Every morning I wander over to the collection of little huts that make up my neighbour’s home; the Lahu basket weavers. A shy, friendly smile and a ‘Sawadee kap’ establishes my welcome and I start my photography work. I am not sure what they make of me but I am fascinated by their work and how they live. I know I am intruding on their space with my camera, so try and be as quick and as polite about it as possible.
Today two of their three children were also at home, helping with the basket making. I have a good rapport with the man of the house, he makes me feel welcome and we use the international language of face pulling and hand waving. I spend no more than 20 minutes at a time taking photos and I make sure they get to see the raw shots on the camera. This makes the encounter more like a game. Having taken a few photos I bid farewell and hope that I managed to have all the settings right on the cameras.
I am not only interested in documenting their craft, I am also looking to capture the more intimate fleeting moments of shared humanity. Like a butterfly that briefly shows you her colours, a flash of beauty, and is then gone again. I love that about photography; it allows me to catch a moment that is gone the instant I press the button. Trying to capture time is one of the most exhilarating things to do.
‘What we perceive as present is the vivid fringe of memory tinged with anticipation.’
Alfred North Whitehead (English mathematician and philosopher)
The name Lahu comes from La meaning tiger and Hu raise. Thus Lahu means literally translated people raising tigers. Burmese and Thai people call them Muser.
The ethnicity of the Lahu people is that they are a minority group which originated in Tibet and are now located in China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Some migrated to America and France. In Thailand about 120.000 Lahu people live; the third biggest hill tribe group. They are located in Northern Thailand of the provinces Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hongson, Tak, Kampheng pet and Lampang.
A day at the temples
The place was swarming with independent travellers all doing the same thing. Like oversized beetles scrambling for a last meal, the backpackers seemed to have taken over the old part of the city.
I am in Chiang Mai, the ancient Lanna kingdom capital and I have joined the tourist trail. The city has an understandable attraction for tourists, less crowded and polluted than Bangkok, it boasts some 300 temples and many can be visited by simply walking or biking the moated city. Getting to Chiang Mai from Doi Saket is an easy exercise, just hop on one of the many converted pick up trucks that now function as mini buses and they will take you straight to the centre of town. It’s not only a very economical way to travel it’s also a lot of fun as I got a ring side view of the local traffic. I went straight for the biggest and oldest temple in the city, I figured that would give me the best insight into the architectural and the cultural language of Chiang Mai. Both Wat Jedee Luang and Wat Chiang Mun are within easy walking distance from each other. At Wat Chiang Mun is a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee. It is thought to have the power to bring rain. That power seems to work to this day!
I left the city that evening with a shopping bag full of new Thai style trousers and an understanding why so many people come to Chinag Mai and quite a few never leave.