Asiatopia, Bo Sang, hash and the Golden Triangle

It was a busy weekend. We started on Friday night, when I had to rush home from work to get ourselves to Chiang Mai University in time for Asiatopia, or the International Performance Art Festival & Southeast Asia Performance Art Symposium 2007. Perhaps not too surprisingly, this event, now in its tenth year, does not have a website. Betsy heard about it through one of her classmates at the Thai language class she’s doing.
The show we saw, on the university grounds, on the ‘Art Museum lawn’, consisted of a series of performance pieces by artists from a number of countries. East Asian, but also an older Canadian man and a German lady. As a whole, although there were a few nice moments, I found the shows a bit amateurish. All the spoken shows were done in English. Perhaps the only viable option with the international crowd, both watching and performing, but clearly also a bit of a hurdle for some of the artists, not being too fluent in this lingua franca.
Probably the weirdest moment happened during the show of a Japanese artist, most probably Teruyuki Tanaka. He first asked for four volunteers from the audience, who had to lay down on the lawn, on a sheet of plastic, and were then covered by newspapers. Then he asked for an additional 30 volunteers, who he fitted with water pistols. Next, he presented the crowd with a large wet banana leaf and two scrolls. One with the Japanese constitution and one with a Buddhist sutra.
Tanaka then started to rip up the two scrolls, sticking the individual pieces of paper onto the banana leaf. Then he produced an odd contraption, consisting of two straps, for his arms to go through, a series of twigs and, on the end of one particular twig, an upside down filled water bottle, with a small hole in the cap. After struggling with the contraption for a while to get the whole thing hoisted on to his back, with the water bottle dripping onto the banana leaf which he had picked up, Tanaka ordered the 30 volunteers with the water pistols to shoot him.
Tanaka wore a white suit and what we were spraying on him was brown, chocolate milk or coffee, or both. His twigged contraption kept shifting, he dropped the leaf a few times and his white suit was getting darker and darker. (That’s when I discovered it was much more fun to spray other participants with the chocolate milk than the artist.) Tanaka slowly and dramatically moved ahead, until he stepped over the four other volunteers still laying down on the lawn.
After he’d reached the opposite side, he threw down the leaf and the contraption, while keeping a weird rubbery bit in his mouth, climbed up a ladder and sat down. The bit turned into a bow and arrow, with which he threatened to shoot the crowds, shortly before he threw the weapon away.
As I said, quite weird.

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Umbrellas from Bo Sang

Some ten kilometers to the east of Chiang Mai, you can find the village of Bo Sang, also known as the Umbrella Village because of its many paper umbrella manufacturers. We expected to find streets lined with shops and truckloads of tourists. The former, yes. The latter, no. It was, in fact, eerily quiet. We picked up a few souvenirs, including a blue paper umbrella for 2 euros.
Darn those prices.

Finally, the hash

On our fifth Saturday in Thailand, we finally made it to the hash. Last week it rained, two weeks ago we were half an hour late after they’d moved the starting time half an hour ahead just a week before due to darkness setting in earlier now it’s winter and in the weeks before that, we simply had other things to do, including recovering from a wild night at Spicy.
The run wasn’t too long, set in quiet woods some 30km out of the city. Normally, here, between the run and the circle, the hares serve homemade curry or snacks. Sadly, due to a car breakdown just hours prior to the run, the curry was now waiting for us 30 kilometers away, never to make it into our stomachs.
What did make it were, what seem to have been extremely bitter cola nuts.

Visa extension at the Golden Triangle

Back in the day when a significant part of the world’s supply of heroine and opium still came from Thailand, Burma and Laos, the provinces in these three countries close to the point where these three countries meet in the Mekong river, was called the Golden Triangle. Now, at least the Thai authorities like to make the point that all this drug trafficking is a thing of the past, this mostly the work of the princess mother, the late mother of the now aging king of Thailand.
The area is still, and probably more so now than ever before, a very popular tourist destination. It’s also possible to travel from here on to Burma, Laos and, a bit further on, China, a mere 266 kilometers away from the northern Thai border, although most package-minded tourists seem to stay on this side of the border. Not us. Because HDN simply forgot to tell me we had to get visas for Thailand -before- entering the country, at least for now we have to leave the country every 30 days. Hence our trip up north.
Interestingly, this is such common practice that visa runs to the Burmese/Myanmar border leave Chiang Mai every day of the year. The cheapest organized trip, which is basically nothing but a bus ride, costs 600 Baht (12 euros). The most expensive trip, in a private jeep with chauffeur, two days one night, taking in a lot of sights along the way, sets you back 4500 Baht, 90 euros. We ended up taking the more extensive one day trip, going past a series of sights, but also coming back on the same day.

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We first were under the impression that the whole, what turned out to be, 8 person group, was on board to get a visa extension. As it turned out, this was only required for Betsy and myself and, immediately I wondered about the sanity of the other passengers. The whole trip is quite a drive, totaling perhaps some 10 hours on the road in a single day, just marginally longer than when you only do the visa run, with only relatively short stops at a few locations. Really, what’s the joy of doing this, if you can choose not to go on this trip?

The part I enjoyed most, easily, was our required trip into Myanmar. Tachilek, on the Myanmar side of the border, is clearly a much rougher town, more lawless perhaps, than Mae Sai, on the south, Thai, side of the border. On the border, after going through Thai immigration, the Myanmar side’s immigration officers exchange your passport and ten US dollars (or 500 Baht) for a one day entry permit, a piece of paper with your details on it, including a photograph they make of you at the immigration office. The permit allows you to hang out in Myanmar, buy porn videos, bear claws and tiger penises, or so I hear. Then, on your way back, you hand over the permit again and receive your passport, but not the ten dollars.

The other activities included a visit to some mildly interesting hot spring, where you could buy a small basket of raw eggs to boil them in the 80 degree water, lowering them into the spring either on a hook at the end of a long pole or by using one of the plastic baskets specifically made available for this purpose. We also visited Wat Chedi Luang in the village of Chiang Saen, from where it’s possible to go on an overnight boat trip to China.
Chiang Saen is close to the village of Sop Ruak, also known as The Golden Triangle (which is more of a tourist-targeted name if anything). That’s where the three countries meet and where we went for a boat ride, coming very close to Myanmar and disembarking on the Laotian(!) river island of Don Sao, from where we mailed a few postcards.
The last stop on the trip was a visit to a village of ‘Karen long neck women’, their dresses resembling certain northern African styles, the women having long necks due to the metal coil ‘stuck’ around their necks. According to our guide, these long neck ‘tribes’ are Akha, but they’re more generally known as ‘Karen long neck women’, where Karen refers to a particular hill tribe. They most recently hail from Myanmar, coming into Thailand only a few decades ago. Their ethnic origin lies in China.

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