Km 8976 – Chiang Mai, Thailand
BUENG NA RANG
- After six weeks in Chiang Mai we sit in the train towards the South and are curious about the new, the unknown. For the fourth time on our journey we will work for food and acommodation – this time as English teachers for two weeks in a public village school.
- Sunee and Sawang catch us on the train station of Tapan Hin and they make us feel at ease from the first moment on. They are the persons in charge for the ‘Intensive English Programme’ of the Pong Wuadaeng School. Sawang is the headmaster and Sunee the fairy godmother at his side. The day of that power woman starts at four o’clock in the morning and she often makes us laugh with sentences like: „Mosquito come in, never go out!“ or „One month, one kilo!“, when she is serving us the next delicious meal. Because of the work of the two (and all the teachers) the village kids receive the opportunity of a similiar education as the one of children in bigger cities.
- After a short observation of our new colleagues in the classes we have been thrown at the deep end and stand in front of 30 kids, four to five years old. How to teach them without speaking their mothertongue, without even knowing their names? We accept the challenge: We integrate as much movement, playing and individual supervision into the vocabulary training as possible. The kids reward us: „teacher, teacher“ we hear from every corner of the room and see them raising proudly their self-painted „apples“, „bananas“ and „flowers“.
- The village of Sunne and Sawang is named Ban Huang Plalai, which means „village with a stream full of fish“. But the region has changed a lot during the last 30 years – before there were less people, more oxen, which ploughed the paddies. There was plenty of food and the name of the village had not been a coincidence. The river, where you could just serve yourself back then, is now a dried out canal and pesticides killed all the fish. No fish is barbecueed at the camp fire anymore. Today life is not necessarily better, but faster and money (supposedly) is more important.
- We go to the Green Guesthouse and run into Tiago, a Brazilian writer, with whom we will spend the next days. Right now he works as a journalist researching about the situation of Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand.
- And here begins the story of the next days, a story about hundreds of thousands Burmese, who search a better future in their neighbour country. From 250.000 people in Mae Sot, the Thai border town, 200.000 are Burmese migrants, mostly from the ethnic group called Karen. Moreover 230.000 burmese refugees stay in a dozen camps along the border on the Thai side. The biggest camp Mae La with 60.000 refugees is not far. 70 NGOs are engaged here (as well as in Mae Sot). They especially offer education for the kids, but also hospitals, counseling, etc.. A microcosmos, a social system in itsself.
- We imagined Mae Sot as a boring border town, which we wanted to visit to get a new Thai stamp in our passport. But suddenly we sit with Tiago, Laura and Fanny (two NGO-workers) and two Burmese refugees in a bar, which was founded by political refugees. One of the founders was hold in prison for 15 years, because his father demonstrated against the military dictatorship. Today he is a barkeeper but the sad thing is: he lost his youth as he was arrested with 13 – and released with 28.
- Mae Sot is full of personal stories like that, Laura tells us with a trembling voice. The brutality of the militäry junta against their opponents can not be described with words. Torture, imprisonment, rape, child soldiers – the military mafia stops at nothing.
- Then K. tells his story. The 37 year old man entered the KNU (Karen National Union) – a military organisation of the Karen – when he was 15. When the government troops attacked his village and his grandparents were killed in front of his eyes, he escaped to Thailand. For 3000 Bath (around 70€) a trafficker brought him across the border and to Bangkok. There he worked for three years in an ice factory. Everything illegal. Nowadays he is a driver for one of the NGO-hospitals in Mae Sot – this includes a residence permit, but only for Mae Sot. The atmosphere is depressive. We can not really imagine these living conditions.
- The next morning: border crossing! Going in and out of Thailand at the same day provides us with another 30 day visa. The Burmese side cooperates generously as they make you pay 10$ for the short visit. So we look at Myawaddy for a couple of hours.
- Already on the bridge over the river (= border) we clearly see the living conditions of the people. A begging mother lies sleeping besides her little kid in the middle of the pavement, some meters ahead another beggar.
- From the bridge we can see another game: With a big boat people are „smuggled“ in sighting distance to the border guards. The smuggle is an open secret and costs 20 Bath. For all Burmese without residence permit this is the normal way „home“. Sure, the Thai police officers take advantage of this situation. If somebody is caught without his documents, he can pay the corrupt officer in order to stay.
- A side effect: Burmese women, who live in Mae Sot, know the outcome of the football Champions-League, especially of the teams Chelsey and Manchester United. Why? Because the Thai officers always bet on these teams. If they win they are smooth. If they loose, you should rather not run into them on Monday morning, because they want more money to look away.
- We do not need to pay off somebody, even if the Burmese border guards did not accept our dollars, because they are too old. How can money be ‘too old’? The banknote is not dirty, no cracks; it is just too old (printed date on the bill). Money is only worth something, as long as people believe in it. This situation is a nice proof.
CHIANG MAI II
- Back in Chiang, we receive visitors again: Martin (a university friend of mine) and Veronika (his former flatmate), as well as Ethan, who had already visited us in Hanoi. Together we climb the close by Doi Suthep (Suthep = mountain) and explore the hilly region with a scooter. While doing that we even see some elefants and discover a set off waterfall.
- Tiago (Mae Sot) and Maria (Bishkek, Tehran) are back in Chiang Mai and join us several times as well, e.g. for the market, for singing in the choir or for meditating in a temple.
- A Video of Tiago about his first impressions of Thailand, also shows some scenes of the jazz bar night we spent together (starting at minute 5:00): http://vimeo.com/90435051
- Thus pass the weeks and after almost three months without cycling we finally decide on our further route: we plan to enter Myanmar via Mae Sot, to then cycle South (Kawthaung).