Vegan Town is growing
You know it’s hot when the sweat is dripping from your arms and face while you’re picking flowers…
I’m in the middle of a big field of marigolds just by the river, it’s 43 degrees Celsius, and the flowers I’m picking will become tea.
In four days. That’s how long marigolds take to dry, whereas laundry only needs two hours and other herbal teas one day. And we’ll drink it in the morning, because then we still have the ice that Keng gets from the factory every morning. Around just after lunch it will all be used up and/or melted.
I’m at Vegan Town again, that’s right! If you don’t know it yet, click here.
Since January, lots of things have changed. The most important one: at the moment, the farm doesn’t function as a restaurant. All the vegetables are brought to the Waengboon restaurant by the same owners in the morning, and if I want to eat at Vegan Town, someone will bring the food from there. Well, not every time. Tee does make Pak Boong for me out here the first evening, and later this week teaches me how to make it (it has been one of my go-to dishes during all this time in Thailand), and my cooking class takes place here, too.
As far as I understand, there have been problems with all the traffic out here, plants were dying, either from the cars’ exhaust fumes, or the bacteria that the vehicles and people brought in, or both. But now it’s low season anyway, so apart from me, nobody really cares that you’ll have to go to town to get a full vegan meal. But as the vegan town people go back and forth between the restaurant in Lampang and the farm all day anyway, they can bring me my food here.
That first evening shows how families are the same all over the world: Tee and I eat, but his son isn’t hungry and sits on a different table, and the twelve-year old daughter just keeps staring at her phone.
When I was here last time, there was only one bathroom, but now the outdoor showers have been finished. I walk back to my little bamboo hut through the trees and tables. The bamboo huts are tiny and perfect for solo travelers and couples, but a new “bamboo villa” stands on the other side of the little lake and will soon welcome families who want to have a vacation in a building made completely from bamboo. It takes almost ten years for the bamboo to grow big enough for such projects, but compared to trees, this is still fast, and thus it is an extremely sustainable material. Bamboo can also store a lot of water and release it into the ground when it’s dry, helping other plants to survive, as I learn while I get to know how the meditation huts are made. I get to cut bamboo and nail it together for the floor, then climb on the roof to attach the grass. Ten of these huts will be standing around the lake next week, and guests can go there to meditate.
Over the following days, I walk around barefoot and pick my fresh herbal teas: Rose, marigold, jasmine, mulberry. I get a Thai vegan cooking class, after which the biggest part of the vegan town family comes out to the farm for vegan barbecue and live music. Jin, the musician, teaches me some chords on the guitar the next day, and we try to play and sing along.
I plant a lime tree between the huts.
And while I sit and read by my favorite big tree, everyone around me is working. The bamboo buildings grow, new plants (for eating and for decoration) show up every day, there is constant change, not just in the vegetable fields. The entire compound looks different when I leave on Friday than it had looked when I arrived on Monday.
Vegan Town is growing.
Aim and Tee don’t only teach me how to prepare the Pak Boong, but also how to make papaya salad, one of the most famous Thai dishes (and not normally vegan). We get up at 5.30 in the mornings to meet everyone else and meditate together during sunrise, soaking up the sun’s energy before it becomes too strong to enjoy.
One night, somebody has brought two bags full of living fish from the market. We release them into the lake as a symbolic act of kindness towards all living beings.
Keng takes me with him to the temple when he offers food to the monks. This is something the vegan town family believes will also make an impact on society. Offering food to the monks is a normal thing for Buddhists, but the Vegan Town does it not only for their own karma, but also to spread the word about healthy, organic, vegan food.
When you come to Vegan Town, you really become a part of the family. There are a lot of people, and I don’t get to know all of their names, but it never matters.
I sit with the entire team for breakfast, we share rice porridge and stories about bread, and Mr. Ratanakovit turns on the TV. He has his friends and colleagues bring him bread from all the countries they visit and is a big fan of Helene Fischer and Andrea Berg. Do I know them? “Not exactly my generation’s music”, I try to explain.
And then, of course, there is the Malaysian part of the family. Nasshant and I sit next to each other, not listening to the conversation that is going on, sharing pictures on LINE and Instagram, and it genuinely feels like he’s my brother.
And this comes with the misunderstandings.
“I’m learning how to make Pad Thai”, I tell them when his parents ask what I will do next.
“But when is your flight?” they ask, and I don’t understand how this would be connected.
“Oh, then it’s ok” says my brother.
“It’s really good for the kidneys!” his mom informs me.
Now she doesn’t get what I mean.
We discuss back and forth, I’m trying to find out why eating the traditional Thai noodle dish just before a flight wouldn’t be a good idea, and Mr. Ratanakovit wondering with me what exactly it is that is so healthy, while the three Malaysians don’t understand why we would ask that.
It turns out that “Petai” sounds exactly the same. But it is not a dish.
Mr Ratanakovit is 70 years old and used to be in the garment industry. “When I travelled, I had one 20 kg bag of samples, and a small bag as carry-on with my own things. I think I would like to travel like you now, with just a backpack”, he says, and asks if I think he could do that, sleep in hostels, use couchsurfing.
I think a 70-year-old who needs only a small backpack can very well travel the world like that. I would love to meet him in a hostel somewhere one day and hear all his stories.