Tag Archives: Thailand

Souvenirs

Do not tell me, please,

That I have memories left to be my souvenirs

These are not souvenirs.

Souvenirs you put in a box on the top shelf of the closet behind the winter blankets

Where ten years later you pull them out and dust them off

To laugh over and touch and remember

And perhaps

Shed a tear or two.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To be glad for the memories.

Memories are good, but these, these!

These are not just leftover scraps of life,

But pulsing, moving, breathing

Faces and names and lives and places

Woven into the fabric of my being.

No, they cannot be boxed up

Or fitted into photos,

Slotted into albums,

And then stored away and lost

Like the postcards in the greeting card boxes

Buried behind the 4th grade A Beka math book.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To forget the past

And simply move on.

Five and a one-half years of life

Lived unstopped and unfettered

Are not just old scribbled journals

Or letters from some forgotten lover

To be conveniently shelved in the attics of memory,

Put out of harm’s way and where they can do no harm

Not even for only 5 months on this side of the Pacific.

 

No, that would be shelving me

And I am not a souvenir

Black and White (and Gray all Over)

It feels odd to be alive at a time like this. The streets continue to get emptier and emptier after an order to shut down universities and schools, large tourist markets, entertainment venues and sporting events in an effort to stop the spread of Covid19.

The city lies cloaked in gray. Smog blankets the mountains, hiding the sun that should come out in blazing heat. The Air Quality Index shows the PM 2.5 to be over 360, at dangerous levels.

Our worlds have been uprooted, our safe schedules in upheaval. The ground beneath us is shaky, the sky above us is shrouded, the road before us is blurred with confusion.

Through it all hovers a brooding heaviness. Fear. Fear, waiting to latch its teeth into us when we read the news, when we discuss the crisis with friends, when we see the city streets emptying.

In a time like this, it feels sometimes like the distinct black and white lines that we like to draw are blurred and shaky, smudged into gray, like the sky above.

Life has felt like this for me in the past week. Selfishness seems to be the norm in cases I meet at my work as a translator. Anger flares over the smallest things. Hope seems to be ebbing low. Some of the kindest people I know are said to be the most corrupt. My own future and the dreams I’ve cherished are vague and unreal and look impossible. My school and internship plans for the next 5 months have been totally changed. Sometimes the things you believe with your mind don’t feel right with your heart.

It’s easy to let these things carry into my life, to begin carrying a heaviness that was not mine to carry. It’s easy to let the unknowns and gray matters and smog of life soak into my soul.

But when I stop and think of it, I can still trace some of the lines and truths. Through the gray, I can still see color. I can still see truth.

It is still right to be kind.

It is still right to be just, even in the face of injustice and corruption.

Being humbly truthful is still the best thing.

Unselfishness still speaks as loudly as selfishness.

Prayer is still the best response to an unknown future.

Practicing generosity is still one of the kindest and unselfish things you can do.

God is still in control.

God still keeps his promises.

God still loves this world.

And donuts still taste really, really good.

Through a Glass Darkly

I am excited to announce a new book!

Recently I was inspired to make a compilation of the poems and essays that I’ve written over the past 5 years. The result is a small book called a “tradebook” from Blurb (a company that in the past I only used to make photobooks). It’s about 90 pages long. I’ve titled it Through a Glass Darkly. It contains 4 different sections labeled “The Other Side of Home,” “Steal Away,” “Through a Glass Darkly,” and “Shoes.” The book contains poetry and essays mostly having to do with life in Thailand, day to day events, people I’ve met in my time over here, etc.

Actually, I’m not really sure if I should say that I published a book. In a way I did, but it’s a very simple book, and the printing of it will be very informal and low-key. For me, it’s more of a thing I do for myself. There’s something satisfying about seeing your work bound up in book form.

I am offering it for sale, though. While it is mostly text, it also contains about 15 high quality black and white photos, all taken in the area of Chiang Mai. It contains about 41 items of prose and poetry, several titles which are as follows: “When Tears Become a Language,” “Silence,” “The Image of You,” and “Dusk-Doi Sutthep.” Most of the items in the book are found on my blog.

