I love Chiang Mai. This is my last holiday in Asia for a while as we leave my job in China for gypsy life in Europe this June. I could’ve ticked another country off the list (Sri Lanka, Laos, Philippines) but as Ms 10 is Australia and I am travelling solo, I decided to return to Thailand, Mostly for a hand papermaking workshop I had noticed on our previous fleeting visit to CM at Christmas.
I joined a girl from Milwaukee who had come from a circus camp in Laos, to spend a sweaty, strenuous morning turning pulp into paper. HQ Papermaker is run by Kenji from Japan, who also fronts the sho in town. Kenji has many years experience in papermaking, although HQ seems to run as an export business, rather than a studio.
Local staff create 80 plus sheets of paper a day (we were knackered after 6). The sheets we saw drying (above, behind my measly few) were destined for a soap company in California. I got the impression they did not receive too many people for workshops. The lady assisting us was lovely, but like a good Asian mama she was a little too quick to ‘help’ us.
All the same, it was a momentous occasion for me and, if I hadn’t been surrounded by strangers I think I might have cried. I haven’t made paper since primary school, when someone came to school so frequently to teach us that there was a permanent bathtub set up for the slurry. This method was different – Asian style involves spreading pulp across a single frame rather than the western method of dragging 2 frames through slurry. But…I could totally see myself doing this – setting up my workshop, practicing, experimenting, teaching others (I’m a little more excited about that last part than I had anticipated)
This paper is called Saa paper, made from bark stripped frol mulberry trees. These days the bark is imported for nearby Laos. There aren’t enough Thais interested in the back-breaking task of stripping bark.