April 22, 2010

How to Say Goodbye to a Nation

  1. Visit the heart of ongoing protests in the vain search for pillowcases, giving yourself blisters in the process
  2. Throw a (lame) party by getting a pity invite to someone's house and inviting the five people you know and can communicate with
  3. Spend six hours downloading the latest Gossip Girl (he he, guilty pleasure) so you can have something to do later
  4. Insist on carrying everything with you, even if it means your suitcase is 10 kg overweight
  5. Take a company car to the airport, accompanied only by the students who were ordered to come with you
  6. Get bitten by a potentially rabid dog while peacefully walking down the street literally 30 meters from your house 
  . . .

Wait. . . What?

That's not a very nice way to say goodbye to the people and country you've lived in and dedicated 7 months of your life to!

Congratulations, you've figured out that the way to say goodbye is both a) not as is described above and b) non-existant.

Of course there's no way to say goodbye, and goodbye is mostly just a new beginning as is illustrated here,
 and certainly not an entire country,except to relive your greatest memories and enjoy your closest friends. I couldn't do that, mostly because of the protests and because of the Songkran holiday, but that doesn't mean I resent it. Except for the dog bit. I'll get into that later, as well as a potentially tearful goodbye to Mercy. .

Just wanted to let you know that I'm alive, and indeed out of  danger in terms of protests, though not necessarily dogs.


April 15, 2010

Songrkan (Or the wettest week in the whole country)

I've had, during my 7 months in Thailand, a total of four new years: Academic, Gregorian, Chinese, and Thai. Yes, I've celebrated all of them, but if that's not the universe telling me to make a new start for myself, I have no idea.

New Years celebrations are all different. Academic New Year (between August and September 7th)  is more of a tragedy, or a reunion that an all out party. Gregorian New Years (January 1st) involves missing school/work, staying up late with a lucky date the night before, getting drunk, counting down and watching the ball drop. Chinese, or Lunar New Year (late January to February), is celebrated with a huge fireworks/firecrackers marathon that makes the western version of a light show look like a sissy (as in, a few years ago they burned down the brand new CCTV building in Beijing), paying homage to your ancestors, giving Hong Bao, or red envelopes with money to your children, and a family reunion.

Now, none of this is anything like Thai, or Buddhist New Year. Celebrated in Mid April (read, right now) during the summer holidays and the hottest part of the year in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos (apparently it lasts 3 weeks there), its by far the most fun I've ever had.

Imagine a water fight. . . Now imagine a gay pride parade . . . and now imagine a mud fight.

Combine all that, and you have Songkran.

For three days, whenever you leave the house, prepare to meet serious traffic jams, be doused in often ice cold water and plastered with mud and talcum powder. Also, prepare to have some serious, serious fun.

I went with P, P's niece and boyfriend, J, and G to Ayyuthaya by train on Tuesday for the first day. We rented a tiny little Tuk Tuk, bought some water guns and a big bucket, and just painted the town gray with mud.The biggest danger was actually from the pickup truck filled to the brim with coolers and people who'd come up behind the car and just dump it in. We walked down one road, dancing to the music and painting other people's cheeks.
No, that's not us. You think I'd risk my awesome/ sucky camera for that?

Of course, being a foreigner incited calls of 'Farang! Farang!' as people crossed the street to put mud on me, ask me where I was from, and dump ice down my back. Partially I think its also socially acceptable to sexually harass people, (I got kissed by a random dude, and I'm not someone who gets kissed, had cheeks pinched, breasts touched, and butt hit) but it was so much fun it's easy to ignore it.

Bangkok has apparently been rather subdued in light of the recent violence, and a lot of the big celebrations have been canceled, but I'm still seeing a vibrant country.

The reason for the whole water pouring is that it symbolizes the washing away of all of last years sorrows and becoming clean for the new year. Its also an excuse to cool off too.

