Polaroid Project 5: Thailand

About an hour after the start of our trek in Chiang Rai, Thailand, we came to a bamboo hut built on stilts. Attempting to beat the heat, a family sat in the shade beneath their home. His little sister was a bit camera shy, but the 3 year old boy loved every second of his polaroid experience. The mother too seemed especially proud to pose with her children and was thrilled with the resulting pictures.

A few hours later we reached a small village where we’d eat lunch. Exhausted, we plopped down on the porch of one hut beneath a huge thatched overhang. While his mother tended the fire and prepared food inside, a little boy kept shyly peaking out, curious about the guests waiting outside. Eventually we won him over by offering a photograph. He posed with his typical bashfulness, excitedly watched the picture develop, then quickly hid back inside seemingly unaware he got to keep the photo. We lured him back outside and convinced him to take the photo. He accepted and immediately headed back inside. A few minutes later, he came back out and suspiciously grabbed a pair of scissors. We suspected he was headed inside to destroy his picture, but instead he came back out and blew bubbles for us.

Once we finally arrived in the village where we’d spend the night, we set out to explore the town a bit with our polaroid camera in hand. Noi, our guide, had told us that we were probably the first foreigners in town in nearly a year, so needless to say, we attracted some attention. A group of kids followed our every move but giddily scurried away whenever we tried to interact with them. Eventually one warmed to the idea of posing for a picture, and his willingness convinced others of his friends. After the first picture they all gathered around like a school of piranhas, snatching the picture from each others’ hands for a quick glimpse of themselves in the tiny photo. As we realized we’d need to take more pictures to ensure everyone was happy, the swarm of children grew to a borderline uncomfortable size. And as their numbers grew, so too did their confidence. They pursued us relentlessly, trying to touch us and our fancy camera equipment. They posed in every conceivable configuration and wrestled over the resulting picture. At one point Eric egged them on as he held the developing picture while they chased him down the village’s lone road. After snapping a few more polaroids, we decided to head back for a shower and rest a bit before dinner. The children pursued us the entire walk back. One very audacious child tried to pull down Eric’s pants while another whacked Ting’s leg with dried up chicken foot. When we returned to the hut, we shut the door to have a bit of peace and quiet only to have the dozen or so children maniacally banging on the door and shouting until they tired of it. While at times their pack mentality verged on terrifying, it was great to see so many children excited about the Polaroid Project.

After a short boat ride, one of our final stops on the trek was a traditional Akha village. The Akha people originally hail from China but made their way to Thailand during the 1900s, pushed on by conflicts in Burma and Laos. They still live in bamboo huts and continue their modest agrarian lifestyle, but most have abandoned the tradition Akha dress. In this particular village, only two woman continue to wear the elaborate beaded headdresses, at least in part to appeal to the small tourist contingent that occasionally visits. Noi warned us that one of the two is an aggressive saleswoman who gets extremely bitter when tourists don’t purchase her handicrafts. We managed to avoid her hostility by offering her a polaroid. Both women beamed in their photos, displaying years of wear on their teeth caused by chewing betelnut and limestone.

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