Our third and final night was to be for an induction into opium smoking. But first, while the others were out in the cold playing with the village children among the tallest bamboo (coppiced) that I have ever seen, I sat by the fire and watched the preparation of the evening meal.
The two grandparents dined on smoked and barbequed lizard. We had our usual vegetable stew which was enlivened with brown rice. I’m sure that a connoisseur of rice could, like a wine taster, from which region rice is harvested from the texture and milling process.
The cooking fire was set on sand to prevent the bamboo floor from being burned through. Above was a blackened stand for drying and smoking foods and the storage of utensils. It was probably that the arrangement also served for the curing of home grown tobacco which most of the women smoked in curved pipes. On a later trek with Pinan (LINK) he told us that a pipe is a present from the tribal family to a teenage girl when she reaches womanhood.
These decorative pipes were as much for identification as the beads, leggings and embroidery which distinguished each tribe. In a few villages we could observe the weaving of cloth on a loom with the lengthways warp threads held taut by the feet. Natural dyes don’t seem to be used any more as they have discovered the convenience of instant chemicals which can also give brighter, gaudier colours, particularly the fluorescent varieties!
It is worth noting here that the Chiang Mai night markets are full of beautifully designed dresses, jackets and waistcoats which are not genuine hill tribe garb.
Entrepreneurs go into the hills and purchase old clothing which they then dry clean. Serviceable portions of cloth are then incorporated into new garments. For all the marketing hype, I still find the designs pleasing; not all seen in the shops and on the stalls is garish, and most seem to be well tailored.
The opium experience was supplied on the verandah by a young man who had obviously benefitted financially by the thirst for the exotic by western travellers. He was cleanly dressed in Wrangler jeans, a sweatshirt, training shoes and socks to match. His friends acted as acolytes with the occasional interruptions from his female admirers..
A price of 8 baht was negotiated for a toke on a pipe. This was a bamboo construction which enabled one to draw the smoke off a tiny piece of heated almost fluid opium held over a candle while we lay supine. None of us received more than a slight buzz, let alone enlightenment. Perhaps we felt a little sleepy from it, but that was more probably the after effect of our day’s walking.
I felt chilly that night, but the dreams were fun.