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.