Thursday, June 25, 2009

also. abacus has taken to peering over the side of her pushchair, watching the road or the pram wheels or something, it must look so strange to the other pedestrians, this baby just hanging over the side of her pram. When she isn't doing that she is sitting upright, refusing to recline back into the seat, she sits there as though some alert sentry, surveying everything around her, the only problem is when the pram stops suddenly and she bangs her head into her toys in front of her.

also. we went to get a dvd out on her library card, but weren't allowed to because the dvd was rated for adults. haha.

abacus the star

yesterday abacus had her paediatrician appointment. After waiting around for a long time, because apparently we had been misplaced (we were waiting in the room where the nurse had measured and weighed her), we had a really good meeting with the doctor. It couldn't have gone better. Dr Richardson loves Abacus and we would love for him to be in her life forever. He was so impressed with her progress and gave us so much positivity that any doubts we had by michelles report a few days earlier were completely put out mind. He didn't want to bother taking bloods because she was so obvioulsy not affected by any of the things they would be testing for and deferred them for her next appointment in 6 months. Her growth is phenomenal, she is above the 100 precntile in height for downs kids and about midrange in weight, so tall and skinny, bucking the trends - as usual!

She has been giggling a lot lately and giggled a lot at the hospital while we were waiting. She has also taken to a very pained expression in the face of strangers (and potential babysitters), which the dr thought was good. He was impressed also with how she was social at creche, not feeling anxious around other kids or adults, smiling at those she knows, watching situations carefully. We can't wait to visit Dr. Richardson again, as we left he said he had a family of four kids to see next and smiled that he wasn't looking forward to it. He walked out with us and yelled playfully the family name of his next patients and they came running as he bit his finger nails in playful overacting, while yet another of the clan emerged from the play house and followed his siblings into the office behind the dr.

Such people as Dr. Richardson are indespensible in this world.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I already knew the conclusion from the letter, as Danielle had told me. Even so, reading through it myself I think I had the same reaction as her. It was a letter from Abacus's neurodevelopmental therapist to her paediatrician. It went through all of the things Abacus can do and it reads like a proud list, but it's in the last paragraph where it is concluded that this list of accomplishments puts her at the average ability of someone her age with downs syndrome, that kind of takes one back a bit. I don't know why this makes me feel anxious, I shouldn't, but you want to know you're doing the best for her and you wonder what you can do to make things better, we can't know what that means at this point in her life, and maybe it is only because her progress is so meticulously scrutinised and documented that we're exposed to such grading. . .

Sunday, June 7, 2009

kia ora.

Abacus had a good day today. She still has a bit of a cough and her face is still pretty oozy around her eyes and nose, and she woke up this morning with a snotlock ( a dreadlock formed by snot), but she is very happy. She went to creche where she met with her neurodevelopmental therapist. She impressed her with all her sitting and vocalising and rolling around to get get things, she is very inqusitive and reaches everywhere for objects out of her reach, even to her own detriment as her scratched up nose will attest. She really likes baths again(in Thailand she had grown some aversion to the small baby bath we'd bought her and we had taken to washing her in the shower with us, which she didn't mind, except she got a bout as slippery as a bar of soap!), since we've been back and in our new flat with a big bath, she loves splashing around and playing with her sponges.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

a message from abacus

h, cxz

Friday, June 5, 2009

Abacus has been a bit sick the last couple of days, which makes her quite cuddly, but also snotty which makes cuddling less fun. Her voice sounds like a cross between a rusty squeeking gate anda  chalkboard, which occasionally, when said in sharp bursts sounds like a dolphin. While she is more cranky she is also manically happy, last night she cried so much when we put her to bed that we let her watch tv on our bed, she stayed up for another 2 hours happy and wide awake before slowly falling asleep i think she just wanted to be around us. Unfortunately though this morning, after waking up at 5 crying, she had to miss creche, and consequently her neurodevelopmental appointment who was to have a session with her there, but she'll meet her on monday instead.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


i have completely neglected this site and flickr for tooooooo long!

abacus had her annual heart appointment the other day, we took the bus out in the rain and found our way too quickly and easilly to the cardio rooms in the new hospital, which looks now like a real hospital and not like some menacing soviet era place of suffering, and so were stuck with half an hour between us and her appointment, which would stretch to 45 until we were seen. In the mean time Abacus brought smiles to all the other uneasy people waiting for their own exams in the waiting room, she chirped happily and smiled cheekily and snuck glances at everyone around her, and i read her a book and in the book it had p is for pants, and aside from the obvious joke, it was accompanied by an illustration of pete showing poly his new pants, and he was holding out the front of them and he and polly with broad grins were both looking down the front of petes new pants. hrmmm. in the same book it had tom tripping, and with an absence of any reference to ground, the illustration rendered tom floating through space with toys floating around him, tom trips indeed. i don't know what kind of book this was supposed to be. 

Abacus' was about 15 minutes overdue for her nap when I carried her tiredly rubbing her eyes onto the hospital bed, the contact between the ultra sound wand and her impatiently tired scream were instant and so the sonographer went in search of toys while I quickly made her a bottle of milk in the hand washing sink. The bright flashing millipede only intensified her anguish but she sucked soothingly on the bottle and settled immediately without another peep, suspiciously pacifying herself with her milk while she watched with interest, her own heart in granular resolution, and listened to the mechanical beats accompanying it like some vj drum and bass show. 

The sonographers of course are not allowed to tell you anything, but I heard in a quiet conversation between them, they mention "turbulance", Danielle later translated this to mean the murmor is still present. We have a pediatrician appointment soon, which is when we find the results of such tests, but we are still hopeful the ASD will heal itself within the next 4 years. 

Aside from that Abacus is just going from strength to strength, she sits now like she could always do it, she plays with her toys, rolls around to get to them, she gorges herself on bread and loves marmite with avocado and loves peanut butter, she's happy to see us when we pick her up from creche or when we come home. She talks in her baby language almost non-stop and she seems to get cuter and cuter!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

a new year

so a year of life a year of parenting a. of course its all documented here. from the 1.5 kilo fetus that joined the world and lived for a month in a plastic box before venturing out onto foreign shores while all the while developing a personality that was all her own.

in some ways it seems it couldn't possibly have been a year and in others it seems as though all of this couldn't possibly have fit into a single year.

one feeling though, that is a little unusual is the idea that i feel as though a year has passed, that i stand with some sense of perspective, a point of reference to reflect upon. i've never before got to new years day or my birthday and felt as though a new year stood before me, an old one behind, it was an arbitrary date, but i feel now as though everything is meausered out from that day. We could almost make it a new years day, being 2 months premature it's not really a true marker of her progress as reflected by age (a point of relevence up until the age of 5 apparently), so maybe we could celebrate her birthday on June 26th and save this day as something extra, i think we all deserve it. hehe. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

looking back

It's been over a year since Danielle was admitted to hospital with the impending birth of our baby daughter. I had to force myself to read back over the blog from that time, I thought it might still be too difficult to face those feelings again, for while we are a happy family, it is still easy to tap into that frame of mind that I found myself in last year. The below was written exactly a year ago, a day before the birth:

"And so everything changed again. And now we know exactly what's happening we just have to wait for it. A little in limbo, like pausing time right before something is about to happen, while knowing that the time elapsing will do nothing to prepare you or educate you for what is going to happen when you unpause. I think in a couple of days from now, when everything has settled down into some sort of consistency, I'm going to sleep like a hibernating bear."

It's strange to have such omniscient knowledge over ones own past, a dramatic irony which can powerfully foretell the future yet do nothing to stop things from happening. How little we knew a year ago, of the things which lay ahead. In fact when I think about what I said, about getting into some sense of consitency, I don't think that person would have believed anyone who told him he would not find that feeling until many months from there, and many miles too, when he found himself in Mae Sot (especially seems he thought he was going to Panama at that point, he could not have known of the coming flood which would rip through Soloy, killing and uprooting so many, and nor would those in the village for that matter, such is the useless power we hold over those characters inhabiting that past world.) It was not until we found ourselves alone and as foreigners that we were able to understand things from our own perspective, I don't think I realised that, until reading that year old entry. We were until that time beset by situations and people and had little time to consider who we are as a family. That time alone was so important for us, as being able to determine our lives for ourselves still is.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Abacus and I had a weekend to ourselves while Danielle went for a 3 day seminar in Kaikoura. I went to pick her up from creche at 2, having left work early to do so, only to find she'd gone to sleep at 1:50, and didn't wake up again until 3:40! cheeky girl. Fortunately I had a long book to pass the time with(McCarthy's Border Trilogy - it's  hella good!). We had a great weekend, despite having to negotiate a bus to go to Karori, two things I vowed never to do again, but Abacus needed to go to the doctor. Doctors by the way can be waaaaaay nicer than their secretaries! We did a lot of walking around which Abacus seemed to enjoy. I noticed everyone giggling at her and looked down to find she was smiling at everyone with her cheeky grin. 

