Saturday, October 2, 2010

Khun Sa Old Camp

Above the ThoedThai market, towards Burma, is the “Khun Sa Old Camp” (Ban Pak Khun Sa), with a life-size statue of him on horseback. I vaguely knew it was there, then saw on a map, “KhunSa Museum”, and decided to take a look.
Going up a narrow pot-holed road from the market, one passes an old-style Shan “San Jao” pavilion with three tiers topped by a small royal umbrella, placed in the middle of a small lake (with dam to the lower side). A small two-tier alter with a Buddha image visible inside is next to it. Neither structure is fancy, but the panoramic picture does have a certain grace. Just a bit further up is the old encampment, and Khun Tip, who lives there (tel. 085-7077921), a charming, tiny 22-year-old, is happy to show visitors around (no suggested guide price, up to you if you wish to tip Tip – but definitely the polite thing to do!).
The “museum” has been there 20 years or so, and mostly involves the original buildings, with lots of snapshots of Khun Sa and his army, with some mural paintings. These include some interesting depictions relevant to Shan culture and its royalty (one photo I liked was of a kinaree dancer with two people in a “Toh” deer costume, with mask. There’s a “Horng Rap Kaek” parlor with a Madame Toussard-like model of Khun Sa sitting at table, all arranged just like 30 years ago. Close by are three bedrooms and a prayer room with benches and a minimalist altar. All walls are unfinished cement.
It isn’t a large encampment, although it was the base for about 1000 soldiers (aged from about 9 to 60). There’s a helicopter pad below, but Khun Sa never had his own.
As we wandered around, Tip showed me a “refinery” where poppy-flower tar was boiled (intoxicating those who stirred the brew), a “haw pak” dorm area with graffiti, and a huge piece of a Thai artillery shell dated 21 Feb 1982 (in Thai; and I’ll note here that Khun Tip does not speak English). Up above on a hilltop is something which looks like a Jack & Jill well, but is actually the entrance to a “jail” used mostly for intended deserters. The well-sized hole leads to a dark room of about 10 foot per side.

For some pictures of the old encampment, see:

After visiting, I thought I’d add this segment on Khun Sa, including some material from my book, “Enticing Siam” (2006):
“In May 1942 the Thai took control of the Shan region around Keng Tung. These “United Shan States” or, euphemistically, “Original Thai States”, were recognized by treaty with Japan in August 1943. Sayaburi (Xaignabouri, or Muang Ngoen until taken from Siam in 1903) and Champasak, Laos, and Siem Riep and Battambang provinces, Cambodia, were reattached to the Thai kingdom. On Japan’s surrender, August 15, 1945, the Thai government undertook action to restore prewar boundaries. A peace agreement with Britain was signed at the end of December, but not until January 1947 did Thailand return the French colonial provinces.
“Although the Japanese conscripted people of the northern Muang and built roads which penetrate the rough, mountainous Lanna area (roads still used today), they also encouraged opium production, and area didn’t really open up until the 80s. Military governments of the 50s, 60s and 70s alienated many free-thinkers, and after student uprisings of 1973 were brutally put down and dictatorship resumed in 1976, many radicals took to the hills of Northern Thailand to join in communist insurgency. When Mao Tse Dung’s victory put Mainland China under Communist government in 1949, an influx of anti-Communist Chinese had entered the Lanna area, mostly soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek’s Koumintang (KMT) army. The Thai government limited the number of Chinese immigrants to 200 a year (increased to 2000 in the 60s), reluctant to receive any (except from non-Communist areas, i.e. Taiwan and Hong Kong, from which few wanted to come). Many Kuomintang soldiers, mostly from Yunnan, settled from Fang and Mae Ai in northern Chiang Mai Province, across to Huai Krai on Highway 1 in Chiang Rai (which goes to Thailand’s northernmost point at Mae Sai). The 93rd Division settled at Santikiri (Doi Mae Salong), and others, supported for a while in Burma by CIA and KMT from Taiwan air-drops, arrived more gradually."
“The area was still sparsely populated and undeveloped into the early 1970s, by which time drug money had become the dominant force and the area called the “Golden Triangle”. Communist activity kept the United States interested even after the Vietnam War; interest increasing proportional to American consumption of drugs produced in Tai Yai hills. Communist insurgency in the north wasn’t strong, in part due to drug-producing KMT army remnants, but in the early 60s, Thailand’s northern border had “unknown areas” and Opium Warlords even issued their own paper currency (until as late as 1984, in Huai Krai, 15 km south of Mae Sai on Highway 1)! The various groups (Communists, drug armies and KMT) gave up their weapons during amnesty programs of the 1980s, and the area became amenable for tourism. The King’s mother, Princess Mother Sang Wan Sri Nakarin, or colloquially, Mae Fa Luang &/or Somdet Ya, took great interest in the north, and did much to help end illicit drug production in Thailand.
“In 1982 the drug-lord Khun Sa was pushed out, and by 1990, a Royal Foundation directed by the King’s Mother was successfully containing drug production in northern Thailand. Heroin lords in Shan State (including Khun Sa) increased their output. Chiang Rai was still a small town and in many ways decades out of date (though not so much as Keng Tung remains today); the wife of a USA Drug Enforcement Agency agent’s was murdered in an attempt at intimidation &/or retribution, in town in the late 80s.”

Twenty years ago, “the largest insurgent force in Southeast Asia was the Mong T’ai Army (MTA), headed by Zao Khunsa (referred to in media usually as Khun Sa, originally Chan Cheefu or Zhang Qifu, hereditary Loimaw headman). He made America’s “Most Wanted” list, ‘though he’s never been to America: a Brooklyn, New York court indicted him on heroin trafficking (narcotics racketeering) charges. Prosperous KhunSa now lives in an Inya Lake villa in Yangon…
“Brief background: Lo Hsing-han/Law Sit Han, a major warlord/drug-lord, started in the early 1960s as a gofer, assisting poppy-growing Kokang royalty. Lo got command of a ‘KKY’ junta-sanctioned militia, and while KhunSa was in jail (from late ’69 to ’74), worked with KMT General Li Mi (of the KMT), sending opium to Thailand. ’93, General Khin Nyunt (long head of Burmese Intelligence but now under house arrest) assured him safe-smuggling of heroin from Kokang to the Thai border at Tachilek. Tachilek has the only airport in Burma within walking distance of another country; flights from Rangoon or Mandalay bring Burmese officers with parcels of bank notes to carry over the Mai Sai bridge, Tachilek’s link to international banking. Mae Sai, Thailand’s northernmost point, is an ultimate in proverbial border towns; the area’s Shan, Tatmadaw, Wa and Thai soldiers have frequently clashed; all of these and more rake untaxed income from dodgy dealings, but who should judge? Golden Triangle drug barons are hardly less moral than Europeans who “settled” the American West, the CIA or many Americans working prisons… Now frequently used for Thai-visa extension purposes, the border was only opened to tourists in fall, 1994. Although non-Thai visitors weren’t allowed beyond the town itself, I went to take a look. It seemed poor but light-hearted; I saw kids playing on stilts, and small roadside gambling hovels. There were antiques and handicrafts, but nothing distantly approximating what was available in Mae Sot (on the western border Salween River). The only well-organized business I noticed was the Mae Sai gem market. Burmese currency, kyat, was not then, nor is now, used in Tachilek; just Thai baht. Tachilek reportedly had as many as 14 heroin refineries in the past; now it has a Tatmadaw base and a busy market with a plethora of cheap Chinese goods, some jungle products and carved teak, and pirated CDs and DVDs. On my first visit, I was amazed to see a man in fatigue jacket which instead of a name above the pocket, said “It takes balls to rule the world.” Of many postcards I sent out from there, none arrived.
“Lo (or Law) Hsing-han has moved to Yangon to live with a son doing active business with Singaporians, but still owns poppy fields in the Tang-yang area. In ’73, while leading the largest opium militia and a coalition of most Shan rebel groups, he sent a proposal to the US government inviting American experts to help with poppy eradication by buying the current crop for US$12 million. A Thai helicopter came to take Lo for negotiations, but once away from his army, he was arrested, deported to Burma and sentenced to death - later commuted to eight years in jail. The DEA suppressed the proposals. Khun Sa, freed after supporters kidnapped two Russian doctors and got Thai General Kriangsak Chomanan (soon to be prime minister) to negotiate his release, revived the proposals. He invited members of a US Congressional committee on narcotics to visit his base at Ban Hin Taek, Chiangrai Province, Thailand. US officials visited, but President Carter’s administration preferred to start an $80 million gift program (over 14 years), to the junta.

“For a decade Khun Sa had about 4 thousand armed men: the Shan United Army (SUA). The DEA planted tracking devices up the asses of opium caravan mules, but the Burmese, given precise coordinates, intercepted nary a convoy. In January 1982, Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanan had Thai troops launch an attack on Khun Sa at Hin Taek (which subsequently became Ban Thoed Thai); after three days, the SUA scattered. Khun Sa and remnant troops drove some KMT and Lahu soldiers out of borderland Doi Lang, and temporarily settled there, but a Chinese officer who later become SUA chief of staff proposed something better: setting up headquarters at Ho Mong, across the border from sparsely populated MaeHongSon, Thailand, and practically inaccessible from anywhere else. A road from Thailand was put in, and troops rallied back. In 1985, 10,000 soldiers of the Shan United Revolutionary Army under Col. YawdSerk joined to form the Mong T’ai Army (MTA), which in 1993 had its first sustained, concentrated attack from the Tatmadaw. The situation looked dangerous; Khun Sa adopted a more fervently nationalist posture. On December 13, 1993, he declared an independent Shan State. More soldiers joined; the MTA grew to 25,000. In 1994 HoMong grew to 20,000 and even had facilities for overseas phone calls (Christopher Cox of the Boston Herald says 10,000, but also says Chiang Saen means ‘trumpeting elephant’ and that ‘Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Manchu empire’). Surely well over a hundred journalists, photographers, NGO staffers and adventurers traveled to the Thai/Myanmar border to see Khun Sa, as did Chris Cox, and as also did I (earlier than Cox, who wrote Chasing the Dragon, 1996 Henry Holt and Co., about his visit).
“Khun Sa offered to eradicate Shan opium/heroin supply in return for security and stability for his people, who were violently threatened by the Burmese. The price would have been a tiny fraction of American tax dollars spent on surveillance, interdiction, incarceration, rehabilitation, hospitalization, etc. “Persuade the government of Burma to return to the legal constitution of Burma, because the drug trade can only flourish in a state of anarchy”, he asked. Thirty years later, the anarchy, and drug trade, still flourish. Shans request for help with crop substitution, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure met little response, but captivated my interest; I decided to see what I could do to help.”

