Chapter 3: MaesaiPlaza Guest House
The Guest House was where I lived my life from, my comings and goings as my
work with the Akha took shape. This vision was slow in building and the
Guest House was a place of slow transition, friendship and the building of
history. From the Guest House I saw hard times but also the building of
hope in the face of it all, as I launched out to villages and the Akha
For many years it became home, a small tiny
wooden room cabin on the hillside overlooking the MaesaiRiver and Burma.
The Seat at the Rail
There was this one seat at the end of the railing near the tv overlooking the
street there at the MaesaiPlaza. I sat there many a time. How
Just a few times.
A nice solid wood bench. Worn boards, ants coming for a drink, early
morning and afternoon light.
From my railing side bench seat I often got a view of the Akha coming and
going, with their baskets on their backs. Many of them I know.
I usually sat at
the railing for coffee and breakfast in the days when the Guest house kitchen
ran, and then later I sat there jut to view the road, relax, think, puzzle,
and also pass the time when there wasn't much money.
The railing seat
became a kind of spirituality for me, the dedicated time to reflect and
reconsider what was important in life, what was important in my life at that
time, for that day, for the last years and the next months. Time to
reflect on all that was around me.
Course I always
saw things to catch my fancy, lizards racing on the tree, snakes in the
klong, rats running along as if in secret, wrecks on the road right there in
front of me.
were lizards who came to my table. The small ones, and on hot days they would
come down the post and onto the railing and dart to my table where they would
come carefully to where my soda pop bottle stood and lick the condensation
off the bottle. It was very deliberate, and must have meant some kind
of repoire existed between us. They did it with a kind of apology, at
The pump below
the floor where I sat ticked it's way along like it did for years, heaps of
worn out pumps next to it.
I used to take
the cast iron pulleys and break pieces out of them for filing into dies that
I could cast silver things with. Yes, the enforced days of an
artisan. I think of all the days, years they were.
There was the old
white haired man, he lived down the street, he always waved, had always a big
smile. He even gave me a ride once when he saw me walking back from the
post office outside town.
And one man
always passed on his bycycle from up the street, he was like retired, very
polite and pleasant, somehow I always thought of him as retired official of
The klong was
sometimes full and sometimes low.
Kids came down it
sometimes, looking for tiny fish which they caught and put in the small
baskets they wore. I wondered how they kept from cut feet, so many
people threw glass carelessly around.
The flowers and
bushes along the klong next to the road the owner never paid much mind
to. I often thought of donating him some, but seldom the money, and
nobody would water them anyway. So it was a scramble of bushes and
trash off the road.
Eventually we got
concrete, but for many years it was just a rutted dirt road. Funny but
once you do get concrete then one can hardly remember when it wasn't like
distinctly that it was dirt for a long time though because there were
potholes the motorbikes always hit with a "clack".
And sometimes as
I sat there I saw old friends come back I had not seen in a long time,
walking down the road to the Guest House. Or best of all was to see the
mailman come, cause this happened everyday and sometimes I got letters and
I also sat here
waiting for phone calls or going through grief when I was broke.
To hold the
project together there were many months of poverty and waiting, it was either
do that or give up.
Changes at the
Plaza over time:
Some of the more pleasant people from the guest house are gone as well as
some of the most unpleasant.
The Chinese Akha girl is gone.
Nati is gone. Booh Mah, who married Charlie is gone except to come back
Twammy got married to the really nice Japanese fellow and moved to Rangoon.
Lacie got married to Krajn Kolf and is in Belgium.
The desk Burmese woman moved out after the flood.
She forgot to tell guests to move their motorbikes. Mo Mo Gee.
Mingeh is gone.
Oh there have been lots over the years.
The thing I like about Mae Sai Plaza Guest House is that it is much
like a big park. The many steps, levels and walks always provide some
private place to sit and look, think. Burma and the town across the way are always a
good back drop of pleasant disorder, of a view which one can watch without
distraction, especially at night. I think fondly of watching it from
the friendship and bench on the balcony of room 28. Those were good
Now there is a huge casino there across the river, imposing, ugly,
The Kachin gal is gone.
Boogah is there.
Canary girl is there.
And a few others.
The one guy who came back was the Shan guy who got caught smuggling
cigarettes. He stayed a night at the guest house before crossing back to Burma.
The other side is quiet now since the war, as well as Maesai in
general. Not much life at all save on weekends. Then lots of Thai
tourists come up. But this would change like all else. I had settled
here because it was on the road to China, and that road would get bigger, and the
Chinese would come, and it would all change. And it did.
came at different times of year. Sometimes there was a busload of Muslim
tourists from the south. They were always quiet and polite. Parked a big bus
Other times bus
loads of Thais came, some times you could hear their buses going down the
road, tamberines, gongs and other musical instruments and lots of whiskey
going, as people sang and were happy at everyone.
I wondered for a
long time just what possiblility there could be here of a war in this
Since the last war, on the other side Burma formalizes the border with pill boxes and
a stout barbed wire fence put up in one day. Be interesting to see what
will come about next rainy season when flood waters tangle with barbed wire
and rip out all those posts. With all the dirt and higher concrete the
Thais have brought in, much of the surplus water will have to find a way out
on the Burma side, making their flooding worse this
coming summer some five months from now.
The lights on the other side are more regular now,
during a simultaneous power outage one evening on our side and theirs I
realized they are now running on Thailand's electricity, which I confirmed the next
day. That is probably the future of the Keng Tung region as well.
Keng Tung’s hydroelectric system is small.
Across the street from the MaesaiPlaza there is the Beer Bar house, now a store,
the girls home from somewhere. Three daughters, all hookers.
Hom Dwan used to
work here at the guest house but is now gone. Not a clue where. She was a
very quiet and pleasant Shan girl with a happy smile.
Across the street
the big newer house that is finished on the outside with a ridiculous ugly
collection of left over tile. Still empty. The old couple there
before used to really carry on and chase that little boy with the switch, him
crying out for mercy. But the old couple left, unable to finish it and the
owner of a noodle shop took it over and did a lot of work but it remains
solitary and empty most of the time. A Thai house of Usher. Also the
floor is below the new road, and too low, and the water comes in during
floods from the river.
Next door to that place is the plain concrete
two story structure of a Japanese boy's investment on behalf of the
daughter. The second story has no windows in it and the first is hardly
what you would call finished either. Then all her brothers got aids and died.
Now above me on
the hill is a lookout point, high spire like for tourists from Bangkok.
Joe still had his guest house.
The Beer Bar with
scar face still runs, off to the right.
Scarface moved it down the street into the neighborhood, but then Scarface up
I remember seeing him on a bench outside, they said he had a fever, drank too
much M-150 and fell down dead in the shower.
The Maesai Guest House.
The Maesai Guest House is at the end of the road. A Thai fellow ran this
guest house. He had a big bike and a reputation for being rude but never
bothered me any. His proper looking wife never seemed to get wet
on songkrahn festival, how she did it I don’t know. Their guest
house was near the water at the very end of the road, hard to get to and no
room to turn around. And it had the most irritating habit against
guests, locking the gate at 10pm or something, when it took a half hour to
walk back to it, and hardly the time to end an evening expidition into the
lanes and alleys of Maesai.
Back at MaesaiPlaza
Back at the Maesai plaza guest house, for me now, is like living aboard a
docked ship. No need to set sail yet the sea, the life and the activity
are all down below when you need them. I must say, the noise is greater
from the street than it was in the past but all things change. In the
evening the street goes quiet very early. Now however there are a
number of beer bars that don't stop and so the noise from them, motorcycles
and so forth, carries late into the night..
The owner of the
guesthouse was an old Chinese man. His sons ran the place now and he
hardly showed up except when the place filled up just so he could see it
really swing into action and count his money. But that was rare these
He didn't seem so
happy a guy and neither did his wife. He used to lecture the girls
stearnly for being lazy or careless and then they would all cry. Down
there at the long table that was made out of one really big plank of wood.
But he was otherwise good to them and they got paid regular and ate more than
their share of food for not doing much.
The Thai economy
was up and down and Maesai pulsed in return, but mostly the Plaza was very
slow in these days. Instead Chiang Khong was getting its share of guest
houses. People goig to Laos.
The Owner's Wife
The owners wife sat a couple tables back away from the TV, resting against
one arm, eyes closed. Tired these days. The old man was building
an apartment for the waddling son at the end of the porch. Very nice
job. Then he never agreed to live there and it sat empty. He was
suppose to get married, maybe he even did, but the girl ran away or something
like that, or the father of the girl paid the old man money so his daughter
didn't have to.
As the owner got
older, he became the more gentle, while the wife always had her hand quickly
up and out for money, when ya gonna pay? She never had anything else to
say to anyone in any circumstance which I ever saw her. I figured it
was a pretty empty way to chart and plan one's life.