She's started to roll around a lot to get to things, she rolled to a chair and lay there talking to it for a long time. She also loves rolling uner the clothes horse and playing with the drying clothes. Like all babies she's much more interested in such things than her toys. She's still balancing for a few seconds sitting up, she tries to push herself up into a sitting position and puts her arms in the right place, but they are just that bit too shortt that she can't get up all the way! 

It's almost been a year since we met here face to face. Hard to believe, in many ways it seems like it wasn't long ago, and in many it seems like all this couldn't have fit into a year.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

confronting obstacles

Abacus has brought so much to our lives and others. She has forced me to challenge things which I was once somewhat passive to, forced me to consider things whether I'd like to or not. 

I remember Danielle saying how when parents are asked about their children being born with normative impairments, whether they would wish them to be born differently, they reply, "No, because I love them how they are." But she raised the point that there is something more than that, more than just the child and loving them for who they are, it is something about a door which opens onto world from which you cannot come back, you see the world from a perspective you had never before imagined, it is an enlightening place that I would not choose to leave if I could. It has illuminated even the most careless shadows of ignorance.  

I write this because of an incident that happened, where a comic was placed on a public noticeboard, I won't say where, but I knew who had done it. I wrote them the email below.

"I understand it was you who put the comic on the notice board about mentally handicapped people. My daughter as you know has Trisomy 21 and I found the comic to be offensive. The offense goes deeper than just a point of taste. It is difficult to see the future of my 10 month old daughter be mapped out in such crude portents. These little pieces of somewhat socially accepted ridicule add up to a wall that puts the subjects of those “jokes” on the outside of normative society. This division is through no fault of their own and the most hurtful part is that it is perpetrated by those who have the mental faculties to make better judgement. 

Having Abacus has been the greatest and most rewarding challenge to any prejudice I have ever harboured. While you might not consider the comic you posted to have been prejudice, it is this misunderstanding of what prejudice is, which proliferates it, and those on the receiving end never miss it."

I wanted to share this with you because these things exist. And if I can impart any of the knowledge I have gained from knowing Abacus, that it can be proliferated in whatever way to cut a path along which her journey through life may be less impeded. 

Just so you know, the person I wrote the email to is not a bad person at all. They were extremely apologetic for it, a gesture which choked me up with its sincerity. I'm sure that it will have a lasting effect on them and me too, to know that standing up for what I see as being wrong has positive outcomes. Abacus has such a profound effect on the world with which she has scarcely even begun to interact. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

A strange coincidence

yesterday morning I went to WINZ to apply for accommodation supplement, (for everyone living in less socialist countries, that's when the governement helps you pay for your rent/board/mortgage - provided you fit within certain requirements which are often arbitrary and let many people slip through the gaps) and so i was meeting with our case manager which isn't all that remarkable, except that Danielle was studying with a girl from her class that very day and found out the girls partner works at WINZ and it turned out that her partner was the very person who I was talking to. wierd. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

teeth and sitting

so much happened today. this morning danielle felt two sharp ridges growing out of abacuses bottom gum. What's funny is that she's really chill about it, after all the times we blamed her restless nights or grisliness on teething that never materialised, she now has teeth coming through with no fuss.

Then this afternoon she was practicing sitting, which she was doing on our knees and was happily screaming ever time she lost balance, then we put her on the floor and she sat for a good 15 seconds, I think she will be sitting up by her may 5th birthday! She's doing so well. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Abacus is a pretty happy little baby, she smiles a lot. We have moved into our ideal flat, its perfect and we feel more settled now after 2 days, than we did in our last flat after 6 weeks. 

We drove to Palmerston North for a easter and abacus slept for an hour, waking up halfway along the journey and going back to sleep for another hour after I guess being bored. She had a good time at her great grandmothers house, with her grandparents and aunty and uncle and cousin. On the way back abacus was awake the whole ride, talking quietly to herself and playing with her little sunflower soft toy. We finally went to Denny's for dinner, it's in a town a bit too far from Wellington to go to for a laugh. Abacus loved it, she was really happy, and fed herself a piece f breadcrust, holding on to it with a fist and ripping bits of it with her gummy mouth, she really enjoyed it. She finaly fell asleep just as we got home.

We've been giving her a bit of sitting practice with her little wooden chair as seen above. It might take a bit longer before she gets there on her own.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


so what happened was we were in thailand and we needed a place to move into when we got back to new zealand, so Jonno happened to be leaving his flat at the same time we were getting back, so we were able to negotiate getting it, but the only thing was the flat was for sale, though they didn't think it would sell for a while, so we got back and moved in and then a week later it was sold! so we were given the standard 42 days to GET OUT! We looked and looked and looked for weekends and weeks, which is pretty taxing when you're taking busses and a baby, but finally we found a flat 3minutes from creche, 5 minutes from university and 15 minutes from work. Whoo! there were hella people checking it out, but the next day we got an email saying we were successful! Yay. because we were getting tired of walking 10-15 minutes to catch the bus so early in the morning to get Abacus to creche and to get to work and university, and investing so much in leaving the house, knowing there was no going back for anything forgotten, unless you wanted to spend so long getting back to the house. It was a nice flat though, a nice view, and nice sun and the layout was a good use of space and I'm really happy we had it, but we can't wait to settle into our new place.

Last night we were making Abacus giggle hysterically. It was so cute. And the neuro therapist brought her a chair thing to help her sit up, Danielle aptly said it was like some woodshop students project, a pretty severely made wooden device, but it has a little table for her to play with things and she seems to like it. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

another blog ? yep!

remember me? i was writing a regular blog there for a while. so we're back but have not completely adjusted to life on our weather beaten strip of land. abacus is going to creche 3 times a week. She seems to love it very much, there are a few other babies she hangs with and she seems very happy there. It seems it is also exhausting, she d been going there only a couple of days before she finally slept through the night, and not just through the night, she slept for 13 hours straight! She continued sleeping pretty well, she still wakes up sometimes but doesn't need feeding and can put herself back to sleep after a few minutes of crying, her thumb has become a replacement for her dummy when one is not around. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

new zealand

i ve written things, it all gets a bit this happened then this then that, so i've not posted them.

What happened was we got home and it was raining and cold.

On a bus a couple of days later the driver said, "You'll need to ask someone to vacate their seat to put the pushchair there, but it's not my responsibility, you'll have to ask yourself, it's not my job." "um, ok?"
A couple of people gratiously got up, one lady frowned at us, didn't budge, frowned the whole bus ride, got off frowning. People walked with push chairs covered in plastic, like little collectable dolls too afraid to take them out of the pack, wide footpaths everywhere, one or two people on them, everything looked sterile everyone looked cold, stoic, unwelcoming. A couple of people said hello and  smiled at Abacus, went up to her and made faces, they were Asian. The people between us and our friends seemed like props, with whom it was impossible to become spontaneously friendly. 

It was good to see people we knew again, but we missed Mae Sot as the setting.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Things left unsaid:

The Burmese maids at our guest house do an amazing amount of work. We have watched them clean rooms, wash all the guests laundry by hand, maintain bicycles, concrete some steps and set tiles into them, dig huge holes to put log seats into, chase snakes out of the garden. They love Abacus to bits, they stop work and rush over to her when we arrive back, or leave our room. One has 6 or 7 children, we met the youngest who is about 10, the eldest is in their late 20's. I don't know what they are paid. One of our friends went to to leave after three months of staying here and the owner charged her a full nights rent to store her bags for half a day. She comes off friendly, but I imagine she doesn't hire Burmese to help their cause.

There's a lot of whitening products here, even under arm deodorant. 

They bought a fish tank for the guest house, but to save on electricity they kept unplugging the pump, the first two died within a day, one of the next two suffered the same fate at which point I kept plugging the pump back in everytime I saw it out, this maintained the fourth ones life for almost a week, before we saw the fish tank sitting empty of water. It was too cold for them, the owner said.

Oneday I bought some chicken from the chicken lady, danielle laughed first of all because I'd been ripped me off for what I got, then we weren't quite sure what part of the chicken it was, (after I'd taken a bite), Danielle thought it was knuckles, "no it's not, it's worse" I said, just before spitting it out, it was a skewer of chicken butts.  

There's another woman who sits crosslegged in front of a giant wok full of oil, cooking over a drum, she deep fries what looks like shredded potato or taro, they're like deep fried hashbrowns, but while she's cooking it, she's wearing a medical facemask, and I'm like, that's not really the sort of place I'm going to eat, where the chef has to wear a facemask to cook the stuff.