“Tachilek reportedly had as many as 14 heroin refineries” - interesting, as Khun Tip told me there had been about 14 different opium warlords in the area, between 1965 and 1990.
For decades, Khun Sa symbolized Golden Triangle heroin trafficking. Dramatic declines in regional poppy cultivation followed his surrender in December of 1996. The Golden Triangle now produces only about 5% of the world’s opium, down from 70% in the early 1980s. Khun Sa, as a leader in the Shan separatist movement, traded opium for weapons (he claims to have only ‘taxed’ the opium, but few ever believed that). He controlled large areas of the rugged, remote and impoverished Shan region, during a time when it had few roads, much lower population, and very little in the way of hegemonic control. He may once have controlled 70% of the heroin business, and his total army may have occasionally exceeded 20,000 soldiers.
Born on Feb. 17, 1934, in northern Shan state, his father was Chinese, his mother Shan; he changed his name from Chang Chi-fu (Chufu or Shee-fu) to his nom de guerre, Khun Sa, in the 1970s. His father died when he was young; his mother became mistress to a local tax collector. His education and military training was with Chinese Kuomintang forces who’d fled into Burma in 1949. In 1963, the Burmese government authorized him and others to form militias to fight against tribal groups trying to assert independence. Within a year he broke ties with the Burmese and with about 800 men established an independent fiefdom near the Chinese border in northern Shan State. Captured by the Burmese and imprisoned from 1969 to 1974, as related above, he was released after his men abducted two Russian doctors in 1973, to swap for him.
By 1976 he’d re-established himself at Ban Hin Taek, where he’d lived for a year in 1964. He built schools, infrastructure for public water and electricity supply, and a hospital. In 19890, Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda ordered bombing of HinTaek, but only in 1982, after General Chavalit Yongchaiyut, with the Thai Border Police, made a ground assault, did Khun Sa give up and retreat back to Shan State (Time Magazine, 1 March 1982, has an amusing article about this, entitled, “Thailand: the Great Opium War”). Soon Khun Sa was back, at a camp near Fang in ChiangMai Province. But to establish himself as a freedom fighter, he returned to Shan State, where he again built schools, infrastructure for public water and electricity supply, and a hospital, this time at HoMong, his own creation. In 1977 he proclaimed himself the “King of the Golden Triangle,” which was soon producing almost half of the heroin entering the USA - and certainly the most potent. He may, though, have been front-man for an organization from Yunnan Province, China, more than an independent operator.

More from “Enticing Siam”:

My Trip to HoMong
After attracting Khun Sa aide Khernsai Jaiyen’s attention through newspaper letters-to-the-editor supportive of Khun Sa’s independence posturing, and a trip to Khun Sa’s office in MaeHongSon (I just flew up, then asked a motorcycle taxi driver to take me there, using my not-yet very good Bangkok Thai), I received an invitation to visit Ho Mong, and even a piece of paper to serve as provisional passport.
MaeHongSon wasn’t yet a vast urban wasteland of excess cement - most houses were still of wood, and many were very beautiful. There were five 5-star hotels without customers, and many two dollar a night backpacker guest-houses (much more convivial and entertaining places than expensive hotels). Interesting regional delicacies like deep-fried bird were common, and standard fare available along a short row of places oriented to backpackers. There was an upstairs dance-hall, dime (B10) a dance; my next-door neighbor at the guest-house I found to be of the taxi-dancers! The pace of life was slow, modern vulgarity had begun encroaching, but much serene magnificence truly charmed. Vegetation was thick, mornings cool, almost cold, and nowhere did anything feel intimidating, except perhaps the 5-star hotels. No one seemed shy about Khun Sa having an office there, at all, but neither were they going to discuss the trucks with huge teak trunks loaded on, standing along the road outside of that office, despite official logging ban.
I met Kernsai there, at the office, and was told where to catch a ride early in the morning. I did so, and after an hour and a half trip, found myself at a small Chinese village of low brick houses. There I mounted a mule bred for the difficult job of traversing rugged mountainous terrain. The mule’s caretaker led us along a mountain stream for a couple hours, crossing it, back and forth, many, many times. Along the first few miles of the path were impressive water-works, earth constructed runnels carrying water from a creek to fields lower down. It was nice and easy, breezy and beautiful for a while, then for a second I thought the horse was going out from under me, down a cliff-side. We quickly descended 8 or 10 feet while progressing on perhaps hardly a yard. The creek fell to 60 feet below us sometimes; the trail was seldom level. It was often so steep that the mules used long holes a foot or more deep, sometimes 40 or more in close rows, doing a kind of high-step.
We frequently went up, way up high slopes, the porter-guide-muleteer after a while pulling in front to help the mule, and my spine going almost parallel with that of my mount. When the slopes became too extreme we began using switchbacks, some 10 or 15 yards long, others reversing quite quickly. The horse sweated profusely, horseflies buzzing about its eyes. I tried with little success to swat them away with my quart (crop). We saw no-one for over five hours, until after resting on a level area we reached after topping three previous ridges. They were gorgeous to look back upon, but we were soon engulfed again in trees. We then encountered two men bearing ancient long-barrel rifles, and acting as if they were hunting. An hour later we met another man, at a very refreshing small waterfall.
Parties of international journalists, whom we saw evidence of in their trash leavings (Tablerone chocolate boxes given free on international flights, cigarette packs, pop cans), were said to have done the route in eight hours. I’d hoped to do it in less, and did, but to little advantage. My guide hobbled the horse outside a small dusty village, then left me in a room that resembled a small barracks, outside of which were tunnels into a hillside. I was exhausted and not unhappy to rest while waiting for a vehicle. I fell asleep, and someone woke me, offering to share smoke of some #4. I wanted to see it, but politely declined to partake. He took out a small vial of white powder and a cigarette, unrolled the cigarette and mixed in powder, rolled it back up, partook, then nodded off. Shortly after, I was directed to a pickup, which took me to the headquarters of Khun Sa’s administration, where I was given a room at the VIP quarters. I’ve no idea how things would have gone had I been narcoticized.
A treaty had just been negotiated with elders of the Lisu tribe, and I was invited to the celebratory dance at Khun Sa’s residence. I was fed first, and had time to pour ladles of cold water over myself in my room’s private bath (equipped with an electric light), and to put on decent clothes. I was soon holding hands between two beautifully bedecked Lisu maidens, with green-uniformed but unarmed soldiers to either side, dancing in a circle that soon included Khun Sa. He sang out enjoyable verses of voluble song, but I understood nary a word. I forgot my tired feet and legs, and tried my best to follow along in dance with my fellows. Khun Sa made what was clearly a jest, and people laughed. A European crew went about with TV cameras and bright lights, recording the event.
My host Khernsai Jaiyen, the aid to Khun Sa most quoted in English-language newspapers, used his self-taught English fluently, and I found his manner friendly and intelligent. He introduced me to several other English speakers, including two gentlemen of Shan descent purportedly based with the UN in New York. We were served candy and “whiskey” (which should really be called rum), after the dancing stopped. My new friends and I considered visiting HoMong’s karaoke lounge, but chose instead to visit the drinking stall of a woman who had a bit of English. There we had Carlsberg beer, tasty Shan/T’ai food, and a pretty good time. The electricity in Ho Mong, however, went off at ten, and I had to prepare for bed by candlelight.
Early in the next day’s dawning I was shown around a bit after breakfasting with the UN guys, at a charming outdoor market. I was saw a lake, schools, a church, garment factory, printing department, pharmacies, a new neighborhood and road construction. Half a year after his declaration of independence, Khun Sa’s efforts in Ho Mong showed results: he’d established mushroom and silkworm farms, pineapple plantations, textile and garment production, a hydroelectric dam, a jewelry factory and a gem emporium. In the pleasant main market and well-stocked stores, dry-goods were mostly Thai, and only Thai money was used. Schools and medical facilities were readily in evidence, and two small hotels. There were no door-locks, nor need of, as there was virtually no crime. Rugged terrain, logistics insufficiencies (especially in transportation), and strained political relationships limit economic potential, but the Mong T’ai capitol Ho Mong (a mile or so from Mong Mai, more readily identifiable on maps, ‘though sometimes as Mong Mau - about 50 kilometers due north of MaeHongSon City, but over twice that far in actuality, due to the mountains) had thousands of new pre-formed reed-mat houses creating dozens of neighborhoods along the main road through a long mountain valley. Women mostly wore modern clothing; men and boys uniforms.

Kernsai explained that Khun Sa wanted me to become his “Propaganda Minister” for which I would be given room and board; would I care to review his troops with him in the morning? I didn’t think so. Unfortunately it quickly seemed I had little time left… I chose to walk back, rather than wait for another rough ride on a mule. Walking took the same amount of time, and brought me closer to things. I still had a guide; he could hardly believe how slow I was, and at one point reached into an almost invisible hole in the ground and pulled out a colorful bird. This he put in a pocket for a while, then took out and flung into the air. It flew off making joyful noises, and I knew the difficult walk had been the right choice. But it left me tired immensely, and with sores on my feet still visible two months later. Arriving in the little brick town where I could catch a ride, just before dark, I made it to MaeHonSon in time to be informed at the airline office that I should report for standby very early in the morning. I was very lucky I did so, as no subsequent flights were able to leave for the nest two days, due to fog.