Right now, there's a party going on right outside the office, but I have to go home and tell people that apparently there's a party for me tonight. Only problem is that if I leave, I'll have to take the computer with me, and it'll get wet, and that would be bad. . . what the hell, its a party right?

April 12, 2010

Protesting the Protests

I'm a Pink Shirt.

Not a crazy Red Shirt.

Not a hypocritical Yellow Shirt.

If I liked Orange, I might be orange, but I'm Pink!

These protests have been going on for a month, and while I get that the Red shirts have something to be pissed about . . . I really think Khun John said it better than I can,

I know why they're pissed, but could they please be pissed somewhere else?!

Because of protests, my mother's forbidden me from going out, I can't go look through the malls for potential computer choices,the kids have missed Taekwando classes for a month, I can't use any of the buses because they're all been shut down, and now that I have free time, I can't go anywhere!

I am, sadly, leaving in four days, and they're raining on my parade!

I'm shocked that it's escalated to worst violence since 1992, especially since the last time I saw them, they were just making a lot of noise so a conversation wasn't so much two people talking as a shouting match. I know you're sad to see me leave, but I draw the line at death, kapish?

What do you guys think of  the protests in Thailand, or have you even heard about them?

April 10, 2010

The Truth About Myanmar Part 2

corching sun as a

I have permission to go, I have money to go, at this point its just a question of getting everything ready to actually get there.

Planning a trip to Myanmar really shows you how those 'sanctions' we've heard so much about actually work. Because of sanctions, you can't :
  1. Find and ATM
  2. Find flights through American/Canadian/European travel websites like Expedia. You have to go straight to the airline and pay the higher price
  3. Book most hotels online
  4. Use credit cards to pay for anything there
  5. Find a 7 Eleven for those feminine emergencies (i.e. chocolate cravings)
  6. Find up-to-date, accurate information on transportation or. . . well, anything else
Pretty much, the only effect is to make travel for the foreign tourist a PAIN IN THE.. . . But that's a whole other issue.

When I finally found a ticket from Bangkok to Yangon, fitting everything I wanted to do into the four days I had free was something of a clown car. I do it, I have schedule (I'll get into that next time), and then the next thing I have to figure out rears it's ugly head: visas.

To find an appropriate bus to take from Mercy to the Embassy was interesting, but made so much easier with Google Maps. I cancel my two morning classes to get there in the morning (Since they don't have a website, I have no idea what their hours are like). I go, fill out my forms, reach for the envelope containing my photos and. . . its empty. Great; in my last minute run through yesterday I forgot to put them back.

Grumble Grumble, I leave the Embassy. . . walk along the desolate road in the blazing sun, dying of thirst, until I see. . . I photo studio! Yay! I don't have to come all the way out here and cancel classes again! I run in, pay a ridiculous fee for four very embarrassing photos, and head back to the Embassy. I go to the window, get a number, and wait patiently.

Up to the window, the scary Burmese official who has probably just been honorably discharged from the Army for bootlegging some Marlboro Reds looks at my forms and says
"Your job is a volunteer?"
"Yes, here in Bangkok. . . "
"Hmmm *flips though my duly completed forms* We need a letter from your employer. "

Are you serious?

"I'm leaving on Thursday, is that enough time?"
"Oh yeah, can you come back tomorrow?"
No, I couldn't because I had to schmooze come Canadian Parliamentarians.
Again, I leave the Embassy, wander along the deserted road in the scorching sun, accompanied by a swarthy man playing a tiny, tinny violin.


For all you future travellers to the Golden Land! To obtain a visa, you need:
  • Your Passport (like, duh)
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Two recent, color photos like those in your passport
  • 'Duly completed' Visa form, Arrival form, and Work history form
  • And, if your current and/or former job is anything like teacher, volunteer, journalist, editor, UN worker, or street cleaner, you also need a letter signer by your employer saying you're going as a tourist, not in your capacity as a fore-mentioned professional, that you personally organized and paid for your TOURIST trip, and that anything you do there is as a TOURIST.
The whole thing will cost 810 baht and take two business days, and will get you a tourist, single entry visa valid for four weeks in Myanmar. Embassy hours are from 9:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 3:00 for visa processing, and from 3:00 to 4:30 for passport pickup.