There's a thing called a taro basket. Its an awesome example of edible packaging and comes full of delicious chicken, cashew and vegetable curry, it's one of my favourite dishes - but if you order it to take away, your ecofriendly tarobasket comes inside a non-recyclable styrofoam package.

Burma still has music and movie industries, movie stars and pop stars. Burmese teens still aspire to be like them. They have hiphop and the Burmese rappers look not disimilar to their American gangsta counterparts, with girls dancing in the background of their videos. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

last supper

It feels like i've already left. Last night we had dinner with friends which only made leaving all the harder, even though I was eaten alive by mosquitos at the restaurant, with one bite causing my whole forearm to swell up. 
We waited around for half an hour for danielles "coordinator" to give her money to cover costs, she never showed, but we got a text two hours later asking if we were still waiting at the rendezvous point, because she was held up at work. 
The NGO where Danielle teaches Thais, gave her a cake, which on the way home, we donated to the detention centre, written on the cake it said "Help without frontiers", I liked the idea of slipping a covert message to them inside a cake, not that they could probably decypher it, and not like the cake would deliver them the reality of its message. They took truckloads of detainees back to Myawaddy the other day, they smiled at me unfazed from behind the mesh covered open windows and gave me cheerfull hello's. Was it part of the game to them? I think a lot of western people impose their own feelings on such things, I think we look with tragedy and come away with an overall feeling of sadness which we then convey to others, which is not indicative of how people act here . The situation is tragic, and life can be a battle of course, but people still act happy, they find it difficult to suppress their smiles.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to bully someone into a favour and make them feel bad about it.

(A lesson in discourse analysis)
Every afternoon she teaches a boy under a gazeebo at a guest house. One day she arrived and some Farang was doing work there, so she set up the lesson on another table which was more public, but she didn't care, the Gazeebo was anyones. She began the lesson and after a few minutes, a man came over and said, (let's say John?) "John's just clearing off his stuff so you can have the gazeebo, because it's important to teach this little guy." 
"Oh, ok? It's ok, we've already started."
"No, no, you usually do it there, he's already started packing up."
"I didn't ask him to." She thinks, as she packs up the lesson to move it. 
While she's packing up her stuff he adds, "He usually does his work there in the afternoons, because he doesn't like being near the TV and all the guests coming and going, but he's going to move so you can use it."
Why did he feel he needed to add that? It feels like she's accepting a favour at gun point, as though she's burdoning someone without saying a word. Were they trying to participate in her good deed? Or did they feel shamed by some guilt that has nothing to do with her and are somehow blaming her for making them feel it?John is still packing up when they reach the gazeebo.  
"I'm sorry I just get so absorbed in my work I completely lose track of time and become completely oblivious to everything around me. Just, when you see me on here, just come and tell me and I'll move.OK?" 
"It's no big deal, I can teach him over there."
"No, no, this is a good spot to teach him. We're just going to the house over there, so when Pam turns up, tell her to go over there because I have the key, don't let her go down to the other house because she won't be able to get in. Ok?"
"Uh, OK." Which translates to, "I didn't ask for any of this, why are you making me do things? I don't even know you.

The next day John's working there again, and the little boy she teaches is asleep on the bench beside him. She sneaks up and taps the boy on the shoulder and with her finger to her lips, she whispers, "Let's go over there.", pointing to the table they had started at the day before. A few minutes into the lesson, John appears at the table saying, "You didn't do what I told you!" And for a moment, she gets a glimpse into the frustration which indigenous cultures feel towards white people, who seem to have this compulsion to help even when they're not needed, or especiallywhen they're not needed, which just goes further towards dominating and alienating and destroying. Just stop interfering!

And after this point of epiphany, a strange coincidence later converges on her, as she overhears John, and his plastic, Floridian tanned wife, talking loudly and obnoxiously to a Burmese monk, who had walked from Bangkok to Mae Sot to spread the message of Burma. They wanted their photo taken with him so they can tell everyone about him "back home". "We just think the Burmese cause is such a good one, we want to do everything we can to help."
"What about the Native Americans?" She asks. "What are you doing to help them? Do you even think about them? Did you realise they're still occupied? That they have no self governance? That they are still resisting like the monk is? Did you realise that they are resisting you?!" The words don't come out, they swarm in a maelstrom inside her head, because she knows they'll never understand.
Stupid white man.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

darwin - leaving - retractsplanation

One for the Darwin Awards
An adult student tells her teacher, "I'm sorry I wasn't at class yesterday, my uncle, he's 60 and he was eating chicken and he got up to do something and when he got back, a cat was eating his chicken, he got so angry that he chased the cat through the house and fell off the 2nd story of his house and died." The teacher has to fight the smile, suppress the laughter. I vote we just laugh when people die in funny ways. Later on, after killing about 15 mosquitos in the room I was about to climb on a chair to swat at one on the roof when the students story flashed into my head, the mosquito is not worth it, I reluctantly admitted.
We have just finalised a flat to move back to in Wellington (thanks Jonno!). It makes leaving a reality and I don't think I'm ready to go yet. I've learned so much here, but there' so much more to know and the opportunities disappear with each day. I really like Mae Sot, I like the people, I like how there's so much going on and so much to tap into. We've gotten to know so many locals and they've gotten to know Abacus (I would say us, but who am I kidding). We probably know more volunteers here than people in Wellington, we know almost every restaurant worker and everyone along our daily routes. I'm missing Mae Sot already.
I'm conscious of the fact that I may have inadvertantly made this place out to be hell (like when I said it's shit here - I meant the situation - sorry), that you imagine the people to be unhappy, but no, the people are happy and they no more want to leave here than most people want to leave their own homeland. Burma and Thailand are as nonsensicaly home to them as any country is to a native inhabitant, who refuses to reflect upon the possibility that the attachment they feel to it is culturally taught. The people of Burma don't want to get out, they want their story to get out, they wouldn't mind if the government got out, but Burma is their home.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Don't go out without a sweater, it's 30 degrees out there.

The heat is well and truely back, it envelops you at night like an irremovable and unwanted blanket, and torments you in the afternoon, though the weather forecast in the paper calls it a chilly 21-33degrees celcius. Brrrrrr. However, there is a strong wool industry in mae Sot, woolen hats and sweaters, it makes me nauseous looking at them, but the locals are wrapped up in jackets and gloves and woolen hats, even in the hottest part of the Thai winter day. In the world forecast, Auckland at the height of summer was boasting 23 degrees max and I longed for that coolness.

In the absence of shrines people leave offerings to trees. They hang from the branches, the usual samplings of food and bottles or bags of sodas (with straws of course, what spirit or deity would drink fanta from the bottle?) and red ribbons with little white flowers attached to them. It looks really pretty to see trees adorned with gifts, if I worshipped anything, I think I'd worship trees. 


One thing I'll never tire of, is two cops to a motorbike, I'm yet to capture it on camera, but it cracks me up everytime. I also saw a cop riding an official police motorbike with "Rebel" written on the gas tank.

mermen and detained cows

Yesterday a Burmese guy lead a cow into the detention center where it was tied up amongst the impounded rubbish carts. At the same time a guy rode passed on a scooter with a giant fish tail tied to the seat behind him, it was so big it looked like a continuation of his body, with its tail fin flopping neatly off the end of the scooter, he looked like a merman going for a ride. 

the racist dogs
burmese people
one chased down
a young
rubbish collector
but didn't 




last trip to burma

Yesterday was our last visit to Burma. It was quick and painless, we handed them our passports, did a lap of the block, got our passports back and returned to Thailand over the friendship bridge. Beneath the bridge we saw an official sitting by the river, an M16 sat in his lap, with an extra large magazine attached, he talked to a friend, while behind him, the inner tubes took people illegaly back and forth between Thailand and Burma. 
It was a lazy hot day in Mywaddy, the streets were more desolate than usual, we watched a group of five men, trying to lift a five foot stack of 7x3 foot thick iron plates onto the back of a truck, which a forklift would have done in no time. People washed their clothes down in the river amongst the floating plastic bottles and other refuse, at the base of the steps, which I realised now bear resemblance to Indian Ghats. On the Thai side of the bridge, I watched two Burmese men below, play chinese checkers with bottle caps and stones, on a crisscrossed board, scribed into the concrete footpath with rock. Beside them sat a shopping bag full of cigarette cartons, purchased in the blackmarket of rusted corrogated iron roofs, which stretched on and on. 
In the Song Thau back to Mae Sot I  talked to a Burmese man, a 66 year old bachelor he said, who was here because his friend was getting married. He was visiting for a day, with one of those green, disposable passports, which are made from a single folded piece of cardboard. His english was pretty good, he said when he was young, Burmese could speak and write english very well, "Now, not so good", with a hint of sadness in the corners of his mouth, its about as far as he would go on the subject.