I’d gone to offer some ideas for alternate income sourcing and possibly support in crop-substitution programs, and remain hopeful of helping provide viable substitutes for dependency on drug production for people in Shan State, through use of solar and wind power, and 12-volt pumping systems. I also had ideas for Angora rabbits… and it interests me to use this situation as a case example helpful in elucidating many problems in present political and economic frameworks and realities. Too much is ignored or wishfully swept temporarily out of sight, only to fester until erupting into danger to society at large. The absence of much available information on this situation is but one symptom of the problem; organized crime and drug-use epidemics are others. As important, of course, are general human rights, respect for nature and tradition, and awareness of history and resultant responsibilities. My hopes of encouraging profitable handicrafts production have come to little; dreams of promoting wind-energy utilization and water-storage have come to even less. There clearly needs to be a total paradigm shift of people in general, before we lose our heritage, and future.

When well entrenched and popular, the MTA had heavy artillery, surface-to-air heat-seeking Stinger missiles, and SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles (made in USA). Traditionally Shan, Kachin, Pa-0, Palaung and Lahu accept cultural pluralism as a fact of life, despite occasional necessity for violence. Farmers not protected by a local army then, as now, ran high risk of being press-ganged into work as porters &/or land-mine detectors for the Tatmadaw, without pay, even in food, and forced into situations of extreme danger without protective gear, acting against the interests of their own people. Thousands of porters have died and thousands more become severely mutilated while engaged in this work, supposedly for the good of their nation.
The main enemy was soon to change, though, from Khun Sa to neighbors not far from his original base-town of Lashio: the ‘wild’, or ‘red’ Wa. Some of these Wa can still remember ancestors who were headhunters, living inaccessibly in small villages surrounded by impenetrably thick thorn strands. For two decades most Wa were Communist Party supporters; then they became capitalistic poppy cultivators and now protect the manufacture of amphetamines. The Wa fought against Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army until his surrender, and now are avowed supporters of the junta, while using Chinese money and acting under the orders of Chinese advisers. They want back lands Shans ‘civilized’ 850 years ago…
These Wa kept Burma separate from China; the rugged Wa ‘states’, located in the far northeast of Shan State, are the poorest territory in Burma, indeed, Wa farmers are among the world’s poorest peoples. Wa have fought lowlanders for centuries, vehemently. China had no problem absorbing all of Yunnan, with its many tribal peoples, and many Chinese passed on through into Shan State, but the Wa Hills remained frontier. Until just recently, there were few roads in the area (none paved), no educational system and no medical clinics. Only 10% had electricity. After Aung San’s assassination, the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) revolted; its most successful recruiting was among the traditionally warlike Wa. In March, 1989 the BCP collapsed; the leaders fled to China. The United Wa State Party (UWSP) and United Wa State Army (UWSA) requisitioned BCP uniforms, arms, ammunition and soldiers, and merged with a smaller non-communist Wa army, soon having 20,000 troops with additional militia. They quickly struck a cease-fire deal with the junta, so kept all weapons and, free to run its region as a semi-autonomous state, expanded trade in heroin - remember, the Wa hills were once legal opium-growing territory. Starting in 1993, they added methamphetamines.
Dreams of an independent Shan State were shattered by a mutiny in June 1995 (at least for the time; it keeps, quixotically, popping up again, chauvinistic in the sense of hopeless). The MTA’s officer-training school’s second in command, Kan Yot [Gun Yod or Kan Ywet], revolted. He and 200 soldiers, incensed at despotism and racial discrimination by those with Chinese blood, left. 1500 MTA soldiers went to negotiate with the mutineers, hardly 10% returned. Rumors of Khun Sa’s ill-health were becoming believed (there were so many, so absurd rumors before, such as the killing of a barber for a bad hair-cut, that they often weren’t taken seriously); weariness was showing in his face. When the Wa launched their winter ‘95 offensive, desertions caused outpost after outpost to fall; some claim the central headquarters would have also, within days, if surrender hadn’t brought in the Tatmadaw - but that’s conjecture. Khun Sa’s surrender caught most observers by surprise, and it’s clear not all weapons were turned over - Stinger and SAM-7 missiles believed to be there weren’t. Khun Sa called a session of Shan parliament to make a surprise announcement of immediate retirement; it seems he also betrayed those who hadn’t betrayed him to revenge those who had, demonstrating the correctness of their suspicions (and meanwhile destroying the Shan cause). Khun Sa moved to Yangon New Years Day 1996, renounced his Shan name and took a Burmese one. According to the ‘New Light of Myanmar’, 1,894 recruits and 138 heavy arms were handed over to the Tatmadaw on 12 January 1996, and on 14 January, 9,749 MTA soldiers surrendered with 6,004 heavy and small weapons, 197 HoMong-made launchers, 13,452 (or 24,452) grenades, 10,346 (or 18,346) mines and 7,407 (or 17,027) heavy arms rounds. 9,749 MTA soldiers surrendered, or maybe ‘over’ 4000 surrendered, in return for 50,000 sacks of rice. Khun Sa was given a commercial bus concession from Rangoon to Shan State, a casino at Myawaddy (near the old Karen National Union headquarters at Mannerplaw, which has become a notorious ‘yaba’ - meth - transit point) and more; the junta steadfastly refuses a US offer of $2 million for his extradition. The USWA took over many of the border strongholds: “They have real capabilities and a growing infrastructure,” Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.) quoted a diplomat. “This has the appearance of an emerging state.” In Mong Yawn valley north of ChiangMai’s Mae Ai district, the Wa have built roads, dams, an electricity-generating plant, underground fuel tanks, military compounds, schools, a hospital and modern town, employing 6,000 Thai laborers - with the only money they have, drug money.
A settlement built in 2000 by southern Wa boss Wei HseuhKang (Wei Xuegang), about 6 km from the border opposite Chiang Rai Province, reportedly has shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (ones Khun Sa got from Cambodia and mujahadeen?). Plans to enlarge Mong Yawn - population around 10,000 early in 2004 - to about 120,000, involve a shifting Wa southward: part of a mysterious plan for ending opium cultivation by forced depopulation instead of crop substitution. Perhaps it’s really about allowing (unassimilatable) Wa from Yunnan to move into evacuated old Wa areas. Settlers on both sides of the Thai border are planting hundreds of thousands of fruit trees, but Mong Yawn can’t support even another 50,000 people through just agriculture and livestock breeding.
“The Burmese are playing with fire,” S.H.A.N. quotes a Western analyst. “By diversifying their forces and territory, the Wa are gaining strength and influence.” Many Wa leaders are actually ethnic Chinese; north of the Wa “states” is Kokang state (all these are parts of Shan State), where most people are ethnic Chinese. The enmity between the Burmese government and Wa has resulted in a mini-arms race, and it’s doubtful the ethnic minorities will ever feel, or be, secure without having their own military capability. The UWSA has become one of the world’s largest drug-trafficking organizations, well able to procure powerful munitions. The US Justice Department indicted eight senior Wa officials in January 2005 (in absentia), on narcotics charges, but is really little threat to them. By forcing impoverished people to migrate, the UWSA has greatly increased its influence in Shan State, particularly in areas new to it where the Shan State Army (S.S.A., successor to the MTA) also operates – mostly along the Thai border.

Complicating the picture are proposals from international business consortiums and the Asian Development Bank, for new roads and infrastructure arrangements to make a “growth quadrangle” expanding the “Golden Triangle” of Burma, Thailand and Laos, to include Yunnan, China. This big area has many people with common ethnic backgrounds: Shans, Dai/Zhouang, Laotians, Lawa and Yi/Lolo hill-tribes. The proposals mean to boost tourism, encourage economic imperialism, and facilitate repressive political control. “The formation of the Golden Rectangle is inevitable because of the geo-economic advance of China toward the south,” Thai political scientist Sukhumbhand Paribatra told the Bangkok Post. “One has to be very careful, because this advance will be linked to the region’s powerful local Chinese communities.” Kunming officials have expressed hope that Bangladesh and China will work together: “Yunnan is China’s southwest province... and we want to develop a framework to enhance economic cooperation between China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India,” Shi Minghui, deputy director general of the Foreign Affairs Office of Yunnan, was quoted as saying. China’s relations with Bangladesh bear major politico-economic implications; China has begun using the Bay of Bengal for military purposes, and wants to access it overland to increase commerce from land-locked Yunnan. Meanwhile, overcrowded Bangladesh poses a refugee problem - regular flooding dislocates its citizens, but more refugees come in - particularly Rohingya, Islamic people from Myanmar’s Arakan State - than leave. That that could change surely conserns Indian authorities.
Myanmar’s SPDC has initiated more “War on Drugs,” baning opium. Over a quarter of Kokang’s population left; rigid enforcement keeps half the remaining poor, with food security only six months a year. Some try eating tree bark, as in North Korea. Throughout Shan State, 350,000 households, about two million people, are losing their primary source of earnings, indeed, 70 percent of cash income, because opium is now prohibited. People are withdrawing children from school and passing up health services, selling off livestock, land and daughters. “The reversed sequencing of first forcing farmers out of poppy cultivation before ensuring other income opportunities is a grave mistake,” warned Martin Jelsma of the Trans¬national Institute (TNI, an international network of activist-scholars based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands). “Aggressive drug control efforts against farmers and small-scale opium traders, and forced eradication opera¬tions in particular, will have a negative impact on prospects for peace and democracy in both countries.” Alternative livelihood programs should have been in place before eradication, as reductions in income will result in malnutrition and poor health. But about a hundred drug refineries remain, and a fully successful ban seems unlikely. Raids on refineries carried out in a “War on Drugs” target only smaller players. Control of all aspects of the huge business is now in the hands of a few major players, most prominent among them, the USWA.
Some refineries in northern areas or UWSA areas close to the Thai border have been relocated, to ‘safer’ areas. According to S.H.A.N., a “raid by UWSA on a heroin refinery being run by a local Lahu militia in western Mongton on March 30, 2003, is a clear example of a small player being ousted out. The refinery in Mongjawd had been set up by Kya Nu, leader of a militia group numbering only about 30-40 men. After the raid, Kya Nu was arrested and jailed in Kengtung, and his militia disbanded. The raid was publicized by the SPDC in the state-run press, as an example of UWSA cooperation in drug eradication efforts. Yet the reality is that the UWSA has now simply monopolized the drug trade in Mongjawd, and has since set up new refineries in the same area.” SPDC is a newer acronym for what once was SLORC; military personnel remain involved in all aspects of the drug trade. The junta condones such involvement as a means of subsidizing army costs at field level.
Roads now link Mae Sai with Jinghong, Yunnan, and thus Kunming, through Sipsongpanna (the “twelve kingdoms” or 12,000 rice fields legendary birthplace of the T’ai race). Soon there should be easy passage through Laos, and someday maybe even northern Burma; so far most roads in Northern Burma and Laos are barely passable for 4-wheel drive vehicles, but serious commercialization of the region appears imminent. Burma’s northernmost state, Kachin, bordering Tibet in the foothills of the Himalayas, is one of the world’s most mineral-rich areas, with gold and high-quality jade. Opium production was substandard, and is no longer attempted. Kachin State remains poor and sparsely populated, with some rugged sub-Himalayan areas labeled ‘uninhabited.’ Still, teak and other hardwoods flow from those mountainous areas through Thailand to Japan, alarming rainforest preservationists. Thai prime-minister Taksin Shinawatra (pronounced Sin-awat or Chin-awat) spoke of developing ski resorts there, with flights from Chiang Mai.