The book is priced at $5.99.

If you are wanting to have the book mailed to you, shipping in the States is priced at $3.00 for one book with 10 cents for each extra book added. As far as payment is concerned, a check can be sent to my home address, or you can pay via Paypal.

Below are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what the book is like. If you’re interested, please leave a message in the comments below and I’ll make sure you get one.

Many blessings!

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The Chiang Mai Expat Dictionary (Specifically Conservative Anabaptist Oriented)

Sometimes we experience things that we simply have no name for. Craig Thompson, who blogs at Clearing Customs, wrote about “In-flightisms.” This inspired me to come up with my own lexicon of words that describe specific people, places or things in Chiang Mai. Here are seven new words I have coined.

  1. Farangogation: the interrogation that occurs on the first meeting of a Thai person and a Farang. “Can you speak Thai?” is usually the first question asked. If the answer is yes, and usually only then, the interrogation proceeds. How many questions are asked is usually dependent on the Farang’s Thai speaking ability. The more they are able to answer clearly, the more questions are asked. If the first questions bring undesirable results, the last questions are usually left unasked.
    1. Where are you from?
    2. How long have you lived in Thailand?
    3. Where do you live in Chiang Mai?
    4. Can you speak Northern Thai?
    5. What kind of job do you have?
    6. Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
    7. How much do you pay for rent?
    8. Do you teach English?
    9. Can you eat Laab? (substitute Laab for Somtam or another very spicy food)
    10. Are you half-Thai?

Questions in a farangogation are usually directed by a group of Thai people at one farang. Questions are asked in rapid-fire succession, leaving the foreigner little breath to answer. A farangogation is usually held in order for Thai people to be able to analyze the farang’s “expatnicity” or in some cases “foreignicity.”  Farangogations can occur anywhere without previous notice, for example, at police checkpoints, at fruit stands, at gas stations.

2. Foreignicity: The type of foreigner in Thailand. Usually foreignicity can be divided into two categories: expats and tourists. The most common identifying factors are noticed while driving the roads of Chiang Mai. Characteristics of tourists will be as follows: sleeveless shirts and short shorts, shiny, smooth helmets with the names of rental shops, riders holding smartphones or selfie sticks, and lots of white skin and long legs.

3. Expatnicity: This is similar to foreignicity, but differs in that expatnicity concerns foreigners who live in Thailand for an extended period of time. Examples of different types of expatnicity may be but are not exclusive to: Old white men with young Thai girlfriends, rich retired divers, homeschooling missionaries driving Avanzas, young, single English teachers, university students seeking an experience, restaurant operators and more.

4. Whistutter: A quiet, almost inaudible type of voice employed by busy English teachers when asked in public what their job is. The whistutter is used in case someone with children wanting to study English privately is in earshot. The whistutter rarely works.

5. Mennusters: Not to be confused with clusters of men, this is what you call the group of Mennonites that gather at the Chiang Mai International Airport to say goodbye to staff leaving permanently. These Mennusters form long before boarding time and disintegrate in trickles. They can be identified by the long dresses and head veilings the ladies wear, as well as  cameras, forlorn looks, groups posing for pictures, and farewell cards.

6. Terrapinack: A unique kind of backpack used by teachers who commute to their job by motorbike. This backpack is classified only as a terrapinack when it used to transport everything that is essential to the teacher’s life. Certain items stay in the terrapinack permanently, for example eye drops, billfold, phone, pens, socks, tissues, Thai vocabulary lists, planners, and sunglasses. The terrapinack is so called because it is similar to that of a turtle’s shell—it goes everywhere the teacher does. When terrapinacks are lost, teachers may automatically go into a frenzy of anxiety, exude excessive sweat or completely faint away.

