HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Elephant poo paper

American Community in Chiang Mai celebrates Independence Day

Chiang Saen, Thailand’s Lost City

Elephant poo paper

That’s not ‘loo’ paper!

Daisy Vogt

Did you know that the beautiful recycled colorful paper, which you see everywhere on the markets is made from materials other than wood? These include elephant dung, pineapple leaves and banana leaves.

Between 300-400 grams, or about twice as much as this, are needed to get 1 sheet of paper.

A short trip out from Chiang Mai, behind Mae Rim gets you to the Elephant Dung Recycling Factory, where visitors can take a tour to learn about the whole process. It is an interesting experience, and believe me, it does not smell as bad as it sounds!

Being a bit wary of the large pile of elephant dung I did not dare to venture too close but the guide explained to me that only the dung from sick elephants smells. Elephants are vegetarian, their excrement (poo - technical word) is undigested decayed plant fiber and these kilos of fibrous dung are perfect for paper making without cutting any trees.

Washing the elephant dung.

The dung is washed multiple times to ensure that there is really no smell and as I got closer I could tell it was true. During the next part of the process, caustic soda and water are added and it was explained how the dung was cooked for approximately five hours to kill all the bacteria, and bleached afterwards to make it soft and give it a lighter color. Colors and natural fibers can also be added to the process which will turn the paper into some pretty pale or even striking colors.

The dung is cooked for many hours but even more interesting is ‘the oven’.

Afterwards the dung is weighed out into small balls of 300-400 grams each, to ensure the same thickness and consistency and is spread above a net and evened out in water. During this part of the process, leaves and grasses can be added to the paper to give it more texture and integrity.

It is drip dried in the sun for three to five hours and finally trimmed off the nets as large sheets of paper.

Caustic soda and water is added to the dung.

The different kinds of paper that are created all go through the same process but the textures of each were very different. Pineapple is rougher and banana is soft, so feel the paper next time you buy some to wrap up a present.

The paper is made into picture frames, boxes and booklets as well as paper.

I would even suggest you have a look at how the paper is made into items such as picture frames, boxes and booklets. It gave me a greater appreciation for all the items sold in the markets because every single one takes time and effort by the workers (and the elephants) and are truly hand made.

The trip to this quaint little factory was short, interesting and educational. What a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon. Next time I receive a present I will look at the paper more carefully and remember the elephants and keep it for re-use.

A ready made piece of paper.

Spread on a net and evened out in water.

The washed, evened elephant dung is spread on the net and dried in the sun.

American Community in Chiang Mai celebrates Independence Day

Elvis was in the building!

Michael Vogt
Photos: Michael & Marion Vogt

Back on the 4th of July 1776, America claimed its independence, sealed by signing the Declaration of Independence from England. 228 years later, this auspicious occasion is celebrated by all Americans around the globe, and Chiang Mai was no exception.

The grand fireworks finale.

The grounds of the US Consulate General, beautifully decorated in ‘classic’ American colors, hosted around 1000 guests, with an array of tents and playgrounds, and the air filled with the smells of ‘good ole’ hamburgers, BBQ ribs and chicken.

The Bouncy Castle was a top favorite amongst the kids, immediately after the ice cream stall!

Everyone was kept in party mood, and even the weather gods were smiling, laying on blue skies and sunshine. Host Consul-General Eric Rubin was busy informing all visitors about the never-ending program for the afternoon, which included performances by the Prince Royal’s College Band, the Payap University Choral Group, Robin the magician, the Bouncy Castle, plus a number of surprise music performances. A huge number of food and beverage stalls made starvation and dehydration impossible, and the choice was yours from classic American McBurgers, over Bud’s Ice cream, home made bagels and burritos, which went down well with a can of Miller Lite or Budweiser, Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.

Elvisky brought the house down with favorites such as ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Love me Tender’, and ‘GI Blues’.

In between, Eric and Henry Jardine gave away door prizes, kindly donated by a number of businesses, including airfares and hotel accommodation, decorative items, jade jewelry and newspaper subscriptions.

The crowd went wild when Elvisky (as Henry explained “a symbiosis of ‘Elvis’ and ‘Whisky’”) entered the building and started to rock and roll, and had almost everyone on his or her feet within minutes. The 1 hour performance by the No.1 Elvis impersonator, who has won a number of awards in his career, covered all the favorites, and was greatly appreciated by everybody. Elvisky had to promise to be back for more next year and to also give singing lessons to Henry.

Eric Rubin (far right) and Henry Jardine (second right) busy drawing door prices, and desperately looking for the winners.