Along the north-south Thai-Burma border, some Karen and Mon remain insurgent, with just a bit of international media attention and a little outside aid, but the possibility of their cultural survival seems as much in question as that of the Shan and small hill-tribes. An extremely controversial natural-gas pipeline (Yadana, Kanchanaburi, Unocal) was put in to supply a questionable Thai electricity-generating factory, disrupting much; Baptist and other fundamental Christian Church organizations, non-governmental relief organizations and global mega-corp business interests (Big Pharma, carbonated beverages, electronics) also have on-going, questionable, impact. Perhaps in all as disruptively exploitative are the many international tourists who go to “undeveloped” hill-tribe villages to photograph “long-necked women” (from the small Padaung tribe, perhaps one born under a full moon, whatever, one with many brass rings covering the neck and depressing the collar-bone). Such tourism seldom benefits the ethnic people, especially financially. What little they might gain they are certain to soon lose. Exploitation and manipulation by the rich and influential in the area involves little governmental interference. Now many long-neck villages (human zoos) are reachable by car, and advertised.
For over 20 years refineries in Shan State produced half the world’s supply of heroin, the area’s primary hard currency earner. It traveled through China and/or Thailand, as documented by Alfred McCoy in “The Politics of Heroin” (1972, Harper & Row), often in the care of Chiu Chau (Teh Chiu) dialect speakers whose ancestors came from Swatow, the port of Kwantung in SE China. The Teh Chiu are said to be a dominant part of Thai politics. They’re scattered around the world, and suspected of extensive ‘Triad’ (secret society) involvement. Ethnic Yunnanese Muslim Panthays, called by the Thai “Haw”, are also blamed (but poorly identified, except as expatriate Yunnanese), and one runs across mention of new “triads” like 14K, competing strongly with the legendary Chinese secret societies. However supplied, illegal heroin remains available virtually worldwide, flowing not only from the Golden Triangle, but equally from Afghanistan (and especially the Pakistani border area). It also comes from Laos, Lebanon, Columbia, Mexico, Sudan, and recently, southern ex-Soviet states (“-istans”). It’s questionable why American law enforcement thought capture of Khun Sa might have any impact on narcotic availability or price, and why crop substitution or eradication is even necessary, as there is important medical utility, and legal narcotic production in India, Iran, Turkey, and Tasmania, Australia. Poppy seeds are used as food, on buns and bagels. In Burma they’re widely used for one of the country’s delicacies, Bein Mon (pancake made of rice flour, palm sugar, coconut chips and peanuts, garnished with poppy seeds), and are traded openly. With use of a bit of intelligent imagination, alternative income sources could be found: ganja/cannabis seeds also have great value, and are easily transported, but are irrationally suppressed. Drugs burned in public displays are suspected of adulteration by addition of food poppy, gum, sap and pods emptied of seeds; no-one can investigate thoroughly. Lashio officials were quoted as saying that as soon as foreign guests and reporters left, national security officials doused the fire and retrieved residue for the next round of bonfires – it’s all a farce, all about control.
In the 1970s, Burma produced 250 to 400 tons of opium per year. 350 tons in 1985 rose to 1,280 tons in 1988; in ‘89, it was 2,000 tons, maybe more. For the ‘90s, US State Department figures show between 2,000 and 2,500 tons a year, and for year 2000 were about 1,200. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put Burma’s 2003-2004 output at 370 tons, down from 2002’s 800 plus, due to bad weather. In peak year 1993, Laos produced 210 tons of opium. In response to Rangoon officials’ claim that opium output had dropped in 2001 to 865 tons from 1,065 tons in 2000, noted Shan scholar Dr. Chao Tzang Yawnghwe commented that official figures were “arbitrary.” Population, and especially AIDS, statistics vary a lot, and government, like bureaucracy, is more self-protecting than altruistic. S.H.A.N. reports Dai officials in Yunnan’s Dehong Autonomous Prefecture, opposite northern Shan State, questioning the annual output figures given by the UN and US, which have been shrinking each year. “What we are seeing here in Mongmao (Ruili) is a rise not only in trafficking but also addictions,” it quotes a drug enforcement source who posits more than 3,000 users in Ruili’s Zegang neighborhood alone, at least 10% of them female. “If there is really a drop in the production then the logical question is from where are we getting all the dope?” Chinese authorities are also displeased by Myanmar’s failure to hand over 24 of 34 drug fugitives who took refuge there.
Specialists from the USA have provided satellite and other intelligence about opium convoys, yet narcotics seizures have never reached 1 percent. During the period of most intensive US aid, ’85-‘88 - opium fields were sprayed with 2.4-D herbicide, from planes given by the USA - but estimated opium yield doubled. US aid was typically ineffective in achieving what it was purportedly intended to do. Khun Sa’s surrender didn’t lower heroin production, but the SPDC claimed it incinerated 625 kilos of opium, 759 kilos of heroin and 3 million methamphetamine pills, 2000 kilos (over 2 tons) of drugs, on June 26, 2005: Yangon’s 19th propagandistic destruction of narcotics (in one they bulldozed bottles of ‘Krakingdaeng’ Thai energy drink).
“The junta’s token attempts at crop substitution, often with international assistance, have also failed miserably, due to poor planning, coercive implementation and complete disregard for the welfare of local populations. Under the so-called “New Destiny” project launched in April 2002, farmers in many townships have been forced to plant a new strain of rice from China, which has failed in each locality,” according to S.H.A.N. Opium takes only three months and is a cash crop. Nothing else yet compares, as “ya ba” doesn’t require farmers. Constant terror, atrocities and warfare make opium cultivation still the only choice for many.

Early last century, Shan were selling opium to the Yunnanese, who transported it down the Yangtze and sold it to the French. The Shan were then divided into 34 small principalities, but had no concept of rigid border demarcation. Warlords demanded to receive ‘taxation’ on all that passed by (as Khun Sa says is all he did), and thus discouraged much farming of food for market. Trade was ruined to the point where salt became expensive and goiter a widespread problem. Without the drug business, the consumer economy of Burma might grind to a halt, as much of the little for sale is funded through it. Shan people wish to enter the modern world with the respect and the dignity merited by capable and industrious people, which indeed they are, but commerce in narcotics hasn’t helped much, except insofar as it kept at bay, for awhile, Burmese military madness. The Maynmar ‘government’ has, unintentionally or not, limited big business concerns that eventually may present an even more disruptive danger to Burma’s various peoples and cultures. Modern infrastructure can be doubly dangerous in this area, tending as it does to bring governmental repression and corporate exploitation. A direct relationship clearly exists between poverty and the narcotics problem, but Khun Sa’s aide Khernsai Jaiyen expressed no interest in the parallels with problems in South America, or in contacts there, when I asked. Shan State may never be able to have more impact on the world beyond it than it had through narcotics, and it’s unclear how much outside people should feel obliged to become involved in internal Shan State affairs. But with drug addiction a problem of increasing magnitude, especially due to AIDS, it can easily seem to be a problem of either influencing the situation, or being influenced by it.

