Tachilek Travel Blog› entry 51 of 66 › view all entries
Burma is a country that no one in Thailand can ignore. Most Thais, including my friends, look with loathing at tribal and Burmese but I took into account national prejudice. Thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants wash back and forth between the borders like the tides on the shore, the Myanmar junta is the moon that controls this tide. We worked with refugees belonging to the Karen nation, a plucky predominately Christian tribe that is fighting the longest independence war in modern history (over 50 years), now this brave people were fleeing for their lives. The cause of this new spate of ethnic cleansing was the junta. In a desperate bid to cling to power and after seeing the danger of overthrow by their own people (8888 revolution) relocated the capital from Rangoon to a heavily fortified capital inland.
It was to this embattled and wretched nation that I would go to renew my visa and satisfy my curiosity. It is a dream of mine to visit the interior. Mandalay and Rangoon are like magic names that have captured my imagination ever since read them in books and saw black and white photos of the Imperial Army Burma campaigns.
The junta officials helped me on this as they kept my passport at the immigration office (the first time any country has done this to me) and warned me not to leave the border town. The Myanmar border officer was a slick brown man with a perfect side parting, slick oily black hair, and an oilier smile. This was not my first time to their glorious nation so I noticed the new set of LCD screens and webcams now all visitors were digitally photographed. “Wow, getting high tech huh?” I joked to the oily official “Ahh yeess..” he said flashing his white teeth with a most sinister smile. “Must be the bloody Chinese again” I thought, they just truly enjoy upgrading fellow despotic abusive regimes. The young woman officer was quite pretty, very brown but that’s exotic to me, I smiled at her but she looked suspicious. I walked over a bridge with a concrete arch that read in “Welcome to the Golden Triangle” in bold red paint. As soon as I crossed the touts surrounded me “Opium opium… girls, you want?” they all pestered as they pressed against me with their open wooden cases. I brushed them aside and headed for the bazaar.
The goods were the same as every third world market Chinese stuff (knock off, plastics etc). What caught my eye were the lungis, a cotton cloth wrapped around the waist like a towel, everyone was wearing them. Men in white shirt and tie boys on bicycles, they all had these colorful paid towels covering their legs. The vendors were Indo-Burmese the men had fuzzy hair and thick Mario mustaches the women had white mud smeared on their faces (to make their skin whiter) and chewed betel nut. There were plenty of Thais browsing the market trying to look conspicuous with their ubiquitous yellow king shirts. It’s very amusing when people from neighboring nations cross over borders and suddenly act in exaggerated attitudes trying to stand out as different when there are often more similarities. I think these people are rather silly. Why put yourself out as a target for cons when you have the advantage of nationality camouflage. I often hide my nationality or foreigner status from the locals when I can blend in as a native or resident minority in SEA or East Asia. As they say “Discretion is the better part of valour.” Become part of the local environment to learn more and get deeper experiences.
Peering into the glass case at a jeweler and saw the biggest rubies of my life. The rubies of Mandalay are famed for their size and beauty and it wasn’t only rubies; turquoise, opals, and countless gems and semi precious stones all bled from this war-torn country. “How much is this?” I asked holding huge crimson ruby set in a gold ring. “15 dollars” that was the starting price, which meant 5 or less. I thought a minute than put it down. I was not a jeweler and had no idea of the authenticity of this rock. Later in my travels (Bucharest, Romania) I kicked myself when I heard from a Bombay gem tradesman of the quality of the Burma rubies “They are most high grade my friend..most prized!” he said with glittering eyes. I stopped at a woman in a light purple sari squatting on the road she was selling copious amounts of tobacco and other dried smokable vegetation. She had a heavy gold ring in her long nose “Which stuff you want?” she said and expertly squirted a jet of red betel nut juice mixed with saliva. I thought she looked very much like a camel with a nose ring “You got Camel?” I joked she didn’t get it. I liked the thought of a good cheroot and they were dirt cheap only I didn’t know what else was wrapped in the cigars. Smoking it there might not be good I had to leave soon and didn’t want to walk through Thai immigrations high of course taking it across would be sheer madness. I decided to save the experience for another day.
Only a couple hours in the border told me that this was a desperate and ramshackle country I had no desire to go further in at this time. Every minute in this oppressive atmosphere made me feel uneasy. I just wanted to get back to a place where life was safe and predictable. We often take it for granted that we can get up for a morning jog with our dog in a well-trimmed park the sprinklers spraying a gentle mist. Rather than being jolted into a mad dash for life into the jungle dragging a screaming baby under a rain of automatic gunfire. I got some liquor at the duty free and went back to Thailand. At the security check 25 km inside Thailand they gave me a through search for drugs and picked up some illegal tribal migrants.