By now, the sun had gone down, setting the right atmosphere for the Chiang Mai Choral Society, accompanied by pianist David Wilson, who added many special touches to the arrangements, and this time also took over Rainy Riding’s role as conductor. The program included popular music as well as traditional patriotic songs and for the first time the group featured American country music when the male members of the chorus sang “Elvira”. The non-US choral members had to learn to speak “redneck” for this particular piece!

Every American joined in the last sing along, which included “America”, “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, “America the Beautiful” and of course the national anthem, after which the grand fireworks show started across the Ping River. A spectacular finish for a relaxing and very homey afternoon, thoroughly enjoyed by all nations assembled that day.

They did actually bounce - US Vice Consul Henry Jardine, US Consul General Eric Rubin, and French Hon. Consul Thomas Baude (from left) performing active stress relief.

How to make your own jewelry - the kids kept very busy during the afternoon.

The kids had a great time watching Robin the magician.

The Choral Group from Payap University.

The Chiang Mai Choral Society entertained with traditional and patriotic songs.

Chiang Saen, Thailand’s Lost City

A new tourist attraction?

Antonio Graceffo

Mankind has much folklore regarding many cities that have disappeared. Atlantis, the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Pompeii for starters, but there is another - Chiang Saen - Thailand’s own mysterious, lost city is located on the Mekong River, just across from the Lao border, and has been buried for hundreds of years.

Doyasa and his staff have made every effort to keep the restoration as authentic as possible. Even the mortar is made using an ancient mix of sand, lime, and sugar cane extract.

The legend runs that the city sank into the earth, in a single night, because the people ate a sacred white eel, which they caught in the Mekong. To avoid disaster, perhaps you should check the color of your sushi next time you are eating near my house.

I asked if they planned to cut down the huge tree which grew from the center of the temple. Noot looked horrified when I asked if they planned to cut down the huge tree growing in the center of the temple. “Of course we won’t cut it down. There is a large Buddha statue inside.”

Jasana Doyasa, a leading Thai government archaeologist, was kind enough to take me on a tour of the dig site, where a team of over fifty workers is struggling to uncover the ancient history of Thailand.

“We believe this temple to be the largest,” explained Noot, showing me what looked like a pile of bricks, half overgrown with roots and vines, and covered with dirt.

The work began with aerial photographic reconnaissance, where archaeologists studied the mounds on the surface of the earth, and determined where the ancient temples lay, finding sixty temples within the city walls, and thirty outside.

The current dig site will uncover six temples.

“The archaeology of Thailand is all about temples,” explained Doyasa. “In Europe you can uncover markets, churches, and public buildings. But in Thailand, these buildings would have been made of wood, which decompose very quickly in a tropical environment. In many ancient cities, the only buildings which were made of stone were the temples. This is the only history which remains,” said Doyasa. “We can guess where the market was, and where the people lived, but since we want to be true to history, we will only restore those details that we are certain of.”

Doyasa expressed the hope that the site would become a major attraction.

One of the details that archaeologists didn’t know was the height of the ancient temples. “We can tell the width and length,” explained Doyasa, as he walked me through the ancient ruins. Many of the walls only protruded from the earth by a few centimeters, and would be passed over by the untrained eye. Doyasa pointed at the highest wall, only about a meter tall, saying, “We won’t build much higher than that, because we can’t be certain.”

Doyasa and his staff have made every effort to keep the restoration as authentic as possible. “As much as we could, we used the old stones.” Even the mortar, which the mason employs, was made using an ancient mix of sand, lime, and sugar cane extract.

Being an archaeologist is much like being a detective. With no one there to tell the story, Doyasa and his assistant, Noot, use all of their extensive training and knowledge to piece the details together. “We believe this temple to be the largest,” explained Noot, showing me what looked like a pile of bricks, half overgrown with roots and vines, and covered with dirt. Lacking the archaeologist’s eye for detail, I asked if they planned to cut down the huge tree which grew from the center of the temple. Noot looked horrified. “Of course we won’t cut it down. There is a large Buddha statue inside.”

The current dig site will uncover six temples. Doyasa was happy that the Thai government had approved a larger budget for next year, so that they could begin excavating the rest of the temples. With the current, six temple project employing 50 laborers and artisans, the excavation of the entire 90 temples, will provide hundreds of jobs, giving a much welcomed financial relief to the people of the rural north.

He expressed the hope that the site would become a major attraction, bringing tourist dollars to the region. His interest in tourism is not purely financial, however. He explained that it is often difficult for him and his staff to protect Thailand’s monuments and dig sites from encroachment by local businesses and farmers. In many cases, he has actually asked people to move their business or even to move their home. “Some people hate me up here,” laughed Doyasa.

It was clear that he was dedicated to the preservation of Thailand’s history. And, with tourist dollars coming in, it would be easier to justify to the authorities and locals alike the importance of preservation.