Friday, April 17, 2009

Maehongson 02 April 2009 - Afternoon

Back to catching up on the activities and events of our trip to Maehongson -

After watching the Poi Sang Long parade in the morning, we returned to the hotel to freshen up and eat lunch before heading out for the afternoon.

There are three camps in the Maehongson area where Paduang people live and you are allowed to visit. They are Baan Nai Soi, Baan Huay Pu Keng also known as Baan Nam Piang Din and Baan Huay Sua Tao. We had previously visited the camp at Baan Nai Soi, so the agenda for the afternoon was to visit the camp at Huay Pu Keng.

Using the local map from a previous trip and memories from past visits to the area, we set off to find the boat landing where we could rent a long tailed boat to take us to the village. It was actually a great deal easier than I had anticipated. I had checked with the desk at the hotel and verified that there actually two boat landings with the second boat landing a little further down the asphalt road from the first. This information came in very handy when we arrived at the first boat landing and found it to be closed. We drove further down the road and located the second boat landing which we both instantly recognized from our trip two years ago.

On our last trip in the middle of April 2007, the boat landing was filled with tourist vans of international travellers. It was not the case this year. We were the only vehicle and tourists . As we approached the small ticket office I told Duang to tell the man that I wanted his best price for the trip (not the foreigner price) or I would go to the other boat landing (the one that we had just gone to that was closed). I think the man understood enough English to get my joke. He quoted a price and I asked if it included admission into the camp. He added the amount that we had paid to enter Baan Nai Soi for me and indicated that Duang did not have to pay because she is Thai. I then pulled out my wallet and started to pay the man and completely blow our "hard bargaining". He had quoted 685 baht ($19.57 USD) to have the boat take us to the village and back when we decided to return including admission fee to the camp. I started to pull out 1,370 baht when he as well as Duang started to protest. The quote was "all in" for both of and was not for each of us. We had a good laugh to my relief and definitely not at my cost. I was impressed with the man's honesty. I explained to Duang that typically in America, those types of costs are quoted on a "per person basis". So it is important to ask and understand exactly what the quote includes and its basis no matter where you are. Sometimes it is different than what you expect or are accustomed to.

We climbed into our narrow wooden boat which was propelled by a recycled car engine mounted on the stern. It was a very pleasant journey along the river to the settlement. There was no traffic on the river. Fires 4 inches to 6 inches high were burning down the hillsides to the water's edge in several locations.

Baan Huay Pu Keng was the single village where all the Paduang people were supposed to or at least were encouraged to relocate to. I had heard this from Freida two years ago. I had read that additional facilities were going to be built and others improved at Huay Pu Keng to accommodate the new residents. As we approached the village, I did not see any new construction, It appeared to me that the village was two years older without any maintenance over the ensuing two years since our last visit. I suppose that this is not the first time nor will it be the last time that government as well as politician's intentions or promises get "delayed" or don't happen at all. There is an expression often used in Thailand - "Same, Same"

We walked into the village and came upon a little girl playing a guitar that was larger than she was. She was on the porch of her house with her mother, brother, sister and another woman with her daughter. The other people were occupied preparing raw garlic to eat while the little girl played and sang Karen music. We approached the little girl and we were quickly seduced by her charm.

The little girl was four years old. She was quite the entertainer. She did her repertoire of songs for us. She had a very animated singing style and was obvious that she enjoyed being the center of attention. The adults joined us and it appeared that they were happy to have someone to talk to. Duang and the two women talked, and talked and talked some more. I suspect, as someone who had lived in a closed camp for awhile, that the people had grown tired of each others stories and were happy to listen to someone new with different stories. I was in my own world taking pictures so the time passed very quickly for all of us. The little girl's mother grabbed the guitar and performed some songs. The little girl joined in and was very thrilled to be able to sing with her mother. The girl also put on quite a show of animated motion to the songs - much like small children in America singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Wheels on the Bus". We spent so much time with the families that the little girl ended up wearing herself out. Just like most children her age, she got a little cranky and ended up cuddling up on her mother's lap for comfort. It was a treat to see the child learning from her mother how to play the guitar and sing the songs associated with their culture. It was reinforcement for me of my goal in my photography to show how different we all appear but that we are all alike. These are extraordinary people in difficult circumstances doing exactly what other people do everywhere else in the world.

With the little girl drifting off to sleep, we said goodbye and promised to return later in the year. We walked up further into the village and came upon a Kayaw (Big Eared) woman that we met on our last trip. We recognized each other and sat to talk. She was eight months pregnant with her second child. Her daughter, about 8 years old was busy eating as we got caught up on the events of the past two years. She confirmed that Freida was now in the closed refugee camp.

After walking around the village a little bit more we headed back down the hill to the boat. After stopping by the refreshment stand run by the Shan family with the twin daughters and "naughty little boy" we set off back in the boat. The naughty boy is now 7 years old with a buzz haircut and was wearing military clothing that said "US Army". He is still more of a terrorist than any type of professional soldier. I gave him some help as to how to properly salute - American style. If he ends up with some other nation's military clothing, I hope and trust that some passing tourist will give to him the appropriate instructions. I hold out no hopes as to him getting discipline.
As our boat pulled into the river we passed several children enjoying themselves swimming and diving in the cool water. Young Paduang girls with brass rings around their neck were immersed up to their necks in the water keeping cool on a hot and humid late afternnon in the Thai - Burma border region.

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