Thailand Diary

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mad in pursuit Monday, 5.14.90

Last night. "Night market" where women and kids sold needlework. Then traditional dances. After a while we got to join in. A snakey sort of dance accompanies by an instrument with a long neck, small sound box, strings or by pipes made of bamboo.

Yesterday afternoon. Hike to waterfall for a shower. Exquisitely cold -- shampoo for first time in days. Then to Akha village -- very poor, isolated due to much opium-smoking.

We slept in an open area -- 7 of us cheek by jowl. I had trouble falling asleep. When I wasn't worried about the snuffling in my nose and the crick in my neck, I was fantasizing about an army of red ants taking little chunks out of me through the night -- wondering if red ants were diurnal. After worrying too long about making a racket, I dug my nasal spray out of the bag and crept downstairs. The dogs had been snarling at each other off and on and I was afraid they'd snap at me. But all went well -- a moonlight piss, sniff of nasal spray, and a full moon helped considerably.

Started off this A.M. at 7:45. A true jungle hike on an overgrown path lined with broad-leafed banana trees, fording streams (the same one?) about 16 times before reaching a waterfall for a pleasant cold shower. From there it was unrelentingly uphill in open bright sunlight. (Murray quipped: "Who cut down all the shade trees?" -- an apt question for a land stripped of its teak forests.)

At 11 or so we arrived at a prosperous Buddhist-Lisu village, staked out our sleeping quarters, downed the usual two bottles of pop and stared into space till lunch was served (noodle soup).

2 P.M. While napping, our first regulation tropical storm. Violent thunderstorm out of the southwest -- the monsoon direction. Drenching rain. Cold, windy, scurried to roll up the mats on our sleeping porch. Roosters crowed to each other as it ended.

Why no birds up here? Hill tribes shot them all (per Chan).

First conversation with a Lisu in English -- very culturally aware but drunk as a skunk. Noted voting rights of hill tribes, made a point of "Lisau" being of Sino-Tibetan origin. "I am drunk -- Lisau a very honest people" (pronounces "h" in honest). Lisau grow opium but only sell it. Prefer alcohol to opium. Is this a man caught in the cross-culture?

Visit to adjoining Akha village where they cling to their animist beliefs. Akha children always dirty, women's teeth black with betel nut. Always seems to be a dreary bleary woman whose skirt is slung low about her hip -- only a decorative codpiece giving it a sleazy modesty. We tend to see only pregnant and nursing and old women, we assume because more able bodies are in the field planting. Not uncommon to see a seven-year-old girl carrying an infant wrapped on her back and tending a two-year-old. Swarms of dogs -- 2 or 3 per house -- procreating as fast as the women no doubt. Akha custom -- no sex for 8 months after birth, therefore men allowed to take a second wife.

Drunk sat on sidelines during dinner, then created ugly scene -- accusing us of being impolite and wanted 10 baht apiece. Threw his nearly empty coke bottle (flipped it by the neck into the room) at Murray's head -- across the room -- and hit Simon's shoulder. Challenged anyone to Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Lisu Street Fighting, etc. Very awkward. When I shook my head no at suggestion of 10 baht to buy more whiskey and stay and talk he tried to pull coke bottle from my hand. Chan asked him to go, but he stood his ground. Chan retreated in shame. Others snuck away. Finally, mother of house, son and daughter confronted him and made him leave. Mother scolded (pull yourself together, man, you're making a fool of yourself). Son grabbed at his arm with embarrassed smile and finally he left. Chan came back in tears. Shame? Frustration?

Turns out drunk (headman's cousin) is an opium dealer who scored with last night's tour group (7 Belgians). (He did keep mentioning CIA Drug Enforcement.) Some fear that our group is in jeopardy. Headman issued order banishing him from environs of his house. If he returns, then will be considered a bandit by entire tribe. Also three men were assigned to guard us throughout the night because he threatened to come back with a gun.

Sad parallels with American Indian?

8 P.M. Hills alive with insect songs, tour group hootenanny, and Akha loud speaker music, Lisu loud speaker video.