Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘Myanmar’

Different Names for the Same Thing

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Now, I know that all of you have been on pins and needles, waiting to hear about my adventure into Myanmar (Burma). But, my plans did not come to fruition, which all shall be explained in this semi-interesting story.

Saturday: I have discovered a new alarm, I was awakened by the playing of the national anthem at 6:50am. After the music, a womans voice comes on and words are said for what seems like another 10 minutes. Maybe it was the location of my guest house, possibly right next to a speaker, but it was loud. An early wake up was in the plans anyways, so I proceeded with my day as scheduled: Stroll to bus station, check on departure to next town, mosey back to guesthouse, check out, and store backpack.

As I was checking out, the owner of the place (a Thai teacher) asked me where I was from. Upon hearing that I came from the U.S.A., a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district, she politely asked if I could tutor one of her students. They had a big Spelling Bee tomorrow and she would really appreciate a native english speakers help. I told her that I wanted to make a run to the border, but could postpone it a few hours. So, I grabbed a bag of breakfast noodles from the market and returned to the house. The student showed up a few minutes later, and I was handed this list of Spelling Bee words:

The List

The List

There were actually 2 lists, each with over 200 words. I basically just tried to read the words as clearly as I could, and watch to see if she wrote them down correctly. The student was in the 10th grade, I think, and had much better handwriting than myself. She cruised on some words, probably the ones that she remebered from past sessions, and others were a struggle. The biggest difficulty was hearing which vowel to put in and especially how to finish words that end in “tion”, “sion”, or “ious”. It was a good learning experience for both of us, and a chance for me to talk a lot after a quiet past couple days.

After all the spelling, the Teacher also thought that one of the rounds would be “fill in the blank”. I told her this would be impossible, imagine a Thai person trying to fill in the following sentence: “Discrimination of any sort is ___ in a civilized society.” Answer: Abhorrent. Yep, How do you define abhorrent to a Thai 10th grader? I barely know what it means, but the teacher tried to define every word in the sentence above to the student. I humored her for a bit, but opted to just read some more words and create my own phrases. Mostly using my goto one “The Man/Woman was ___”.

The teacher told me that their current English instructors are getting on in years and that they could use a handsome, intelligent, and elloquent speaking man, like myself. (That is not word for word, her english was a little broken so I had to assume some things) My initial thought “Me teach English, that’s unpossible”. But, I gave her my email address, so we shall see what happens.

Part of me wonders whether I, Micah, should be teaching English to others. Let’s be honest and put it all on the table: English was not my best subject in school, I can barely understand it, I rarely read anything other than sports stories, and my pronunciation leaves much to be desired. I know I butchered a few words while reciting them to her, and even skipped many so as not to irreparably damage this young mind. With all of that, if the offer comes, I will have some thinking to do.

The clock struck noon, and the lesson ended. Discussing my border plans further with Teach, a Visa concern came up and she made some calls. Upon return to Thailand from Maynmar, tourists receive a 15 day extension. I have 21 days left on my 60 day visa, and 3 weeks to go. The lady on the phone made it seem that my 60 day would be nulled and I would be left with the 15 day they give me, leaving me short of my departure day. I don’t know the truth, but considered this a possible outcome. Plus, I worried about having time to catch my ride east. Thus, the husband of the Teach drove me to the border, so that I could see the “Friendship Bridge” and what lies across it, then dropped me off at the Bus terminal.

From there: lots of waiting, squeezing my legs into the minivan, going through checkpoints, and finally arriving in Sukhothai for supper. Also, I had a realization that it is good to be a man of average height and weight, and no longer dream of having an NBA or NFL type body. Travel like this would be near impossible (although if I was rich, I could roll in style). So, to all those kids out there, work with what you got. If you are short: travel is easy and you can get into the McDonald’s playland ball room. Tall and hairy: you can get into R movies and buy alchohol. Average height and looks: well, we just tend to blend into the crowd and thus can get away with minor looting during riots. ไป ลูก ๆ ของ ฉัน ด้วย การ ให้ ความ สุข ของ ฉัน

Livin’ On The Edge

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I knew that the 6 hr sorng-taa-ou ride from Mae Sariang to Mae Sot, while hugging the border with Myanmar (Burma), would be interesting, but was happy to learn all of the reasons why.

Picture me rollin

Picture me rollin

Friday morning, I boarded the open-air bus at the station with only 2 other passengers, and began the long journey. Random pickups and dropoffs were constantly made, and we even accepted cargo, such as a motorbike and 6 banana tree trunks.

The most interesting passengers: a group of about 15 school children (roughly 10 years old) that piled onto the back, most just grasping the outside rail. While the driver slowed for their stop, one of them actually fell off. I think he was expecting the driver to stop sooner and released his grip prematurely. I just heard the noise and turned to see him face down on the gravel. He slowly got up, looked at his elbow, and dusted himself off. One of his friends paid his fare for him and went back to check his status. He was able to walk away but seemed a little confused.

The views were always stunning, as we climbed passes and dipped through valleys. We cruised through numerous small farming villages, where the driver would honk multiple times to alert all to his presence. The most fascinating section was a 3 km stretch past the largest Burmese refugee camp in Thailand, called Mae La.

Best one I could get

Best one I could get

It has an estimated population of about 60,000 who have been displaced by the ongoing civil war across the border. We were constantly going through military check points armed machine gun carrying soldiers, but I wasn’t expecting to see the thousands of huts lining the valley. A loose barbed wire fence acts as the barrier to the road, while the other side is protected by a rather steep range of cliffs. There have been threats of violence to this site made by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as recently as this past July.

I was the only passenger who made the full trek and estimate that we had roughly 50 different passengers throughout the full run. My current city, Mae Sot, almost feels like another country. The look of the town and the people is drastically different than any other place I have visited. The local market is vibrant and diverse, due to the large number of Burmese residents. It was a shame I had just eaten.

I did not sample

I did not sample

Market

Market

And, the few Wats in town actually showed me some things I hadn’t seen before.

He seems content

I know the feeling

The city is about 57 km south of the refugee camp and is home to many NGO workers. Being only about 7 km away from the border, I am going to attempt to cross over tomorrow. Don’t worry Mom, it is an open route that many tourist take to renew their visas. I will be going to take advantage of the 1 day access they allow, just so that I can say I have been there. To be safe, I will leave my soap box at the guest house and avoid any large lively gatherings of people. ทำให้ รัก ไม่ใช่ สงคราม