By Melissa Palmer and Kate Wiley
Our second time around in Chiang Mai we had a full free day and did a few activities as a full group.
First stop of our day was the umbrella factory near the city. We were able to see the process of traditional paper umbrella making as well as learn a bit about the history of umbrellas and the art featured on them in society.
The main attraction for our group was the painting area of the factory. Outside were men and women who were willing to paint detailed and vividly colored designs onto almost any thing we would like (some even offered to paint on students yoga pants, shoes, or backpacks!). Most of the group took the time to have this done some article they had with them, often wallets, phone cases or passport holders, while other went into the shop in order to get blank canvases or umbrellas to have larger creations done.
It was amazing to watch the speed in which these artists created intricate designs on all of these objects and it was well worth the tips many students gave afterwards. That was even before they got to explore the main building where the gift shop held thousands of umbrellas and fans as well as other related trinkets for purchase. Every piece was unique which made this a truly one of a kind stop.
After the umbrella factory we made our way to a silk factory. We were able to see how they produce the silk from the cocoon of the silk worm. This process is similar to that of one we saw at an early village early on in the trip. They boil the silk cocoon and extract the fibers from the worm itself. The worm is then disposed of or sold for consumption. The silk is categorized into three different types, each type is used to create a different type of silk texture. These are due to whether the silk was pulled from the inner, middle or outer part of the cocoon. All three types must be bleached and dyed before they are able to be woven.
The weaving process here has been adapted from the traditional methods for higher efficiency, productivity and marketability. This specific factory receives silk from Thailand, China and Japan. The ability to make the silk products faster has resulted in a higher prevalence of silk at a higher price in Chiang Mai along with a wider selection of products available. This can impact those in smaller villages that also specialize in silk weaving because they have difficulty competing with the factories that are able to mass produce high quality items.
An fun fact that was an interactive activity at the silk factory was determining the difference between real silk and fake silk. Besides the small difference in texture the biggest difference is the smell the garment produces when they are burned. Real silk smells like burning hair when it is set on fire and fake silk smells like burning plastic when it is set on fire.
This area was interesting as well as oddly familiar as it was very much a “hipster” area much like Sugarhouse or 9th & 9th in Salt Lake City. The neighborhood lies northwest of Chiang Mai’s old city section and is particularly popular with expats and younger generation locals as it is close by to multiple Chiang Mai universities.
It’s centered against Nimmanhaemin road and has many shopping opportunities and unique local eateries. We wandered around this area for a few hours, taking in the newly constructed mall (it’s architecture was very old European and featured high end shopping) as well as looking into some of the more eclectic shopping in the market. We ended this part of our day with some ice cream and a Songthaew (a shared taxi in the back of a pickup truck) ride back to the old city.
The group of us that visited the Nimman neighborhood went to the older part of the city and visited Wat Chedi Luang for the monk chats. This is a daily occurrence and the monks that are stationed there come out and talk with tourists and answer any questions they may have about Buddhism. These chats happen entirely in English, so it is a great opportunity for the monks to practice English and increase people’s knowledge of Buddhism.
One of the highlights of our trip was the Katoi show near the Night Market. After a busy day, it was just the right amount of fun. The show featured many talented dancers and singers who were a part of the LGBTQ community in Chiang Mai.
The show was seemingly open to all ages as we saw other young adults, older women and men as well as children in the audience. The performances were also helpful in making the venue age friendly as they weren’t hyper sexual or raunchy, but just celebrated songs and dances and their meanings in relation to the community represented. There was one song in particular that focused on the shift of someone’s sense of self from female to male which really emphasized the Katoi shows goal of creating awareness and acceptance in the class community. Other traditional songs from drag shows often seen in the US were also featured and as many of our group were there in the front tables there direct interaction with the performers, particularly for the males in the group. This made everything even more fun and created a great connection between the audiences themselves and the performers.