There was an old
chinaman who owned the hardware store down the lane at the morning market, he
got his son to marry a nice chinese girl, a whole different family. Maybe the
owner of the Guest House was low class, I wasn't sure, but that is the rumor
that I heard, that he had a stigma, that no one wanted to marry his sons.
She was the Burmese book keeper.
Pleasant, not always real smart but good hearted these days and protective of
My friend Zera does not like her and ragged on her but I told her not to
She worked a while for Joe at his KK guest house next door but he charged her
to drink coffee, gave only one free meal a day and then they could only eat
the bread heals, not any slices.
Course everyone knows the guy to be about a little on the stingy side.
disagreed or had an argument, but one day she had a bad tooth and I gave her
medicine for that and got her to the dentist. We were friends after
that. For the most part.
Boogah was one of the Akha help at the MaesaiPlaza. She was an attractive Akha girl if she
wouldn't have that constant frown on her forhead. I am often put to
thinking what she could be thinking of. Changes in her life?
Some transient relationship here? She is stern when she talks like it
takes effort to push the words out through whatever is making that frown.
This defines her personality much of the time.
Boogah was a friend of the canary woman, who preferred to tell stories to her
friends in the late of the evening. In groups of people there is always
a canary woman, don't know what they call the men. But a woman who
repeats and clarifies and interprets the stories, retelling them each time
with a different twist or detail pulled out. Thus was the canary
woman. Canary woman because she had a look on her face that just
brought that name to mind, like a bird. And she would spend the whole
evening sitting at one of the guest house tables, she worked here, and
telling stories to the other girls, things she had heard, things she had seen
and things that must be.
Krijn and I
and the ants and the lizard climbing wall
Sometimes life was very slow. So slow that Krijn and I spent hours
watching while tiny ants carried a whole lizard up to their hole in the rocks
on the wall, and cut pieces off it and took them in the nest. We never
saw what they finally did with all of it but watched them for hours.
These big guys came out, big ants that is, and maybe not so different from
humans, they seemed not so much use. Other ants would ride on them
while they bumped around doing mostly nothing and they never once leaned into
the load with their enormous heads and strength.
He was from Belgium, married to Lacy out of the blue.
He was a solid chunky guy, short temper but good heart and smile and loved to
tell stories back and forth.
He liked Ms. Mo Mo Gee as a Burmese worker at the guest house but I myself
was quite happy when she didn't work there any more.
There was a fellow named Lars who died at the guest house.
Mark the American disappeared.
Joe said that someone tried to get into his room after he disappeared.
He said that he WASN’T found for several days because when they found
him his body was all swollen up, his arms all swollen up and that he was
cremated after ending up at the hospital morgue.
It would have been nice to know what did happen.
Nick makes it sound like they fished his body out near the Riverside right
after he fell in.
Nick, for some reason, volunteered the following, that they were arguing,
that he was telling him to keep his voice down because he was speaking in
English and the Burmese soldiers would hear near to the canyon mouth where
they were at and that Mark was stoned and staggered backwards and fell down
below to the rocks and into the river and that he Nick, raced down the
riverside to get help fishing him out.
I had seen Mark
earlier that day and he was all paranoid and strung out on drugs and claimed
he killed Lars who died a few days before and was found in his room.
But then I had to leave for Surin to buy some beads and didn't find out that
Mark died till I got back.
Lots of guys came
here, played with drugs and the drug game and died one way or the other.
Burmese girl, American Fry from Colorado
Not all the stories at the guest house were good.
There was a fellow named Fry from Colorado buying gems. Late in the evening
there was this girl who was from Burma who worked at the bridge. She
had been lurred to the guest house by a rather bastard drunk Burmese guy, and
overstayed past . She didn't like the Burmese guy's advances
and so went to the American guy's room looking for help. He didn't have
a clue and the Burmese guy came and pulled her away and he said
nothing. The Burmese guy drug her to his room and raped her all night
long and this the Japanese neighbor man testified to the next morning but he
also said nothing. And this is how I heard of it afterwards.
I knew the girl,
she was very pleasant and kind, but after that her health went and she looked
very bad off of the heart and took poor care of herself and she had many hard
times and then I didn't see her any more.
The Burmese man
went back to the border war in Mae Sot with the Karen and never came
back. It was my understanding he was of India, from what people said, something related
to the Karen.
There was Nali
She was a little orphan girl who worked at the guest house. Nati the
Lahu girl used to pick on her till she was half crazy so I spoke to her to
stop this and then she went to live at the store of the owner and grew up
Lawrence, got to be funny Lawrence used to say that. He lived at the
Bagwan Shree Rashneesh's place in India for a while.
Was from Florida.
Never came back that I could tell.
Stayed at Joe's place while he was in town.
We went down to Pai once.
He was a strange dude.
In the mountainous jungles up the river there was this family that lived in a
village high up where the fog often comes. There were five
children. They lived near the river which upstream from Maesai, into Burma.
Now they had lived near this river some two years. My cabin was perched up on
a hillside and had a good view of the road on the edge of the river
below. From my balcony I was able to watch each day as people came to
town and then went back out to their villages. For the last year I had
watched each day as this one mother went by with her small son and daughter
to the town to beg and then out to the jungle where they had a hut each
night. The son was about five years old and his older sister eight or
nine. Both of them were good children. Because I didn’t
speak their language I never talked to them but the girls who worked at the
guest house would often invite them into the restaurant of the Gurest House
for a meal of rice and noodles.
On occasion I saw
an older brother and some younger children as well. Whenever I had the money
and the opportunity I would give the mother a bag of rice or some meat.
I wished that there was more that I could do for them. In this particular
case the father was an opium addict and some of the money the mother and
children begged for was seized for this purpose. The mother bought the
food before she got back to the hut. Now on one particular occasion as
the mother and the youngest son of five and the eight year old daughter
headed home, they stopped at the bottom of the guest house near where I was
sitting. I had some rice for the mother that day so I was
waiting. Upon their arrival I noticed that the girl was limping and
also had no shoes. This was particularly bad as this was rainy season
and if the feet were always in the mud and water they would begin to turn
sore. So was the case with the little girls feet.
I took a closer look at her feet and discovered that they were infected
especially between the toes. The top of each foot was swollen.
Another woman was nearby who spoke Lahu and English, Lacey, and so I asked
her to explain to the woman that I would pay for them to go to the
clinic. This worked. The doctor cleaned her feet and toes the
little girl not wincing one time.
The next day Lacy
took the children to the market and bought them some clothes.
That evening the mother came to visit along with the father. There were older
Lahu girls who worked at the guest house. Some times the father came and they
all talked. He told the story of how his older daughter, now 16 or 17 had
taken a job in town. This was three years ago. Some one had come to
them and offered them a job for their daughter, and this was common.
They would get money every month and she would come back for a visit every
now and then. They consented and never saw their daughter again.
They just now lived in their hut up the river by themselves.
The father was a quaint scarecrow of a man with the yellow look of opium and
a soiled baseball cap of light blue.
Families must raise their children as they wish, because we can not replace
their children when they loose them, no matter how good our intention.
As I learned many years later, any kind of drug, more often than not in such
conditions is used as a pain killer. People were critical of the opium
smokers, but when I listened to their stories, it was a wonder they were
alive at all. People with good, safe lives, secure lives, wealthy lives,
criticized these people without telling or even seeing the whole story, let alone
surviving such circumstances themselves. This was a way to devalue
these weathered people.
Tin tin beats
Tin Tin, the Burmese girl was dating this Japanese guy, but one night she
woke to the door being open to her room and he was gone. She went
looking and found that he was in a Lahu girl's room making love to her so she
interupted them, kicked him out and then beat the girl. The Lahu girl went
the next day back to Burma.
Tin Tin's sister
later came to work, years later. She was very beautiful and a Canadian man
she liked very much. His name was Spiro. He was from a Greek family in Toronto or Montreal. Tin Tin got very angry and she and
her Japanese boyfriend insisted that the man pay them money if he wanted to
date the sister. In the end they beat the girl very bad and the owner
moved her back to the shop where she stayed. Before she left I saw she
had many big bruises around her necck. So this was Tin Tin's kind of
way. The Canadian, Spiro, gave up and left town. I was sort of surprise
that he was not more persistent, being as the girl liked him a lot. Maybe he
thought that would happen twice to him in his life.
He sat down at another table getting or staying drunk. Now he had a
little silver blue car. Oxidized and tired. Like its owner. I hadn’t
seen his Akha mistress in a long time. She never looked too
healthy. He came up from Bangkok. Sales were ok. He also
had a wife that left for Taiwan with his kids and I think that is what was in
the amber fluid in the bottle.