Abacus was babysat by a friend while we went to a pool in a resort which was impossibly big for Mae Sot, we wondered who stayed there and how full it ever got. There was a baby at the pool, she cried and I looked up before realising that Abacus was miles away. We ordered a couple of drinks and some food, which looked kind of like deep fried folliage and when we came to pay, we found a lot more had been added to our bill, which took them a long time to figure out, despite the fact that on our table, sat the remains of all we'd ordered. It was reminiscent of our previous trip to Thailand, where our interactions with the citizens, were confined only to the currency of commerce, it had left a sour taste beneath our adventure. We felt fortunate for the time we'd spent in Mae Sot, where we'd got to interact on a more human level, with both Thais and Burmese. 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

faliz ano nuevo

The drums started early, distant but loud. Soon it seemed as though they were surrounding us with what sounded like a steady mantra chanted over loudspeaker and the sound of crackers, like paper tearing amplified a million times, something ominous was moving through Mae Sot. It felt like some Beatles "Tomorrow never knows" scene and so early in the morning, such confusing realities are difficult to awaken into. I knew that we had to go, Danielle had already left for beakfast, so I packed Abacus into her pram, confused that I wasn't ignoring her morning loud talking. We followed the sound of the drums, like the lost children of Hamlein. We could see the trail of smoke of where they had already been and soon we were amongst the prosession of booming drums and crashing symbols and the spark pierced smoke of firecrackers, whose noise tore holes through everything else. Men in faint olive coloured Chairman Mao style suits with blue medical masks led the yellow t-shirted youth through the town, some who played on mobile drums, some who led and carried a giant dragon, snaking through the streets, some pasting up new gold on red Chinese scripts on the threshold of the stores, some setting off the crackers which hung from the shop awnings, almost to the ground, while a short buddha with a large mask danced through the stores, chasing away the evil spirits within, using his red fan and a lion faced dragon sidekick. As they moved down the street, the police stopped all the traffic at an intersection, while the Buddha and his dragon danced at the crossroads, in a playful game of submission. All the time the drums kept a steady rhythm and the mantra spoke out from a flatbed truck and the crackers boomed and ripped themselves to shreds, as well as the air around them. And about this time I looked down at abacus and saw she was screaming, I hadn't realised how loud it was until I noticed i couldn't hear her at all. I ran to take refuge down a side street and waited for the prosession to pass us, like frightened evil spirits. As they moved on, we came back out, but the crackers weren't done yet and Abacus face once again burst into silent scream, so we retreated again. A nice old Chinese man came up and put some cotton wool in her ears and we left through the residual smoke, through the shopowners sweeping up the red scraps of cracker paper, back to the guest house, with a feeling that we'd experienced something truely ceremonial. The people embracing their costumes in distorted movements which abandoned their semblance to human form,  the totality of the towns involvement, it reminded me of some medieval village and I knew instantly that Chinese New year was my favourite holiday, it felt like something had happened, that we were prepared for a new year.
Later, after Abacus was calm, we went to the cafe to chillax, she was almost asleep, but the parrade was far from over, it was now coming back from the opposite way it had been moving when we had fled. We hid inside the cafe, but the giant dragon rested outside its doors and then the Buddha and his smaller dragon came inside to rid the evil spirits, we hoped they didn't notice us, the cowering spectres in human form. And then they let off crackers outside the door. The thin glass was not enough to keep the sound from unsettling Abacus, who might never get used to the sound. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

broken spirit houses

A quiet moment, as a women kneeled before a tree, one hand held open palmed in front of her nose to center herself, in a one handed prayer. With her other hand, she poured water from a bottle, onto the roots of the tree. The carboot salespeople chatted amongst themselves, not many customers today and later, they would all gather together to push start one of their mobile stores, it finally spluttering to a start, in a cloud of thick black smoke, "Kup Kun Kaaaaaaa", as she sped away. It dawned on me that there is only a week and a half left and I got those pangs of not having done enough here, even though we are looking forward to returning home, this has been a realy important journey for us. 

This morning, on our usual shortcut through the police station, we saw a cop with his eyes closed and his head resting in his hands, while an M16 sat in front of him on the table. It reminded me of something a friend had said, about the banality of adventurous work in exotic places, it all turns to routine in the end. So too does the deadly weapon lose its power in the face of ubiquity, the job its importance to the human who only wants to sleep. Even though the examples of its tyranny populate the streets of Mae Sot, the beggar on crutches, pleading for food or money, with the burn marks crawling down his arm to your shiney pitifull coins. Oneday our friend was walking passed the police station and some cops pointed their guns at her for a laugh, hohoho the banality of power is the most dangerous of all. 

There have been a few articles about Burma in the paper, mainly about the Rohingya boat people, how the Thai General said "the accusations of mistreatment are so baseless there's no need for an investigation". Did you know the U.N requested to speak to the 130 odd boat people who had just been detained by the Thai Navy? This was after the others they'd sent back to sea with no motors, food or water had washed up in other countries with their stories of abuse, less about 700. The goverenment could not get any information from it's millitary - because of course the millitary backed the governments appointment - when the U.N finally received an answer, it was this, "They've gone." Towed out to sea and left to die like the others perhaps? But yesterday I read the kind of article you want to read. It was not about any breaking story, no sensationalist expose. It was a new years article about the lumbering giant of a story that is Burma, nothing new to report, "So far, so bad", was the quote, an article printed so that no one would forget about Burma. And I looked at NewZealand news sites and saw the top stories were, Man dead after being caught in machine, Cricket players may not be fit to play, Australian model receives apology over sex slur, and on and on and on. As I walked home passed the detention centre today, and saw the families sitting along the outside of the cage, talking to those inside, accepting the normality of their situation, any veneer of romanticism fell away and all I could think was, "It's shit here." It is, but everyone smiles through it, it's just the banal workings of everyday life. A spirit house is a letterbox sized house, which sits on a post outside a Thai house, the idea being that the spirits would rather live in the elaborate miniature than haunt the persons home. On a piece of vacant land opposite the detention center, where a goatherd takes his goats everyday, there are a bunch of broken spirit houses lying amongst the rubbish and leaves and dirt, I think of the visitors of the inmates, who come here to leave offerings and prayers to these replica ruins, as tending to the broken spirits of the detention center.


Yesterday was a very productive one for Abacus. She's rolling over and over now and looking when you call to her, sometimes. I dropped a facecloth on her face, mainly as a joke and she removed it promptly with her hand, which I didn't even know she could do, I kept doing it and she used both hands until she became bored with the game and started sucking her thumb through the facecloth. She's pretty far from sitting up still but we're really happy with the progess she's made, particularly with her vocalisations, which she has a wide range of now. She's also outgrown most of her clothes and is pretty smiley and happy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

po po

Imagine if a bus full of migrant school students were going on a field trip to a pagoda and along the way they were pulled over by the police for no reason, other than that they were Burmese. Imagine then that the police check their ID papers and ignore their pleas that they are students in Mae Sot and take them back to the police station. Then imagine that, while the class was sitting at the police station, waiting for their headmaster to come with the 10,000 baht bribe to have them released, their teacher walked passed with her 7 month old baby and partner, as they always use the police station as a shortcut. The trio were completely oblivious to the students situation and wouldn't find out until the teacher was told by her giggling excited students on monday, "We saw you yesterday from the police station! But we couldn't call out to you because of the police officer, hehehehe!"

Today at the station there was a mobile store selling police equipment. I'm wondering if anyone can buy it, or if you have to be an officer. They've got some cool looking stuff, I would get a helmet and a stab vest and some mirror shiney shoes. I also wonder whether the police have to buy their equipment out of their own pocket. Danielle attended a lecture by the former head of the UN Convention Against Corruption, where she learned that police in Mexico have to rent their equipment - their guns and cars - before entering a lottery to find out where they will patrol that night. Of course the only way they can make the money back, lost on their equipment, is to use the equpiment to extort money from civilians - a lot of the time these are westerners - who of course have more money, but Mexicans are of course the more numerous targets. I don't know if it is the same in Thailand, but the police store semed to suggest it. It's that environment which makes corruption inevitable. So a van load of Burmese students, from a well off school - byMae Sot standards, would be a windfall for the Mae Sot Pirates - I mean, police. 