7. Tingutch: A form of language that has evolved among speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch who currently reside in Chiang Mai. The language contains structures and similarities of Pennsylvania Dutch, English and Thai. One sentence can contain words or structures from 2 or 3 of these languages. An example of a sentence may be: “Ich bin puuting pasa English and you still can’t versteh me!” (I am speaking English and you still can’t understand me!) According to Ethnologue, linguists predict that in approximately 20 years, the language will be established in Chiang Mai as a language of its own.

Who People Think I Am

“She’s a teacher here, for sure.”

The low murmur followed me out of the room as I left from a meeting with my educational adviser. I turned halfway and flashed the speaker a smile and left, leaving her to wonder if I really had understood her statement in Thai to the lady beside her.

I get it a lot. Wearing a dress and a veil often gives Thai people the idea that I am some sort of important person. I’ve been asked if I am a nun, a sister, a nurse. I have been called an ajarn (a word often used for a professor) when I went in to registration at my university.

I grew up wearing dresses around women who always wore dresses, so our wearing dresses did not really reflect much of our personality. It is different in Thai culture. Thai people view ladies who always wear dresses as เรียบร้อย “riab roi” (proper) and along with that word comes a host of other presuppositions: you are gentle, you are organized, you are ladylike, you are the epitome of womanhood. I am none of those and sadly shall never be. I am not very “riab roi” either. I ride horses in dresses, I play soccer in dresses, I run races in dresses, I climb up waterfalls in dresses, I milk cows in dresses, and I go hunting in dresses.

But in thinking about all of this, I came to the humorous conclusion that few people understand me well and no one understands me perfectly.

And that is totally ok. I know Someone who does understand me.  I have imperfect perceptions about people around us as well.

So in thinking it over, here are some different identities people around me give me, or I think they do.

WHO THE GENERAL THAI PUBLIC THINKS I AM

 

WHO MY CLASSMATES THINK I AM

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WHO FELLOW NON-ANABAPTIST AMERICANS THINK I AM

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WHO CHRISTIANS FROM MY HOME AREA THINK I AM

 

WHO NEWLY ARRIVED EXPATS TO THAILAND THINK I AM

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

WHO PEOPLE IN NEED OF TRANSLATION OR EDITING THINK I AM

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WHO MY HOUSEMATES  THINK I AM

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Photo by 立志 牟 on Unsplash

WHO MY HOUSEMATES THINK I AM IN EARLY MORNING

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WHO MY FAMILY THINKS I AM

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WHO SOME OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO OTHERS OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO MY TEACHERS THINK I AM

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Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

WHO I THINK I AM

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Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay

WHO I REALLY AM

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Shoes

This past semester I took one of my favorite classes ever, Intercultural Communication. Some of the themes we studied in the first part of the semester were communication, identity, and culture; later we delved into issues such as child soldiers, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and genocide. As a part of the class, we each came up with a creative project or reflection on what we had learned, since a lot of the material was heavy and dark. Since I love poetry, I took the chance to come up with my own spoken word poetry piece and performed it. I pulled from the theme of identity that we had studied in the first half and combined it with some of the issues of the second half, using the metaphor of shoes to describe how we can empathize with the oppressed. Below is the poem that I wrote and performed as spoken word. (photo credit above: pixabay.com)

 

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their feet.

But you can never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

 

My father’s boots were tall and strong

Like him

Made to stride through the mud to spread straw for cows on cold winter mornings

Or through tall prairie grasses to hunt for the stray calf lost in the wheatgrass

On sunny spring mornings when the swallow swooped over dewy meadows

 

My mother’s shoes were tiny and timid

Like her

Black and trimmed with tucked-in edges that she wore for Sunday church

Her shoes fit in with all the other women’s shoes

When lined in a row when sitting on the backless benches

Except hers couldn’t touch the floor

 

My ancestor’s shoes were rough and rugged

Like them

They trod the hill paths of Germany

Slipping through the forests silently, stealthily

Stealing through the starlight to meet in caves

By underground rivers in the dead of night to be rebaptized–

Radicals and reformers.