Nasu Lahu-na (my wife) remembers when most people along the border were engaged in the drug trade: there were many rivalries, there was much pride, gossip and back-stabbing. She says people would burn with urges for revenge, and report rivals to police… Once somebody caught their favorite enemy out alone on a jungle path, cut his head off and hung it up. Nasu’s father forbade her to go out there, but she couldn’t resist, and snuck a look. There was easy money to be made, but it wasn’t, isn’t, a good trade. The Thai Ministry of Health estimated 2,650,000 meth addicts in 2001 (4.3% of population total and 91% of the total addict population); mornings going to work I’d see herds of thin post-adolescents with brightly colored hair loitering in filling-station lots, after discos closed at 7 a.m. Even today, entertainment places for Thai youth close well after tourist-oriented ones, no explanation offered.
Around Kengtung, farm hands sometimes now get paid in meth pills instead of money. In 1994, a group of Thai dealers approached Khun Sa, but he spoke against meth: ‘Heroin is okay’, he reasoned, ‘our main customers are across the ocean. But, with yaba, we only have Thais for customers. If we start producing it, we’ll come face to face with Thailand. That’ll make our position more difficult.’ His uncle Khun Hseng (Chang Ping-yuan) was won over, though, and soon yaba produced in HoMong was of top quality. Drug producers in Shan State tried expanding into Extasy, but their chemists haven’t made a popular product (maybe good chemists don’t want to live in back woods). Wa and Kokang leaders could abandon heroin by establishing meth labs, and thn not need to worry about weather. Labs can be moved, and food farming gives a stabler economic base. Opium is making a temporary disappearing act (locally), but other drugs substitute (‘date rape’ drugs have certainly made a name for themselves). The yaba market was lucrative until Taksin’s Drug Wars, but customers remain in the Bangkok area, and India, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Korea. Amphetamines go to many of Myanmar’s armaments suppliers and other enablers. The Thai “War on Drugs” which started in 2003 with the murder - in just a couple of months - of thousands of possible small-timers (with minimal subsequent investigation, at best), has made Shan State traffickers avoid the northern Thai border, and sell only to long-term, well-trusted Thai contacts. Thai newspapers still regularly report busts, but trafficking drugs into China has become preferable to down through Lashio and Mandalay to Moulmein, Kanchanaburi and Bangkok (though that still happens. Beijing replaced paramilitary police with five regular army regiments, to patrol the northern Shan-China border; corruption among border officials was contributing to the problem, especially at Zegao and Ruili, opposite Muse (on the ‘Burma Road’). Many fewer Chinese officials currently enjoy the high-life in the gambling town of MongLa (on the border), than did just a few years ago. Taksin’s ‘War on Drugs’ forced drug operators to reroute their products, but a Chinese attitude that it’s better to die than be poor, means many replacement traffickers will be available. The 25 March, 2005 Bangkok Post reported 1.14 million addicts in China, equally divided between heroin and methamphetamine (quoting Yang Fengrui, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, as saying, “the situation has begun to deteriorate.”). The Wa have long been a Chinese ally, Shan State’s becoming Wa State; Beijing’s ruled by eager, perhaps desperate, expansionists.
Many Wa have recently relocated, or been relocated, to areas just north of the Thai/Myanmar border. Perhaps as many as 150,000 of these Wa are currently in the limbo of displaced people; tens of thousands of them were born in China and many of the new settlers are Han Chinese. One report says 300,000 people have been relocated, to cut off support for the SSA-South. Certainly, many Shans and Lahu have been evicted to make space for arriving Wa, but as the government in Yangon has cultivated good relations with China and Thailand, this has not resulted in a new ‘refugee crisis’. The Wa region along the Chinese border has passed another deadline to become drug-free; but what are viable alternatives to drug production? What can be done towards sustainable community-based development and strengthening civil society to enable farmers to participate in decision-making processes about their future?
An Akha displaced from just south of Mong Hsat by Wa newcomers asserted that Chinese were easily distinguishable from Wa: “There were some Chinese with them (the Wa settlers). They set up shops and sold various food items. They also made whiskey to sell from corn. I also saw some Chinese soldiers and officers with the Wa Army. They wore Wa uniforms, but they were whiter-skinned than the Wa, so it was easy to tell them apart. They spoke no language other than Chinese.” A report from the Mong Karn, east of Mong Hsat, mentions that among 300 new Wa households moving into Mong Karn village, were 30 Chinese households. New Chinese are particularly concentrated at Ban Hoong, south of Mong Hsat. There, about 1000 Chinese are help conduct Wei Hsiao Kang’s military and economic affairs.
The Wa area on the Chinese border is now pressured to become drug-free, but how are poor ex-cultivators to replace their lost income? What crop substitution projects and possibilities are there? Will there be reliable markets for the substitute crops? What can be done towards sustainable community-based development and strengthening civil society to enable farmers to participate in decision-making processes about their future?
In the Panghsang area, rubber, tea and oranges are being grown extensively. Gem and zinc mining are expanding, as is cigarette production. Expanded road infrastructure and consequent growth in trucking has led to Chinese marrying love-for-hire, and more cultivation of corn, sesame, soybeans, peanuts, fruit and cabbages. Success in alternatives depends largely on China. Thailand doesn’t impose tariffs on import of fruits grown under the UWSA control, to help the Wa renounce so much that is counter-productive in their way of life, but farmers remain with little voice in decision-making processes affecting their livelihoods. Both opium prices and wages rose at least 50% between 2003 and 2005; seasoned observers expect little else to change, but even right on the border, in April 2006, both opium and amphetamines are hard to find.
The Shan Human Rights Foundation estimated Shan refugees denied refugee status, but arrived in Thailand from 1996 to 2002, at over 230,000. Sunai Phasuk, a Thai academic and consultant for Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “These people are not just fleeing war, but also forced labor, executions, mass relocations and systematic rape;” and Thailand is “violating international law” for denying basic humanitarian assistance to the Shan. An HRW report documents the murder, rape, enslavement and brutal displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians during the Tatmadaw’s long-running assault on Karen insurgents: 650,000 made homeless in eastern Burma alone. It’s pointless to discuss who suffers more, Karen or Shan; Mon I met in Rangoon, and Burmese in Pagan, also told stories of murder and mayhem by “governmental authorities.”

The UN World Food Program is supplying rice and cereal grains to Wa and Kokang ex-poppy farmers, particularly in Kokang, Panghsang and Lashio and to some of the other many needy in the potentially wealthy country, but also reports inflation. A million ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, 42% in eastern areas and on the run from “scorched earth” policies Human Rights Watch calls ethnic cleansing… 140,000+ are in refugee camps along the western Thai border, many for 20 years now. Political reform and better economic management are more needed than charity; Burma lacks intelligent logistics, not rice.
Yangon isn’t the capital anymore (although Than Shwe doesn’t stay in the mysterious new place), and neither is there really a junta now. Than Shwe has become “father of the country”, and wants control of the Chinese border, for which purpose divisions among the frequently-feuding Wa would come in handy. China’s stake in the relocation program is unclear, but it has provided much towards the huge costs of Wa relocations to the southern border of Shan State. Chinese authorities may want tribal people who show no propensity towards assimilation as Chinese to relocate from Yunnan to a place where they may serve some political purpose. Wa leaders want to use their areas in the north for resettling Wa villagers from China… but the world, it seems, is more interested in profits and oil.
Meanwhile, displaced populations bring to the generally porous border a huge increase in dangerous disease: pneumonia, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria, dengue, smallpox, TB, typhoid, typhus, cholera, yaws, polio, yellow fever, blackwater fever, influenza, scabies, meningitis, leprosy and even humans infected with anthrax! One with anthrax was a Chinese “Wa” leader - hospitalized in Tachilek. Despite Thai law, tea pickers and other laborers daily cross the border, and traders and even big businessmen do regular, though often officially unsanctioned, cross-border commerce. The environment is being ruined, individuals lose integrity through involvement in drugs, others lose all sense of propriety through systematic rape (certainly not helpful for containing HIV), cultures crumble - all for the sake of egotism among the small-minded wealthy and powerful. Ideals may seem anachronistic, and political involvement suspect; one becomes tempted to turn ones back to quietly just tend ones own garden, but meanwhile immune deficiency offers germs and viruses chance to rapidly develop new forms... The most popular of Taksin’s populist policies, his 30 baht health scheme, has resulted in long hospital queues for pain-killers and antibiotics. The rampant, almost indiscriminant usage of antibiotics exacerbates the potential plague menace, and not just because doctors haven’t time to seriously investigate complaints or suggest behavior modifications: germs not only gain immunity to poisons, but both pain-killers and antibiotics weaken immune systems.
Burma has never known good governance, and drug trade and genocide in Shan State won’t stop without it. The government of China doesn’t care about genocide or cultural extinction(s); it’s become focused (like the West) on exploitation and profit. Many Chinese, though, recognize massive errors in their governance. Of Southeast Asian countries, the best-governed is semi-feudal Malaysia, where ethnic Malays get two votes while ethnic Chinese citizens only one. Modern, autocratic Singapore doesn’t mind if neighbors to the north receive drug flow; newly autocratic USA has lost moral legitimacy through inequitable “free trade” pacts, gross over-consumption, pollution, refusal to deal with global warming, and, of course, gross failure in regard to ‘terrorism’ and Iraq (illegal, inept invasion after mass-murder of innocents first through supplying Saddam Hussain then through ill-conceived sanctions). Mainland countries east of India and south of China can hardly pretend to honest, transparent governance, and are coming increasingly under the sway of Chinese… North America will fall further and faster if it doesn’t clean up its act by taking real interest in justice, human rights, environmental preservation, good governance and corporate restraint, instead of media manipulation, crowd-control weaponry, and ‘regime change’ - which should be the business only of the UN and local populations. Is there even an ‘international community’ to respond to genocide anymore? Why are there so few people like Guy Horton, documenting problems and making varieties of important information (such as the boom in “crowd control” weaponry) readily accessible, in organized fashion, through the news media or on the Net?
Nowadays druggies and some of the young set like to go to Laos to stay with poor people and try drugs, but anyone with even a shred of pretension to integrity will notice the negative effect doing that has on local communities visited. Unconstructive over-indulgence gets a stamp of approval from people of enviable position; greed and avarice are rewarded while dignity mislaid. Dope, while natural remains fairly innocent, but commercialized becomes a tool of exploitative greed, used against the already oppressed. Mess with it, and sooner or later, and more likely sooner, you will be, and feel, betrayed. One doesn’t really get to choose to join a mafia, or other secret organization; one must already be in place, before one even knows it… It’s not only other people who often aren’t what they seem, but sometimes also even you own self can suddenly seem quite different, changed or revealed… Remember, you can’t buy respect, or trust, or love.
Into the 70's, in rural Thailand, many households had a small ganja field; bai kratom (Mitragyna speciosa, an alkaloid), pretty poppies and opium were common, and older people still used betel… Then big money took over the world, promoting ‘heroin chic’ (sheek), expensive alcohol, corporate control… When Taksin started his first drug war, a billion methamphetamine pills were sold annually in Thailand; over 3 million people took them (perhaps only 300,000 were drug dependent). But the drugs war is also a race war. Border minorities were targeted for brutal police action; there was torture, and the number of dead vastly exceeded the body counts quoted. Thailand's poorest suffered, also people threatening to the powerful: over 400,000 people 'surrendered' themselves for treatment, some of whom surely had little or no involvement, but ended up on corporate-management style target lists police still can’t ignore. With marketing and market expansion dominant forces of control, stimulants have utility, and can still be purchased - expensively - in the country’s urban center; meanwhile arts and entertainment are losing out to golf and fine dining. Self-congratulations far more satisfying than facing truth, values that generated society, as well as society’s future, become seen as irrelevant. A task force of salaried scientists and engineers, in politicos dreams, will surely overcome all problems! Some believe development of a sophisticated form of slavery may be necessary for a world at peace. I don’t.

