If the city of Lampang were a person, he would smile with yellow teeth, dress in black and white and salt his food heavily. Dusting dandruff off his shoulder, he would walk at a pleasant leisurely pace.
And yet, when you spoke with him, his eyes would light up with the hope of a sky lantern and his voice would sing a key above the music and his ideas would seem at once old and new, big but focused, not novel but nostalgic.
Such was our experience as we dusted the cobwebs off this less-trodden city. Such was our experience of Lampang after we met Win.
Win may say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. Some may also call him a hipster or a hippy. One thing we can all agree on: Win is a wonderful guy.
The owner of Dreamer Cafe, a Western-Thai fusion burger shop, Win dresses in ’50s and ’60s clothing, listens to indie artists like Chet Faker and Angus & Julia Stone, and builds motorcycles in his spare time. Win spent his teenage years in New Zealand, where he found a love for good food, burgers in particular. He is adorned with tattoos of things that make you smile: a brain on one foot, a heart on the other; “Respect Yourself” in cursive; a rainbow because, he says, “They always come after the storm.”
While Win’s body art creates a portrait of a deep-feeling, forward-thinking, optimistic human being, he is also grounded in his roots, with “Made in Thailand” emblazoned on his arm.
Indeed, his much of his story is incredibly—for lack of a euphemism—Thai. His parents run a ceramic factory—typical of Lampang, which is known for industrial ceramics—that outfits IKEA. He met his newlywed wife at her parents’ noodle shop.
We met Win by accident. While searching for Lampang’s night market, our photographer went into Dreamer Cafe to ask for directions. As we later explored the market, he followed up: “We should go back to that restaurant for dinner.” Passing punching bags of hanging meats, basting pans of fetid fish, plastic bags of bugs in bulk and posters of roasted squid (okay, it was really just mushrooms wrapped in bacon, but it looked an awful lot like roasted squid,) I agreed.
Inside the cafe, John Lennon lyrics are spray painted on exposed brick, a motorcycle suspends from the ceiling and black and white stills of Elvis, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone hang on the walls. The tables are ’80s cafeteria style and; sitting down, I was instantly transported back to Toronto’s Queen Street West. The vibrancy of Dreamer Cafe in all its hipster splendour is juxtaposed against the monochrome, creaky streets of Lampang, which, like most industrial towns, felt like it needed a good oiling.
Whoever runs this place, I thought—they have a story.
There’s always guilt when you’ve crossed oceans and opt for a burger. But that burger would end up being a gateway for us into a Thailand we would have never otherwise seen—and damn, was it good.
Win delivered our dinners to us and disclosed that he was the owner. From there, we became fast friends. We told him of our intentions with Lampang: to see the teak wood carvers and a few of the town’s many temples.
“Yeah,” he said. “You could do that. Or I could show you the real Lampang. I want to show you. This is from the bottom of my heart.”
And indeed, he did.
We visited his friend, an artist who crafted leather goods with precision, adorning skulls with acrylic and fuel tanks with ink. Through Win, we visited a little-known mountainside temple, survived a perilous tuk-tuk ride, drank soft-boiled eggs from a glass, sipped coffee from a cup with a plastic-bag handle and did so much more we might never have done were it not for Win.
We met some of his regulars at the restaurant: producers, artists, writers and photographers, many of whom are his friends. We saw his engagement photos, watched his wedding video and touched his new wife’s belly bearing a newly budding baby. He invited us into his kitchen and invited us into his home and let ask about his life and his mind and, a typical millennial, his plans, of which he has many.
“Win,” I said on our last day with him. “What are you dreaming up next?”
I was expecting him to announce opening a motorcycle shop or a writing a book or recording an album or becoming a tattoo artist.
“I want to open a custom ceramics shop,” he said.
A fresh new take on an old industry. The next generation of Thailand is indeed a bright one.