Their shoes took them to the courts of Zurich, preaching and persuading

And some to their deaths

To burning at stake, drowning in the Lammat River

 

My ancestor’s shoes carried them onto boats

Fleeing on boats coming across wide, wild waters

Where they became a band of bewildered immigrants

In a nation and a tongue not their own

The words they spoke became heavy on their Swiss German tongues

And their fear of facing the fires again

Closed their mouths;

The firebrands and reformers became the silent in the land

Die Stille im Land.

 

Their shoes changed from strong mountain shoes

And religious rebel shoes

To quiet and capable shoes

Plowing the land and planting corn,

Until the East became too crowded

Then they pulled on their traveling shoes,

Their plain pioneer shoes

Boarded wagons and trains and boats

And staring into the setting sun, braved the dust, and

Gritting their teeth against the drought,

They lost their children to the prairies’ grip

Grimly facing the taunts of neighbors who called them “those Germans”

When to be German was to be a Nazi

While their accents never fit in

Just like their shoes.

 

What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Some people wear ballerinas and brogues, bast shoes and brogans

Others trod in trainers, Tsarouhis, tiger head shoes, and toe shoes

Pampooties, peeptoe shoes, peranakans, peshaawaris, platform shoes, pointininis

And still others wear silver shoes, slingbacks, slip on shoes, slippers,

Sneakers, snow shoes, spool heels, stiletto heels, sailing shoes.

Moccasins and winklepickers, Mojaris and wellingtons, Mules and wedges

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Some people wear moccasins that have seen the dust of trails

And the tears of those trails where millions died while weeping and walking

A convenient quiet massacre

 

Some little girls wear red leather tarkasin on their wedding day

Feet curling with fear  while they say yes to a man three times their age

Who steals their past and their present and their future

 

Some people do not wear any shoes as they run

Panting and gasping through the jungle at night

While flames tongue the sky and gunshots pierce the silence

 

Some children wear crude heavy army boots

Whose marching beats out

Power

And plunder

And pain

And march them to destroy the ones who love them most

And themselves

 

Some children do not wear any shoes at all,

Since the explosion of the land mine that stole their father’s lives

Took their own feet as well

 

Some people took off their shoes before they stepped into the shower

The shower that stole the breaths of their shaved and shorn and shattered bodies

And all that was left was—

Shoes

 

Some babies wore tiny soft shoes, wrapped onto tiny soft feet

When under an Eastern moon their skulls were bashed against the tree

The Killing Tree, they called it

By soldiers with hearts of rubber wearing shoes of rubber tires.

Destroy them by their roots, they said.

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What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Can I wear your shoes?

 

I cannot wear your shoes

They were not made for me.

 

But I can wear my mother and my father’s shoes

I can wear my ancestors’ shoes

And when I wear their shoes, I can know a little bit

A little bit

Of what it means to be invisible on the margin, the edge

To be born inconveniently.

To dread the knock on the door in the middle of the night

To lie haggard and hungry on a boat adrift

To live in a land where tongues cannot curl around strange sounds

And the name carried is synonymous with enemy.

To have fathers turn upon daughters and sons turn upon mothers

To bury children under a scorching sky

In a strange land

 

Perhaps I can know,

A little bit

When I wear their shoes

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Lines

Even after five years, sometimes I feel like I am lost in a tangle of language, culture, traditions, national borders.

Why was I born on this side of white and you were born on that side of brown?

The river of words that runs in my heart is not the same as the river of words that runs in your heart, though there are times the rivers mingle, when languages come together.

Why are you called Vietnamese and I am called American? Why are you called Thai and I am called “Farang?” Why are you called Karen and I am called Caucasian?

Why was I born where the world was bright and hope sprang unbidden in my heart and you felt only the crushing of loneliness and the thwarting of choices from the day you were born?

Why was I born with the weight of a culture on my shoulders I feel obliged to carry, a weight that is different from the weight you carry? And perhaps you feel no obligation to carry?

Why are you the other, and I am the one? Or I am the other and you are the one?

Why are our worlds dictated by the little books in our pockets that we call passports, that identify us?