Not that the Thai Police ever extort money from westerers, that I've heard. Except, in the southern island of Kho Pan Ngan, where we stayed two years ago. Every full moon, stupid westerners flock there for the "Full Moon Party" (A western invention), and every month the police set up road blocks to search for drugs, collecting massive fines from the tourists. Which seems fair enough, drugs are illegal. Except that at the place where we stayed, marijuana was ubiquitous, we found out it was dealt by the owner of the resort. One time the chief of police turned up to the resort - he was the owners husband. So. Maybe, the stuff is dealt, with connection to the police, the police confiscate it, fine and deport the westerner who possessed it, and put it back into circulation. There's something in there, about moon cycles and weed circulation.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

back log = blog

On Friday night, coming home from dinner I saw what I thought was a giant bat fly in front of a street light, then I realised it was more like an owl. But then, eerily, a few meters later we found a tiny bat crawling on the road - an absolute coincidence, I'd never seen a bat nor an owl here before. It was though I had imagined it intp existence, or rather, mistakeningly identified it into existence. It seemed to be injured and I tried to get a photo, but it was too dark and then suddenly its boney body crawled along and it flew away into the night. 
On saturday a girl offered to babysit abacus for a couple of hours. The only problem was she lived a lot further away than we'd thought. We walked for almost half an hour under an exaustingly hot sun, which evaporated any energy we might have had to use for our time alone. By the time we got home again we fell asleep and woke up with just enough time to get back to pick her up. We hoped to find a tuk tuk but they were all full, so in desperation we managed to thumb a ride on the back of a pick up. Luckily we got a tuktuk back, there was no way we would have walked. Danielle was too exhausted to teach the little boy english, so - i guess ironically - we played badminton with him. He loves badminton and is really competitive.
We were awoken at about 4 or 5 this morning by fireworks, for chinese new year apparently. We heard it'll be even earlier tomorrow, at least it'll be the end of the drumming practice in the evenings - unless they start the next day for next years cellebration, which judging by their dedication and discipline, wouldn't surprise me. We had brunch this morning with a doctor who we've seen around a lot. She's probably the coolest person we've met here and we had lots to talk about. She works at the mallaria clinics and works around the poorer communities. We talked about the competitive nature of medicine and of how it ends up leaving you flat and unfullfilled, that the payoff from working to years training is not an equal exchange rate (she's happy though, now, doing this kind of work). She also solved a mystery from the night before, when we were walking hom we came across a burmese mother and her infant son, danielle held the son and noticed he had no nappy under his pants. But the doctor told us they don't use nappies and often in the clinics, the mothers will use their sarongs to catch the urine from the babies, or just hold them over the floor to pee. They don't see urine as dirty because it is ubiquitous.
The fireworks have continued all day, but they're not at all spectacular, just loud crackers, like tomthumbs, loud noises are used to ward of evil spirits for the new years. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

There's no pedestrian crossings, there's a couple of zebra crossings here and there but they're just meaningless stripes across the road, they may even be zebras, who made the death wish to get to the other side. So when you're waiting for the steady stream of traffic to end, the last thing you want is for the last car to go slowly because they're looking at Abacus and saying "Baby!" to you out the window, allowing the distant cars behind it to catch up. Gah!

Abacus, I think, has finally cracked the whole reaching and grabbing thing. I did a lot of practice with her today and she's pretty much mastered the left hand and is getting the hang of the right hand too. 

Danielle's student, the one she found at a local restaurant, is making such awesome progress. He can read now, and put a jumbled sentence into order, and recognise words. He really loves it too, he's an eager student who never wants class to end. We really want for him to go to a school because he is so bright, but the cafe owner tells us he doesn't want to go to school, that he wants to work and make money. In a way though, what 12 year old wouldn't want to be grown up? Can the adults in his world really charge him with the responsibility of his future, it seems a little manipulative to me, to say "It's his choice, what can we do?". But that is just a cultural difference, there are a set of morals which are not wrong so much as part of a world completely removed for our own, and the cafe owners may very well be trying to do what's best for him. Today Danielle is going to ask him about it through an interpretor, who is a friend of ours.

Yesterday we went to watch the chinese drummers, which pound and crash through the evening air every night. I anticipated seeing about a hundred Chinese people with a hundred drums and cymbols, but we found only a single drummer, who was surrounded by four other people holding cymbols, they were all about 12. I can't believe the sound they produce.

Today we walked in search of the swimming pool. Such tasks are never as easy as you think. It was really hot today, the type of heat that makes you dizzy and drains your energy. The shade, if you could find it, seemed to reduce the temperature by 10 degrees. We knew the pool was somewhere off the main road, we asked directions, with Danielle pantomiming swimming by using freestyle arm movements. They pointed us down into the maze of suburbia, whose concrete walls only add to the ominous labyrinthine feel. We came across dogs which we chased off with sticks, we now have two sticks in the pram, after finding ourselves stickless when faced by a racist dog on our way to Burma, I want a long one, that I can keep sheathed on the side of the pram. One of the dogs charged us, but it was merely trying to get passed to bark at us from behind, in a calculated bullrushian move. We weaved through the meandering streets, where behind the gates of the suburban houses we saw the wooden dome baskets, which house prize roosters. But the maze spat us back out on the main street, with no sign of a pool so, defeated, we returned home.

What follows is about Burma and students and stuff, so if you're not into that sort of thing...also it is only what I've heard through various sources since arriving here, I don't have evidence, direct quotes or facts. 
So listen, the Burma thing is not so clear cut, there isn't just a government against its people. Burma is a united country of states, each distinguished by its specific ethnicity. If you meet someone you suspect is from Burma, you shouldn't say, "Are you Burmese?", because the Burmese are just one ethnic group within Burma. The sad thing is, that the Government is ethnically Burmese, which creates  tension between the Burmese and the other ethnicities. If you ask a Karen person if they're Burmese, they could be pretty offended. 
You see the students in Mae Sot, they're here to better their lives, most want to go on to university and with their knowledge transition Burma toward democracy. But these tensions run between the ethnicities. And it goes both ways, a lot of Burmese feel guilt for what's happened, and a lot of students have an abyss of hatred for the Burmese, who's people may well have exterminated their loved ones. The most successful insurgency is the KNU (Karen National Union), the Karen, who have never identified as being part of Burma, were promised a separate Karen nation when the British ceded rule. Since the SPDC took control, that idea was quashed and they have faced systematic genocide. If they were succesful in ousting the current regime would they take retribution upon the Burmese? It may seem cynical, but the seeds are visible. But listen, there are both Christian and Buddhist Karen (and others). And as the government is Buddhist they formed an alliance with the Buddhist Karen fighters to get information on the Christian Karen fighters, in return for the Buddhist Karens saftey (which, like the Grand Mufti's alliance with the nazis, could only be a reprieve, until there are no christian Karen left). 
And the students can be naive, but it's not their fault. They have been deprived of basic human rights, lived in fear of pogroms and had no freedom of speech nor exercise in critical thought. But when confronted with homosexuality, half a class laughed hysterically,while the other half wanted to kill them. And so where do human rights stand? And the kids, they have stories of child abuse at the hands of their fathers. Their fathers, who are mostly members of the democracy party, inflicted lessons on them, which sometimes took two dozen stitches to close, they smile or laugh and say "I'll never do that again." They talk fondly of it. They respect their elders through fear, "It's normal!", they smile cheerfully. While their imprisoned Prime Minister's primary message of "freedom from fear", is about as symbolic as Christs teachings to the warring Catholics and Protestants. If their idea of respect is fear, then why not respect their government? It is surely one of the most feared in the world. And what brand of democracy is in store for Burma, if their abusive fathers ever win power ? But this is just the state of everything, the world I mean, try and keep all the dimensions of the problem in your head, when you're trying to argue a point and your brain will implode. All I can say is that doing something here is better than doing nothing, the other concepts will hopefully follow, but isn't that just neocolonialism? I must have missed a dimension. The Burmese want external help to do things their way and the outside wants to help only if they can do it with western ideas. No liberal westerner would want to teach a class of westerners who hate gay people, or would stand by and listen to a student sanction their parents abuse, but here those ideas are tollerated as an essentially intricate part of the chaos. When you hear the stories they've written, of jailed parents, of people lost to the cyclone, or simply into the blackhole of Burma, how can any of your ideas make sense? And spare a thought too, for the teacher marking those stories who has to say "Well, actually, it should be 'My entire family was killed by Nargis', not 'My entire family is killed..." "Instead of, 'I hope I can seeing father again', try 'I hope I can see my father again'. Or, when going through names of occupations, when a child student asks "What job title is given to someone who steals people to sell them for money?" "A human traffiker.", "What is someone who asks for money on the street?" "A beggar." Such questions are banal to these children by the ubiquity of their exemplars.
But still, doing something is better than doing nothing. It has to be. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The heat has seeped back into the days. In fact, when we went to Myawaddy, which always seems hotter than Mae Sot, probably because of the large concentration of concrete and lack of awnings on the buildngs, and the fact that we usually arrive around lunch time when the sun shines at an angle perpendicular to the buildings, concentrating its full beam on us, like ants beneath a magnifying glass. We were baking, sweating, we had abacus dressed in just a onesy with her arms and legs bare. We got those condescending stares from the locals and then one smiled and pointed at Abacus, hugging himself in the universal pantomime for, "Freezing". Everyone around us was wearing thick jackets, some even had towels wrapped around their heads to keep the warmth from escaping.  