HoMong early in 1996

HoMong morning market

Shan at business

Toh deer mask


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Language, global and local, personal with Some words of local language

ChiangHai Internet Magazine Issue #4

Interview with a Shaman
The Yao, or Eu-Mien, a couple million people who live mostly in Kwangsi Chuang (Guangxi Zhuangzu) autonomous region of China (between Yunnan and Kwangtung), with smaller numbers in Hunan, Yunnan, Kweichow, and Kwangtung provinces, northern Vietnam, north and western Laos, and northern Thailand, speak closely related Sino-Tibetan dialects, but the widely dispersed groups have developed in different directions, adjusting their ways to the environments in which they live. Their religion fuses ancestor worship, animism and Taoism; tribal political structures don’t extend above village chiefs.
My wife’s people, the Lahu-na, prefer to not become bothered in affairs not directly important to their individual lives, and it was only with difficulty that I got her to go along on my interview with a Yao shaman. To her, I was being a busybody, sticking my nose where it had no real business being. Of course, she has a point, but my interest in the Yao pre-dates my interest in her; I have written about them before, and collected their art and handicrafts. And my interest in shamanism predates my knowledge of the Yao.

In the event, it was fortunate that I brought her along, as I eventually needed her help to get the gist of some of my questions across – I simply do not speak Thai like a Thai. My tones are bad, the sentence structures that I choose are often closer to what I would use in English than what a Thai would use, and there are other conceptual and vocabulary problems. My wife can understand what I am trying to say, and I could understand what she said to the shaman, but by the time we were two-thirds of the way through, her help was becoming essential!

The best I can do to present this as an interview is to paraphrase; I had a list of questions written out in English, and mostly was able to follow them, but conversation did wander a bit, and I won’t try to follow all that.

Q. Is there a network of Eu-Mien shamans?
A. Yes, insofar as for getting them to villages which don’t have one in residence.

Q. Do most of them farm too?
A. Yes. Almost all – when they don’t have duties as a shaman, they will tend crops.

Q. Do yao people travel much for ceremonies?
A. No. A shaman will travel, but villagers mostly stay put. A shaman travels when requested to do so.

Q. Is the Chinese spoken by Yao and that spoken by Lahu and Haw Chinese mutually intelligible?
A. Mostly Iu-Mien are multi-lingual, and where there are Lahu people, many will speak Lahu. Yao will learn local language wherever they are, but Chinese has many dialects, and with the Haw, often use of writing is better.

Q. Would a Yao, like a Lahu, utilize the services of a Haw shaman?
A. No. Must be Iu-Mien.

Q. Are there Eu-Mien fortune tellers?
A. Only books about birthdays. And coins for divination.

He showed me the coins – the same ones used for throwing I-Ching (I-Ching, or Yijing, the Book of Changes, is an ancient divination Chinese text; it first explains each line of possible hexagrams separately, then gives an overall interpretation of a whole unit - in cryptic, thought-provoking language). The book the Yao use, which comes from Hong Kong, the shaman said, brought in and sold only during New years celebrations, gives somewhat similar (I’m sure) analyses of possible combinations of 5 thrown coins.
One first holds the coins to one’s forehead and prays, then tosses out the coins one at a time. On the “khwam” side are two very ancient Chinese figures, not pictograms – looking to me slightly Arabic. On the “nai” side are 4 characters looking to me like modern Chinese. The coins, though, are about a century old (round with a square hole in the middle, called cash). All “khwam” is no good, all “nai”, good.

Q. Are some Iu-Mien shaman more animist, others more Taoist?
A. Certainly. But above all, they respect and revere our ancestors.First comes our original ancestor, Pan Hu, then the Three Pure Ones.

Q. Many who revere the Goddess of Mercy Jao Meh Kwan Im won’t eat beans, garlic, onions, beef… and might be completely vegetarian. Do some Yao do that?
A. Not especially, we just respect what is there already, and can ask her for help.

Q. At Ban Pa-duah, up above MaeSaliong Nigh, there’s a Yao shrine at a mountain spring. Do Yao believe in “Jao Tii” spirits of the land?
A. Because people lived where Yao came to, before we arrived, we must respect those buried wherever we are. But these don’t travel with us if we go elsewhere, as our ancestors do.

Q. How much, and how well, do young Yao still honor and respect, and observe, their traditions?
A. Quite well, but it depends on the parents, how much they observe the traditions.

Q. How do Yao feel about Farang NGOs?
A. Pay no attention.

Q. Is there much pressure to assimilate and be more like the Thai?
A. Only so-so. Students must wear school uniforms, but are still Yao at heart.

Q. Can some people tell what village a piece of Yao cross-stitching comes from?
(It's claimed this could be done with Laotian weavings, but I've not verified that)
A. No.

Q. Do the Christian yao still cross-stitch?
A. No.

Q. What makes a shaman? Is it just by choice? How does one become one?
A. Every year, once, two villages get together and sacrifice a big pig, and invite the ancestors to eat, and drink pure rice wine. We burn paper money (etc) and a Great Teacher will see who is interested to learn. Our Great Teacher comes from Ban Po Ba Kaem. He only speaks Yao, and the ancient special language, or dialect, of our shamans. Mostly it is up to success in study, but can also depend on personality.

By this time, my wife had bought a piece of the shaman’s wife’s cross-stitch, our boy Eugene (sounds like Thai for “live in China”) was finished munching on chips, and it was time to go, so I expressed my thanks, was invited to visit again, and told how useful my wife had been in facilitating communication!

To initiated Taoist priests, the many gods are manifestations of the one Dao. Ritually trained to know the names, ranks, and powers of important spirits, and to ritually direct them through meditation and visualization, educated believers know a complex theological system. Communal rituals has two levels: a priestly level, guided by meditation and observed by major patrons, and a public, theatrical level, performed by lower ranked assistants. Meaning is portrayed through visible action, i.e. climbing sword ladders or releasing floating lanterns. A ritual has subtle metaphysical-mystical structure for theologians, and visible dramatic structure for lay viewers. A shaman is often seen as having both magical or prophetic powers, indicative of spiritual attainment. They are believed able to heal, restore vitality, predict the future, read men's souls, and act as stewards of a system of moral retribution. Often non-conformists who embody different values and life-styles, their strict sense of moral retribution yet reinforces social values.
To the Yao, powerful forces, emotional states and roles or forms of success not only work through us, but in a way create us. In another way, they dream themselves, through us. These kinds of archetypes vary from society to society, creating tensions, potentials, tendencies and self concepts. For the Yao, gatekeepers, sheriffs, judges, bailiffs, guards, jesters, magistrates and department heads – bureaucratic forms most villagers have little experience of – formed a heavenly hierarchy while informing about a wider extent of social roles.
If it all sounds naïve and childish, primitive or like a role-playing game (Dungeons and Dragons), well, you’re partially right. But I will submit that none of us are wiser, or more advanced, than the Tao de Jing, or even understand it all that well, and any method of gaining a better approach to its wisdom has advantages. The Yao may not study the primer of Tao, but the seem to me to do better, by living its teachings, and not re-creating an image of their heavenly bureaucracy here in their Earthly lives. Thus maybe doing a little better than the rest of us.

A very few Yao words:
Yes tzèy-nyeh
No my tzèy
Thank you lent zing
Excuse me taw
How are you? May yem long nye
Good long
How much for it? Bòa tsèer

Pan Hu

The Three Pure (or Pelucid) Ones

Cross-stitch from a pair of Yao women's pants

It’s unnecessary to tout the importance English language has attained, but in presenting some local vocabulary which may well become all but forgotten within my young son’s lifetime, I wish to supply some context.
Many mourn loss of linguistic diversity - in the manner of mourning loss of biological diversity, and there is reason to that. But surely linguistic diversity is less important than biological, and even more difficult, to retain. Still, it’s a shame that the various lingos of the Golden Triangle area remain so inaccessible (as do so many others). Surely native speakers would be more likely to retain their unique way of speaking, and seeing the world, if at least some others would take interest in using it too, besides for trying to convert them to Christianity? I’ve met a few Farang speakers of the Thai northern dialect (Pasa Neua, or Kham Muang), and a couple who speak Akha. But T’ai Leu, Lisu, Yao? No. I’ve read that some CIA operatives spoke Hmong, but surely it wasn’t many; I doubt even 20.

Mandarin Chinese, spoken in all of China north of the Yangtze River, and much of the rest of China, too, is the native language of about 870,000 people. The Wu variety of Chinese, spoken by about 100 million, mostly in Kiangsu and Chekiang Provinces, is the language of Shanghai, the commercial hub of the country, and T'ai-chou, Ning-po, Soochow and Wen-chou. Cantonese, or Yüeh, the Chinese spoken in Kwangtung and southern Kwangsi provinces (including Canton, Hong Kong and Macau), has retained more features of Ancient Chinese than other forms. A majority of Chinese emigrants may be from areas where Cantonese is spoken, particularly central and western Kwangtung, and these about 80 million Cantonese speakers may control as much money as do Japanese speakers (127 million), but that extent of power is certainly no longer what it once was. And the relative ethnic homogeneity prevailing in Kwangtung stands in contrast to its great diversity of dialects: there’s considerable linguistic variety around Canton, with eight major dialects from the population center alone. Hakka dialect predominates in the north and northeast of Kwangtung, and Min-nan (or south Fukien dialect) is spoken along an eastern coastal area around Swatow. In addition to these Han dialects, there’re languages and dialects of several ethnic minorities, including Yao.

