Initial Reflections: Life on the Thai-Myanmar Border

After almost three weeks here in Ranong, Thailand, I am almost at a loss about what to write about. So many new experiences and perspectives, faces and names, foods and words.

Should I share some of my experiences in learning to live in a place whose cultural and political context contrasts other places I’ve lived? How my perpetually sweaty existence has featured daily wanderings of local markets; and my successes and failures at cooking and trying new foods: green egg noodles (unsuccessful – stuck together too much), insanely long beans, delicious fruit frappes and ‘green leaves’ (English name unknown) cooked with lemongrass and garlic (successful – taught by my wonderful Burmese friend). Or how I bought rice from two different sources only to discover that they were riddled with weevils: according to google and some of my colleagues this may be normal (you just wash them out), while others suggest otherwise.

My foray into new food and drink: the longest beans EVER, watermelon frappe, stuck together green noodles and green leaves and mushrooms.

Or my difficulties in deciding appropriate clothes to wear in a culture more conservative than my own (best to cover shoulders and knees even if its stinking hot). How upon arriving at school one day, a colleagues suggested a colour other than red might be more suitable to wear as my red t-shirt may indicate anti-government sentiment. Or how our apartment has been intermittently without water (this affected many homes not just ours) or internet (short term issue only): I’ve learnt to keep the 100L bucket in the bathroom full for future eventualities; and no internet was actually a blessing in disguise as it enabled me engage in non-screen activities.

Or how EVERYTHING comes ‘conveniently’ wrapped or bagged in plastic and with a heavy dose of sugar and/or MSG. The lack of recycling or rubbish disposal facilities and the consequent display of discarded plastic and metal everywhere. How in three short weeks my cycling pursuits have morphed from trying to evade magpie attacks to dodging dogs and motorbikes.



Rubbish on the road side

Should I write about my observations of the local people and industries? The charcoal stained faces I see wandering factory bound during my lunch break. Or the brigade of pink-shirts and black wellie/gumboots tiredly filing out of fish factories mid-afternoon after a long shift processing fish for export? Or maybe how this place appears to be at the margins of capitalism where the exploitation of people and ecosystems alike seems to be intricately intertwined and bound to the struggle for economic prosperity through the local charcoal and fishing* industries. Should I write about the smile stamped upon the HIV patient I visited with the health team and her expressed eagerness to learn English so she could converse with me? Or how so many families are squeezed into homes the size of my bedroom?

Or would you like to hear about some of my experiences at school**? The amazingly supportive community who have aided my transition here. The respect shown to teachers (in Myanmar’s society the teacher has very high status). My endeavours to learn 40 plus students’ and colleagues’ names (Burmese names have between one and four parts – like Aung San Suu Kyi). What it is like working in a multi-language context and trying to learn words of two languages at once. Or the angels overflowing with respect and generosity who have spent hours cooking dinner for me and others on two consecutive Sundays. Or the stories of students and teachers alike who work after school to support themselves and their families.

Being presented with so many ethical and sustainability concerns here, my head is brimming with ideas and emotions, its hard to know which to explore further in this blog. So, I ask you dear readers, what would you like to hear more about? Let me know and I’ll do my best to weave your requests into future blog posts.

*This clip is a couple of years ago, but it is likely that some of the practices continue still.

**See the About Me page a youtube clip of the Marist Asia Foundation school where I am volunteering.

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