Whenever we visited somebody’s home in Shan State, we were inevitably offered green tea or water and a bite to eat. Often the snack was fruit, such as a few bananas or the watermelon shown above. Sometimes it was something a bit more substantial such as nor khom, a type of bamboo, steamed and eaten with a simple but utterly delicious dip made from ground salt, dried chili and makhwaen (prickly ash).
I really enjoyed these simple meals, which usually also involved conversation in Tai — a language I understand very little of, but love to try to figure out — as well as the chance to peek inside somebody’s home.
Perhaps one of the more interesting opportunities for the latter was in Wan Puen, a Thai Lue village outside of Mong La.
Most of the 69 families in Wan Puen still live in traditional-style wooden houses — a relative rarity, even in this area. The houses can be rather dark inside, so most socialising is done on the elevated bamboo porch, which also functions as the kitchen and laundry area:
Sitting on this porch, which was about eight feet high, provided me with an entirely different perspective on the village. I was struck by the way the tidy tiled roofs formed something of a rural skyline. That the houses were surrounded by neat fences and faced the same direction also lent the village an almost city-like element of organisation. Shattering this perception was the fact that, directly below every house was a buffalo or cow, and the messiness, sounds and smells that accompany this.
Inside, cooking was done on an open hearth; a soot-blackened rack above the fire held garlic, shallots and dried chilli. At the other end of the room, a girl watched a Thai game show on television.
After a while, when people had gone back back to doing their chores, and when my guide and our hosts were deep in conversation about the price of dried frogs — at least that’s what I caught — I had essentially been forgotten about. This casual hospitality left me free to crunch watermelon, take pictures, listen to Tai, and generally just soak up the scene.