Abacus is desperate to crawl, she digs her feet into what ever surface she's on, bringing them right up under her belly, kicking back and forth on the spot. She's also grown a bit more hair, I know it's "a lot" more hair, but it's still so sparse it's hard to justify using the words. It's still so fine it changes colour under different light, but we think it might be blonde with a hint of red, sorry Abacus, I take full responsibility for the red contribution.  

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Burma II

We made our second trip to Burma yesterday. This time we tried to stay a bit longer than 10 minutes. We went down to a restaurant by the river that we'd seen from the bridge, along the way I helped some poor kid who was trying to push one of those garbage carts up onto a footpath, we both gave it a huge shove and it got up, I can't believe how heavy they are, then I watched him disappear beneath the bridge, bouncing the ton weight over the uneven surface.  We changed some money along the way, on the street, the burmese currency is mainly traded on the blackmarket (which is essentially means on desks set up outside on the main street). We had no idea what the exchange rate was, but we got 3200 Kyat (pronounced Jah) for 100baht. Aparently the worst places to go to exchange money is a government bank, apparently they maintain the exchange rate to the dollar is 6kyat, if this were the case, I imagine it would be the most expensive standard of living in the world. When we got to the restaurant we didn't see much but an outside bar, all we wanted to do was sample some genuine Burmese tea, which is made with condensed milk (Carnation - the best known condensed milk brand - advertises in Thailand and Burma as being specifically for tea). They didn't seem to have tea on the menu, but they told us they did. A moment later they arrived with two cups of Burmese tea and a huge pot of green tea. The Burmese tea was like drinking caramel and it was nice to have the green tea as a cleanser. We sat for a while, watching the Burmese catch the tube, the inner tube that is, to and from Thailand, the river is so shallow that one tube driver just walked them accross, even the natural marker between the two countries is a facade, Abacus was off somewhere with a Burmese woman, she's had so many weird interactions here. When we left we noticed a cafe down the street with cups and pots suspiciously like the ones we'd just been served, they must have just gone down the road to get it. We still had a couple of thousand Kyat left so we bought some Burmese cakes, which tasted like deep fried donuts, one with strawberry filling tasted acidic, we ended up giving them to a homeless woman halfway along the friendship bridge on the way back, the second homeless person we gave a 1000 kyat, and same to the third just to get rid of it, they seemed pretty surprised. These last two beggars, this is not to be mean, but we couldn't tell if they were man or woman, so skinny, darkened and wizened from the sun, their eyes so sunken, sitting slumped beneath a pile of towels and rags, poverty stripping them of any semblance of themselves.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Today the manager of the NGO where Danielle teaches english (to the Thai workers), took us to see where they make lunches and uniforms for migrant schools around Mae Sot. The location was pretty secret and I wasn't allowed to take photos, but it is a legitimate NGO with logoed cars, so I am allowed to write about them. 
Inside the building is where Burmese and Thais sew the school uniforms on industrial sewing machines. The uniforms are perfectly made, with the collared shirts monogrammed with the initials of the school on one side and the name of the NGO on the other. Abacus had just fallen asleep a minute before we were to leave and after all our wanting her to sleep, she found herself awakened to be handed around the burmese sewers (people who sew, not sewers where ninja turtles live), but she seemed really happy. They also sew backpacks for the students, which are waterproofed to accommodate the rainy season. At this point it seemed like a good little operation, but then we saw the whiteboard. 
Written on the board were the names of the schools and then the amount of breakfasts, lunches and dinners required. For the 7 schools they provide for, there were over 1200 students, suddenly the operation seemed impossibly efficient. In one room of the kitchen, there were three giant rice cookers and sacks of rice stacked at the end of the room. In the next room were the pots, strainers and pestle and mortar, that looked as though giants used them. Outside were the gas cookers over which, cooked giant vats of curry. There was what looked like a silo that sat above a cooker, one of the chefs (there are 6 kitchen staff and six sewing staff), pulled a rope which hoisted up the 6 foot tall missile shaped casing, inside was where they inserted a shelf, which held 5 huge basins of rice, beneath it sat a vat of water which steams enough rice for 1200 hungry students. They'd also constructed a water purifying system, which meant they could provide all of the schools with clean drinking water. Out the back was a section of land where they were beginning to build houses to grow mushrooms, at the moment there were only the shelves on which the mushrooms would grow. We sampled some of the curry bubbling in the vat, breaking through the layer of oil on top to sample the broth beneath, it was filled with large bits of fish and vegetables and was almost restaurant quality, it would be poured into large bags, inside garbage cans and transported by vans to the schools around town. It was hard to believe how few people it took to feed 1200 people, 7 days a week. Eveything about the site was clean, the sewing room was meticulously organised as was the kitchen and the grounds outside. Everything was ingeniously designed and the staff seemed happy and relaxed, unlike restaurants where I've worked, trying to feed lunch to maybe 200 people max. 
I started working on a new website, for one of the migrant schools, I have to design something that has already been built, which is a bit limiting, and the design is quite restrained by the way in which its been built, but I'll see what I can do.
Tomorrow we go to Burma. We're not looking forward to it. It's just annoying and boring - sounds a little ironic I know. 

Tui sings Pizza Hutt song

Abacus woke up at 3:30 and never really went to sleep, so I took her for a walk really early and as we passed the police station they were raising the flag while the national anthem played all the motorcycle cops wore their helmets and it reminded me of a scene from THX1138. Thai cops looks as though they've studied every cheesy American cop show, they all wear sunglasses and have this bad ass look about them. later in the afternoon I would see one of them outside the detenion center waving a wad of 100Baht notes in a burmese guys face while patting his back pocket. Abacus finally went to sleep at around 7:30 just as we arived at a coffee shop, the one where al the Americans and Christians hang out. When we went on the cafe computer, Danielle noticed the most visited sites on Crome were; CNN, CNN international and . . . FOX NEWS!!! It was pretty pathetic. So then we decided to look at TV3 news for a laugh and, true to form, found a whole bunch of animal stories on the front page, like "Cat reunited with owner thanks to microchipping" and "Tui sings Pizza Hutt song", it was a good to see New Zealand is still occupied with the pressing issues.
We went for a walk to breakfast and along the way stopped to look for pants for Abacus. We got two pairs and a pair of cute shoes for like $16 new zealand. While we painfully tried to ask "What age child would wear this size shoe" (such a simple sentence is painfully hard to describe without words), Abacus started to wake up. A young homeless burmese boy, who sniffed in vain at the thick snot in his nose, stood over her with concern, pointing at her hat, which had fallen over her eyes. We gave him five baht, In most countries it seems counterproductive to give money to homeless people, knowing it won't solve the problems within their country which lead to such destitution, especialy when they flock to westerners, knowing their own country people won't help them. But Burmese barely even have a country, how many people could even locate it on a map? It's a black hole that has swallowed its inhabitants and now sits ominously in covert silence. There are barefoot kids with sun darkened faces who pick up garbage, they're happy, they run and play with each other in the streets, excitedly looking for plastic bottles to fill their wooden carts. They'll come up to the window of the Starbuckian westerner  patronised cafe and knock, miming eating with either broad smiles or contrived pitiful faces, the people inside ignore them, even though they're probably in Mae Sot to help refugees and even though most of them are uber christian. I like to get up and go to the door and give them what ever coins I have, while it won't change anything in their lives it'll make today a little easier. Later on we would see that little boy trailing behind his older sister who was holding their younger sibling, while their mother, walking ahead of them, held a new born. They would stay here collecting money until they're rounded up in a police pick up truck, like the one I would see later in the afternoon, which was watched from afar by another mother, who's son peeked out from beneath a blanket under which he hid, the mother watched as if to see anyone she knew amongst the newly collected illegal migrants, the boys eyes looked filled with fear. How are the lives of so many, so completely destroyed by so few and for what ? 
Abacus had a crazy sleepless day with a lot of loud scream talking. 
Danielle had a good day, finally having her contributions recognised positively by a superior, putting to rest the uneasieness she's felt since the personal attack in her first week, even finding out her assailant is not regarded in the best light around town. They really like what Danielle's been doing, it's so good for her to hear.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just so you know what Thailand thinks of migrants - news article

a weird ad in a newspaper

The country of the NGO

Sorry for the lack of blog. I've been trying to get a couple of websites up to date, I really want to have accomplished something before I leave here. I went to a cafe this morning to work and when I arrived there were two guys talking about a documentary they were working on, from what I eavesdropped - which isn't hard with film people because they talk so loud so that everyone knows they are film people - the film was about the migrant schools, they were looking for some "new angle" on the story. After they left another even louder film maker came in, he oozed LA all over the cafe, he was making a film about a "shoe drop", where shoes donated from around the world are "dropped" on the refugee camps and he wanted to film the shoes journey, he too was looking for a "new angle". And I got this idea that had been gestating for sometime without me knowing, that there is something artificial, something constructed about Mae Sot. 

