I can bring them home with me (trying to do batik on the road, between the dye and the frame and the wax and the gas canister is probably not the best idea). They can join the woodcarving tools that I let a gnarled old man in the back workroom of an overpriced wood-carving store sell me. It’s an old routine and not half as clandestine as it managed to seem, I’m sure. I’d asked one of the salesgirls if there was a workroom or factory I could see. (I’d spent the day touring handicraft stores and artisan workshops, starting with a weaving village in which my presence merited a trail of children shouting “farang!” and ending, as the driver I’d hired for the day to get out of Chiang Mai ran out of ideas, at a Kashmir carpet showroom having hundred-thousand-dollar carpets unrolled at my feet by young Indian men in pressed shirts who offered me their business cards and invited me, as I explained that I really couldn’t afford any carpets, particularly at the moment, to call them for a cup of coffee.) A wood-carver in the corner offered to let me try my hand and, thanks to Mrs. Colell’s lessons in linoleum carving, I didn’t do too badly; my amateur efforts were praised via the translating-salesgirl and after a little dickering over the price, I slipped six tools and – surreptitiously, as no wood is supposed to leave the workroom – a practice block of balsa wood into my bag.


Batik painting, unbelievable food, chocolate, good people – new friends each day – books to read; how could I not be happy here?

I don’t mean to give the impression that everything is perfect.

There are too many bugs, for starters. It sounds like a little thing – but my ankles and hands are pockmarked with bites. I’d learned to deal with mosquitoes, but the red ants, small flies, myriad species of spiders, and everything else here is driving me crazy. There are insects in the shower, insects small enough to fly through my mosquito net at net (and buzz at my ear), insects on the cooking surfaces, small and unidentifiable insects in every cup of water that I draw from the pot.

It will be the insects – the mud (my feet are filthier after a shower than before; my blue jeans are no longer blue) I can get accustomed to – that drive me back to a city.


In the meantime, I’m learning. Everyone’s been incredibly patient with my lack of “country life” knowledge (like how to eat a fish head – hey, at least I knew it was edible – or not to bring my shoes inside my hut, thereby inviting an infestation of red ants).


You Sabai

Way Ouporn

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