Too Much

20 Dec 2006

I can't write when too little is happening. For the last couple of weeks I've had the opposite problem.

There's too much to roll into a neat little package, but here are some random bits.

Border Skirmish

We hired a jeep and driver for a day in Chiang Rai. He gave us a special 'family rate', which turned out to mean a car small enough that you wouldn't want to put five people in it unless they were family.

First stop was Tachilek in Myanmar. Failing to cross the border and back would have left me open to arrest, since my Thai visa expired the next day. The Burmese[1] officials refused to take my American money, because after three months strapped to my body, it had gone mouldy. Luckily Lyn prefers to leave her valuables in her backpack, and had greenbacks in good condition.

The transaction was conducted in eerie near-silence, because the officials spoke little English, and I didn't think it would be appropriate to speak Thai. They saw the funny side too; I extracted a wry smile from the guard as we fumbled to put away our useless money. In contrast, the next guy through the door opened the discussion with, "Do you speak English? I want a stamp!"

I wonder if they lost his passport.

On the far side of the border post are the worst bits of Thailand and Malaysia rolled in to one; pushy sellers with a weird language. A Burmese man waved a knife at me and asked for money[3]. Lyn looked twice at a weapons stall and the owner seized a pistol from the table, cocked it, and shot her in the head[4]. Behind a stall, a child was shrieking in such terror that we thought she was being caned[5].

They closed the border about six hours after we crossed back into Thailand, as the result of a skirmish with Shan rebels the previous day. So, yes, I've been shopping in a war zone.

Two hours later we were in Laos, having entered via an unofficial longtail crossing of the Mekong. The atmosphere was very relaxed. They gave us a free sample of 'snake whiskey' that tasted of truth, beauty and love, and then sold us a bottle that tasted like rotting snake[6].

fn1. Myanmarian?

fn2. There was a skirmish the previous day, and. Close one, as usual.

fn3. It was for sale.

fn4. Pellet gun being demonstrated. Unloaded.

fn5. She was being caned.

fn6. This is the first bait-and-switch scam I've had pulled on me in this entire region.