05 October 2006

On the Cheap Bus to Burma

I wanted to save this for later, until I knew a little more, but we just took our first trip to Maesai on the Burmese border. We took the cheap bus there and back, the one that costs 500 Baht round trip for the two of us instead of 1200. So our fellow riders were, of course, of the poorer classes, many belonging to groups not well integrated into Thai society. This is where I wish knew more, but I'll forge ahead anyhow, and fill in the gaps in later posts as I learn more. On our way north, we were stopped on four separate occasions by police who came aboard and checked the identity cards of all the Thai on the bus. It was an odd bit of racial profiling, from which we were exempt, at least on the way up. On the way back my bag was searched, for Burmese heroine I assumed, and they asked for our passports three of the five times they stopped the bus. Every once in a while they would pull a person off the bus and throw their bags out of the luggage compartment. Also on the way back they vigorously frisked the kids in front of and behind us. The same guy that searched my bag was so thorough with the kid behind us that he nearly pulled him off the ground by his groin.

Here in Thailand there are a number of different ethnic groups, all of whom tend to be lumped together under the generic label of "hill tribes." The missionaries, for example, are teaching two men, one who speaks no Thai, and identifies himself as Mongolian (though he has never even been to Mongolia). The other speaks perfect Thai, his family has been here for generations, but he is Thai Yai, a Shan (Tai speaking, Thai being one of many Tai languages) ethnic minority here in northern Thailand and Laos, with the majority living in Shan State in Burma. His situation is particularly interesting. He is regarded by the Thai government as belonging to another nation, and is therefore not Thai. But his is a nation without a country, and his movements within Thailand are restricted to the borders of his former homeland. He cannot get a passport. He cannot cross the border into Burma or Laos. He cannot travel to Bangkok. He cannot apply for Thai citizenship. He cannot even get married. If he does decide to get get baptized someone will have to perform a solely religious ceremony in the chapel, so that he's married enough to appease the church, though he will never be married according to Thai law.

Those are the kinds of people our friendly policeman, pictured above, was throwing off the bus today--ethnic minorities bold enough to try and leave their ghettos. It seems incredibly unjust to me right now. I know there are NGOs here working on that sort of thing, so as I meet more people, and learn more, perhaps I will begin to fill the black hole at the center of this puzzle.

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