Monthly archive for July 2012

Living La Vida Lahu


So week two of our volunteering was survived by all attendees, and took the form of a homestay in Ban Yafu village, which is hereabouts (ie basically nowhere). As previously mentioned, Ban Yafu is home to about two dozen adults, a few score children and about 13000 pigs, dogs and chickens. More on those later.

The job for the week was to help with digging rice terraces. The Lahu previously lived higher in the hills (as with the other hilltribes. Hence the name. Hilltribes.) but recent national parkification and general development has seen them driven further down and into more marginal land. The main issue (from an agricultural stand-point, they have others) is that they traditionally practiced hillside, paddyless rice planting. Basically plant a bunch of rice on a hillside and let rain and gravity do it’s thing. There are numerous downsides to this including things like only being able to harvest once a year; being rain dependent; and to move on every 3 harvests or so (as the soil nutrients get stripped out), slashing and burning a new section of rainforest as they go – this also entails moving the entire village periodically. The latter thing is what causes the Thai government the most consternation, nomadic slash and burners not really gelling with ideas like the modern nation state or jungle conservation.

So – dig some rice terraces. No more slash and burn, villagers can harvest a few times a year with less effort and less reliance on mercurial rainfall and people like me can drop a marker on a map and say “that there is Ban Yafu” and it probably won’t move.

The (next) problem is labour. Looking at the picture above you can kinda see that Ban Yafu isn’t exactly furnished with a range of options for entertainment and/or entreprenuerialism for those of an adolescent bent (who, despite differences in language, dress and overall life experience, are as easily identified as ‘teenagers’ as their sullen, coiffured peers everywhere else in the world) so first chance many get, they’ll head off to try their luck in the city (Chiang Rai in this case) or larger surrounding villages. If succesful, they become a source of much needed cashflow for their family but they are regardless depriving the village of their petulant, “hang on I’m just trying to get mobile signal” labour.

That’s where we come in. The Thai government isn’t exactly tripping over itself to throw money at the hilltribes – the plan seems to be to just deny them citizenship/education/healthcare and generally pretend they don’t exist until they don’t.* They are of course happy to take the tourist dollars their presence generates, and if some NGO wants to send a bunch of falang up there now and then to dig some holes, why the hell not?

Hence, via a brief and probably inaccurate overview of Lahu culture and the Thai ethno-political scene, we ended up staying for a week in a Lahu village.

Phew. Sewious. Wordy. More on this whole subject later.












Main street, Ban Yafu













A Pig, A Chicken











*not entirely fair, there are a number of Royal projects underway in the area we were staying in, but even these seem to stop short of actually acknowledging that these people are ‘Thai’ in any sense.

Starting with the man in the mirror

Filtered for your ironic amusement

Sarah’s lodgings at the Mirror Foundation


Presently sitting in an internet cafe in sunny Chiang Rai, full of Khao Soi (find it, buy it, eat it) and waiting for our ride back to the our on/off accomodation for the last week and next two.*

That accommodation is courtesy of the Mirror Foundation**, a local NGO that works with hill-tribe folks (and others) on such issues as getting Thai citizenship, drug rehabilitation, school visits, building projects etc. The foundation budded off the Mirror Art Group,  a bunch of Thai students in the 90s that toured the country hosting teach-ins and putting on theatre performances to  protest against the military government of the time, and bring light to taboo issues like AIDS and domestic violence. After seeing the plight of the hill-tribes, a largely stateless people being steam-rollered by logging, missionaries, restrictions on movement, access to healthcare/education etc. they ‘shed their idealism’ (their words) and started a permanent foundation to try and tackle some of this stuff.

The place is run by a mix of hill-tribe people, local volunteers and falang like myself, some of whom seem to hang around for a few years. They seem to have some success so far and are growing year by year.

So yeah, consider that your new benchmark for success theatre people. (I jest, I know you guys don’t do ‘success’) .

Sarah and I are contributing a fairly token effort in the form of an ‘outdoor’ volunteer program for three weeks. Week one (last week) was mostly a meditation on the art/science of brick making with a side of “go stand in that rice paddy and move some of the mud from that place to that other place and watch out you don’t grab a snake that bitey feeling is probably just mud crabs don’t get malaria now”. Week two will be a home stay in a Hilltribe village of the Lahu people (look them up, they’re interesting). Apparently we’ll be diggin rice terraces. Week three? Who knows, they like to play things by ear a fair bit.






*re-editing this for publishing a week later, this paragraph is still entirely true. New habits form quick.

**Hence the title. I’m not contemplating any Michael Jacksonesque self-inflicted disfigurements just now.

Normal service is always this spotty

Current location: 19° 54′ 34″ N, 99° 49′ 39″ E (ish)

So a combination of sweltering heat and spotty wifi is thwarting my update schedule somewhat, but posts are in the pipeline around the volunteer project Sarah and I are currently involved in, some amusing things we’ve seen/done and ‘various things that I have found crawling on me while I tried to sleep’. That one’s a doozy.

As a stop-gap, here’s a brief review of a movie I went and saw today:

Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter

So there’s this guy right? Abraham Lincoln. He hunts vampires. He is assisted in this endeavour by his trusty axe, a childhood friend, one of the O’Poyle brothers and more melodrama than you can shake a fist whilst throwing your head back and roaring to the sky at the indifferent gods at.

Then the civil war happens but it wasn’t those nasty racist southerners fault, it was the vampires. They’re not racist, they just use the convenience of the slave trade to eat a bunch of slaves. There’s probably some sort of pithy social commentary there but it gets buried under a CGI fight scene carried out across the backs of a herd of stampeding horses.

I give it four score and seven out of a possible 100% of all reviews that have probably already used that joke.