A Thai Family Small Export Business in Chiang Mai – Hang Dong – Visiting My Trainer’s Home
Daeng – My Trainer at Lanna
Daeng is one of my trainers at Lanna Muay Thai. He doesn’t work with me regularly, although every time we do work together I am very happy to learn something new from him. He’s by far the most fight-oriented trainer at the camp and he has on a few occasions introduced specific, technical elements into my training with the intention of tactically entering a fight. Blocking kicks, for example, or how I execute knees in the clinch.
Daeng is the father of one of the Thai fighters at the camp, named Tor. Tor is quiet and polite, very sweet and clearly loves Muay Thai. He is the most dedicated of all the Thai boys at the camp and shared with me that his dream was to fight at one of the big stadia in Bangkok, which he accomplished just recently when he won his debut fight at Rajadamnern Stadium. Daeng says he would prefer for Tor to quit fighting and only use Muay Thai for fitness while focusing on school (Tor is 20 years old and in his second year of university with a focus on “tourism”), but regardless of their difference in desire Daeng continues to help Tor with his training and with his fights because that’s what Tor wants. He’s a good father and also has a now 2 year old son named Dten who Daeng simply delights in – no matter how tired Daeng is from working he lights up around his baby.
Dten (baby) and Tor – Daeng’s two sons
The Home Factory
A while back Daeng invited me to come out to his house in Hang Dong, about a 30 minute drive from the gym, to see the wood crafts that his wife works on all day while he’s at the camp. Daeng lives in what I’d call a neighborhood but what is more practically a cluster of houses in which his wife’s large family is situated. It would be like if your family composed your whole neighborhood. And it’s mostly women: his wife’s mother and sisters; her father, Daeng and his two sons seem to be the only males in the group. And this isn’t uncommon. Women have for a long time been the inheritors of property in Thailand and, while men certainly inherit land and houses also, it’s usually daughters who end up taking care of aging parents and helping to raise children as a group, so often men move in with their wives after marriage. And Thai families tend to stay close together in any case – the way my own family is spread out across the US is shocking to many of the Thais to whom I’ve explained this American normality.
When I told Daeng I wanted to follow him out to his home and take some pictures of the woodwork that his wife painted all day he smiled and nodded his head in approval. I had no idea what to expect, really. I figured she painted some carvings here and there as a little extra income and Daeng had told me that he works as a carpenter on Sundays when the gym has a rest day. However, as we followed Daeng on the motorbike out along the Canal Road highway and the buildings of Chiang Mai gave way to the open fields of Hang Dong, I suddenly felt the distance that Daeng experiences every day as he leaves his family for the gym and comes back, sometimes very late, after long work days or fight nights.
Once you get off the highway and start moving toward his town you see again and again shops that sell wood crafts. Furniture, lawn ornaments, wooden statues, wall hangers, huge wooden elephants made from entangled roots or vines and hanging chairs that look like bird’s nests. As we turned off onto a road that would lead back to his housing cluster there were enormous cuts of tree trunks on the sides of the road, like how you might see hay bails in the stretches of Nabraska highway, most likely to be sent to the carvers who would turn them into any of the art sold in the shops closer to town. Wood crafts, it seems, is the specialty of the whole town.
Daeng’s father-in-law walking down the driveway between houses. Doggy sleeping in the road.
Pulling into Daeng’s driveway I saw rows of different wooden figures and three women seated in the shade under an overhead tarp cover (kind of what a hunter would use for camouflage when crouched on a mound or something), painting little stools with farmyard animal faces (cows and sheep), teddy bears with a bow on the neck or ear, baskets of finished Siamese Cats with blue eyes, rows of owls, and to the right an area of stacked, unpainted figures of more owls and tall stacks of carved books yet to be colored. It was a whole factory right in front of Daeng’s provincial little house.
Daeng brought me some cold water and a glass, then excused himself to go take a shower. (We’d come from training in the morning.) I took some photos of the different pieces and shot some footage of the women working. A small family of chickens pecked around the ground in a corner near his mother-in-law, who was coating wax over the paint on the cow chairs to seal the color. I knelt down to take a photo with a moppy golden colored dog in the foreground between myself and the woman working but the moment the dog saw me his head popped up, then he stood up and hurried over to stick his nose right in my face to see if I’d give him affection. Turns out I would and he shadowed me for a while after that.
The squatty golden dog
I took a tour through the production area, walking between the chairs being painted and around the side of the house where rows of ducks and owls and cats, all made of wood, sat idle while Daeng’s sister-in-law ran a powerbrush over the painted stools and figures to give them a nice smooth sheen. Her name is Maew, which means “cat.” She pulled down her white surgical mask for a few photos with some really beautiful elephant head carvings and practiced her English, “hello, my name is Cat,” she recited. She’s very cute and was patient with me while I filmed her sanding and then took a bunch of photos hoping to get her smiling. I could tell she was smiling when she had the mask on, when she was working, but once I asked to take the photos she got a bit nervous and serious. Daeng told me she’s single and to take a nice photo so she can get a nice husband. I think anyone would be lucky to marry Cat/Maew.
Miss Maew and a really beautiful (heavy) elephant head carving.
Siamese Cats – some of them pair up so that their heads lean together.
Owls with carved feathers.
Beautiful painted ducks, about 1 foot high.
Very cute Giraffe Chairs – sized for small children.
Teddy Bear Chair being painted, the backs of Cow Chairs in the foreground.
Unpainted birds, maybe 4″ high.
After walking through and seeing all the different crafts (there were also tables to fit the little animal chairs, but those were being spot-checked with resin to fill small holes and drying in the sun) and staring in total westerner amazement at a rice field that sits just on the other side of their property (it’s so green!), I got to meet another of Daeng’s sister-in-laws, Nui, who is in charge of the actual distribution of these wood crafts. She’s self-taught in English and amazingly fluent. We chatted about how all the different designs are made-to-order here at the house, then they get put on the trucks and brought into town for the different shops that sell them. If they have an international order (usually with other textiles and crafts from the stores that carry her woodwork) she gets the entire order together and it all gets put into a giant shipping crate – like the stuff you see piled at shipyards – and sent to China, Europe, or North America. Nui explained that smaller wooden crates were also available but she says that shipping in bulk is the best option for international clients because of the import duties, which makes sense.
She has a contact in the US who sells some of the wood crafts made by her and Daeng’s family, you can look on Facebook at Hopkins Blvd Home Accents in Mississippi and Texas. Nui will be creating a Facebook page for the family’s products and I’ll post that here when it’s up.
Daeng (far right) and his wife (in red), and their family (Miss Maew in the black shirt with “16” on it)