LEADERS - not followers

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Sow's Ear

Existing below
the poverty line,
a proud woman
gives thanks to Buddha,
observed by the monks
of Wat Sutapradid

Short of a few Baht,
Yai Phrae , as she’s known,
‘Old Mother Silk’,
scratches a living
helping to raise pigs
for a few hours a week.

Her payment, not cash;
Ears, trotters, noses
and intestines
she takes to market
in nearby Non Sang
on Wednesday afternoons.

Traded, not for cash,
but rice, or silkworms
in their cocoons.
Yai Phrae is content
with the arrangement.
She walks with head held high.

The Dak Dae – silkworms,
she eats with Khao Nieow -
glutinous rice.
She’s a survivor.
Nothing is wasted;
and nothing discarded.

Cocoons become thread,
spun on an old wheel.
Below her shack
the thread is tie-died,
and a makeshift loom
transforms thread into cloth.

Cloth becomes dresses,
jackets and trousers,
Practical magic;
sow’s ear, now silk purse.
Poorest girl now best dressed.

Twenty years later,
her shack is transformed
into a home.
No cash is involved.

There’s still work to do,
but her life is complete.

Silk Purse


The cocoons are boiled to release the fibres,
so they can be spun into thread. This process
also cooks the cocoons’ residents; silkworms,
which are edible.
When alive, the silkworm is Tua Mai, in Thai.
Once cooked, it is known as Dak Dae.
The word for ‘silk’, generally, is Mai. More
specifically, ‘silk thread’, but used in reference
to silk items.
The word Phrae, is used exclusively in reference
to a length, or lengths, of silk fabric.


  1. Very informative, I like the way you show the transition here sows ear to silk purse.
    Nicely nicely!

  2. Thanks Andy; Just to prove that it can be done

  3. I love the way you raise the mental image of this woman from a sorry state (although, possibly, one I project onto her 'cause I'm a snob) into someone not just precious but talented, too. And humble. You bring her to a vivid life.

  4. Thanks Susan; easy to look down our noses at people, but in the same situation, I wonder how well we'd all cope.

  5. Struggle and reward - the way of the world. We've forgotten that in the west - and the delight from the achievement.

  6. I love your use of location-specific terms and phrases. It really gives me a sense of her world.

  7. Left me so nostalgic of my times in Thailand. Thanks!

  8. i always admire the monks in Thailand. everytime i see them on the streets and accepting the offerings... and praying to the people.. just really a great act...

    nice informative poem

  9. Love the idea of "practical magic"!


  10. Love the idea of "practical magic"!


  11. Thanks to:
    Anthony North; She set her sights and hit her target.
    Julia Smith; It's based on a real person, and there are many others with a similar story to tell.
    Haiku Tuna; One of many memories that will stay with me.
    Totomai; Monks are involved in all aspects of village life.
    Linda Jacobs; A little bit of magic happens every day.

  12. Really enjoyed this - the impossible takes a little longer. Thanks for this post...

  13. Thanks Tumblewords; If a job's worth doing...

  14. I love the piece - shows how a little creativity and ingenuity can turn repurpose anything into something.

  15. Thanks John Tran; If you put your mind to it, anything's possible

  16. This woman is someone I would aspire to be...she lives her life simply and with grace. Thank you for a wonderful read!

  17. Good story, well worth the time, and you have flipped the expression...well done.

  18. Thanks to:
    Fledgling Poet; She's earnt my respect.
    Richard; Just putting it into perspective.

  19. beautiful, telling whole life, simple great dedicated life, and how one can transform any given situaion into greatness.
    makes me want to go back to thailnd, which i never really wanted.

  20. Thanks Utopianfragments; A simple and modest 'dream' come true.