English may be spoken by over 500 million people, more than any other language than Mandarin. Not only do English speakers control more money than do Mandarin speakers, they control global transportation and communication, banking and finance, and the majority of important journals and institutions of science and technology. But let's not forget, behind every great fortune lies a great crime (and all)...
The next most important languages, Spanish and Hindi, trail behind with somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million speakers each.
Spanish is spoken by well over a quarter billion people - in Spain, the Americas, and Africa; thus, just it’s a bit more important than Bahasa Indonesia/Malay and related lingos of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, outlying parts of Madagascar, and the Palau and the Mariana Islands of western Micronesia. Its core area is Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, but Indonesia has over 250 distinct languages. Most of the people are Malay, and speak languages of a Malayo-Polynesian base; Bahasa Indonesia evolved from a Malay dialect and has much in common with other Malay dialects, and so long served as regional lingua franca. A relatively simple trade language, not associated with a dominant ethnic group, Bahasa Indonesia has been a strong force in national unification, and is now learned by all children in school (local languages are the medium of instruction for the first two years, then Bahasa Indonesia is used for the remaining years). In 1972 a uniform revised spelling was agreed to between Indonesia and Malaysia, to improve communications ad so that literature could be more freely exchanged between the two countries. Indonesia’s population over 230,000,000; Malaysia’s about 27,500,000, and Burnei’s about 350,000; so, not quite as many speakers as Spanish.

Next in importance (in my estimation) comes Arabic (over 200 million speakers), then Russian (maybe 150,000 speakers), and French (130 million). These days, with but eight languages, one could do quite well, almost anywhere!

It was amazing to find (googling language speakers population) that only between 20 and 30 million Thais should be considered native speakers. There may be no more than 45 million fluent Thai speakers! The rest speak Lao, Khmer, Pasa Neua, Malay or Yawi, T'ai Leu or other tribal languages, Mon, Burmese or Chinese, particularly the Teh Chew dialect. This may be a big part of the problem the Bangkok-centric government is having...

Part of the reason smaller languages are disappearing is their lessening utility; a language used by hunters refers to game, its consumption, and patterns of nature now subject to as great change as has access to game. The protective specialization which gave rise to them offers significantly less survival advantage. But flexibility, fluidity and adaptability are advantageous, and dialectical aptitude can certainly have advantages.

With apologies for lack of any particular order, some local words:
Some Lahu-na (once the lingua franca of the area):

Nice to meet you Ahwiipah chay sahlah (to an older male)
Oh nii pah chay sahlah (to a younger male)
Ah wiimah chay sahlah (to an older woman)
Oh niimah chay sahlay (to a younger woman)
Ah pu joh chay sahlah (to an old man)
Ah pii joh chay sahlah(to an old woman)
How are you? Che sa lah (or lay, for ‘red’ lahu-nyi)
Are you tired? huh jah leh
Thank you O bon ooh jah
Help Nah a suu gah lah
Make a joke da ku-ku way
Sing a song lay koh ka!
The border (at Burma) mii tzu
Restaurant a tzu haw guh
Eat ja!
Insect pu hah (gu)
Not feeling well mah chay sha
Name oh meh
What is this chi a toh ma lay
I don’t know ma shi
I want to know suu ga way
Stop, wait tii kuh jay
No problem fah ta! suh
Problem gah jo way
Love ha!
Angry gee-it, or, buut ja
Li hat ya; hat vey
Hurt nah-ja!
Can pay aw layah
How much tao dai cama-lay
Tea lah
Dark na! geh na-hu
Fire a mii tu way
Hot ho ja!
Spicy ah pii peh ya
Clothes ah po!
Road ya! kaw
Go ha! gay!
Stay cho! kah chay
Have joh way
Here cho! gah
Midnight day chin knee
Day nèe
Water ee-gah
Boiled water booh vey eek-cah
Cold liit' jah
Slippery chat-yah
Dirty cha! cha-eh
Old oh-pii
Baby yah-ae
Lover choh-ha
Lost the way may-oh; may po
Walk yuu-way
Alcohol zzuh (falling tone)
Sleep zzuh' (rising)
Blanket ah-bu!
Danger a lot chi mah-na
Happy ha-lay-ja
A lot chi mah-na!
Yes yo
No ma
Thank you oh bon ooh jah
Excuse me oh bon tay-lay
Cannot (day) mah peh!
Where co ga lay
I don’t understand chaw ngà mah sheè
What is your name no toh mah meh veh lay
What a too mah lay
Altar toh mah lay
Wash (face) (meh!fuh)suuh!peh tu guh
This way tchay day djah
That way oh day djah
Headman ka-tche
Tomorrow so-pò
Food jah-do
Thirsty it!gah nam; it!gah muah
Headache oo-coo na vay
Pain na vay
I want to buy nga vuh vei
Want huh-gah
Far uu-jah
Near chu fu neh
When koh tah laay
Now (sa)tii-kuh
Good Da-jah
I can help Nga gah-vay
Rest room kay kuh yay
Village ka! koh
House yay
Good da! way
Come here cho gah lah
Go away chi fu fu geh
Battery tjit su mah hey
Telephone suu-tii (using Chinese)
Where can I find a restaurant a tzu awe pah! Aw-guh koh ga! joh lay

And some Kham Muang:

How are you? Pen yang dai pong, or, sabai dii goh
Nevermind bah bpen yahng
Thank you yindii
Help chuay gaam; chuai noi
Make a joke oo! len
Sing a song hong plaeng
The border (at Burma) lai na
Restaurant han ahaan
Eat kin gau
Insect maeng
Not feeling well meuy
Name ju
What is this an-yang nii
I want to know khai huu
Don’t know bah huu
Are you tired? It! goh
Fun meuan (falling tone)
True da-ta (rising tone)
How much tao dai
Much, many, a lot (f)jaht-(h)nuk
Do, make nyia
Can dai gah
Love yu nim-nim
Stop, wait yahng
Bed sa-lee
No problem bam ii ban ha
Angry gee-it
Flat tire yang hua
Have you got something? Mii an-yang goh
Now bah diao nii

These are things I’m only just begun in my explorations of; things unfortunately difficult to find the time and energy to get around to, but I do hope my efforts to familiarize myself might make the route easier for at least a few others.

But remember, knowing a person’s name may give you some power over them, but knowing, and using, their language poorly, might give them some power over you!

Just recently, parking my bike in front of a crowded e-mail shop and helping young Eugene off, I got a "Thai tattoo" on my leg when it touched the exhaust pipe. I won't provide a picture of that, but am posting some others:

some tattooing equipment

a protective tattoo

a power tattoo

a woman's prison-made tattoo

divination-structure rasami

and from a temple painting, a scene of Olden Times:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Issue #3

Having become somewhat of an aficionado of the surreal, a young man of only 52, interested in art, architecture and old Bavarian mechanical clocks, learned of ChiangRai’s new clock tower. He considered going to see it, and became determined to do so when he learned that he could also witness lots of pre-feudal superstition, associated tattooing, and, better yet, photograph long, long lines of sweaty tri-shaw drivers pedaling dozens of rich tourists, seated uncomfortably, slowly around.
Having studied photography, journalism and cinamatology at university, and gotten work with UPI and some other three-initial groups involved in information gathering, and having put in 30 years, he felt free to do as he liked. Right nearby the extravagant clock-tower, replete with light-show, music and early evening crowds of eagerly expectant viewers, at the Stop-N-Seven convenience store, he noticed wives on sale, on the installment plan even. His job having demanded too much travel for any social stability, and internet dating never having seemed reasonable, he was interested to find that now, here, he could not only meet potential mates face-to-face, but bargain towards an agreement (while a bargaining-time meter ran, at a higher rate than internet connection, certainly, but still reasonable enough). One could even joke with others who were similarly bargaining! It was thus that he was told how, to many locals, buying a wife meant earning good karma, as it wasn’t just helping a poor person, but a whole family. At first all this was just a way, having seen the clock, to pass the time, but soon it became rather engaging, and then he got engaged.
It didn’t take long before he’d met a pretty lass who spoke English with an Italian accent. They didn’t find a lot to talk about; she had a pronounced tendency to ask, “Have you eaten yet?” and “Can I ask you (for) something?”… but the smiling at each other was easy. Finding ChiangRai to be low-stress, low-cost and locally oriented (and thus safe from much of globalization’s havoc), he’d begun to conclude that it might well be a safe retirement haven. It certainly seemed a place where achievement was hardly necessary, and never important. He figured he’d about a half-million US to expect from his pension, and so was in a pretty good bargaining position. There seemed to be plenty enough other people to talk with; mostly, he kept quiet about his past, except when drinking too much, and few took other drinkers’ personal claims very seriously, anyway. Low levels of consequence from past involvement seemed another really big plus, and so, before long he found a nice house and had a combination marriage and house-warming party.
Too keep busy, he first tried volunteer work and a fitness program, but quickly tired of them, and was soon back at the bars. His wife complained bitterly, commenting, “Tiao gaeng” – a fairly untranslatable phrase. “He sure knows how to go out and have fun” just can’t sufficiently denote the measure of distain forcefully implied in just those two words.
So he tried the churches, and then organic gardening, then the bars again, and beer with TV, then meditating in a temple cave, but nothing replaced the obligations of his earlier life.
Nothing, that is, until he re-found access to the surreal, in use of the internet all day.

