After settling in Chiang Mai it was finally time to head to Jen’s House.  As I made my way out to Thung Siao on the songtaow (local transport) it was as if I had never left. I barely noticed as we passed by the many familiar landmarks that I used to take note of for fear I would miss my stop.  It was more of a challenge to cross the six lane highway to get to the lane for the short walk to Jen’s.

When I left in March the boy’s dorm was just finished and the clean-up not quite complete. As I turned the corner and went through the gate I felt like I was walking into a long established home.  The plants that framed the main house and the boy’s dorm were lush and green after the rainy season. Freshly washed laundry was hanging in a new separate area, out of view from the front doorways.  The motor bikes had found a new home in between the covered area of the two buildings.  Everything was fresh and clean and tidy, the sky was clear blue and the air crisp. I took a deep breath and just stood there taking it all in.  It felt complete.

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I became aware of how quiet it was.  Where were the 28 people who lived in this lovely home? Stepping quietly through the doorway into the main living area to the left was a group of five children on computers, watching the screens filled with video games and movies, all respectfully with headphones on so as not to disturb the others. A typical Saturday morning in so many households in the world. As they became aware of my presence each acknowledged me with a traditional wai, a joining of the hands in front of the chest with a slight bow.  Tamla’s daughter ran quickly into her mother’s private room and within a minute Tamla and I were together again, embracing the moment of reunification.

 

Entering the girl’s room ten girls were napping or reading quietly.  They came forward slowly and I was welcomed with tentative greetings as their brains struggled to shift into English mode. It wasn’t long before we were all chatting and I turned back and forth to see who was calling out to get my attention, “Teacher, Teacher.” The laughter, joking and familiarity returned, we were together again.   The next thing I knew some of the students were planning to take me on an outing to Pha Chor. ‘What is Pha Chor, where is it, how far away,” I questioned. I had been on enough spur of the moment outings to know that when a Karen person says, not far or not long it can mean anywhere from an hour to two days.  After all it was the week-end and the students weren’t due back to school till Monday. After joking and chatting for a while the students were still unable to explain exactly what Pha Chor was but I’d heard enough to grasp that it’s was in the forest and it took about thirty minutes to get there. I agreed to go, but not before I made a visit to the boy’s dorm.

The Boy's Dorm

The Boy’s Dorm

 

The shell of the building is now a real boy’s room.  With clothes neatly hung and personal effects placed in the room it is now a bedroom. Four of the eight boys who share the dorm were sitting around strumming on a guitar and chatting. We joined together on the floor, in the middle of the room and caught up.  Two of the boys had sprouted up, as teenaged boys do, over the past eight months.  One of the boys I’ve know for thirteen years is the son of my very first trekking guide into the mountains in 2001.   Somehow the conversation turned to facial hair and the boys wanted to know if there was a way to get ride of it permanently, as if we in the west might have some secret formula. We talked about the possibility of waxing it away and explained what this involved. As the results would not be permanent and with visions of the pain involved in this procedure the boys decided that shaving was going to be a fact of life, if they wanted to be clean shaven.  Oh, the trials of change!

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It was time to head to Pha Chor! We jumped on three motorbikes and set out, three of the older students Nat Jan Nan, Jenjera and Suchada in contol of the wheels with one of the younger students, apparently the only one who knew where Pha Chau was, in charge of guiding us to the location. The supply stop consisted of a hundred Baht in gas for each of the bikes and a bottle of water for each of us. We travelled through familiar territory and I recognized the entrance to the Mae Wang National Park. At the entrance there was a fee of ten baht per student and twenty baht for their “teacher.”  The gate keeper barely gave me a glance as the girls sorted out the fee and paid it leaving me to wonder about the funding for our little adventure.

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 Once in the park, signs led us to our final destination Par Chor.  Par Chor is a natural phenomenon of eroded pillars. It is believed that it used to be the Ping river watercourse.  The assumption is that when the river route changed the site became a hill of river sediment that piled up into layers. During the Tertiary Period this area was  lifted up with the existing patterns formed over the centuries by water and wind. It is an amazing sight found by taking a short but steep walk through the forest to get to the pillars and a twisting narrow path to get back out.

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Pra Chor

In front, graduate students Suchada, Jenjira and Nat Ja Nan

In front, graduate students Suchada, Jenjira and Nat Ja Nan

We laughed, played and teased our way through the paths taking pictures along the way.

Goofing Around

Goofing Around

 

Back on the bikes, heading home I realized that this was the first time any of the students at Jen’s House had taken the initiative to take me on an adventure. The ethos of the students really has changed. Our students are becoming more confident to strike out on their own.  These young people are no longer the so called, “ignorants of the hills.” Jen’s House is making a difference and every year these young Karen students are becoming stronger and more self-reliant, eager to go out into the world.  Eight of the students will graduate high school this year and hope to continue to post-secondary education.

When we arrived back at the house I asked Tamla who paid for our little adventure.  She responded with a surprised and definite, “They did!”  The girls had saved up, from the little money they receive from their parents and used it to take me out. I was very touched and told them how great the day had been and how proud I was of them. Then I gave them back the gas money.  The water and entrance fee was their treat.