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December 01, 2004

Mae Sot

Tailing behind some Aussies I met in Ayuthaya, I hopped on a night bus to Mae Sot, a small town by the Burmese border. Although we arrived too early in the morning and after too little sleep in the bus, we managed to check-in at a guest house and attempted a last-chance doze before the sun came up and the town came alive with two-stroke screams. I didn't sleep so I was expecting a really rough day.

After a marvellous breakfast I strolled around the multi-cultural town. My Thai phrase book wasn't much use as most shopkeepers were burmese, and I wished I had a guidebook to traditional South East Asian clothing. It seemed like every different part of this continent was represented, and even beyond as I had no problem realizing that India was on the other side of Burma simply based on people's appearance.

In the afternoon I ran into a character who was wandering the streets when we arrived that morning. He showed me pictures of a school and asked me if I would like to help the kids with their English. Although I was feeling fatigued, I wouldn't pass up this opportunity so I hopped on a tuk tuk with him and we headed out of town.

Before we got very far our tuk tuk slowed due to commotion on the road. What I feared the most was confirmed: it ws an accident scene. Two motorcycles had just run into each other, and helmet-less riders lay inert about the pavement, blood pooling underneath their broken bodies. As we navigated through the crowd of shocked onlookers my guide let out his anger at the fact that this community did not have an ambulance. In a teary thought I wished I had my brother's skills or that he were with me in the tuk tuk.

Witnessing the accident scene made me feel uncomfortable. I was fatigued and was not prepared to deal with such emotions. The event set my mind on downward spiral which would be accelerated by the events to follow.

After 20 minutes of rattling along in the three-wheeler we turned onto a small road and headed up a hill. The reassuring english subscript had disappeared from road signs, All the people who caught sight of me did a double take, and I often heard the word "farang" (foreigner) as we passed people. Unsure of my situation, I kept smiling and observed people's reactions: most smiled back so I relaxed.

We bounced our way deeper and deeper into the settlement, straining the tuk tuk's engine on shallow uphills,and wobbling downhill with little use of brakes.

Finally we arrived at the school. The residents of the area were all burmese, and although they were shy at first a frank smile on my part quickly unlocked theirs. I took off my shoes and started up the fragile steps to the classroom. The school building was nothing more than a raised floor and a roof and one wall. It was made entirely of the vegetation they gathered locally, except for a few wood planks brought to them by a western religious group. I was surprised to see a young boy hard at work killing who knows what evil in a game on the computer.

I sat down with a few students, aged 8 to 28. Their English was very minimal, about equivalent to what I can say in Thai. Conversations didn't run long though that may have been the result of being completely overwhlemed with the situation. The accident scene had started me downards, and being dropped off in the poorest community I had ever seen except on PBS Specials kept me sinking. However the hospitality from my school friends warmed me in ways I haven't often experienced. These people have nothing, yet they were cheerful and happy and they wouldn't allow a visitor to be without tea. Still, compounding the mix of emotions was the fear that I felt everytime my hosts talked anxiously among themselves when a motorcycle was heard approaching. Were they afraid of the police? Was I not supposed to be here? Would they get in trouble if they were found talking to a farang? Clearly something was bothering them. Using an English that I could not properly understand my guide tried to explain. All I got was "don't worry."

We left the school for one of the teacher's home. Along the way we grabbed the headmaster. We found the teacher's dwelling at the end of a maze of dirt paths. It was another raised floor with one wall and a sloping roof, made entirely of vegetation. Here I was given the place of honor while we sat on the floor and attempted to communicate. Fatigue was overrun by a stampede of emotions, but I wanted to stay a while longer to try to understand better their situation and I also wanted to leave and go hide among other farangs at my guest house.

The teacher fed me a bowl of peanuts with spices and... other stuff. Apetite-less, I forced down as much as I could but barely made a dent in the bowl's contents. After washing it down with extremely sweet coffee I ceased to wonder why their teeth were in such a bad shape. When finally night fell we were on our way back to town.

I drowned the emotions in beer. After all I had just stepped out of my guest house to pick up a couple of things from the pharmacy and ended up being taken so far out of my comfort zone that I lost all reference points.

I had too much on my mind to sleep so the next day I did essentially nothing.

The day after I joined the Aussies on their morning trip to the border.

Burma/Myanmar behind us.

Three guys. The one in red said he was from Burma. I pointed to the bridge to ask if that's how he got accross, but he waved his arms like he was swimming. Whatever works I guess.

I decided not to follow the Aussies on their trek to Thailand's tallest waterfall. I was too wiped out to do any hiking. I took a van to Sukhotai, Thailand's capital before Ayuthaya, and indulged in relaxed Wat-viewing.

Posted by piegu on December 1, 2004 05:05 AM
Category: Thailand
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