I share. God, Ms. Crawford would be proud of me!

When I finally get my passport back, two days before I leave, I'm getting excited. Sure, having to wake up at 3 in the morning to catch the flight was a downer (at least I had caffeine, otherwise the security guy would have been missing a few items), but it was worth it to see this sign, which was also an ad for tea mix, next to one saying

"Drug Trafficking is Bad! Punishable by fine or death."

April 9, 2010

Mother's Message to a Paralyzed Bangkok

I was going to a Baha'i function yesterday. I really was going! And then my mother calls me just as I'm about to leave the Centre. The conversation is as follows:

Mothership :"Nats, there's a STATE OF EMERGENCY?! And you didn't call me?!"

Isn't he a scary, two faced man?
Me: "Yes Mum, but don't worry, they're no where near . .  "

Mothership: "Are you going to the Feast?"

Me: "I'm just leaving now."

Mothership: "No, you're not."

Me: "Mum, It's my last one before I leave, I have to go say goodbye!"

Mothership: "Nats, You're NOT GOING! A state of Emergency means you don't go anywhere unless you have to, and you don't have to!"

Me: "Mum, the only protester I've seen here was one lone, very Red guy reading the newspaper in 7 Eleven."


Mothership: "Ok, now I'm not so worried."

Me: "Have to go Mum, or I'll be late."

Mothership: "You're not going!"

 Her views were perfectly reinforced by her Facebook status this morning too:

Only 9 more days 'til my totally-grown-up baby is home again. State of emergency in Bangkok makes me WAY too jittery about her, and I just want her HOME!

 Yup, I'm still a baby, but I guess it doesn't help that I still didn't go.

April 6, 2010

The Truth About Myanmar Part 1

At the beginning of this blog I told you that I'm in love with Myanmar. It's my country, and I understand it almost better than my own.

The affair began in Grade 11, when I was one of the most experienced members of my Model United Nations (MUN) class*. Because, yes, I'm awesome, I got the toughest assignments our school had ever been given, and certainly one of the most difficult you can actually get, the Advisor of Myanmar in the Advisory Panel on the Question of Myanmar. Yes, a partner and I had to represent the Government, the Junta, in a room full of people who hate you and want to do everything possible to screw you over. I don't care what people say about the Security Council, International Court of Justice, and Officer positions at MUN conferences; nothing can beat that. Anyways, I had to do a lot of research on pretty much everything about the country, and so I know things like that we used to be the number one opium producing country before Afghanistan realized that the straight and narrow is boring and decided to come hang out with us in the Golden Triangle.** I also know that while official literacy rates hover around 35%, in reality its closer to 95%. We just want your development money.

In the course of this research, and a botched trip to what has to be the scariest embassy in the world, I felt a connection. Of course, I am a die hard fan of 'The Lady,' but I can at least understand why the Tatmadaw (see how I slyly added a Burmese word meaning the armed forces? Yeah, I'm cool that way) are so awful and how the International community is doing a terrible job of managing it. I went to the conference, I talked a lot, yelled a bit, and went home. I did more research for a project on Juntas involving a bathtub (don't ask), and read a lot of books. That assignment really got me into international politics and also got me thinking about how cool it would be to go there.

So, when I realized that my Thai visa would expire in a few weeks, I did a bit of research, and casually brought it up in conversation with my mum. She said yes, and thus began my trip of, if not a lifetime, certainly the year.

*Please note that being in MUN does not make me either a power-hungry, manipulative bitch or a nerdy over-achiever. I like to think of myself as being halfway in between.

**Interesting thought; why is it that the US is in a War on Drugs in Colombia when Myanmar and Afghanistan are producing way more? Could it be because no one wants what we have? (yes, I know I just said we)