Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter Seven: Trips Elsewhere


Trips Elsewhere

There were times when I became fully exhausted of my work with the Akha and the extreme poverty it imposed on me so I left north Thailand to go somewhere else.  I came back.  Can I say that was good or bad? Not sure, and I often think about all the years that I have spent here without pay and with very little reward, living somewhere below the poverty line, often more poor than the Akha, and wonder if it all makes sense.

Over the years I made one trip to Bucharest, Cairo, Israel, Cairo, Israel and back to US. And then back to Thailand. But that is later chapters, from those journals.  Included in that is a trip to Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania before returning to Bangkok via Karachi, Pakistan.

I made a few more trip back to the US.


The Road

There was no doubt about it, lots of life was seen going over thousands of miles of roads in different countries.  Seems I had spent so much time on the road as a young person that it was like a clock, a metronome in me, clicking always, looking for me to match it in my stride.

And so when I didn’t move, it noticed and in some way I became increasingly unhappy and only getting on the road in one way or another was going to change that back to normal for me and so I did and on with it just one more time, on the road.

And this certainly affected ones view and experience of life.

I had probably spent more time sitting in a car that I drove than I spent sitting in a chair.


Trip To Israel

Sept 30, 93

Vared Hagalil, Israel

This was a horse ranch, dude ranch for guests above the Sea of Galillee.

I helped them there for a while and would have stayed longer but decided to return and help the Akha.

Stories: Giving away the saddle bags, saddle, ST, the Family there from Washington, ringworm.



One habit good for getting flow started is to just relax and meditate as things start.  I have got to go to Beer Sheva for a week before leaving here.  What a character, the bearded one legged man in the square.  Curly hair, like gun smoke, circles his head, coming out under the brim of his hat.  His hat appeared to be of better quality yet battered today.  Crutches to one side he sits on the ground and clacks his coin can.  Probably makes a good 100 or more shekels a day.  Always some debri around him.  I gave my Romanian Cheese and Sausage to this guy.  He had a way of waiting till the pretty girls were just beside him and then would hammer the can of coins down on the pavement stones which were fitted together startling the ladies, who would not speak to him otherwise.

In the winter the stones could be slick.

Playing on everyone’s sympathy his brown skinned face never got any wiser as this was a Mexican stand off with poverty.  The last two girls he frightened, came back giving him a wide birth and laughter.  Little kids go and drop coins, one coming away smiling her missing baby teeth.  The others follow.  Certainly pleasant to see versus hurled mockeries.  The girl at the next table gave me some baked goods.  I’d give him to the fellow down there.  He seemed like he was from Yemen.  His head turns back and forth like a laughing chicken hawk watching the chickens run.  He was a story teller, the story in dusty layers of black and gray clothes, a cigarette, a laugh.  Then he admires some young ladies.  They cringe and then laugh.  An orthodox man is coming by so he gets reminded of his obligation, shifts many bundles and digs deep in his long black coat, curls swinging, and fishes out a coin for the one legged man in black.  Maybe this guy got his leg shot off in some wild west show.  Sure looks it.

Another minute child, no more than 2, runs up to throw in a coin.

Big breasted girls try to slip by un noticed by this laughing scowling laughing again fellow, like a hermit crab, come out to sun.  He could hardly be in a better city.


Kunming, Beads

Aug 23, 92

I have been sufficiently busy here or maybe I should say occupied.  The work is hard, sometimes exhausting.  Travel in these countries can be like that, especially when I start getting out on the fringes.

As it was time to expand our sources some, rather than come back I took a side trip into south east china's Yunnan province.  The central city is Kunming.  Too many people.  Too many bicycles and sometimes operations are a litttle slow.  Yunnan province offers access to more hill tribe people in either Reili to the west or the Burmese border or Jinghong to the south on the Laotion border.  I spent a week in Kunming gathering information for another trip to these areas.


Short Trip To Bali

I bought some beads and silver, some nice artwork but way too many tourists coming there.

Celak was the place to buy granulated silver beads.

They mashed a bean there that they then used to hold the granulations in place while they heated them and added solder, a mixture of brass and silver and flux powder (borax). As in many places finding the beads was not so bad, but a lack of capital made it hard to work with, since it was only practical if one bought a lot of these items.

The people liked it if you ordered, but without being local in the area, this was just too hard to arrange.

