Chiang Mai, Thailand; Day 15

The 5 Adventures Academy had a field trip to a factory today. It may be a bit different from what you may normally think of as a factory.

The Borsang Umbrella Center makes thousands of handmade umbrellas and parasols every year. The Borsang village is the originator of the paper umbrella craft (yes, including those tiny ones that come in fruity beach drinks) and the umbrella has become a cultural symbol of Chiang Mai.

Umbrellas mean protection in Buddhism and originally the Borsang made them solely for use in temples and presented them to monks. They were not painted during that time but the villagers spent centuries honing their approach – the latest version of which we saw today. In the last few decades, they have begun including hand painted designs and selling their crafts worldwide.

The factory – with no machines, just craftspeople- is laid out with a large open air courtyard in the center for the umbrellas while they dry – either from the glue between the fabric and the spars or the paint to the fabric.

The umbrella assembly line starts with the making of the paper. Traditionally, this paper was made from the bark of the mulberry tree. Today the fabric also includes silk or cotton which can be painted and serve as a decorative piece or as a sun shade.

We watched several stations set up around this courtyard. We saw women cutting larger pieces of bamboo into smaller and more standard sized segments. We also watched some of the frames get made from these cut segments of bamboo wound with string. There were a stack of them waiting for the fabric.

Today, the factory was working on 1m diameter blue cotton umbrellas. The fabric was being cut and glued to the bamboo frames. The next stations were hand painting circular designs on the umbrellas.

One of the painters saw that Brian was wearing a plan white hat. He offered to put aside the blue umbrella he was working on to take on a different canvas.

The dragon was really quite impressive and everyone then wanted their own custom design. CreeperPuppy was the first to buy a plain yellow umbrella from the gift store and find one of the artists to draw his own Dragon.

You can see from the background of the photo with large decorative fans drying in the sun that this artist is the dragon specialist.

The other two kids also thought that this would be a good use of their allowance money and bought two more for themselves to have painted.

In the end, Mom & Dad liked what they picked a lot. Each one was unique and fit the personality of the kid. We decided rather than buy additional souvenirs as art for ourselves, we’d fund the kids’ purchases on the condition they let us display them in the main part of the house after we get home. Fortunately, Sotheby’s wasn’t necessary and a deal was made.

5 Adventurers’ Borsang umbrellas

We can’t wait to show them to you in California when we get back there!

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