Day to Day

Trip Start Sep 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, April 14, 2006

Time moves especially slow when the weather gets hot. Days pass with me sitting in my living room with fans trained on the laptop. It's approaching hot season, over 100 degrees fahrenheit by late morning sometimes. It drops below auto-sweat level by 3 AM. Usually.

The geckos are in heat again, they sound like exploding cartoons, chirping for a few times then letting loose with a squeak far louder than their tiny bodies should be able to produce. Jo and I have named a few of the ones that live in our house, but they're doing a lousy job at regulating the mosquito population. The mosquitos here are tenacious little stealth ninjas, and they carry some nasty diseases. I put aside any notions of Buddhism and buy an electric flyswatter, which looks like a tennis racket. Before bed I stalk the house zapping the suckers with a satisfying pop.

These days, most of my time in Mae Sot is spent at the computer. It's a little frustrating, so much time spent creating radio programs means hardly any for finding music. I'm leaving the house mostly for food, interviews, or to fix my former students' computers or minidisc recorders. The Organization has packed up and left town by now, taking much of their equipment back with them. But the students continue to produce their weekly radio broadcasts with whatever means they can obtain. Some former soldiers have taken to smuggling weapons for the Karen military, I've taken to smuggling microphones for the civilians.

In the evenings, when there's a possibility of a breeze, Jo and I might hit a restaurant or one of the few bars in town. She's having more of an adventure than me. While I'm busy editing scripts or digging through recordings for soundbites, she's off hanging out with monks, her English students, or families she meets in the Muslim district. She's become an exceptional traveler for a Montana girl, but like me, she's still waiting to see a beach.

To renew our visas, we spend a morning in Burma, across the river in Myawaddy. Foreigners are allowed to "look around" for the day, with the Burmese officials holding your passports. Although Mae Sot isn't prosperous by western standards, the difference in poverty just across the river is amazing. The roads are rarely paved, the houses are shoddier, the bicycle taxi drivers more desperate. We walk around, stopping at teashops and temples, trying to learn about Burmese astrology (there are 8 days in the week, Wednesday night being separate, and the day of your birth decides your fate...). There's one temple built on top of a crocodile statue, another with what I can only call the "disco buddha." Shops sell even cheaper knock-off products than those in Thailand; Chinese-pirated DVD's, their cases covered in dust, really fake Rolexes, fake cell phones... There's tons of old British antiques, cool stuff if one could bring it back. People are friendly, but not especially talkative. It's entirely possible that we were followed the entire morning we were there. As we leave we see a group of Burmese sitting in columns on the sidewalk just outside the immigration gate. They were caught in Thailand without papers and are being deported back to Burma. If the Burmese officials don't like their paperwork (ie they are Karen or have any political history), very bad things could happen to them. Each time we go to Myawaddy, the morning feels like a very long day.

Strange thing; several times since we've been here, too often to be coincidence, a Burmese guy will follow me home from town. He'll stop me politely and, speaking decent English, ask me if I can get him in touch with his lost European girlfriend. Of course I don't know your Belgian/Swedish/Canadian girlfriend, I tell him. The conversation then switches to what am I doing in Mae Sot? This, of course, I don't tell anyone. In the Lonely Planet Thailand guidebook, there's a scam warning that says some shyster will approach a foreigner and ask about a long-lost European girlfriend. The book suggests that these people will eventually ask for money, but this never happens to me. They just chat me up, and subtly ask for bits of information from me, and generally try to follow me home. I might have just had a beer with some French aid workers. Surely then I must be French, what French aid agency might I be working for? I can never prove it, but I'm starting to think they are Burmese spies. I take the long way home after each encounter.

Meanwhile across the border, the Karen are in bad shape. Since the Burmese government just moved their administrative and military capital inland to a town called Pyinmana (away from Rangoon and closer to the ethnic states), lots of Karen villages are being pillaged. Beheadings, rapes, forced labor, burned crops...All the while their public relations people keep saying the "doors to peace are opened," if the Karen leaders want a ceasefire (surrender). The Karen are convinced they would just be wiped out anyway, so it's a lose-lose situation for them. Interesting thing about the capital moving; the government appears convinced the US is about to invade Rangoon. They're having meetings with North Korean representatives and a bomb was found in the Rangoon International School, where many American diplomats' kids go.

Meanwhile the Karen sing in the refugee camps, which grow larger with each attack on Karen territory. I hear horror stories from my old journalist students. This village burnt, this many raped, villagers told to pay for the landmine they stepped on... Some people in Mae Sot claim to have heard shelling from across the river, but I never did. Was it the SPDC approaching or just some clumsy Karen soldier shooting an RPG by accident? This stuff wears on you when you see and hear it day in and day out. I want to see the palm trees and not the amputees. I want to believe that my efforts here with these radio students are going to help. But in the end, I feel mostly helpless in the face of the situation.

But this week is Songkran festival. It's a new year's celebration of sorts, consists of washing Buddha statues and throwing water at passersby. I saw the same thing in Nepal a few years ago, I think most of South Asia does it. A friend of mine has a pair of super-soaker water guns, and blasts the kids back. It is impossible to walk the streets without getting drenched. Great fun in these hot days. There's also the token boxing matches, which are set up secretly along the border. If I can get away from this machine, I might go check a few of them out.
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khaas76 on

Hey Bro
Yo Chance! Lex forwarded me a link to the log- craziness. I'm off to northern ghana next month to live with a drumming chief for a couple of months, but it seems pretty tame after reading every one of your stories. Keep up the good work and stay safe.

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