Or do they?

Where are the lines where spirit surpasses language, where kindness goes beyond cultural borders, where hope speaks across lines enforced by countries?

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

What exactly does this mean? Five years ago I had more answers than I do now.

Ten Benefits to Wearing a Mask

If asked to describe my week in one word, I would have to use a word I am quickly becoming to hate:

SMOG

When you read the title of this post, your first thought may have been, oh, this is going to be a deeply insightful post about the invisible masks we wear.

It’s not.

This past week has been a long week of waking up every morning to a dirty brown sky covered in ash and PM 2.5 and dust. It’s been a long week of trying to do homework, stay healthy physically, mentally and emotionally, and balance 29 other things at the same time. It’s been a week of checking AQI levels and seeing numbers over 400.

But I am tired of talking about that. If you want to read more about the smog, go here.

I found that during this week, in order to stay sane, you need to take measures. That means wearing a protective mask where ever you go. It means staying in air conditioner as much as possible. It means not getting too active. It means drinking lots of water. It means intentionally doing things that keep you from getting depressed.

And it also means finding humor in the sm- (that bad word).

So, in doing that, I made a list of ten things that are benefits of wearing a mask (besides helping with pollution).

  1. When you need to do things with people you feel awkward around and both of you are wearing a mask, it feels a bit less awkward.
  2. When you are tired and meet someone and you want to smile but you don’t have the energy to, you can just squint your eyes at each other. They get what you mean.
  3. You can talk to yourself and practice your dramatic presentation for next class while waiting at the stoplight without people thinking that you have gone totally crazy.
  4. You can sing loudly on the way home on your motorbike without being scared of swallowing a mosquito.
  5. Eating snacks is a pain because you have to take off your mask. Therefore you eat less snacks. Which saves on money.
  6. You can stick out your tongue at people or make other expressive faces at them and they never know what you do. This gives high inner satisfaction
  7. You can eat chocolate behind your mask and no one knows that you are eating chocolate.
  8. Wearing a mask and protective sunglasses while driving a 110 cc motorbike can make you feel like you are driving one that is 500 cc. Formidable, powerful and competent. Even when you are feeling tired, helpless and incapable.
  9. It creates a sense of being in a community. I am a mask wearer. You are too. We wear the mask.
  10. And finally, the best part of wearing a mask is taking it off!!

 

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A Year Later: My Baanies Part 2

Just recently I have been reminded of the importance of community. I am by nature not someone who gravitates toward community, but I have learned and am learning how important it is to surround yourself with trustworthy people. These ladies, the Baanies, have taught me so much. Where I fail, they make up for it. My weaknesses are their strengths, my strengths are their weaknesses. Alone we could never do what we do now. They have taught me about friendship, about sharing, about beauty, about strength, about trust. Close to a year ago I blogged a poem about my “baanies.” Click here to read it. Now it’s close to a year later and with several of them leaving, I find myself a bit nostalgic. I don’t post these poems because I think they are masterpieces in the realm of poetry– they’re not. But even if the rhythm and rhyming is stilted and simple, it embodies some of what these ladies bring to life here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

 

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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Judi on the left.

Judi went home, she said, “just because”

But we all really know why

There’s a guy named Mike she thinks she likes

Even though she’s back in Chiang Mai;

This Mike, we think, may be ok

But we’re keeping our eyes trained tight:

He’d better be good, and do as he should

Or we will all put him to flight.

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Kim and a Thai friend making cookies

Kim is well and busy as ever

And next week she is saying goodbye

To the tropics of Thailand for the snows of the North

For the handshake instead of the wai;

We’ll miss her heaps and all of her songs

And her passion and kindness as well,

But she’ll shine her light wherever she is

That we can surely foretell.

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Crystal on the left.

Crystal keeps life in this house refreshing

When naps in the bathroom she takes,

She likes to push others into the pool

And finds in her bike long skinny snakes;

She’s got a heart that is made of gold

(So her students would gladly say)

Coffee makes her happy (and of course us too)

She is just fun to be with all day.