Sangkalok (Sawankhalok) ware

Sukhothai potters learned from Chinese masters and began making beautiful glazed ceramics in the time of King Ramkamhaeng. Sangkalok style pale blue or off-white porcelain with designs of flowers, foliage and fish painted beneath the glaze, were made at Sukhothai’s sister city Si Satchanalai and later, Kampaeng Phet. Most were bowls and plates, but some sangkalok ware was used for architectural decoration; much was exported to countries throughout Asia (mostly to China, but even to Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia), making Sukhothai the center of a trade empire and perhaps the most important producer of ceramics in Southeast Asia for a time (up to the 16th century). Produced also were “Sangkhalok dolls” (statues that may have been toys), beautifully decorated storage jars, temple roof tiles, and religious sculptures.
The Khmer empire had begun to weaken after the death of its last great ruler, Jayavarman VII, around 1220. In 1238 T’ai princes seized Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai from the Khmer – one was Pha Müang/Sri Indraditya of Müang Rat (maybe near Uttaradit), who’d been a vassal of Angkor; the other, Bang Klang Hao of Müang Bang Yang (maybe near Sukhothai) had not submitted. Sukhothai was the region’s main Khmer outpost (established about 1150); these T’ai princes (whose ancestors may have lived around Sayaburi &/or further northeast) created a new polity on the fringes of the central plains, at the very end of the Himalayan foothills. Attacked at Tak by a T’ai prince of Mae Sot, a 19 year old grandson (son?) pushed through fleeing troops and defeated the attacking commander, thus becoming Rama the Bold, Ramkhamhaeng. When he became king in 1279, he controlled Sukhothai, Sawankhalok, Uttaradit, Kampaengphet and Tak. In 1253 the Mongols took Nanchao (the north of Yunnan), and in 1287 Pagan; T’ai and Lue/Lawa peoples ceased attacks on one another in order to resist Mongol incursions, and did so successfully. When Ramkamhaeng died in 1298, Sukhothai also controlled Phrae, Phayao, Nan and Luang Prabang. The plague which killed over half of China between 1331 and 1351 may have been the last straw for Angkor, but seems not to have reached Lanna or Sukhothai. Ayudhaya first invaded Sukhotai in 1374; in 1420 Sukhotai accepted vassalage; in 1431 Ayudhaya depopulated Angkor. Phayao soon passed to Lanna, which took Nan in 1449, then Phrae, and Si Satchanalai in 1459. In 1460 the ruler of Chaliang swore allegiance to Tilokaratcha (r. 1441- 1487), greatest of the kings of Lanna, and with him unsuccessfully attacked Pitsanulok and Kampaeng Phet, outposts of Ayudhaya. Almost 35 years of war between Ayudhaya and Lanna (1451 to 1486) weakened the area; Chaliang was taken by Ayudhaya in 1474; Sukhothai tried to retake Si Satchanalai that year, but failed. In 1765 the Burmese, with Shan troops and contingents from Lanna and Lan Sang, advanced through the area, taking all and destroying Ayudhaya in 1767. The kilns became forgotten, and Sukhothai just a small town until revived by tourism. Locals can become violently adamant in their assertion of the importance and extent of Ramkamhaeng’s conquests and importance, greatly exaggerated for purposes of political expediency in dealing with European colonialists.
At the height of commercial success (1400?), over 200 huge kilns lined the banks of the MaeNam Yom near Si Satchanalai. Several, at the Si Satchanalai Centre for Study & Preservation of Sangkhalok Kilns, have been excavated, and can be viewed Wed. – Sun., 9 – 4, admission B30.
A museum in Chaliang displays excavated pottery samples, as does Sawankha Woranayok National Museum (17 km/11mi south of Si Satchanalaitel 055-641571, open 8:30 – 4 Wed – Sun, admission B30). Si Satchanalai National Park covers 213 sq. km (82 sq.miles) and has many waterfalls, caves and good bird-watching. Sawankhalok town, 11 km south of the historical park and 35 K. north of Sukhothai (on Rt 101 near where Rts 1195 and 1048 intersect, at the western end of Rts 1180 and a rail line) offers hotels and guest houses, a riverside restaurant and night market, plus beautiful paa haaat siaw hand-woven textiles of the Thai Puan tribe.

Another business recommendation:
Just northwest of the ha-yaek Mangrai statue a sidewalk restaurant offers one of ChiangRai's best eating deals: inexpensive fried chicken, khao man gai and khao mok gai (like khao man gai, but with lightly spiced yellow rice), with a variety of home-made drinks.

Not much of a photographer, let along nature photographer, I yet believe that if one takes enough photos, one will surely get a few good ones, and in support of this theory, and as I enjoy trying to capture images of things that interest me, I present here some shots of nature in Chiang Rai:

noisy kids toy

dangerous catipiller

buk, reputed to be the world's biggest flower and good for containing ingested poisons


Remorseless, egotistical leaders with zero qualms about doing whatever it takes to get their own way have hardly been uncommon, and remain in quite plentiful supply. They’ve often inspired great loyalty, and have even, sometimes, well rewarded that loyalty – for some. For others, the reward has been death, dishonor or desperation. For little more, in return, than admiration of ability to act with both success and amorality, and maybe nurturance of a wish to be able to act that way one’s self, too.

In the early 1990s, Taksin Shinawatra rose from deep indebtedness to a net worth of $2 billion - on abnormal profits from a government-bestowed near-monopoly on mobile phones. He soon got involved in politics - to strengthen that monopoly. He bought elections, and from 2001 to 2005, his government changed laws and rules to boost the Taksin family business empire (which increased in market value by three times in those four years, to about 1% of the Thai GDP). Prior to 2001, he never showed any interest in the plight of the poor, or rural issues, but found those issues convenient for expanding a power base provided by Chamlong Srimaung. After gaining political power, he utilized extra-ordinary budget measures to centralize control over a fifth of his government’s budget, under his own executive authority, while otherwise also acting openly contemptuous of the democratic process.
Taksin’s policies, with endemic corruption and many conflicts of interest, resulted in increased inflation, trade deficits and massive consumer indebtedness – and thus, contrary to Red Shirt claims, hurt the Thai economy. His personal wealth, meanwhile, grew from a reported half a billion US$ equivalency, to several billion (some – well lots – having been placed in the care of servants and relatives before the assets declaration necessary upon entering politics).
Grandson of Princess Jantip na Chiang Mai, while growing up his family was one of the richest and most influential in Chiang Mai. In 1980, he married Pojaman Damapong, daughter of a powerful police general; within 2 years they were in debt to the tune of $2 million US, due to business failures. Then they entered into a pager and data networking service business, and began to make money, in about 1990 – soon expanding from computer rentals into mobile phones and satellite communications; before his election as Prime Minister, Thaksin's Shin Corp. had become the sole provider of satellite and cellular communications in Myanmar. As PM, he “helped” police intimidate store managers who sold anti-government publications.
In the first three months of his “drug war”, according to Human Rights Watch, 2,275 people were killed; his government claimed that only around 50 of the deaths were at the hands of the police, and took no action regarding those 50. The drug war eventually claimed, officially, some 2,500 lives. A later government’s investigation into the anti-drug campaign concluded that as many as 1400 of those 2500 killed had no link to drugs. Many others who were killed weren’t even counted, as they were hill-tribe people without citizenship (at least one was killed in every hill-tribe village). A figure of 2800 is commonly accepted, but doesn’t include many tortured, and many “disappeared”… And meanwhile, and throughout, sale of precursor chemicals for amphetamine production, from Thailand to Myanmar, continued.
Under Taksin, the Thai Army stormed a mosque (Krue Se Mosque) where protesters were holed up, and killed them all. Then, 84 peaceful Muslim demonstrators at Tak Bai died after the Army forced them, at gunpoint, to lie shackled and prone in trucks, stacked like cordwood. The trucks were delayed from moving; the 84, soon overheating, were crushed and asphyxiated. Taksin claimed to be sure of the death of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who’d disappeared, allegedly abducted and killed by police for his role in defending alleged insurgents who claimed to have been tortured – but refused to explain why. No-one was prosecuted, let alone punished, for any of these things.
There is, of course, more – but these matters alone amount to much more than what the Red Shirts accuse PM Abhisit of – and so clearly portray a Red Shirt proclivity to hypocrisy.
Is human longing for heroes so strong that psychopathic megalomania is unimportant, when people are provided with hope?

Three single young men meet on a cheap red-eye flight to Bangkok from Dubai; it’s a first for each. Excited at the prospect of adventure, they compare notes and discover each has a room booked on Sukhumvit Road. One, a big Norwegian, has a room on Soi 15. Another, an even bigger Canadian, has one on Soi 11. The other, and Englishman, has one on Soi 10. They share a cab, and, noticing the Robinson McDonalds, agree to meet up there later, have some lunch and then go for drinks.
Each arrives on foot. They eat, go out front and ask a tuk-tuk driver to take them to a go-go bar. There’s only one in Bangkok open at that early hour, and it was only a short walk away, but the driver agrees, takes them up Soi 15, down Asoke, left on Sukhimvit to a legal u-turn, and then back onto Asoke, from where he turns into Soi Cowboy and parks.
“!50 baht,” he says. They each chip in 50, and the Brit asks, “Which place?” The driver points to Toy Bar, and they go in.
It’s dark but cool inside; no-one is dancing, but lots of girls are sitting around. There are no other Farang. “Great,” says the Norwegian. “Yeah, way cool, hey,” replies the Canadian.
The Norwegian orders 3 beers and 3 chasers, and sits down to drink them, while the Canadian is joined to each side by a lady. When they reply in the negative to his inquiry as to whether they might tell him where to buy some ganja, he calls over two more, and asks their names. They ask for cokes, he acquiesces, then proceeds to make the same inquiry all over again.
The Brit, meanwhile, at first expecting that they’d be going rounds and that the Norwegian had bought the first one, has started to scowl, and is thus ignored. He finally orders a beer, slowly sips at it, and finally, in frustration at the Norwegian ordering another 3 beers and 3 shots, and the Canadian moving on to ask two more girls about ganja, asks his erstwhile companions, “Well, what do you guys want to do? Don’t you want to find someone to fight?”

Links to an interesting blog about a recent bicycle trip throuth Chiang Rai: