Archive for July 2011

Burma Hop

27 July 2011

My Thai visa was set to expire on Saturday, so I set out from Kamphaeng Phet, boarding the morning bus to Mae Sot. The Moei river divides Mae Sot, Thailand from Myawaddy, Myanmar, and by crossing the Friendship Bridge and coming back again, I’d get a fresh 15 days stamped in my passport.  Seemed like a prime deal, so off I went, expecting to be home that afternoon.  (A three-hour tour, a three-hour tour…)

One bus ride and one bowl of noodles later, I was riding the back of a motorbike, eyes squinting into the raindrops smattering my face, a satisfied grimace curled on my lips: I was going to one of the most repressive countries on earth, a country (relatively) few curious foreign eyes have seen since the junta took over in 1962: exotic Burma. The bike pulled up to the iron gates, and I strode to the immigration booth. A window snapped open and a woman’s head popped out in a military cap. “Help you, sir?”

Thanks, don't mind if I do.

“I’m going over there,” I pointed at Burma, like Napoleon at Russia.

“Sorry sir, border closed.”

“Pardon me?”

“No cross! Border closed one year.”

“Wait. What? Why?”

In her turn, she pointed across the river: “Over there, is a war.”

Well. Fair enough. (more…)



The Tortoise and the Ostrich

11 July 2011

Beside the road along the river, under the streetlights and between the palms, each night a quorum of licensed masseuses– licenses pinned to their pink polos, no less– roll out nipa mats, unfold beach chairs, and offer foot massages in the dripping tropical heat. As the sun set beyond the river and behind the Burmese hills (a nightly technicolor lightshow) on Friday, I rewarded myself for a successful first week working here in Kamphaeng Phet with an hour in the chair.

I rolled up on my motorbike, helmet resting like a kippa atop my outsized western dome, and, killing the engine, lumbered toward the two available chairs, side by side. (Perhaps it’s my height, the way I stick out, white and sweaty, in a crowd, or perhaps it’s just the psychology of an outsider, but I invariably suffer the sensation of lumbering, wherever I am in Asia.)

On the left, a droll middle-aged man leaning languorously back on his stool, hands clasped around his knee. He looked up at me with a contumacious smirk, the look of someone with no plans for exertion, whatever you might offer him. He resembled nothing so much as a truculent tortoise. On the right, perched on her stool was a tiny Thai woman, perhaps 50, more closely resembling the ostrich– long neck, beaky features, and a pair of spectacles through which she peered at me with an expectant grin.

Khun poot pahsah tai dai mai?” Warbled the ostrich: Can you speak Thai? And while the answer was most assuredly no, from the context and one disheartening word– Thai– I gathered enough to grin bashfully.  I shook my head like the boy asked if he knows what’s happened to the goldfish he recently flushed down the toilet.

She cackled with derision and gestured to the chair as the tortoise joined her with his own chortle. I gladly took my seat. No sooner had she picked up my leg– the way a butcher might handle a leg of beef– than she was chattering with the tortoise, and I spent the next hour fatuously convinced they were talking about nothing but me, and trying to imagine how their conversation might best translate to English. It went something like this:

(more…)



Politics & Internet Freedom in Thailand

10 July 2011

This is following up on (and only somewhat redundant to) an earlier post that went up in advance of the Thai election. This was originally posted at NDN.org.

Thai ElectionAs you might have heard, there was an election here last weekend, and it was truly a watershed transition in the political history of this country. A bit of history: Five years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra was tossed from the Prime Minister’s office by a military coup. Thaksin had been elected in 2001, and reelected (a first in Thai history) in 2005 riding a populist wave of support from the poor, rural majority of Thailand. He was widely disliked, however, by the established elite of the country– the upper and middle classes, the courts the “Privy Council” that surrounds and advises the monarchy, and the military, who saw to his removal.

After the coup, the military ruled for over a year, until another election in early 2008, which yielded victory for another member of Thaksin’s political party. He served for the better part of a year, before the constitutional court removed him from office on account of hosting a cooking show on TV while serving as Prime Minister. He was replaced by Thaksin’s brother-in-law, who lasted two months before another court ruling sent him packing, and in stepped Abhisit Vejjajiva, a member of the opposition party, who served as Prime Minister until last week. (more…)



City on the River Ping

6 July 2011

Deeper thoughts will come.  For now, a few impressions from my first days in Kamphaeng Phet:

Sunset on the river PingTrio in Kamphaeng Phet Historical ParkSleeper in Kamphaeng Phet Historical ParkElection day in ThailandWat!
KPP1

Sunset on the river Ping

KPP2

Trio in Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park

KPP3

Sleeper in Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park

KPP4

Election day in Thailand

KPP6

Wat!