Mae Sot is nothing. It's a tiny agricultural border town with no attractions. A spanish couple we talked to, told us that 20 years ago when they were last here, there was nothing. You could hire a motorbike and in 5 minutes be in the country, you could ride out to the camps and talk to the refugees. Now the city has three 7/11's and 5 or 6 western restaraunts a Tescos and a Dunkin' Donuts and entrance to the Refugee Camps is strictly limited. What was the catalyst for change in Mae Sot ? NGO's.

Mae Sot is like an island of the NGO, but not quite an island, its more like an annexed colony. I kind of think of it as being like a war fought between two countries in a country neutral to the war. The problem is in Burma, the NGO's are mainly western and they meet in a backwater town in Thailand, which reeps the benefits; they get cheap Burmese labour to work in their restaurants and Guest Houses, whose major customers are NGO's. 

There seems something almost unhealthy about a culture of NGOism, when it is isolated from the rest of society. As Danielle put it, when we arrive back in New Zealand and people ask what we did last summer, they would probably find it kind of honourable (not that that's why we did it), but, when it becomes normative to be a volunteer, it breeds ungratefulness amongst the community. When everyone is volunteering, it becomes not a question of whether you volunteer, but how MUCH much you volunteer - and if it isn't enough, you're treated as though you don't volunteer at all. Or even worse, in that people who are here only on holiday (of any dubious nature) are treated completey indifferently,where as if you don't volunteer enough, you are treated rudely and almost pariahed. The thing about a lot of NGO workers is that, a lot of them are here because they never really figured out what to do in life and are here, in some capacity, to define themselves. Maybe this is why they become so totalitarian about it, they're defending their one definition of self against the great void of being ordinary, of not counting. But the saddest part is that it is the people they are trying to help who are missing out. They love pretty much anyone who gives up there time to come and help them. And the film makers come and make their ready made films, on the wrong side of the border, with hardly anyone making the death defying journey across the Moei river to film beneath the fog, where we really need them. And everyone lives in this strange artificial environment. I think there is a story about our time here and for me it's about the NGO community. 

The drum rehearsals for chinese new year have been going every evening since we moved in. They crash and bang in perfect unison - PERFECT unison - i have no idea why they rehearse so often they could not possibly improve.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Something happened the other day that changed our lives here, we found online settlers! And coupled with skype, it's not only like our settler gaming in new zealand never ended - we now play more than we ever did. I think Abacus might grow up to hate the game which she was named after and computers and probably coffee for that matter. Especially after last night, a couple in their 60's who we met at our last guest house offered to babysit her. They're waiting on their own kids to give them grandchildren - in fact Tom threatened his kids with the anectdote told by a favourite musician of his, he said "I was so sick of waiting for my kids to have children, I married a girl in her 20's and had grandchildren of my own". I think they lavished attention on princess Abacus, reciprocally entertaining each other for just under 2 hours, Abacus was so happy when we came to pick her up, that we knew we had to cut back on computer time.

Sometimes I wish I had a sound camera, some device which takes snap shots of sound. Last night as I lay going to sleep I heard the chaos of the dogs that had gathered for some full moon choir, the cold night air was filled with yelping and barking and even wolf howling, and all of it was echoing off the concrete walled streets and corrogated fences, like some horror movie soundtrack. 

The temperature has dropped significantly over the last few days, it actually feels like Wellington, I'd forgotten what cold felt like, what goosebumps were. Also, there's something a little unnerving about a cop holding an automatic assault rifle, smiling and cooing to your 6 month old daughter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last night we were going to dinner, when out of the twilight came a galloping horse and rider. It ran at full speed down the road through the traffic, quickly disappearing into the distance. 

This afternoon we visited a Wat, which is what Thai temples are called, when this Burmese guy came up to me holding a glass of bright green liquid, it looked like dishwashing liquid or antifreeze, he offered it to me in that respectful way of the Burmese, supporting the offering hand with their other hand, how could I refuse. He and Danielle both looked on, in amusement of different sorts, as I smiled my way through the entire cool syrupy beverage, which tasted of bubblegum, I thanked him gratiously of course, jesudembaiday, supporting my extended hand below the elbow with my left hand. Then left with my head swimming in sugar overdose.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

when the fog lifts from Burma and the world is finally able to see inside, if we'll ever see that day, they will be horrified not only of the atrocities that have occured, but by the fact that they didn't know, that while other stories filled the headlines, Burma was no where to be found. When foreign journalists are finally allowed free access to the myriad ethnicities - which ever ones survive the genocide -and bring back the stories of this forgotten country, the world will be disgusted to hear that the Burmese doctors didn't differentiation between HIV and AIDs and that when a person was diagnosed as having it, they were administered an injection and that life was over. 
But for now, the fog remains, and the injections continue. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

a divine fusion

As I lay awake in the dark this morning, holding abacus' dummy in her mouth to keep her asleep, i heard the simultaneous prayers of buddhism and islam, overlayed in a seamless fusion. The deep chanting of the buddhists created a baseline, with the chime of the morning bell keeping rhythm, while the muslim prayer, sung like a heart broken wail, created the melody, their voices blown together by the wind and carried accross the darkness. 

Abacus never did really go back to sleep, it was about 5:45 when she awoke, and she would go on to stay awake until 11:30! Danielle got up early and took her for a walk before breakfast, and I took her for another walk afterwards. I walked down town to where the lady who barbarques chicken all day, stood like a ghostly apparition behind the thick cloud of smoke, which billowed from her fire filled drum, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, just for good measure - it seemed about as useless as trying to drink from a glass while swimming underwater. I went into a magazine store, which sells magazines that deceptively have english covers, but are filled with thai on the inside - while maintaining the english titles for the articles. There were no english covers however, on the large assortment of cock fighting magazines. I looked through some Thai childrens books, I found a beautifully illustrated one about two bulls, I had no idea what was going on, but on the second to last page both bulls were running at each other, while on the last page, both lay dead, with broken bloody horns scattered on the ground, so I don't think I'll get it for abacus. 

Tonight we're going to see Danielles "friends", who have south korean visitors this week, which I'll write about later.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

some delicious thai delicacies

water bugs
cut open toads with flies on
live bewlidered toads
some wierd live baby cat fish things

snakes ?

the incident

So earlier on in the trip Danielle had a terrible incident, but today something happened that at least meant she was not alone. 

So we're a single income family, who spent a huge amount of our savings to volunteer overseas to help refugees. But soon after some initial training, Danielle was given three separate placements, all at different points around the town, which collectively totaled a lot of hours of work a day, not to mention her own paperwork at night. Though she had already committed to all three, she soon felt it was going to be too much. She decided to drop the one place that hadn't started yet and did so amicably, explaining via email that when she said she would do all three, she was not in a position to make an informed decision about the amount of work she could do, as she'd never done that type of thing before. After a week of lesson plans and marking homework she knew three places would be too much. The head of the program was disappointed and felt a bit sick when he read her email, as the place she had dropped was his favourite and its understaffed and underfunded. He felt like he'd promised them something he couldn't deliver and didn't know whether he could work with them again, but ultimately he understood and accepted her position. However, he told her all of this after he'd already informed the place of her turning them down, he didn't even offer to assist her in developing a schedule which might have been accommodating for three places, didn't give her help with lesson plans or how to plan more efficiently - she with no experience. He said he also felt bad because someone else had already pulled out of a school earlier in the week and he thought it was the beginning of things going wrong. The situation then seemed resolved and everyone seemed somewhat happy with the outcome.

But the next day, Danielle was going to the photocopy store to make copies of a test she had written for her students, it was only minutes before her class. Outside the photocopy shop was a fellow NGO worker who was really cold with her, she grudgingly replied hello when greeted but as she was getting on her bike, she turned and unloaded on danielle about dropping the school and went even further to make personal attacks about her character,  she went on and on, screaming a tirade of seething, shaking with anger as she delivered each potent personal word. She even compared her to a former NGO who quit after two weeks, spending the rest of their time in a drunken stupor, someone who led the media to a school, jeopardising its very existence, before going rambo in the jungles of Burma. But Danielle was worse, her assailant said, because he'd had a drinking problem, an excuse. In Thailand it is extremely poor form to lose your temper, especially in public and the locals looked upon the situation with embarassment. What was also bad, is that the NGO attacking her was about to take over as acting head of the program, in the leaders absence. She was the person who Danielle had to report to. All this just minutes before Danielle had to teach a class. She managed to compose herself and work on professionally, though a part of her wanted to leave the country.

