All Thai people have nicknames, so I’ve felt a bit out of place for the past three months traveling in Thailand without one. My new Thai nickname is Gina, thanks to Ken and his middle-aged memory. I met Ken a week ago when Brandon and I arrived at his farm in Chiang Rai, Thailand as volunteer WWOOFers (willing to work a few hours a day in exchange for room and board).
From the e-mails exchanged, I knew to expect an orchard, a small garden, and some construction projects at Farm Ken. In the eight years that he has lived on the farm, besides planting countless avocado trees, Ken has constructed two and a half houses. Along with two other WWOOFers, Brandon and I arrived in time to help out with the painting, sanding, and lacquering of Bunker Hill, a house being built into a hillside on the property.
Prior to our stay at Farm Ken, we had learned some practicalities of organic farming while working at MaryJanesFarm, but our only construction experience was a weekend cob-building workshop. Growing up, I had watched my dad paint our house, and Brandon built a birdhouse once when he was a kid. At Farm Ken, we experienced another version of MaryJane’s make-do attitude.
The jobsite at Bunker Hill was created around Ken’s no-frills, make-do attitude. Besides learning some new skills, we’re hoping that we’ve picked up some good work habits along the way.
front row: Amy from Boise, Idaho and Christine from Chicago, Illinois
back row: Ken from Farm Ken, Chiang Rai, Thailand; Tine from Gent, Belgium; and Brandon from Boise, Idaho
Ken is one of the few people in Thailand who doesn’t own a rice cooker. He has improvised a toaster that works great if you don’t mind the smell of burning breadcrumbs. This homemade toaster symbolizes Ken’s general approach on the farm: function is more important than fancy, and make-do with what you have.
Volunteering on a WWOOF farm isn’t all about work; there’s plenty of time for socializing, too. Brandon and I shared some of our omelet ideas as well as a few of our travel documentaries. Ken shared his novel inspired by a long-lost Burmese lover and the ideas of other literary projects in various stages of completion. Brandon brought out his travel-sized Martin guitar, and we found out that Ken is also a musician. He can play guitar and sing any Elvis or Beatle tune you name, as well as a few originals.
In addition to his building, gardening, writing and music, Ken has many other interesting projects in the works. The bicycle that goes on water is still in the design stage, but his special bamboo drumsticks have made it through production and onto the world market.
Ken believes strongly in the superiority of his bundled bamboo drumsticks over other drumsticks, given that bamboo is stronger than wood. His claim is that they won’t break on a rimshot like wooden sticks do. In Thailand, bamboo and labor are easy to come by, but the distributing of the drumsticks has been more of a challenge, so as volunteers on Farm Ken, we agreed to help market the “Thai-Sticks.”
With our camera and passion for filming, combined with Ken’s faith in his product and scientifically-designed experiments, we turned our attention from painting Bunker Hill to filming our first advertisement. A few minutes into filming, gravity shifted, and the direction of our film shifted, too. Similar to how American Movie is a documentary about a man desperately motivated to make a horror movie, our short film became a commercial about making a commercial. It’s about a good-natured guy doing his best to prove the superiority of his product while one enlisted helper expresses serious doubt along the way.
After three drumstick experiments, two days of filming, and endless discussion, we ended up with a 10-minute film about the making of a drumstick commercial. Whether or not we were able to prove that Thai-Sticks are stronger than wooden drumsticks remains up to each individual viewer. Click here to check out the short film “Thai Sticks.”
Here is the 30-second lowdown in Thai-Sticks, the bundled bamboo drumsticks. For more info: http://www.wonderfull.com/stix.htm
By author Ken Albertsen, Lali’s Passage is the story of a Burmese beauty who escapes from a brothel to Native American hills of California. For more info: http://adventure1.com/showlali.htm
Here’s an excerpt:
In another section of the import store, there were pieces of intricately carved wooden furniture that, according to Lali, would be more accurately called Burmese rather than Siamese, as labeled.
Tim already knew his gal was special, but every day new facets were unfolding that entranced him further. “Did you learn these things from reading books in Thailand?” he asked. She must have misunderstood the question because she responded that Burmese people love to read books, whereas Thai people usually only read if they have to.
Another endearing trait was the way she would make little flower garlands – sometimes using a thread to string them up – other times using just their braided flower stems. If it was a short strand she would place it on the crown of her head. A long strand would drape over her shoulders, falling onto her chest. Adding an aromatic floral garland to an already beautiful lady like Lali was like adding rainbows to a bird of paradise.
Seeing the Burmese artifacts had reminded her of home. They tried using Tim’s calling card to reach her mother’s village in Burma, but to no avail. The junta there was not allowing incoming calls from the outside world. Perhaps they thought that keeping foreigners at arm’s length would lessen scrutiny of their regime. Interestingly to Tim, Lali seemed to accept the military dictatorship in her native country in a sort of devil-may-care sort of way. Rather than risk arguments, he had decided early on, not to get heavy-handed or to talk politics with his new sweetie.