His eyes were
always puffy, and it seemed he had made for himself a sad life. Sad
lives are never helped to get better by alcohol by what I can see.
Drink when you are happy, drink when you know you are only going to be sad
for only one day.
should be the first to know this.
Sometimes he would bring that pickled pork rolled in a banana leaf, or I
would go and get some and we would eat it together and have a drink.
curly haired man
He often came to the guest house. Was big mouthed expert on everything
Whores came to behind room 28 and he was first to go, then the rest of the
Japanese, and these gals were old, man were they old. Maybe it was
free, if you can call aids free?
Pius was a catechist who used to work at the guest house. He was the
one who told me about how Attur’s brothers beat a man who died.
He told me the catholics own lots of land in Tachilek. They are wealthy.
I didn't see him
often anymore. No matter what, life on the Burma side was hard hard
When the guy across the street broke into Nati's room and tried to rape her
while working as the night watchman Pius tried to down play it. He
worked at the desk at the time. Seems everything here is
downplayed. No one takes any responsibility.
The owner's older son went to school in Los Angeles. I only saw him
once or twice. He was frail, and I don't know where he went.
The owner used to
come and sit at the one end of the lower section and an old withered man
would rub his back for hours while they talked. I had no idea what
about, maybe things they knew from years before when they were young.
Later during the
summer of 2001 the son was killed in an auto wreck in Bangkok. After
that his mother always looked at the ground when she was walking from their
shop on the main street to the guest house. So many of their hopes were
tied up in that son.
In Thailand there
wasn't much respect for vehicles or life, so people got churned up like you
would not believe in traffic accidents and then drivers ran away,
drivers were drug from their cars and beat to death, people came around and
pointed while bodies twitched or the blood was still pumping out onto the
So there was a
pretty high chance that one could get killed in a wreck.
There was this chinese girl who worked as a hooker at the guest house.
She recruited younger girls to help her with the work load and then took them
to Bangkok. One very nice Akha girl fell for it and disappeared.
Nati the Lahu girl fell for it too. The gold, the clothes, same boring
story. Sometimes the boys who visited the Chinese girl lost their
wallets. This included Japanese tourists. The Japanese who stayed there
a long time would chuckle when a new-comer fell for her, like if they should
tell him or not what her game was? Should they tell him to hide his
wallet. I remember them all sitting there against the railing, I was
sitting near the TV. Then this new Japanese guy came in with the Chinese girl,
we all looked at each other and chuckled, I suppose they told most everyone,
the Japanese, for the most part were a tight group there, long stay, casual.
She came back
year after year and then no more.
Bees and Fish
Once I was walking along the walk in the guest house and some wild bees had
built a complete comb on a bush, but just as I got there the working girls
were already destroying it and there wasn't yet any wild honey in it.
It was common to
see the combs high in trees where you couldn't reach them. Otherwise living
things don't stand much of a chance here. Someone comes and eats them.
Every day the men
come with electric cords and chase every fish in the river out of the
water. I did laugh when one of the men found a hole in the cord, and it
electrecuted him just a little, while he yelled and jumped up and down in the
river. I don't know how he got rid of the cord out of his hand be we
were all laughing greatly at it. Sometimes the cord was plugged into
220 at one of the houses, other times it was hooked to a battery that was
floating on a board tied across an inner tube. The outfits were made up
in all kinds of ways, little screen hoops at the end. The small river
was the seperation between two countries, so people sort of worked the shores
at risk, and some people got shot, one was foolish to take to the river
One man went
to prison for smuggleing tractors to Laos
Prison broke him. He came back old and thin. Lost the tractors
and all the money.
He would talk to the owner often. Sad to see life do that to a person.
The good in the world is not so common, the tragedy and what breaks the backs
of those who are not wary, is much more common, sure in this part of the
He had this load of tractors on a boat that he was taking to Laos. He
made it nearly to Laos when a river patrol caught him, he debated on trying
to make it to land or turning back, but the patrol boat had a big gun, so he
decided to turn back and he lost all the tractors and did many years in prison.
I think now he probably wishes he had tried to make it. On the scale of
events here, it hardly seemed like a crime, more just an arbitrary item that
the army thought he should be in prison for.
She was a shan woman who loved the guys, a guesthouse maid, took a lot of
customers. Finally left.
The other girls said she only charged fifty baht, about a dollar.
He used to come to guest house. He learned Burmese while here in the second
world war. He had a young shan wife, often they had harsh talks and
though she got lots of money from him she cried just as often. It
wasn't just getting money, it was holding on to it and coping with all the
family people and everyone else that put incredible pressure on these girls.
The men knew little about this and the girls suffered a lot in what should
have been happiness otherwise. Their families were more greedy and
selfish than the young women were.
guys came a lot to this guest house
One guy, he had glasses. He liked to go to the brothels as most of them did,
and screw his brains out, one here for thirty minutes, then downstairs for
another beer and another there for thirty minutes. But the Japanese
guys were rather quiet about all they did and where they went, while the big
white assholes, they had to brag, about what big studs they were, like the
Francisco cop, screwed her, she was 15, she cried, screwed her anyway he
Dead tuna. That’s
what he said, like screwing a dead tuna.
The idiot who
got himself stabbed
This young guy loved to race his bike down from the left side of the street
here to his house over there fifty meters away. Maybe it was an
erection? Who could tell. Guys and their machines.
Anyway he got
himself in a bar fight and was stabbed in the chest, which he recovered
from. His brother had a real scar face too. Not so good. They
were both so reckless I wondered how it could be that they were still
alive. By the time I left for the mountains most of these families were
dead or gone.
Once the maid came to my room and saw that I had hung socks up near the top
of the window to dry. She objected saying that this was a bad idea to
hang these kinds of garments higher than your midline. I only laughed, turned
to walk out the door and slammed my head into the low door frame.
The Balcony at
Sitting on the balcony of my cabin with Attur in the late fternoon of one of
the most beautiful pleasan days we have had here.
I look straight across at the hills in Burma. A very short
distance. No more than about 200 yards.
Lush green, banana palms, trees, old houses, rusty roofs, a temple, a
cemetary, smoke drifting over it all from a charcoal mound some where.
Poor appearance but a chorous of voices drifts across and up to our hillside
perch. A whole $95 a months for this view.
Room 28 Plant
Always looking for something in the off hours I started propigating those
plants with the fleshy green leaves in a planter box behind my room and there
were soon gobs of them.
Then I began by tilling up a tiny plot of ground barely three feet square
next to my room against the fence. I put in melons. But they were
no sooner up than a Thai man came with the owner's son and dug a big hole
right down in the middle of them and planted a bottle. So when he left
I was enfuriated and dug it up to find wierd little bones in it like that of
a chicken or bird in some ritual, so I chucked it, but the melon patch
was already ruined.
Dark side of
There was the guy from Canada who gave me some clothes and that tape of
course. I never heard back from him. People came visiting, heard about
the Akha, working with the Akha. Came into my life and it felt like I
got to know them very well in a couple of days, intense conversations and
then they were gone. Some would promise to write, but after a while I
didn't even think of this any more, people were only there when they were
there and then gone. In those days there was not email. But already
people weren't much on writing letters. So when they were gone, they were
gone, and mostly I never heard from them again. But they all added some joy
to my life when we made friends and I was glad to share their company, talk
over a beer, tell them stories of life in this place, and what I had seen.
Come Morning and many years later
I had often sat on that balcony early in the mornings and late into the
evenings. So, upon visiting it these years later many old feelings
stirred once again in my heart such that it was possible that love for me was
not dead. Nor were memories.
The cabin was perched on a steep hillside more like a cliff, far above the
road and from that balcony I could see out across the near river and all the
town that lay on the other side which was in Burma.
At the moment, the lights in the early darkness of evening had an enchanting
aspect to them, as I could only faintly make out the buildings they came
from. Possibly they were the lights of many boats at anchor together in
a mountainous inlet where the water lay still. Often in the mornings I
had thought of them, looking mostly at roofs, as so much of a fishing fleet
left high and dry as the tide went out, to float them once again in the
In the mornings I had sat together with a friend, but I often felt forlorn at
all these memories, to think of it. That was two and a half years gone
by and now I felt I really didn’t know much about life.
The woman had a look in her eye on one particular evening that stole its way
into my heart as an arrow and stayed there like a hook. Then she truly
loved me and although I was not a mathematician to weigh or analyze it, that
was enough of itself. A gentle love.
When I considered all the grief that had befallen me since that time I felt
as though I had gone to sea a young man and now, not only had I learned the
ways of the ship but had also come through a war and survived. The time
passed had left its mark and I didn’t often like to think of it.
