Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traditional dancing minus the drugs

Traditional dancing...

Let me tell you Legion of Fans (LOF) if there are two words guaranteed to get me running a four minute mile in the opposite direction from the utterer, then those are them.

I can not stand it.

If you're a traditional dancer, then good for you... I respect you and your culture, but it's not mine. (If white Australian people had a traditional dance it would be chicks dancing around hand bags and blokes drinking beer.). So keep it to yourself and don't expect me, as a tourist, to sit through this thing that means nothing to me and then pay you afterwards. It doesn't happen when I'm in Africa and I wasn't about to let it happen in Asia.


After my in depth investigation of the girlie bars of Phnom Penh, it was time to me to do some different research in Thailand. I flew to Chiang Mai via Bangkok and got the hell out of that slightly dodge-like city (not really my cup of tea - a big city in the middle of nowhere, regardless of the country).

Together with a travelling companion and a local operative (this is a very top secretish non fiction book that I've been researching) we commandeered a car and set off for the Thai-Burma border. (That's me (above) overlooking the border, which is just beyond that first ridge of hills). Drug country. AK-47-toting bandit and warlike hill tribe country.

Well, at least it used to be.

The Thai government has had a major crack down on opium growing in this part of the world and the ethic hill tribes who live there have been encouraged to grow other crops (inclduing, as I was to find out that night, some very nice lychees. Not as mysterious and dangerous as drugs, but very nice, and more befitting a 45-year-old man).

Part of my book will be there, and a key part of story is the plight of the hill tribes who live in the area, particularly the La-Hu people. The La-Hu, I learned, I think, are descended from Tibetans who somehow found their way to Thailand (this all got a little lost in our host's translation, but I'll get it sorted in time for the book).

The La-Hu and other tribes span the border of Thailand and Vietnam and until recently they were put in the too-hard basket by the Thai Government and not afforded citizenship or access to basic government services, such as schooling and healthcare. That's changing since the crack down on opium growing, with the reward for co-operation being promise of citizenship and all that entails.

The grey area that La-Hu and other hill tribes occupied in Thailand's population also meant that their children were prey to people smugglers and sex traffickers. (There is another hint about what the book will be about).

So, I spent some time outside the town of Fang, in a La-Hu village, but first my fellow travellers and I had to be welcomed to the village. And this involved Traditional Dancing.

But I must say, that when you're ushered into a temple and a group of people starts dancing in a circle for you as a genuine gesture of welcome it's very different to a bunch of waiters and waitresses doing it, under sufference, in the hope of a bigger tip. The young girls and boys and the elderly lady who welcomed us were doing this not for money (none was asked for or expected) but because it truly was part of their culture.

And, despite my usual dislike of these sorts of things I was dragged into participating as well (there are pictures of this, but thankfully I don't have them, so won't be posting them).

It was a good welcome to the village, because it broke the ice and I then sat down with some senior representatives of the La-Hu and drank a good deal of beer (they didn't all drink, but I certainly did) and did a bit of research.

That night we stayed in a bamboo house that's been built to accomodate trekkers in a fledgling tourist venture. I'm not sure trekking in these bush covered Thai hills is my thing, but the trekking lodge was a little piece of paradise, with a fantastic view, comfy mattresses and bedding, and mosquito nets. There was even a hot water shower.

Traditions means a lot to the La Hu and in recent decades they've seen some of them eroded by drugs, civil war, military crackdowns in Thailand and Burma, and the loss of some of their children to some very bad people.
They're looking forward to a better future, and I am looking forward to writing this book (if I ever recover from the research trip).


ali g said...

Sounds like fun...doing the hokey pokey...guzzling beer...researching in the rub & tug bars...and a hot shower as well. what more could a struggling author possibly want?..very nice

Trin said...

Was feeling quite depressed thinking of all the children that still get taken from their homes and sold into slavery - of one kind or another. Have seen a couple of shows lately on SBS - little boys taken or sent by relatives to plantations to work, little girls being sexually abused by their fathers/family members or other little boys - sad to think so much of this still goes on....

Amazing view from the trekkers lodge - that would be brilliant to wake up to. And Ali G, rub and tug - really! Where DO you get these expressions?