The jungle parts of Bali had a nice Hindu look to them, yet there were Muslims also.

Many areas of town were built up, and the shops were quite sophisticated near the beach, selling this and that kind of nice jewelry for a nice price as well.

There were things I could have used, but this was a scouting trip so I was not able to buy much.

I had also lost much on the exchange rate, against the baht which I foolishly brought with me instead of changing them into US dollars in Bangkok. Sometimes you just forget something crucial.

                I flew to Jogjakarta on one of the roughest trips I remember, the runway very bumpy and the piloting erratic.  There I looked at the fantastic silver filigree work and there were another kind of heavy silver beads as well, that came from the villages.

Then it was back to Thailand.



Aug. 93

The exploratory bead trip

Sometimes I get stressed out when I am heading off to a new country.  Money changing hassles, hotels, transport, food, you name it.  Sort of like jumping out of an airplane over an unknown target. 

Indonesia at Bali’s Denpesar airport is a reminder of Hawaii.  But driving into the Kuta area is like Tijuana.  too many tourists, hawkers and shops.  Got a guest house that was three times the price of most Thai places.

Rushed off the next morning in search of the venerable bead, granulated silver.  Well actually my first night there even.

As usual, with beads, nobody knows anything about them so it was a tough search. Everyone said the one I wanted came from Culok but I went there and the supply was som marginal and sporatic that I had trouble believing it.

Other hints were at Jog jakarta.  So my first fill day I flew there only.  To discover that exchange rate on Thai baht made a $60 ticket cost $100 and in my stupid departure I had done everything except buy back US dollars so I lost a lot when I took Thai Baht out of Thailand.


Most of indonesia is crowded with drivers that make all of Thailand’s look like extremely smooth performers.



Aug 93

Joyakarta had a different kind of bead.

Not balinesean, so a few hours back on the plane to Bali.

The Jogyakarta beads where heavier designs but not what I wanted most.

I got another hotel that was even more expensive, all I could find, and then to Ubud the next morning.

That was a rat hole art community so back to the orthodox by comparison.  Silver of Culok.   There I found a few who could actually make the read.  Grains of silver made by pouring molten silver on a plate of metal are then glued to the ball of hollow siver with a paste from the “feeling-feeling” bean and mixed with borax and then brazed.  This keeps the artwork in place.

I then realized there was no steady bead supply from them, mostly by order only which wasn’t practical from Thailand at this time.

Back to Thailand on the evening flight.

Indonesia appeared crowded and not near as nice as Thailand or its people.

Indonesian women rather less beautiful than the Thais and quiet.



Departures to other parts of the world

I left Maesai once for Israel, from where I went to Cairo. Later I went back to the US and then returned to Africa. From Africa I came back to Thailand, dropped my bags, went back to the US to take care of some final matters and returned to Thailand and Maesai for continuing my work with the Akha.

I left Thailand thinking that I no longer wanted to do the work with the Akha, there was not enough vision of it grasping me and I wanted out to see some other things.

While gone I stopped in Tanzania, Kenya, and Kirachi. But I felt I still wanted to get something done, hadn’t gotten it done, and so would continue on with the Akha after all. Particularly about the language and books.

I think I am in my second or third wave with the Akha now.  I know a lot more about the hard side than I would like.

Africa was big.

Tanzania and Kenya were beautiful.


Aug 30, 1993

Surin Thailand

The guest house where I stayed was a home stay, run by a teacher who could read and write and speak English, a very friendly man and family.

I won't soon forget the large scorpion on the walk out front that night, very big, very black. Would have been a very unpleasant surprise to step on.

The evening is beginning with a mild sunset and a cooling off.  I have just come from Kwao Sin Arin and my bead business there.  On the way back I picked up a Bangkok Post and was struck by an article.  The story was about an intelligence analyst in the US State Department along with others who have resigned due to the unwillingness of the Clinton government to do anything for the Muslim Bosnians who are systematically being raped and murdered in war crimes perpetrated by Serbians who are waging a conflict of genocide, not so different than what the Turks did. 

The people around Surin are farmers.  Pleasant.


Surin Thailand

One of the obvious things to me about this north eastern region of Thailand is the slow pace.  At most of the villages one sees a lot of subsistence living, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it probably isn't for me.