Yet somehow being back in this place, it was healing to unwrap the thoughts
and memories and give them consideration for a moment.
You must be gentle of heart with a young woman for as a smaller ship she has
tied up next to you and you must be careful not to let the rough seas of
life, the blasting gusts of wind buffet her smaller ship against your own
lest hope of heart take on water and she sink below the frothing waves in the
In those days I had to leave her behind at home while I settled some business
affairs abroad and it happened that upon my return she left the house and
When she had left I watched her go in the early morning sun, still golden, as
she walked away down the road, not on the higher right side, but on the lower
left side, and not as though sure of where she was going but more with a sad
gait to and fro which had torn at me to watch more than I cared to
remember. Her beautiful peach colored dress lied about the sadness of
all such moments of humanity.
I remembered returning from town to open the door of my house, which did not
bother to warn me, to find the place so empty that the paint upon the walls
squeaked. The bed was there because it was anchored into the
floor. I had told her to take what she wanted. She had.
I gazed now out into the deepening darkness. As softly as it had crept
up on me I wrapped up the whispers of my heart, that flickered as an oil
lamp, and put them away in the folds of the gentle hands of God. A cool place
like a fern filled spring, clear water dripping off mossy rocks.
Mingeh to the
rescue of the Lahu Girl
Mingeh was this Lahu girl who worked at the Maesai Plaza Guest House.
Another Lahu girl worked there too. Her name was Nati. She was hot blooded
and very talkative and friendly to all the guests, she was small and had long
hair, and she would jest some question and then laugh so much with a physical
recoil when the customer at the Plaza found out it was a joke she was putting
to them. She was just the opposite of Twammy the Akha Christian girl
who worked there who came from the missionary village Mallipaco and was very
religious and stern in convention. Everyone liked Nati.
But Nati could be
mean also, her treatment of the little Aboo, the Akha orphan girl, žShe keeps
us all up at nightsÓ she said when challenged about her cruelty to the little
Well, once while
I was gone to some other place, Mingeh, met a Lahu girl up the street from
Maesai Plaza guest house. (Nati told of it, I knew who it was, she told me
the story, Nati told it with great sadness as something that hurt her deeply,
what had come of it all.) Mingeh found out the girl up the street was
captured and was being sold so she loaned the girl money to run away and go
back home but the "owners" caught the girl and made Mingeh pay
3,000 baht for her involvement. She didn’t have the money of course so
all the girls at the guest house had to pool the money. That house is still
there. Then the girl eventually got shipped, where she is now?
Who knows? Nameless. But after a while the house went empty of that original
family and I wondered what curse had come to them?
of Nati There was this girl from
China who was a prostitute and she was really forward and had sex with so
many guys at the guest house, especially the Chinese and Japanese boys, and
she got around to stealing wallets also, and she somehow had attraction for
Nati. Nati took to following her some time after a very pretty Akha girl had
done so and disappeared to some job some where. Soon it became known that
Nati was passing herself around quite a lot. An American guy wanted to
marry her but she took his two baht gold bracelet and split. Then Joe
said she was a temporary wife of some chief up on the hill near town, but
finally I heard that she was pregnant and she left town and went north in
Burma. She was educated, and wanted to finish university.
Eventually she came back and I met her on the main street of Maesai, and so I
had a good talk with her. I don’t think I saw her after that, and that
has been several years.
Zera, he knew
her. He said she went away to university, but soon as I mentioned that
I knew she was pregnant, he changed the line by saying he didn’t like
this girl. It didn’t matter to me but I wanted to see his
response. He didn’t deny it, just didn’t like her once he knew
what I knew and didn’t want to appear to be her friend anymore. I
don’t say that solely as a criticism of Zera, I know people, even the
same people, here on many levels and this was just one level for Zera and I
allow people to have different levels because they do and I don’t have
it in only two boxes black and white and then dump them when the black box
fills up. No, fifteen levels at least, and they can have as much in
each one as they want, because I want friendship from people as they are and
I am an observer first and foremost.
Well, the orphan
girl has grown up and is still here, fifteen or so now. Still working
for the Plaza shop, the Chinese family that took her in, and then as I
mention in žThe Landlord’s DreamÓ I now understand why the connection
with the Akha children, how they knew Attur’s mother, and all that.
At best the
guesthouse was hard on all the girls. Plenty of temptations in those boom
days, it sits empty now, nearly one hundred cabins. But in those days
there was video, good food, late to night, and lots of good
conversation. I met so many people living there. Lived a year in
room 28, way up on top, oh the stories from the balcony, the movie theatre
trucks and so forth, and the guy across the way, and then I moved to room 61
where I lived for years. Things changed with that, though it was a
bigger room. I had lots of plants and I miss the place. Funny how my
body feels emotion from memories that I call up when I go back somewhere
having moved so much in life. But I must add, that I slept in the bed
there, lived in that room, longer than any place in my life. Room 61. Maesai
Plaza Guest House. Must be something worth noting in that. I can think
of memories of a place, but actually going back there has a much different
effect and things that I could not remember come to mind brightly or in deep
nastolgia, or a kind of loneliness at time having gone by, one thinking at
the moment it wasn't so important but now it being very important.
That is where I lived for so many years, where I finally got some plants
around the door, where I made things of silver, read books, stacked lots of
stuff, moved out a time or two but always ended back up in room 61 with its
bigger floor. I was sleeping there when Khun Sa’s boys attacked just
meters away in the river, lots of things like that.
Now I had plants outside the door and sun netting over the little porch and
on the balcony I had put up blue screen cloth to keep the mosquitos out so I
could sleep with the door open and get the fresh air. The room was full
of stuff now and more than one broke down memory, more than one unfinished
dream. I had things stacked on the balcony, under the desks, sometimes
the room nearly filled up and I had to get rid of a lot of stuff.
Besides being a fire trap and hot the place was OK.
Occasionally a toka lizard got in the walls and I had to get it out. These
were big lizards, up to a foot long. They "barked" in the
night like a clock.
I just chase them away. Maybe that was because as big and ugly as they
are, as loud as they are you can locate them quickly. So I chase them
to the next cabin.
Had one in my wall above the bed, older and real big, so I chased him
out. Then last night there was one running around in the
bathroom. I finally put the rug over him, rolled it up and took him
down the walk several rooms and let him go.
Cats sometimes eat them.
Guests would come to me to get rid of the things. I am sure there was a
ton of them in all the cabins.
Once there was one in the wall over the bed. I pried the panel loose and the
lizard ran out, and they run heavy and clumsy with their hooked feet and
sipes that cling to most things, and he ran up the wall and across the
ceiling till in his haste he fell directly on the bed and off into the
And then there were rats. In room 28 there was this one that came out
from under the bed and across the room to where it woke me up getting into
the crackers. So when I chased it it went under the bed. Well the
next night I heard it again and so I got up quietly and dropped my quilt over
the end of the bed, covering the hole and then took up a big clever knife and
went to the table. The rat popped down on the floor and with all haste
sped to the where the hole should have been but the quilt was there and that
confused it and so it turned around just a little bit slower and went to zip
back to the table trying to think of plan But before it finished the
calculation I smote it in half on the floor with the clever. Dangerous
place my room, if you aren’t invited.
So last night I woke up after the lizard affair to hear a common visitor, the
rat. Well I have put a ton of boxes of rat poison under the sink but
they eat them all greedily and come back for more and there are more rats
here than you could know what to do with. Well I don’t have any
food in my room now but I think they come to take photos of the papers on my
desk or read this stuff. Well last night one came and was on the desk
next to the computer so I threw a spare pillow at the sink so he wouldn’t
run there first. Then he still hadn’t moved from where he was so
I jumped up, secured the pillow at one side of the sink, blocking the hole,
stuffed my vest in along the back, two rolls of toilet paper and one towel I
used to cover the tv. Then I went, turned on the light and got my three
pronged sling shot fish spear I had made.
By this time he stirred from the papers slowly and made it to the sink, found
that a bad deal and dropped onto the floor and into the bath. He had nothing
but a one inch tail from bad luck another time. I cornered him in the
bath, put my pants and snake boots back on and then finished him off with the
spear. He was probably number five in this room not counting all the
ones I poisoned.
The bath was small and now finally I had gotten the hot water fixed but now
the western toilet valve was broke so we had to fill it by hand. I had
a fish crock outside on the porch with two fish I got from the market where
they sell them for food. All the gold fish got spots on them and died,
fungus or something but these big guys did fine.
Then my balcony
was full of goods that I wasn’t using, books from the school, well
making tools, a pump, you name it, lots of junk, tools for working silver and
other things by hand. Much of that I wasn’t interested in fooling
with anymore. There is even the outline of a cross in the floor where I
dropped a casting die I had made from a pump pulley wheel that I got off one
of the junk pumps down stairs. Those were fun crosses and I gave a lot
of them away to the Catholic mothers.