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When snakes are around

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Ask Crystal if she enjoys chicken now… :/

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks,

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

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Melissa on the left

Melissa is as sweet and understanding as ever

And just in the weeks that passed

She bravely called a man to come kill our rats

(Even though her heart beat fast)

Her Thai is better than ever before

But she is going home in May

This makes us wonder who will clean the kitchen

And makes us sadder than we can say.

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Nancy: second to right

Nancy has learned how to speak Thai

And she’s really good at latte art

We all like to listen when she laughs

And hers is a kind, sensitive heart

She drives a funny, yellow Fino

A lot like a bumblebee, I’d say

She zips around corners and weaves through traffic

While we hold on tight and— pray.

 

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A Lawa friend’s wedding

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

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Brit on the left

Brit will be an aunt before too long

We’re all happy for her sake

She doesn’t lose her phone as much anymore

And you should see the fires she makes

She’s smart and selfless and loves little kids

And really, she’s almost Thai,

And when we think of her leaving for home

The only thing we want to do — is cry.

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Lori in her happy place

Lori’s still here and her hair is even grayer

And she’s slipped down her stairs a few times

She’s got itchy feet and she dreams of the mountains

And she still makes weird little rhymes

She’ll still be in school for another two years

And then watch out, she’ll be free

To travel away, to teach or to train,

Or be whatever God calls her to be.

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With Thai friends from church

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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And of course, we couldn’t forget Diego

December

Christmas break from school has been many things. Relaxing, no. But interesting, educational, and enlightening, yes. It’s hard to believe that I am in my third week of Christmas break already.

I had been hoping to be able to get into one of the refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border over my Christmas break. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve never had the time off long enough to do it, whether it was time off from work or from school. This didn’t work out for this break, though, so I was left with a variety of other options.

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One of my first ideas was to make donuts to sell over my Christmas break. Has it been successful? Not sure how to answer that question. Yes, I have made some money, but it’s been more tiring than I expected. However, it’s been delightfully refreshing to my brain to be able to do something with my hands while letting my brain wander, pray, or listen to poetry or music.

Then there was our Christmas party with our Thai cell group from church. We had it at our house and invited friends outside of the group, played some games, shared a short version of the Christmas story, and ate tons of amazing food.

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I also picked up several hours of teaching during the break. A friend knew of a young woman who was wanting to study English. Next one of her friends wanted to study as well. So, along with some of my regular teaching, I also had some extra one on one teaching. I have loved getting to know these students; they are young ladies who are very interested in learning English and are lots of fun.

My friend Amy is back visiting in Thailand too, after moving home last year. Getting to see her again and have some good chats with her have been fun.

There are several highlights that especially stand out from my Christmas vacation. It’s not over yet, so some more highlights might still pop out. However, in looking back, I can almost narrow it down to three main favorites: the EMA student graduation, my trip to a Kachin village in Northern Chiang Dao with a college friend, and a 4 day bike trip into the mountains that my sister and I did. I hope to blog more extensively about these in the next week or so, so look for some posts on these in the future.

But for now, here are a few peeks of photos.

EMA graduation:

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Baan Mai Samakki, the only Kachin village in Thailand:

Dten Rom Manao is a festival that happens once every several years.

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Not far from the Kachin village is a Chinese village, Arunothai, about 15 minutes from the Thai/Burmese border. While these people live in Thailand, their children’s first language is Chinese and they still practice many aspects of Chinese culture. Below is a boy from that village.

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My friend’s grandfather beside their fire.

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A sister trip from Chiang Mai city to Doi Intanon, to Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi, and from there to Mae Chaem:

Coffee made on the fire at Baan Mae Klang Luang, a Karen village on Doi Intanon.

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Drinking more coffee on Doi Intanon.

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A sister shot early in the morning as mists were rising from a valley close to Mae La Noi, Mae Hong Son.

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On a morning jaunt through the mountains of Mae Chaem at the Karen homestay on the last day of our trip.

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