They grow rice.  You ask them why no vegetables and they say the soil is no good and the chickens eat everything. so why not some manure and a few bamboo fences and clipped wings?  Every where you go in the third world chickens are foolishly allowed to run and they strip the landscape of every sprout.


Side Trip To Romania:

The lady in red swept the stairs.  I walked toward the courtesy restaurant below.  The lady looked down toward me from above.  I smiled.  She didn’t.  Definitely stock from sinister tales of Europe like Hansel and Gretel.


The meat and the cheese and the taxi driver

The harmonica player, old man at airport, startling everyone with healing music story.


Surin cont:

On to Bangkok. Bangkok has become a traffic nightmare.  However, taxi fares have gone down due to taxi meters being installed in the new crop of taxis.

Dust, intersections, fly overs, railroad tracks, police boxes, cables, electric poles and tattered sidewalks cluttered with bus stalls, merchants, broken spots of concrete and dust and dirt.

Unless Thailand learns from the ugly mistakes of western overconsumption and reverses course it appears to be doomed to become an ugly country.

But I don’t come here necessarily for the beauty of the cities.  I come here because the people are relaxed, the pace slow.

The goal of western media, culture and marketing strategy is uncontrolled growth and consumption.  Homogenization of minority cultures.  Bleaching the color out of dominant cultures, pressing all to want more and more, consume.  The results will be environmental, physical and spiritual disaster and death.


Surin Thailand

Aug 24, 93


Spent the last day in Ban Khok -Ja out of prasat in the rice lands.  Incredibly poor and often unmotivated area.  I don’t wonder if the pomputer man George from New Zealand didn’t pick it as an alternative to his life in the west of high focus technical information.

He cleaned through some boxes and gave me a very nice Bible.  Extremely poor, he exchanged his skills in computers and electronics for money to get by on.  Married to a woman with 4 kids it can’t be easy.  None of the kids his.

The rice planting presently dominates but also there is weaving.

I stopped in Prasat at a silk house that consolidates for the weavers.


The Bus

The front of the glass bus, rolling on quietly into eternal morning as we eat up the glass road in front of us.

Travels to Other places


Surin and The Train To Penang

I was to Surin, a nice Esan town which I liked even if I did know that I was in the middle of nowhere.  The lone guest house run by an intelligent educated Thai man is nice, even if he doesn’t know how to keep mosquitoes out of the bathroom by adding a simple screen.  As well there are some large scorpion visitors which are good reason not to walk to the bath at night barefoot.  Surely, by the look and size of two or three inches long, it would be a painful experience.  In the bath, the mosquitoes will feast on your revealed portions without hesitation.

The trip to Penang and the New China Hotel for a visa is miserable weather by bus, taxi, or train at butterworth.  Once my taxi driver, north to Hatyai, tried to run over a huge lizard bigger than a dog while we were still in Malaysia.  A good six feet long.  When I jumped out to look it leaped up and ran furiously faster than I and fortunately in the right direction toward a field of rice and through the lower fence wires with a twang and dissappeared.

Penang was muslim, chinese and sticky hot.  Once I took a trip around the island by motorbike which was a little more interesting.  The chinese need culture and beauty.

I saw a movie there with DiNero, Cape Fear, real sadistic.

The other foreigner loved it. Sick.

Then there are gold shops heavily guarded.

The food is rank, not as easily gotten as in Thailand.

The train down is nothing other than miserable and you often are delayed getting a seat and often the sleepers are sold out.  The train moves miserably slow and the Thais see no need to fix that.  The police are always trying to stop smuggling on board and I can’t help but think it is all a well devised game.  The train is also usually muggy and steamy hot.

If you took the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok as I did once, that is even more miserable. The time I went it kept overheating and they had to stop every ten minutes to cool the engines.  The express train from Bangkok to places like Nan Kai end are nice as long as the engines don’t trip off with the train blocking an intersection.

Now there is an Australian built bridge going to Loas Vientianne from Nan Kai. It is hardly used.

Mae Hon Son is mountainous.  All the forest looked in bad shape getting there and the road up, over and in is worse than twisted.  Pai is quiet, became a hippie hangout for a while.  There is some big cave nearby but I saw Carlsbad once.

Then the is Pattaya, porno town.,  I got sent there on my first trip to Thailand and was impressed with how much sleaze you could heap up in one place, ‘Hey mister, you wanna see girl f___ dog?’ and such as that.