But now I had a
tv and a vcr and a desk and two cabinets and a place for my computer printer
and a place to lock things up and a sewing machine waiting to be used,
electric of course, a hemming machine, cameras, radio, clothes, rice cooker,
tons of books, voltage transformer, fax machine and phone though I had no
phone line and this computer and tons of computer gear and a scanner and tons
of photos and two fans and gobs of Akha cloth and Akha jackets and medical
books and medicine bags for the hills and spare bags etc and lots of burmese
books as well and all my old writing compressed into one big stack and one
folder of red. A small Bible I got in Hawaii. Well it had been all over the
world with me. Was falling apart. Hey the front new testament was
loose because I tore it out so I could put it in my passport and people
wouldn’t know what I was reading in this coffee shop in my folk’s
town Salem, called the Governor’s Cup, because so many Bible thumpers
came in there that you couldn’t read for a minute without one
disturbing you and insisting on a conversation.
I had it in
Israel during the gulf war where I think that I read it completely through
again, was a good time then to have not so much to do and so much time to
focus on that and just read. I think people want to meet God but don’t
know how to get to Him in their lives, people want to meet God here and
Then the room has oil paints, all the mediums and brushes and the brushes are
in a can of water where I left them and they are probably no good now, has
been so long. Then I like to oil paint but my mind is not settled these
days. So I don’t do it because I feel there are important things that I
should be doing.
A pretty tame
room though full of opportunities and potential, mostly there is tons of
writing that I don’t feel that I am getting done anytime soon enough.
Always I try to
get closer to the mark.
Oh the floor, it has this cheap grey linoleum that has been here since about
93 when the room was new. 92 maybe even. I think I moved out of
28 probably january 92.
And then there is the calendar that a fellow off the endangered languages
list sent me from lithuania, a claendar of Tibet, written in Lithuanian.
A fire extinguisher I bought.
Cause all the room is wood, the walls a pale yellow, the trim dark brown, but
later the owner painted it very dark. Even marks on the wood, I could
remember the memories back then. So many memories.
Dirty water at
The brick red and oily water came from pumping out of a bad hole. The water
had this like slime in it, a dark brown red clay or something that stained
your clothes and body, and had a faint smell to it, but it was like decayed
vegetation deep in the sand. It filled all the pipes with the sludge
and made the skin itch a little. Sometimes it came out in thick
clots. But its clay like oil texture filled the pipes in time till the
water carrying capacity was very small.
Rm 61 after
Here for seven years now if you didn’t count the first winter I spent
in rm 28. Rm 28 was really superior view wise, perched up high on the
hill but no room inside and always a very long ways to climb up the steps to
get there, past all the wagon wheels that made up the railing. Mainly
there wasn’t enough room though. However it had a wonderful wood
balcony with a view of Burma and the road below which I loved for a beer in
the evenings. Maybe I should go there more often. Funny, I just
lived on the lower level but it was a completely unasthetic reality like a
thousand miles away, but only a few hundred feet up and all these
memories come to mind and I seldom even remember to visit rm 28
I had been
married there. But we moved to Rm 61 and we split up.
I didn’t go
down to the bridge very much any more. I went past it a lot. I remember
when I first came to Maesai that I hung out on the bridge all the time,
especially under the big tree on the Burma side in the shade, just outside
the iron gate. A man sold ice drinks there, pepsi, his little daughter
in tow. He welded in a shop without eye protection now, big step up and
looked old as hell. The burmese men didn’t live all that long,
hard life. Hard as the road to Keng Tung. Road quality and liife
expectancy, was there a relationship? But the kids on the bridge went
after the pied piper with money and so I didn't work with that much any
more. For many however it didn't work out that way either and they
became flotsam. They had become more like a mafia any more. Even the
pied piper gave up on it after a while. He must have spent about
$50,000 trying to figure that one out.
Little Joe was a
small Shan man from Burma. He got me movies by times like today. He was
a little bit responsible because he did work for the government bank in Burma
some days, always pleasant and trying to feed his family.
I got the hemming
machine but was going to need someone to show me how to use it.
Three spools of thread and lots of needles and this and that packed into a
little package. Actually I could figure it out but left it like a
christmas toy I hadn’t taken the time to put the batteries in yet, a
project for a boring day. I wanted to make clothes for some of the street
I went out to the
flat village last night. This is what I called it. A relocated Akha
village. Their new well worked fine. I was done there. One could
get tired with too many trips to one village. The huts were hot and
stifling, unlike the mountains, yet they hadn’t learned to modify the
hut design to take this into account.
One hut caught
fire a little bit. I noticed because there was a new one in the dark
and then I saw the old one at the old spot was gone. Booti told me that
they moved whenever a hut caught fire even a little bit. Bad
luck. I would guess. Wouldn’t want my dry grass fire bomb
even smoking a little.
I was getting
lots of Akha stuff booted to the internet. I ended up doing all the
ideas. The web master did the tweak after about five reminders.He was a long
heat was breaking, I caught a shower. Nice time of day now that the
heat was dropping. The hot water heater on the wall didn’t
work. I had the new one to replace it but another toy without batteries
just yet. The cold water felt good except in the morning. During
winter time two months ago it was too cold to take a shower except in the
middle of the day.
Wires curled out
of the old electric shower box, they went to a ground. The Thais never
grounded anything. So I did it.
My computer needed a ground anyway. Oh yeah that was right, the Thais
never grounded their computers either. The back panel always had a jolt
Nick the black
truck guy, came by with some movies since he found out I had a vcr.
Couple nights ago
Aree came by for a few baht because he was with Nick the Kiwi. Got arrested
he said, Nick got away, the cops said he must be using drugs so they took his
money. I gave him a thousand baht, and a lift back home to the same
village where Nick lived. I went to Nick’s wedding to an Akha
girl there years ago and that is when I met Meeh Suur, the Akha girl with her
face burned so bad. She fell through a fire ring when she was
six. Her father died of a broken heart they said. Then she felt
bad about that too. She worked in Bangkok now.
Money was a wierd
thing. People always looked at the money, not what you could do with it
and move on. They thought they always got it, but I think you spend it
and if you spend it good the good lord will give you some more. Just my
version. Accomplishments, not accounts.
Maesai. What kind
of town was this border town with its defining bridge? A very short
stretch of concrete between two countries, two gates and two ways of thinking
just a little above the water but into two very different worlds. It
always made me chuckle when tourists came here and said they didn’t see
any point to go over because $5 was $5. I mean, it was just over there,
what could be so different? But it was, very different.
always looking for the virgin thrill. A thrill no one else had ever
had. žHey, can you take me to a village where there are no
tourists?Ó Hey, how bout the girl on the left in the back, the one no
one has slept with yet. Oh yeah, here, 400 baht. And so forth.
I was here.
I had things to do but that didn’t answer if I had stayed here or
bogged down here. Sometimes I thought the latter. Not many
conversations here. I had things to do with Akha language books,
medicine and such when the money for it came in which wasn’t
often. But lots of dead time and believe it or not, it is not easy to
write on dead time. Your gut is looking for things to do for
money. Your mouth is tired of guest house food on the tab, and you just
wish you could be back in the US doing anything for a good buck for a few
days and then come back. But kicking loose wasn’t easy, done it a
time or two, no matter how hard here, it was always harder to plug back into
the US way of doing things where no one ever hurt for anything it seemed, yet
happiness was so far off.
It had taken me
years to learn that my brain had to have a really long run way to take
off. I never gave enough time to thought, took a real long time to spin
up my main gyro. But when it was up and going I could do real well with
I had the
internet now. Wow. Maesai for years with no communication to
anyone that spoke english and wasn’t loony.
And believe me
Maesai had its loonies. Section eights. My rule was that I just
stayed the hell away from the foreigners. You wouldn’t believe what
they came up with. One couple asked me to take them to a village.
It rained while we were out and we had to go down some awful muddy trails and
by the time we got back to the main road they were cursing me. Oh well.
There was the
concrete school building across the street. It was waiting for me but I didn’t
have the money to pay for it and wanted to buy it anyway. No more
renting. I wanted the bills over, somewhere permament, as much as it
can be in Thailand. The Thais only let us rent this or that even if we
buy. Some kind of superior race thing I think. Us inferior
foreigners have to pay more for everything. And they talk about us
incessantly to the side. Falang, falang, you hear it everywhere you
go. Grab that kid, turn him around you joker, hey look dear, there is a
Thais. Don’t get me started on that one.
did with them was a half load wagon.
really was a gateway. North to China and south to Thailand and beyond.
Everything came through Maesai and it was a good place to sit and watch it
all happen. Never a dull street day. You could sit there or over
here and still see a lot happen. Different people, different races,
ideas, jobs and errends to tend to. Every imaginable kind of
vehicle. And the lowest intensity official checkpoint I had ever
seen. That is till the Thais decided to bootleg the gate for 50 baht to
foreigners. Yeah, something about the IMF. Foreigners must pay to
go to Burma. Well I reminded the woman there that it was the THAI
bankers who stole all the money and foreigners had nothing to do with it and
if it wasn’t for the foreigners nothing would work in the
country. All the important stuff was foreign maintained, technology be
it for cement, computers, cars, plastic, steel. They’d all still
be eating with their hands if it wasn’t for the foreigners. Now I
didn’t like all missionaries but a whole hec of a lot of good hospitals
had been built by them whom the Thais went to. You got waited on like a
human being there, not like cattle. The nurses didn’t say bad
things about you while you stood there and the receipt said something about
there was a God, and He loved you. How odd a concept. Well beats
Karma all to hell.
I mean you had
bad westerners, every place had bad people. But not in Thailand.
No, they were just shoving a little Karma back to the girl that she had
coming. I mean maybe she wasn’t even buddist, but that was no
excuse. The family couldn’t eat so they had the duty to help
bring her Karma to her for a few baht. Heck, you could help dose out
Karma all day in the Maesai brothels and never visit the same face
twice. 400 baht, 500 baht, and up or the cheap version, 300 baht for a
short time with a žChow KowÓ up in one of the rooms. A hill tribe girl I
mean. Pay a visit to the toilet to get rid of beer and the trash was
full of tiny condoms. God, where did they make them that small.
No wonder the girls laughed in spite of the nature of the job.
You see, in the
west we argue because we disagree. We disagree about what we think is
important and what we think is the proper foundation or standard of it
all. But this is so far different from over here. We believe
there is a standard. We assume it without mentioning it. There is
passion. But to these people they can not fathom a standard, anything
higher than the self. Your on your own sucker. Hey, try that on
for size. In the end it doesn’t matter how many girls you work on
the beds in the brothels in Maesai, your standard is to take as much money
from using them as you can and build a big air conditioned house and haul
your money to the bank in piles where the banker gladly docks it in and send
your kids to the good school and wear a big chain and run the Yamaha
shop. So what. Yeah, she is looking old but she wasn’t like
that six months ago when she was 15, you should have gotten here sooner, hey,
what about that one over there. She’s new. 2,000 baht but
Oh, hey, high
class Thais, they wouldn’t be caught dead with a foreigner, means they
are a whore, but I wonder why they allow so many brothels in the country if
they are so concerned about looking like a whore? Maybe, if they let
tons of physicists into the country, set up labs everywhere, they could worry
about looking like a physicist. Surely we could find some black plastic
rimmed glasses to sell on the street?
Man, the car just
slammed him like a twinky. Kept on going. Another car stopped,
loaded him up like a rag, which I thought he was when I pulled up, and off to
the hospital. I looped on the road, and followed the car, still in
shock at how fast it all happened, the dead guy he was sitting up in the back
of the car, looking at me out the rear window, but when they took the corner
to the hospital, he leaned way over to one side till he couldn't see me any
more. Yeah, broken neck. Guy in the car couldn’t get his foot off
the throttle. Hey if you got it flaunt it, so what if its the middle of
town. The wife and daughter came. Cry till they shove the amonia
at you. None of that here. Just an infigment, we’ll smoke
it off tomorrow. The body that is.
Really, the Thais
were nice people. I mean they had smiles.
I never thought
of smiles that way before. Martian Chronicles? Maybe. Not
even close. I mean smile meant something had occured in your
heart. Well, hec.
Rambo one and
two. The guys that jumped out of the gun flick movies. Well, I
never even so much as looked at them any more or said a
word. Cary kept cutting gems. Still fat and
stupid. Joe kept bouncing over roads with tourists, showing them his
kingdom and wondering when they were going to shoot žJoe Goes to BurmaÓ the
Mike, he made his
money on money, came to town every now and then. Just sold two houses,
got the money at the good end of the market and was happy as hell. Nice
guy to talk to. Had a little negative side on the US but some of the
things guys went through there they had a right to and after all Mike had
been around a little bit and the world outside the US has plenty of good to
Me, I liked
Thailand because I helped the Hill Tribe here, but I would never live here in
reality as there was no protection for us foreigners, no financial
protection, we could never really settle in, could never really own or build
anything and occasionally an intelligent conversation was nice. If it
wasn’t for my work to help the Akha people, I wouldn’t
But mostly they
didn’t bother us so one could live peacefully for the moment. I
didn’t mind some superficial pleasantness compared to all the agitated
and frustrated people in the US.
Maybe Burma was
different. I thought about moving there later on. A little more
conservative country. Seemed to take things a little bit more
March 5, 1995 I am very settled in
now. Back in Room 61. All the writing papers organized a little
bit. Computer here on the right, writing table on the left, the fan
buzzing and the street chatter drifting up from below sometimes a little too
loud but much quieter than before.
The afternoon sun casts itself into my room in rays of golden dust and falls
asleep on the floor.
My shirt sticks to me a little from the closeness of the room which needs
I slept all afternoon carelessly, tired and sore from carrying chests,
tables, chairs, stoves and lots of books and papers up the stairs to my room.
Outside on the concrete door step, I am going to put a gate and lattice
overhead and make a shaded arbor ideal for the afternoons and early mornings
I have work to do in town, by compulsion to make a little money for food.
I would like to sell some books. I had gotten too many.
Usually I have more than one project going at once. The layers allow me
to start quickly, depending on the mood I am in.
I also have lots of letters to write and even more language to study.
This is a good place to do it all.
One guy wants to interest me in the ruby business.
A lot of it is a matter of being able to read people and then carefully choose
your words, and not too many. Closing the deal is not an easy thing.
But he was good at it. Selling rubies was as much about selling thin air, I
stayed away from it.
As far as what I am able to do for the Akha? Right now I am
learning the language better, and speaking with them more.
My cabin is so
pleasant for me. Everything is close at hand, albeit maybe just a
little cluttered, but a great place to have privacy, then venture into town.
In the rainy season, when it comes, there will be the spraying storms of wind
I sleep peacefully, the noises from the road below a gentle alarm clock. The
wind wipping the cabin, a kind and mystical way to wake in the night, then
sleep on some more, wind is like a guard on a house, checking all the doors
and windows, making sure no one is trying to get in or burn you down.
The Two Oil
There were these two oil paintings downstairs in the guest house over the
check-in counter. The whole place down there was dingy with rags
scrawled with writing back in the fast days of tourism. The owner put
them up after letting the guests sign them, write dumb things on them.
Now the tourist thing was a lot more dead and they just hung there, stained
and dirty, the high rafters full of black dust and cob webs. But the
two paintings of Akhas weren’t half bad. I didn’t know who or
when they got painted but I think they arrived not too long before I did.
Years later I took them away, back to the mountain Akha villages, cause the
owner took them down and dumped them in the back room. One painting was of an
old Akha man smoking a tobacco pipe, and the other was of two Akha girls.
Used to be the
old Chinaman owner would come and crack it all into line till he had all the
lazy girls working for all the food they ate. Now they were just
lazy. In those days for the first few months I lived in room 28 but now
I had moved to a new room on the other end of the whole complex of cabins.
whole place was just a rat trap waiting to go up in flames.
That reminded me
of one of my first sights of death. When I was a small kid, we visited
these people in the country and while in the barn this mouse ran out and
tried to get away. But the one fellow who lived there had chopped his foot
with a wood splitting ax and it was in a cast and he was on a crutch and he
went "thump" in the corner with the end of his crutch with the
rubber cap on the and he twisted that in the corner till little Herman was
dead. It wasn’t the last time I saw things get dead like lizards
and frogs outside the back door in the night but it was a strange experience
because at that age a mouse was a great thing, could be a friend if you could
speak its language and you really didn’t want to kill them. Later
you learned about things like rats and ugliness and that was different. But
then the mouse seemed like the furry animals out of cartoons, and like they
were kid's friends and so death was when they came to an end.
My room now was
too hot, not enough wind, not enough air and too much stuff, too many
people. Only one window. But I had added sun net outside and lots
of plants so that the approach was cooler and hoped that helped a little. I
enjoyed many hours between hard travels to the villages, recuperating from
riding the motorcycle down bad roads, just right there, tending to my plants.
The toilet drain
for the room above was now broken and so the bad water came down onto the
walk and the weeds grew up there like a forest. Didn’t matter how often
I told the owner but he still rented the room and still didn’t fix it
so I would need to do some repairs of my own till he had time to give it
attention. The "give a shit" level of these people was mostly
pretty low. They didn’t much care what kind of sewer they lived
next to, how much trash people threw on the roads or in the klongs.
