CHOP WOOD


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I was riding my motor scooter from Mae Rim to Chiang Mai early yesterday morning and passed a group of women sitting by the side of the highway, crouched perilously close to traffic, all selling what appeared to be the same vegetables and fruits. As I drove by, the face of the newest arrival to the phalanx of sellers caught my eye. She was smiling broadly. Despite the fact that she was preparing to sit on hard concrete with her inventory spread in front of her on a piece of cloth, an inventory that in no way seemed unique, she was glad to be there.

Buddhism emphasises acceptance. If I were in her place, I would have a hard time accepting the fact that I was joining an already overcrowded market, and would find some way to stand out from the other sellers. If I could, I would also find a way to maximise my comfort. Maybe I would just throw up my hands and go home, vowing to find a better way. But not her. She was glad to be sitting on the edge of the road among friends.

In our neighborhood, recorded music comes over the public address system followed by announcements by the village head man. Listening to this is not optional. Here, there is no assumed or implied right to sonic privacy. I was complaining about this to a Norwegian woman who had been here longer than I, and she suggested instead of looking at this as someone stealing my right to privacy, I might view it as the gift of community.

As an American, I view my neighbors as competition. As Moe of the Three Stooges used to bark at his fellow knuckleheads “Spread Out!” Like Daniel Boone, when I can see the smoke from my neighbor’s chimney, I know it’s time to move on. Here in Indochina, tucked between the two most populous countries in the world, India and China, only the super-rich can afford such notions. Here, where most people drive motor scooters, those who have office jobs aspire to drive the largest trucks they can purchase, usually on loan, often with no money down.

As the Thai economy continues to tank, I imagine quite a few of those will hit the used  truck market. But none of this effects me, as I am not in the market for a loan, or a truck, or land, or a house. I’m here to live as simply and cheaply as I can, and maybe absorb some of that acceptance that allowed the woman I saw to smile as she joined her community.12791087_1691576444465036_1014755527651888389_n

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Indigenous People on the Bottom


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I’m in Koh Lanta, Thailand, an island on the Andaman sea in Southern Thailand. This is a Moslem area, and in general the people here don’t look like Thais do up north where we live, near Chiang Mai. I have come across a group of people living here who are distinctly of a piece, unlike their neighbors. Physically and linguistically distinct, they are most commonly called “Sea Gypsies,” and are much, much poorer than their neighbors.

 

They go by many names. Anthropologists call them Moken, and define them as a semi-nomadic Austronesian people, who live in the Mergui Archipelago, a group of approximately 800 islands in the Andaman Sea. In Thailand they live near Phi Phi, Krabi and Phuket. The ones who have assimilated themselves into Thai culture are called “Thai Mai” or “New Thai.”

 

The Burmese treat them the way they do anybody they don’t want around. They force them out of the country at gunpoint.  The Thais are more accommodating than the Burmese, but the Moken don’t have Thai citizenship, which means they cannot own land and are not entitled to free medical services. They’re refugees, as are the Hill Tribe people up near Chaing Mai and Chiang Rai; ethnically distinct people who were driven out of Burma.

 

There’s another distinct group, the Rohingya, who are not welcome anywhere, and are persecuted in Burma. The Burmese claim they belong in Bangladesh, and the Bangladeshis claim they’re Burmese.

 

Sad to see the extreme poverty of these people. The Moken are not Buddhists. They have their own religion, and in Koh Lanta town there’s a shrine to their gods.

 

 

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Selective Focus


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I’m an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and have been for fifty years. If there’s one thing I’ve figured out, it’s that you can skip most of the stuff you see, take a carefully selected shot or two, and make the whole place look a lot more interesting that it would be if you were slogging through there in real time, looking at everything.

Because I grew up in the American Midwest, I enjoy the relative novelty of tropical landscapes. In fact, in the time I have left on this planet, I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to the flora here. There is no dead season here where everything dies back waiting for spring, though if ever there was such a time here, it’s now. We’re two-thirds of the way through dry season, and the air is smoky from burning going on in the hills. I eagerly await a return to lushness, but realize I will have to wait at least a couple of months until the rains return and the vegetation race begins again.

The only advantage I can see to this time of year is you don’t have to bring a raincoat, and you can see through the places that will be a green wall once the rains begin.

Here are three photos from my scooter ride yesterday, when I stopped by a real estate development/golf course not far from our home that I had yet to explore.  Even though there are funky places nearby this development, I chose to take pictures of the vistas that conform to my idea of beauty. That’s what photographers have been doing ever since cameras were invented.