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Of Cooperatives and Cosmetics: the Herbal Connection

Art in the garden

Time Street by Trocadero Time

Of Cooperatives and Cosmetics: the Herbal Connection

by Constanze Ruprecht

Floods have left the garden somewhat unkempt and disorderly, but to the practiced eye, the earth still offers fragrant treasures. My guide and the owner of the garden, Khun Umpawan Chutima, bends down periodically to pick and offer me herb samples.

Several small houses were built in the herb garden for guests and for massages by those of Khun Umpawan’s classmates who focused on this area. The thatched structure in the foreground serves as a welcome area for groups of village trainees or student classes.

"Citronella grass," she says and when I comment on the resemblance to lemon grass, she quickly goes to another bush and plucks a new herb. "No, no, they’re not the same—can you smell the difference?" I think I can and we move on, breathing in deeply the aromas of herbs and spices and fruits: ginger, krachai (no common English name, boesenbergia pandurata holtt), turmeric, mangosteen, neem and many more.

Khun Umpawan is one of the members of a small group of herbal enthusiasts in Chiang Mai at the forefront of a move to found a northern cooperative dedicated to Thai herbs and medicines. The eleven men and women had discovered their mutual predilection for herbs and "traditional" remedies three years ago while taking a course on Thai medicine at the Ministry for Public Health’s provincial branch. These individuals, all with middle-class backgrounds and supported by full-time jobs in other areas, chose the course for various reasons—most frequently declining health or the wish to revive the old arts.

Health problems led Khun Umpawan to take the course and, motivated by the success of her studies (much-improved health!), she dedicated an eighteen rai plot of her family’s land in Hang Dong to all things herbal. The jovial Lung Lern and a team of five or six villagers taking care of daily maintenance have transformed the previously empty land into a fertile herb garden.

In Thailand today, more and more people like Khun Umpawan are joining an "herbal movement", causing local herbs and plants to experience an unstoppable come-back. Important signs are projects like the one-tambon, one-product ventures, small-scale individual endeavors Chiang Mai residents can sample during the Sunday Thapae Road Fair and frequent media coverage given to related issues. There also seems to be an increase in large-scale events, such as the Third World Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants for Human Welfare, hosted by Chiang Mai University during the first week of February 2003. The fact that this congress was held in northern Thailand exemplifies the significance accorded to herbs here. Much of the attention is of course business-related, but this can go hand in hand with preserving and/or revitalizing valuable local knowledge and expertise.

As our tour through the garden continues, Khun Umpawan tells me how this can be done most effectively. She has initiated various activities, including twice-monthly classes teaching schoolchildren about their magnificent inheritance in the plant-world.

This reservoir was created to irrigate the whole herb garden.

Khun Umpawan in front of a tent where herbs are grown by her classmates and in preparation for the new Cooperative.

"These children have often been raised in urban areas and know little about nature," she explains, "so we send them on searches to identify different herbs." I realize now why there are white signs with herb names in Thai lying beneath bushes and plants.

Furthermore, she offers free monthly training to villagers of the surrounding communities who want to learn how to use herbs to produce beauty and healthcare products. Although open to both men and women, mainly women take advantage of the offer, as the focus on cosmetics is not considered "men’s work".

An offshoot of Khun Umpawan’s involvement has been the gradual "conversion" of her youngest daughter to the herbal cause. Arunee Chutima (known also as Dawn) is now the manager of Herb Basics, a small store on Thapae Road that sells the wares created by the mother-daughter team. It is for the goods sold here that the women trained at the herb garden provide the ingredients.

"It’s an ideal combination," Dawn admits, "the women learn a useful trade based on knowledge of the local environment and they immediately have a market to turn to, while we benefit from the steady supply of high quality products."

Open less than a year, the shop is every gift-seeker’s paradise and equally enticing with regard to pampering oneself, thanks to its warm atmosphere, tastefully arranged interior and, of course, the very affordable stars of the show: hair and bath products, aromatherapy oils, perfumes, soaps and other items whose modern, fresh design attract both Thai and foreign customers. Based mainly on conversations with interested customers, Dawn also sells wholesale to individual stores located in North America and Europe.

