Saturday, January 21, 2012

Into Burma

January, 2010 run back up to Mae Sai. After changing hotels, we caught the bus back north and slipped over the border. Immigration almost refused the fee, a crisp $20 folded in half, saying it was too old. Tachilek looked little different than the Thai side, only grubbier and less friendly. Our smiles weren't returned, except for one kid and an older man. The tuk-tuk drivers and street vendors were extremely aggresive, falling into step beside you, and not fucking off until the twentieth "No!" The cigarette sellers held up their cartons, thumbs cleverly concealing viagra of dubious effectiveness. The more permanent shops sold the usual tat-- clothes, tea, pirated DVDs. Men of all ages and trades walked around in longyi.

We walked gingerly along the busted concrete crumbling into open sewers. We found a wedding reception in progress, a Toyota out front done up in bows. Up the hill to a massive gold chedi. behind it, two dozen concrete monks formed a conga line behind the Buddha. Miki tried to snap a photo of some Lisu girls, but upon a shouted command from one girl, the rest fell into line behind her, out of camera range. This leader glared at Miki as she passed. The mountains in the distance were dotted with gold gumdrops. We had a goat curry in a grungy basement restaurant, which surprisingly sold Heineken. Then, back to Thailand.

In our truck was a Swiss guy with a guitar. He'd stayed in Burma for 14 days, hanging out with some musicians he'd met on a previous visit, and ringing in the Lisu new year. He said it was a drag to return to his hotel every night, as no private Burmese citizen can host a foreign guest.

Our bus rolled south to Chiang Rai. I was crammed into the seat behind the driver, sitting sideways with my knees straddling the engine block. A young girl was nearly between them, and my left knee was pressed into the flank of her overweight mother who was constantly shifting and fussing with her kids, giving me the feeling of kneeling on a waterbed. A hilltribe man behind me was leaning forward into the seat, obviously motion sick. His bony fingers pressed into my shoulders from his tight grip on the seat. The driver's wife constantly hopped on and off the bus with embarking and disembarking passengers. I wondered at a life spent hanging off a bus all day. We stopped at the drug checkpoint and for the only time out of six checks, I was asked to produce my passport. The cop swaggered down the bus in dark '70's cop shades, looking the baddass. I suppose you have to be a badass to shoot unarmed students and journalists.

Back in Chiang Rai, I changed money, had a quickie massage. On the way back, I watched a Frenchman penetrate the massage gauntlet, dismissing their siren-like calls with a simple tip of the hat. I eventually settled in with a coffee and a book on my patio at Baan Bua. Miki and I walked up to the Saturday night market, where finally got the checked kramas that we'd been searching for since Cambodia. There waas plenty of interesting food, but I was marketed out, so pushed through the old city walls to a place I'd noticed that advertised ravioli at 150 baht. the menu however quoted 250, so I gruffly told the owner that dishonesty was bad business, and walked out. A consolation prize was a Thai shrimp and chili pizza, washed down with a fine German pilsner, served up by a ladyboy waiter.

On the turntable: Treat Her Right, "Treat Her Right"

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