Ignorant at best but always babbling on about the lofty Thai culture.
Anyway, I don’t
like Thai bashing as it gets boring after a while, I have things to do here
and I ignore the most of it.
Saga of the
It started with a very wet august and moving out of air conditioning in to
the guest house.
Some people got all itchy red spots. They thought it was in the rooms.
Then I got more and more hot itching spots. A single raised pore that
itched. Then I got a couple more red spots or red bumps on my thighs
that itched and burned. Motorcycle riding made it worse with prolonged
sweat on the legs. Add to that a couple of bus trips and you have the
itch. My back was unusually irritated as well.
Then there was what I thought was fungus between my fingers.
Then came clear water enlarged pours called deep seat blisters that rupture
or get ruptured and infected. They develop more pores around them
adding more water and more enflamed area of skin.
Get enough itching and the skin begins to žcreepÓ.
Then you get more raised itching bumps like scabies but I thought they weren’t.
Then there are all kinds of skin growths, as well resembling warts, low
profile masses, lots of them.
In the end I
found out I did have scabies on the hands and elsewhere and that I had a very
nasty reaction to them. Once I was to the US and got them knocked out
everything got better. But it took three doctors there to tell me what it
was. The blisters are from a reaction to a toxin the scabies release.
woman at the door
One night there was a stout knock at the door. A man stood there in the
dark, he had a woman with him.
He said, "
You want this woman, you pay 1000 baht". I laughed, as it was so late
and so bazaar.
No I hadn't
ordered a woman, he abruptly turned away into the darkness, leaving me to
wonder what that was all about?
Known for good food, lots of Thais ate there.
The Guest House was perched high over the river itself, and was a great view
for eating dinner in the evening, watching the Burma side. The river was a
little wider there, so it got a glass look to it, rather than just flowing
water, and it passed the water pumping station on the Thai side, a small
building full of filters. They made a good breaded chicken dinner, french
fries and the bankers and secretaries came here a lot, and my friend and I
sat there and ate dinner, quieter than most places, and talked with this
splendid view of burma down below us, and the pace of life that was
there. Who could beat that?
across the road:
The house across the road from the Maesai Plaza had been a place of idle men
for some time but now after six years it was increasingly busy, first
aluminum framed boxes with glass, now metal awning roofs. Was good to
see that they could figure out what work was after so many years.
For the most part Thailanders were unaware of the things that drive those of
us who have to get something done and do not want to do it two or three times
before winter comes and freezes our butts off.
I got a surge protector to protect the computer. I plugged it in, it
didn't just blow up. It was most difinitive. I had it chained in
behind my 110 converter and when I switched it on it went pop like an egg
exploding in the microwave and ffffsssssssttttttt! with a big blast, and I
mean BIG blast of dirty gray brown smoke shooting out of one of the sockets
and toward the roof of my room like a tornado going in the opposite
Oh well. Looked like a surge to me.
Mud of the
This time of year, fighting the heat and humidity. My room doesn't have an
air conditioner. Computers grow fungus on the discs over here. Course
it doesn’t help to have a foot of water in the house I bet. Just
a little water actually, the rest was mud. It had been an eventful day. The
hotel where I was staying, well the hillside sort of jumped off behind it and
about two in the morning and slammed into the back wall which is my bathroom
aand about three feet from my sleepin nawggin. Really. Slammed.
Just like a truck hitting a wall. I don’t have any idea what the mud
was doing between the time it jumped off the mountain and 2 am when it
slammed into my bathroom but I do know that it shot mud out of the drain onto
the ceiling. Then more kept colliding with the wall and even beat me to
the door across the room where I was headed ready to jump off the railing
into the klong. Took me a good day to clean all my stuff. I had been
on a trip and hadn't moved back into room 61 yet.
Riverside Guest House
At the end of the road by the Riverside Guest House is where they let the
water into the klong and where they stacked up and sold the bamboo that was
floated down out of Burma in rafts.
Past this point and past the Maesai Guest House on the river is where the
drugs got sold and the unwise went there.
Right next to the bamboo that was getting sold near the Riverside Guest House
there was also a water pumping station for Maesai. But now they had
begun building another one right where the water let out of the canyon at the
border’s edge just upstream from the Maesai Guest House.
In this area of river from the canyon mouth to the pumping station they had a
ferry that got poled across the river from the one side to the other.
Right here the river was really wide and smooth and fairly shallow, like a
big lake. After the war the Burmese had put in a pill box on their side,
three actually. And it was also here in the river where the burmese
dived and scooped sand off the bottom and filled the metal boats and then
loaded it off into trucks either on the Thai or the Burmese side.
Stayed at the Guest House Tokas Lizard A lizard’s life must be like a tree growing slowly, patient as God,
waiting for bugs, eggs at maturity but not much else to do but police the
limbs of a tree or the weeds for bugs and soak up the sun light every
day. Turquoise lizards. These are the fast running lizards that set on
the roofs of the rooms or are running up the trees, sometimes you notice them
because they fall off in the klong.
Once there was
this one small one which had caught a moth and then this big one noticed and
came to take it away, but at the same time an Akha woman noticed the event on
the trunk of the tree there near the road and yelled at the big lizard to
leave the little lizard alone. There was drama there that she noticed,
that she saw as related to the human condition.
Another day this
big lizard just fell out of the tree into the clong. One of those
running lizards which make their heads turquoise to attract insects like a
flower, could be one possibility or when they are in lust or angry.
Swam to shore in disgust and back up the tree.
They used those batteries floating on innertubes, then hoops with wire on
polls to put the electricity in the water and drive the fish. They caught
this meter long catfish and a turtle all the same day. A good sized
turtle. Sometimes the little ones hatched out and all came down the
river the same day. The kids along the bridge would catch them. They
also tried to catch the little catfish in the shallows under the bridge.
The Big owl in
Had this big white owl in my room. The Burmese men brought it to me. It
didn't like to eat much. But it healed up and then one night during a
rain and fog I held it out over the railing of room 28 in the dark and it
spread its wings and took off gracefully into the night like a dream flying
off to put silence to a nightmare.
I checked on the turtles. Maybe they knew about rats. They were
already dug into the soft dirt. But the rats, if they liked turtles,
would dig them out and eat them anyway. I think rats were opposers,
apposing anything good that you might want to see happen.
The owner of the guest house got lots of salvaged wood from somewhere.
Among all this were wooden shakes for the roof. Must have been a really
old building when they used wooden shakes around here. Everything was
tile or aspestos now.
So he had the
workers carefully brush and scrub them in the klong and then they went up on
the roofs of new rooms including mine. Looked nice and moss and little
orchids grew there but it added to my sense that the whole place was a fire
trap waiting to happen. This much dry wood in one place, heck if it
ever caught fire you’d be able to see the flames for miles.
Sailom Joi was the road the guest house was on. The street had become a final
pit stop for the Akha heading up the river back into Burma. At a noodle
stand up the road on the left, thatched awning a few benches, and they
cluster around leaving their baskets on the ground to get something to eat.
Four other Akha women are walkin by with baskets and one girl with a bangkok
bag and bangkok look is taking her jewelry off and handing it to one Akha
woman, her mother possibly, and then they keep on walking. A working
girl returning to her village. Coiffed like a bilboard for hire, she
figured the men at the check point would try to rob her.
Checkered scarves of blues, reds and aqua.
A Guest Goes
The room was hot. The large man jumped on the woman once again, pumping her
across the mattress to where her one arm hung free from the bed, which suited
her just fine. While he pursued his desire which he felt he had now
cornered, she tried to tell with her agile fingers which ones were the big
five hundred baht notes as she groped at his wallet in the pocket of
his trousers at the side of the bed.
The man finally caught whom ever or what ever he had been after and passed
off to sleep as she got up and showered.
With her face turned up in a pugnaciously powdered white pout she climbed
into her cheap high black strap shoes and clattered out of the room and down
the walk in a horrible mismatch of frumpy synthetic colors as she
banged off to her next sordid job. Not even a computer job and nice
clothes in Bangkok paid this good.
The man, drifting on the still heat of his distant dreams, looked dimly
across the sea from his tattered ship at what appeared to be a sleek schooner
like the one he sailed as a lad and for a moment he felt the sadness so
The one shot
The security guards had this.
Both of those guys died of AIDS
They had holes drilled in all the rooms which they used to look at the busy
guests within. Next to one hole someone had written a note. "The guard
who lives in cabin 14 was looking in this hole."
at plaza guest house
During the hay day the workers came all the time building new rooms, doubled
the size of the place, then they just barely maintain it now. Hardly
any customers, and the rooms are dirty and full of lizards, roaches, rats.