Although she admits she has been too busy to create a long-term vision in terms of environmentally sustainable practices in production and sale, Dawn welcomes new ideas and has made a commendable start. The ingredients for some goods are 100% natural, chemicals are only used when absolutely necessary (preservatives and thickening agents always avoided), liquid goods such as shampoos and shower gels can be refilled and plastic wrapping is used only when needed to prevent aromas from dissipating too fast (bath bags, massage balls and teas).

In the meantime, Khun Umpawan never tires of her passion for herbs. Parallel to her personal ventures, she continues to support the cooperative project, whose offices—a building already constructed with a meeting room and space for medical check-ups—will be fittingly located in a designated, rent-free section of her herb garden. Official registration as the "Co-operative for Herbs and Thai Medicine" is planned for perhaps May 2003.

Concerning general membership, Khun Umpawan herself is characteristically optimistic. "We have been talking to the community members of the nearby villages and at least a hundred people have already agreed they would sign up once the cooperative gets going. Many more are interested..."

The project is special for another reason as well: although a cooperative for Thai medicine (paed paen thai) already exists in central Thailand, this one will apparently be the first cooperative in the country dedicated to both Thai medicine and local herbs (samunpray lae paed paen thai). Its members will be true pioneers—and hopefully make the cooperative bear as many fruits (and herbs!) as the garden surrounding it.


Art in the garden

Story and photos by Marlies Hartmann

At CDSC (Christian German School Chiangmai) there is a little garden with different sculptures and sometimes guests visiting the school wonder what that is. It’s a place that was created to reflect art and sculptures made out of clay and this is how it came together:

One of the heads in the garden

To begin with, there is only a pile of clay - but look what can be done with it... The small hands from 1st and 2nd graders started forming fruits like tamarinds, "chompoo" and apples. There are even half apples to be seen, with the core and seeds in the middle and surprisingly even the "wild" boys worked quietly and concentrated on their project. And now those fruits can be seen in some baskets in the school garden, as if they had just been collected. And there is much more in the sculpture garden.

Like for example the hollow heads which some of them even carry names like "Sad Brad" or "Abdul Shaham". These art pieces are made by students from grade 7 to 10, just like the two piles of hollow heads, where a closer look pays off. Among the pieces in the first pile there is a face, and just a grinning mouth, an ear or an eye which appears to twinkle. The students had to work with a certain technique to create the hollow heads and put some mimic on a face.

Hollow figures

Hollow heads

In the second pile there are objects, created out of the idea to form a hollow object which has openings. Many different ideas are reflected in these art objects and above all of them there stands the crucified Jesus who overcame the misery of our world with his death.

And when a breeze goes through the trees in the sculpture garden, the sounds from different wind chimes are heard. They were also created in work groups with clay. Often the students can be found taking a stroll through the little garden and looking at the different art sculptures.


Time Street by Trocadero Time

Last Tuesday saw the grand opening party and fashion show of the very first "Time Street and Trocadero Time" Outlet outside of Bangkok, located on the second floor of the recently opened new wing of the Central Airport Plaza.

The owners, Dolly and her husband Purij Mahadumrongkul (first and third from right), as well as their long-time friends Mr. Hagen Dirksen, Hon. Consul of the German Federal Republic, and his lovely wife Wanpen.

Chiang Mai Governor Pisit Khetphasook and his wife "count down" to the official opening time, whilst other honorary guests witness the auspicious occasion.

The official opening was followed by a fully-fledged fashion show, in which several recipients of the prestigious "Miss Thailand" Award participated - coverage of this event will be published by Chiangmai Mail shortly.

The elegant and glossy outlet, the first of it’s kind in Chiang Mai, offers ultimate service for brand names such as Oris, Rado, Rolex, Seiko, Carl F. Bucherer, TAG Heuer, Charriol, and Ulysse Nardin, just to name a few.