A visit to Sop Moei
I’m sitting in a tiny kitchen. On the floor. There are no windows here - what light there is seeps in through cracks in the split bamboo walls. On my left thin spirals of smoke rise from the hearth, filtering through two blackened shelves cantilevered over the fire. Strips of bamboo lie on the shelves, curing in the smoke, ready to weave into baskets.
I'm here in Jetli's house, in the mountains close to the Thai-Burmese border. Facing me is Jetli, a Karen basket weaver. He’s sitting on the step leading out of the kitchen, and he’s working on a traditional Shan tobacco basket – a small, lidded basket once used by the Shan people of Burma for storing dried tobacco. When finished, the distinctive details of this basket rank it as elegant as any old fashioned cigarette etui, but it is seldom if ever woven these days. You’d be lucky even to find one in an antique shop.
Mountain view, Jetli weaving a basket and bamboo in the smokehouse.
Outside, it's raining. Harder. I will have to leave soon, because the road back to town is slippery, treacherous and I don't want to drive it in the dark. But I linger, fascinated to watch Jetli's rapid finger and wrist movements as he works on the basket. He reminds me of a musician flying through a passage of music, or someone absorbed in solving a Rubik’s cube.
Jetli weaves a Shan tobacco basket.
I take a few photos, and then Jetli lays the unfinished basket aside.
"I've finished the two rice baskets you asked for," he says. He stands up and begins to collect baskets from the top shelf which spans the hearth.
These are indeed the baskets I asked Jetli to weave - a traditional Burmese basket for storing rice, and another Burmese basket for measuring rice. Both of them large baskets for placing on the floor. But what's so delightful about the new baskets Jetli is stacking around me is that he's miniaturized them; he's kept all of the distinctive details - the tray lids, the wooden bases, the decorative details - and has turned these large, classical baskets into a size suitable for countertops and other contemporary uses.
Mini versions of the rice measure basket (left) and rice storage basket (right)
Together, we pack the baskets carefully into sacks and carry them to the front verandah. Climb down the bamboo ladder, peer through the curtains of rain lashing down between me and the pick-up.
It's going to be a long, wet drive back to Chiang Mai.
The Shan basket and miniature version of the rice storage and rice measure baskets are now available in limited quantities in our web-shop and are part of our November Promotion.