After a long (25 hours) but tidy trip to Bangkok, we settled into guesthouse for anight before heading north to Chiang Mai where we’d be picked up the following morning to begin our 10 day Food Matters course at Pun Pun.
Our last Facebook update – the one that said we’d be going to Pun Pun –prompted our friend Jack, a fellow Calgarian who’d just made his way from Jordan where he completed a 1month permaculture internship, to surprise us by showing up at the pickup point, noting that he too would be taking the course. What a nice surprise! After a quick catching up, twenty of us piled into the back of two pickup trucks and headed out of the city of Chiang Mai for the farm at Pun Pun.
For those that aren’t’ familiar with what Pun Pun is, here is a quick summary. Jon Jandai, affectionately known as PeeJo, is a native to Thailand and was born in a small village in the eastern part of the country. After feeling the pressure to leave the village for the big city where he was told that “success” was to be found, PeeJo quickly became disillusioned by the pace of city life and just how difficult it was to obtain simple food and shelter, something that no one went without in his native village. While pursuing a “higher education”, PeeJo concluded that the city life, which involved spending 8 to 12 hours per day to meet one’s basic needs, was essentially a way to complicate what is otherwise a very simple thing to do. He returned to his village to help with the cultivation of rice and to focus on simple, sustainable food production.
It was through this work that he met an American named Peggy, now his wife and partner at Pun Pun. With Peggy, PeeJo traveled to the US, where he encountered something rather unexpected – the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico, an adobe village that has been continuously occupied for nearly 1000 years. This system of building, whereby a person takes mud, mixes it with water to form blocks, dries them in the sun, stacks them, and puts on a roof, inspired PeeJo to learn the technique and to adapt it to a Thai climate, something that many of his fellow villagers doubted could be done, namely because they thought it was too wet in Thailand. PeeJo was not deterred.
Pun Pun (meaning, thousands of varieties) project began 10 years ago and serves to inspire others to build sustainable shelter, garden in harmony with nature, and, perhaps most importantly, provide open pollinated, heritage seeds to people all over the globe. A large portion of their 10 acres is dedicated to seed saving. They are constantly receiving letters from around Thailand requesting seeds, which they mail and asking only for donations in return.
This site is particularly remarkable because most of their visitors and students are not falongs(tourists) but fellow Thais and Burmese folks. On any given day, we’d see dozens of local people’s walking across the rice paddies for a visit to Pun Pun, carrying away loads of inspiration and packets of seeds. The respect that people showed PeeJo was remarkable and, from first-hand experience we can say, well deserved.
We participated in a course titled Food Matters which focused on deepening our relationship with food – the soil in which it grows, the water that nurtures it, the traditions that imbue food with incredible flavours and help preserve it through the seasons, and the closing of the waste cycle by returning valuable nutrients back into the soil, allowing for things to grow again and again without outside inputs. All of this – the cooking lessons, the making of kefir and kombucha, the time with our hands in the soil, all of it – was amazing. But what stood out most for us, an epiphany of sorts, was just how much PeeJo’s day to day life resembled his message – “Life is so easy, why do we make it so hard?”
What we mean by this is that if person were to hide in the trees (or behind them like I did on many occasions) and watch PeeJo move across the land, through his day, you would get the exact same message, the same life lesson, that you’d get if you sat down in a lecture hall and heard him speak for an hour. This was not a person who said one thing and did another, something that I’ve observed in many of the teachers and supposed role models in my life, but a person whose convictions are so strong that there is no other way to live. If things get too complex, it’s probably because we’re making them too complex. This may seem simple but somehow, I’m convinced, it’s quite profound. How many of us live in accordance with the values we uphold? How many teachers heed their own advice? If someone observed you for a day, at home, in the grocery store, at work, in your spare time, etc. would they say, yes, I know this persons convictions?
I don’t pretend that PeeJo is superhuman – but what I saw of this man was inspirational and provided a light on something that I think we could all aspire to. If we were all mindful of this, more mindful of the contradictions in our own lives, it would make us all a little more humble, perhaps even more compassionate. It’s worth pondering.
So that was Food Matters: lots of amazing food, plenty of wonderful folks, and a setting that left us feeling grateful to live on this amazing earth. Oh…and the adobe buildings were wonderful too. In addition to what we’ve posted here, we’ll put some photos of what we saw on Facebook.
In the end, they had plenty to share and we hope we can share what we learned with all of you when we get home in March. It’s been a great journey so far and we hope this finds everyone healthy and happy. Thanks for reading!
Ashley & Heather