The Signs were
well painted with pictures
The old chinaman had these hill tribe pictures painted, big, with different
languages advertising his guest house. It was colorful, he was
creative. He put them up on the side of the guest house by the klong or even
higher up on the cabins. You could see them from Burma. But in time they
faded, faded dreams of a better life there.
Boards cut by
One man worked for the owner of the Maesai Plaza for years. He cut every
board to fit, no two were the same. One came to find out how valuable each
and every board was.
I like old rusty corrogated tin roofs, scattered leaves, hot, bent up in the
tropical sun and a brown as only rust knows. Tin roofs admit that we all
rust, we all die, do it with dignity, don't give an inch too early.
Universal to the world of make do. bent, burnt, and reused, hauled away by
some old junk collector, rolled up and tied bouncing on his shoulder with the
sun showing through all the holes in it left from nails. More than once
nailed to a building long gone, a secret guardian of man’s past
pursuits and voice. Men hauled them one by one to their homes in Burma
to get every last year out of the old tin.
Living in the guest house didn't keep me from getting sick, as pleasant as it
was, I had a cycle there like anywhere and came to know it after a
while. One wanted to avoid soda pop. So I got a nasty throat infection
I had. And by far the worst illness of any kind while away from the
States. I tried tetracycline for two days. Then ampicillan 250
for one day the last night 500 mg. At two am in a deep chill I woke
sleepless, boiled some water and drank some milo and another 500 mg then I
plunged into a very deep fever shrowded sleep, my body the scene of a deep
bio battle. When I awoke at 8 am steam was pouring throught the cracks
in the blankets.
Evertime I have had a fever I feel refreshed afterwards and as though I’ve
shed any hint of mind shadow or dullness, some new octane rushing through my
veins, an actual spiritual light came into my eyes, letting me see things, I
normally couldn't see and feel.
The little green diaphram pump bapped away down stairs. They only
lasted so long while they pumped water up to the tanks of concrete on the
hill above the guest house rooms. They became a kind of noise that made up
part of the place.
Wonder what became of all the crosses? I made them as gifts, long before I
found out what the missionaries were up to.
Sometimes life is fresh and things are good.
Haven’t made any crosses as gifts in a long while.
Mostly just trying to make it to get the next project done, the next cash,
the next kid to the doctor, a fraction of those who don’t make it.
I got mad because the woman didn’t empty the trash but she smiled
anyway. After she got done crying, she came back and washed my
clothes. The good lord didn’t give these people short fuses thank
goodness. And after you have acted like a fool foreigner a time or two,
one can learn not to walk on their backs.
There was a day long battle with the trapped Shans across the river from
us. Bullets and grenades flew, bazookas fired, lots of
Three or four of
us were way up on the top guest house balcony leaning on the concrete railing
wall of the steps and somewhat behind one jackfruit tree, looking at the
distant battle going on. Suddenly I saw spray shoot from the tree and a
bullet buried itself in the concrete wall inches below my friends belly, just
inches, as he leaned on the concrete wall right there. Another inch higher
and it would have skipped up into his chest. Like it was all too late,
he jumped back, more at realizing what had NOT happened than at what had
He still lives at
the guest house. He was gone for several years and now came back a year
or so ago.
Night owls and
bats pass by as I walk to my room for another nights sleep.
Jan 1, 1999
It has been many years that I have sat at this first table along the railing,
looking over the klong and the new improved road.
The second day of January every year is my brother's birthday. The Akha
all turn a year older at the same time at the year end festival.
My hopes for 1999
are that the writing work will be better supported, writing Akha books that
is, that more medical work will get done, that there will be more medicines.
As of today none
of the writers are paid up. There are three. One elder and a
teacher also. This makes life difficult for me. These people do
not have big reserves and when their pay dries up so does the motivation to
Writing in some
ways should be self supporting but that is only a dream now. Due to the
fact that Akha is a tonal language there are few people who have the ear to
mark it correctly. Until I have a very large corpus of Akha writing and
some rules for marking tone, I am in this position. Basically it
requires having a huge dictionary. And so I struggle along drawing $50
from here, $50 from there, waiting for $20 but getting only $10, that kind of
exceeding much work to do and a fair amount of money needed to get it all
In some areas I
continue to make good progress but I am not sure if those make up for all the
The door opened and he stepped out and chucked the paper airplane as if in
flight and then his guard completely down in his boyish adventure he spotted
me as I had just come up the steps to the top of the landing and with
an "Oh!" he went inside and closed the door, an older Japanese man
at the guest house who was the boy friend of Ms.
Moh Moh Geeh.
He had thrown
them all over the guest house for months, littering the roofs and
sidewalks. He made them in his room, pitching them from the
balcony. Carefully cut and glued together pieces of paper.
Sometimes he tied fire crackers together with mosquito coil for a fuse delay
mechanism and placed them near people's room, a true prankster. People
like him came to this place to stay, and then had nothing to do, as if they
were hiding from life, day after day, year after year.
We called Ms. Moh
Moh Geeh the Burmese Broom Hilda.
From out of the cabin window all I could see was the silver geometric design
of the shingles and the dripping of water off their tips which reminded me of
taking oil drip readings on the great compressors in the navy on the air
craft carrier Enterprise. We had to count how many drips came down the
wire in a minute, usually 3 to 6. Then we marked this in the log. You
could see the wires through a glass, it was all inside water, and this oil
lubricated the compressor cylinders.
Well, when it
rained, and the light was just right, I could see out of the small bathroom
screened in window, at the roof next to mine, and a simple thing like water
drops off the wooden tiles took on a light that make it all look like
Meeh Nyah was an Akha girl from Burma. Her mother was dead and she supported
her elderly father. I first met her at the guest house in Maesai where
I lived. She was very sick and I took her to the hospital. She had come
to Maesai to meet her Japanese boyfriend who was coming soon after. He
never did. Five years and waiting.
admired her. She made it on her own. No family to support her or
return to and somehow she held herself together. She was a working girl.
She sorted her customers out I supposed. I wondered how girls made it
like that, never knowing how they would be treated, but somehow she did
manage. She got herself a room in Maesai eventually. She did her
work there and elsewhere. She was intuitive and always had some cash in
her pocket, a tiny bit of security for a woman on the run. She had
dreams to have a business, to save her money, to be able to make money enough
at something else that she didn’t have to do that. People always
say that these girls shouldn’t do that sort of work, but I wondered how
else they could make it? At least they called the shots most of the time,
better than working for some slob who paid nothing and still was all
She was headed
south, needed to pay for the ride, came to the guest house and disappeared up
stairs with the driver for a while, then with a look half between guilt and
deviousness she disappeared down the road to bangkok.
She came back one
other time, with boxes of this and that tinsel that she had bought for
friends, like a child for the first time in the big city, but with no one to
really look out for her. I wondered how much of her soul she traded for all
the trinkets? It was all surreal.
She would stop by
when she came to town and sometimes I would see her on the arm of this man or
that man walking near the bridge. I wondered how they emotionally could
make all the changes all the time? I wasn’t so sure these women
were all prostitutes at heart. They wanted freedom, a life too.
There were plenty of Akha girls in Maesai who were spending all the time they
could on the dark side, they never seemed to gain any ground themselves, but
sent their money home. Course you really couldn’t tell from
looking at it but I sometimes thought that the wiser ones got married early
on, cut their deals and made the best of it. Those who didn’t
couldn’t fair much better, time and too many customers took their
toll. But they felt in control and kept on, new motorbikes, fancy
clothes and time to burn. But they got very old, very fast. Something
one had to watch for at least five years to see how it played out.
Sometimes they went a long ways down in six months. I wondered if Meeh
Nyah would do any better.
Ymm Boeuh had a wife in San Chai. His kids from that marriage grown
up. Then he remarried and lived with a woman in Burma, she was from the
mission village in Keng Tung. Their house was just outside of Tachilek.
San Chai was Nimit's village. He told how one addict fell over dead at
Nimits and nobody did anything, just carried on. Didn't even flinch.
The family finaly came and got the body.
One time he and I
were walking in the cemetary near to his village and he told me how one time
three Burmese army soldiers raped a 12 or 13 year old girl from his village
and she died. The mother was already dead. Some how it got to the
police and the men had to pay 10,000 baht each or something like that.
Maybe it was so it didn’t get to the police. Being a soldier
didn't make it ok.
Police you had to
be careful too.
Like the time the guy in a coffee shop in Keng Tung introduced himself and
said he was the Ex Police Chief for all that Keng Tung area and that now he
owned a guest house and "please trust and believe him". It
was laughable. What would a police chief in Keng Tung have for a track