Danielle is a junior in the organisation. She didn't understand the gravity of her decision, nor the implications for the program. No one explained this, they just accepted her email without trying to inform or coerce her decision, did not even tell her the decision she made would incite disappointment at all, as far as she knew she had come to volunteer, had saved a long time to do it, knew her limitations and wanted to offer the best that she could. She had no idea the school she chose was one of the most fortunate nor the one she declined one of the poorest - no one told her, they just said they were disappointed, a little sick and then this diatribe of loathing. What hope then, for society, when those who give up their time and money to help people, fight amongst themselves and are so disorganised to not even lead their own. She had a meeting with the program leader that night to discuss her concerns as he was leaving the next day (for holiday in Australia). He confessed that there was a dinner that night, confirming her suspicions, but that she is not invited only because of her family situation and she was definitely not hated by everyone in the program as she feared. But there was nothing really apologetic in his acceptance of her information about the NGO worker, he even said he'd seen her act like that once before, there was no real sense that she would be stepped down or even really reprimanded for her conduct. 

The next day Danielle received an appologetic email from her assailant. It was a complete 180 from her screaming marathon the day before, saying that she respected danielle, knew she was committed to the program and she sited stress as the cause for her hostility. We put her down as just being completely unhinged. Later in the day we went to a coffeeshop, it was the first time we'd been there, it was down the far end of town, it seemed like the most unlikely place we would meet her, not that she had even been a factor in our desicion to go there, but there she was. We all smiled awkwardly at each other at first, then, just before we left, Danielle went to her to acknowledge atleast that she had received her email, she told her she didn't know yet how to respond to it or how she felt about it. The girl said "I'm sorry", shaking her head with a nervous smile, as though apologising for taking a coke out of the fridge that didn't belong to her, or some other minor intrusion into someones personal sphere. Since then things have been amicable when we've met, it's a small town, you run into the same people everywhere, because of course everyone eats out, she's even asked if she could sit at our table one time, how could we refuse ?

Today however, we ran into this australian girl who danielle trained with, she's a really lovely person who we run into often. Danielle asked "How are you?", "Not so good" came the reply. She was leaving on a bus to Bangkok, she had "problems" with the program, trying to remain as diplomatically aloof as she could, but after a bit of mutual digging, they found they shared the same problem. The organisation had booked her at three separate schools, one with an age group she was not qualified to teach, one that was 10km out of town and then, when she pulled out of a school for obvious reasons, a certain worker screamed insults at her down the phone, and not only did she scream at her too, she also made the same 180 degree apology - she's completely toys in the attic crazy. This girl too had no real income, she too had come this great distance at great cost to herself, only to be treated as though she were the most selfish, dispicable person in the world. And suddenly, Danielle wasn't alone, and neither was the other girl, they both found solidarity and were united in knowing it was not their fault - not they ever thought it was. The girl is going to return again, to teach on her own, going directly through the school, without the inept programme interferring, turning what should be a rewarding experience into a drama. The worst part is, Danielle and this other girl are really good teachers, with friendly personalities that would be an asset to this kind of work and this terrible person, who is obviously completely socially retarded, is driving them away.

If you're thinking of volunteering I would suggest doing an ESL course at home and then coming on your own, don't  go through organisations, its very easy to find places in need once you get here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

20 minutes in burma

This morning we made the trip to burma to have our visas extended by 2 weeks. We walked to the outskirts of town to catch a saung thau ( a roofed pick up truck, which serves as a bus ), abacus was asleep by the time one came along that would take us to the border, it only cost 15baht, which is less than a dollar. It dropped us near the immigration booths at the entrance to the friendship bridge, which connects the two countries over the Moei river. The wierdest part of the bridge is that in Thailand they drive on the left, while in Burma they drive on the right and I'm not sure at which point they cross over, I wanted it to be the middle of the bridge. Leaving wasn't hard, we just filled out a departure card and walked over the pedestrian part of the bridge. Below the bridge, on the Thai side, we saw two shacks made from sacks and tarpaulin draped over some sticks. A mother held her naked baby outside, while the father used a red plastic bucket to pour water over it,  the baby screamed the same way abacus does taking a bath lately. Along the river, people use giant innertubes to cross from one side of the river to the other, to illegally leave and enter each country, but there is no one to stop them, no one really cares, in fact it seemed like the concrete footpath on the thai side of the river was designed specifically for them. The bridge descended into the bustling streets of Myawaddy. We were ushered towards an arrivals office and while the Thais and Burmese lined up outside to talk through the familiar little windows, we were taken inside, to the insidiously smiling immigration guards, who all smelled of stale tobacco and whose teeth were stained with beetle nut, so familiar amongst the burmese population. And were they as creepy as I thought ? Had i coloured them in with my previously learned knowledge of Burma ? They charged 500 baht each for our passport "processing", about $25 each, which was expected. Then they retained our passports to be returned on our departure.

Burma is surprisingly distinctly different from Thailand, even this border town, which is about as representative of greater Burma as Tiajuana is of mexico, but even the smell, of possibly cardamon mixed with some other familiar scent, was so reminiscent of India. Then a bicycle taxi driver who cycled beside us, refusing to accept our nothankyou's, was an almost carbon copy of a guy in Agra, but not quite as annoying. The heat was baking by now, and a dog whose furless skin clung to its shaking bones, looked as though it had crawled its way out of the pet cemetary, the walking dead. The streets were busy and full of people, the one thing separating it from being a complete facsimilie of India being the presence of women on the street. We walked to find a tea shop, though we were still overly-full from breakfast. We walked passed tables stacked tall with Burmese currency, organised into large bricks. There was nothing really to do, nothing much to see, we abandoned finding the tea shop and decided to go back, our time in Burma equating to about 20 minutes. We went to retrieve our passports. The immigration officers smiled and thanked us, they knew why we'd come and why we'd left so soon, there was no questioning, all truth exposed and unspoken. We returned over the bridge, filled in arrival cards, which I realised we didn't need for Burma, nor departure cards, just cash. 

We found a saung thau, there were two people waiting inside, by the time we left it was full to capacity, with three guys hanging off the back. We tried to have Abacus become friends with the burmese 10 month old boy beside her, they held hands and abacus squeezed his hand and wouldn't let it go. We were dropped at the central bus station, our first point of arrival in Mae Sot, but now we knew our way out of it. We walked through the huge market area of town, which we'd never been to before. Meat was left sitting outside for sale, pigs snouts and skin, baskets of shrimp buzzing with flies, a huge basket of water beetles, net bags of huge live toads, stacked on top of each other, tubs of water snakes and eels slithering over each other. The warm air smelled of meat and the maze of stalls seemed endless, but finally it led us back to the main street. 

left overs

not a lot happened yesterday. we were exhausted from the lack of sleep. and when night came i was so exhausted i couldn't sleep, while abacus slept soundly.

Danielles tutoring session went well, she wants to bring the kid back to new zealand to study, but Burma doesn't issue passports to its citizens, except for ones with expirey dates as long as the persons applied for time. And these are only issued in special circumstances and they don't come cheap. But maybe there are other ways to help.

It's been a while since the racist dogs have bothered us, but a couple of days ago, one called the others to attention and they grouped to form their menacing racist gang, barking at us from accross the street, but fortunately I still had my trusty stick in Abacus pram, which I held at my side, it kept them at bay.

Also the elephant is still around, maybe it's always been around. We see it in odd places with its three human companions, it hangs out as though it is one of the guys. They more i see it the worse I feel for it. 

Burmese seem obsessed with nose bridges, when ever they see Abacus, they tell us to pinch her nose bridge - or lack of one - so that she will have a good nose, another tip is to push on the soft pallette, which somehow pops out the nose bridge. We've tried to explain her trisomy to people, danielles friends understand, as she had them read an article on it, but even when we've shown others online photos of asian kids with trisomy 21, they still don't understand and just pantomime once more, pinching the nose bridge. 

So I didn't think abacus needed milk in the night, that she was just waking up, so when she woke up at midnight, on cue for her feed, I gave her the dummy and after about 20 minutes or so she was asleep again, then she woke up about 3 hours later. So I tried to do the same again, but she wouldn't go to sleep - though she wasn't crying either, so I decided to just give her a bottle to put her to sleep. This however, didn't put her to sleep, in fact (as danielle put it) it only seemed to give her more energy, so that she was wide awake and talking loudly. The rest of the night was spent trying to keep her quiet until we finally decided to get up at 7:30. We are exhausted. And I feel bad because don't have the energy to play with her when she's smiley and full of energy, if only she could understand the paradox of her actions.