Then there is Chiang Mai with its tourists, whores and horribly polluted atmosphere. Hang around for a while and you will see more, but first impressions here.  Chiang Rai is more quiet, just a Thai town and enjoying it is strictly as a matter of what else you are there to do.  A boxed in town by feel, narrow streets and too many buildings but not heavily congested like Chiang Mai, but maybe getting there.

Then there are the bus trips, air condition of course except to Chiang Mai or Out of Surin to Kwao Sin Arin.  The fan bus Maesai to Chiangrai can be fun just to ride along and let your thoughts drift.  Many different people get on including hill tribe.  If you are going north from Chiangrai you want to get on it at the station otherwise you will end up standing the greatest part of the trip during certain hours.

Sometimes aircon busses will stop on the main road for you but not always.

There are a few late buses maybe as late as 8 from Chiangrai but none later than 5 or 6 going south to Chiangrai I don’t think.

VIP to Bangkok is good.  But getting the VIP 999 is best with three seets to the row and lay back.  Aircon almost always will give you a cold.  To keep colds down to a minimucm keep sugar intake low and stay away from too much pop.  Eat lots of fruit and especially fresh orange juice.

In Bangkok safety is a consideration.  I also recommend always using the same hotel so that you get familiar with the people and so that you have a good idea just what the security situation is.  Now taxis in BKK are metered which often makes rides cheaper than before.

When you fly into Bkk, after changing money, go upstairs to arrivals and catch a taxi for half the price of the airport regulated taxis waiting down stairs.  Pick a hotel near a major landmark so that any driver can at least get you close before you have to begin giving micro directions.

The airport express way is mostly finished I think making some things easier, but I have had to take a motorcycle to the airport before, a taxi not likely to make it in time.

   Bangkok had a lot of different kind of restaurants. A huge city, a life time exploring it.

There are computers in Chiangrai, oil paints, linseed oil, old printing presses, and a beautiful old Heidleberg press in one shop in Chiangrai just a block or so from the bus station.

Nan Kai is flat..  A trip to cheng Khong from Maesai is ok on the mekong river on a longtail powerboat.

The ‘golden Triangle’ as it is called is only the point of the countries but there is only muddy water there.  The casino in Burma still unfinished.  Speed boats bringing apples from china.  Apple pies.  Downstream big catfish.  A huge wood building for the port to china towards maesai, with massive waste of teak in its exterior making.  Really obscene. Then it all got sunspotted and dried out and the varnish and wood oil all disappeared and the wood curled, but I remember the huge blocks of wood when they were first making it. Someone’s piece of tarnished empire.

Michael Jackson in Bangkok.

Koh Sahn road and lots of sleazy foreigners, and a few begging Akha of course.  Lots of curses of Israeli tourists written on the bathroom walls.  Close to the democracy monument, the burned out Archives building and such.

Or you can watch bop thai boys be big time rock stars on the regular chanel 7 tv shows.  some thai music is good.


Coconut tree climbing monkeys

I was on a backroad to Chiangrai from Chiang Kong and there were these motorbike guys with metal cages on the back of their bikes and they had stopped in the shade to rest their monkeys.  Each monkey was on a long rope leash that was rolled up at the time, but they were trained to go up trees and get coconuts.  They looked plenty mean too.


silk in surin

Lots of dealers of nice Thai, and mudmee silk in Surin, good shops.


Beads in surin

I went to surin to find these silver foil beads.  The locals had it down.   They took pig fat, pine pitch and mixed it with dirt into a thick taffy and used that to fill each bead, while working it hot. Quite a little industry.



Noodle shop owner motorcycle ride

The owner of the noodle shop where I ate every day, he took me all over on his little motorbike one day and treated me to lunch at a very far noodle shop. 


George Wood

Container ship computer story.

Yeah, get to that later. Everyone knew George, he was a kind Kiwi and he took care of this Thai woman. Near there we walked the roads.  This old woman shot at a chicken then handed me the slingshot, so like it came natural I gave it a shot too and hit the chicken which took off running. Course I wasn’t really that good, just lucky that time.

There was a monk novice there who's father was a marine.  He wanted to know if I could help, not much I could do.

That was a beautiful place, Kao Sin Arin.

I never heard much from George after that. He was way overstayed and I wonder if they caught up with him.  He was fantastic at electronics, did a lot of work for the locals who even paid him, imagine.



Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email akhalife@gmail.com
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel