Poy Sang Long

There are experiences in this life that makes me wonder a while later if they really happened. The Poy Sang Long Ceremony, celebrated by the Shan, or Tai Yai people of Myanmar and Northern Thailand is such an experience. Every year in April, young boys between 6 and 12 years old are dressed up like princes, to be paraded through the streets on the shoulders of their fathers, brothers or uncles, from temple to temple, before they can become monks.

The monkhood may only last for a few weeks, sometimes longer and for a few of them for a lifetime, but the days of celebration are something to be remembered and a touching experience for all involved, the boys, the families, the local community and tourists who happen to be present.

The Parade is indeed a spectacular sight, with people of all ages dancing, including those who carry the young princes, and an abundance of gongs and other musical instruments.

The most important location for this ceremony on the Thai side of the border is Mae Hong Son, the thinnest populated province of Thailand, with a long border towards Myanmar. The temples of Mae Hong Son are all Shan style, and distinctly different from those in the rest of the country. They do however resemble strongly those in Myanmar.

A large portion of the population is Shan people with their own language, alphabet and traditions, something that they share with their relatives on the other side of the border. And although Mae Hong Son is a province in Thailand, arriving there, high up in the mountains, really feels like coming to another country.

For those who have the time and an inclination to see another Thailand, Mae Hong Son is absolutely worth a visit. It’s a long bus ride on winding roads, more than 1,800 curves to relatively nearby Chiang Mai, but there’s an airport too, and if the fog isn’t too dense, getting there can be fast and uncomplicated.

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Payathai Crossing

Little more than a kilometer north of the glitzy shopping malls in downtown Bangkok, Siam this and Siam that and the slightly overcooked Central World, along the heavily congested, six lane Payathai road, reality comes roaring out of the forest, at the speed of papaya salad. And the city stops for a couple of minutes, while the iron elephant continues its bumpy journey towards Chanchoengsao and other exotic destinations. For 48 Baht, it will even take you the whole five hour journey to Aranya Pratet at the Cambodian
border. That’s certainly better value than a Louis Vuitton handbag at Gaysorn Plaza.

Or you could move 20 or 30 meters vertically, by lift or elevator of course, no sweatin’ on the tracks. That will take you to the new airport link, which will bring you in air-conditioned and noiseless, soundless almost, comfort, to the big, international airport in the sumps outside Bangkok. From there, you can fly swiftly to another set of glitzy shopping-malls, where you can buy your Levi’s jeans and your Big Mac in another currency, from people who speak English with yet another accent.

The world is becoming increasingly exotic, don’t you think?

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Quiet but not peaceful

Bangkok is very quiet these days. It’s as if the city is trying to understand what happened, and how it can live with this for the future. And what will the future be anyway? This is a nation that is deeply divided, but still share an abundance of challenges. The difference between the rural northeast and the urban Bangkok is just a tiny part of it. There’s corruption that rides the country like a pest, hindering development and sucking out resources. There’s an education system that can best be described as failed. Not that it doesn’t produce qualified candidates for life in Thailand, but that’s one of the limitations; life in Thailand isn’t like life in Norway, France or even Singapore. Life in Thailand is different, and that is what makes living here such a great attraction.

Action is needed, and it’s needed fast. Putting out the fire isn’t nearly enough. Hopefully, the members of the parliament understand that, so that their positive attitude and the results of what they’re doing can stop the extremism of the red leaders. While the great red masses have a worthy case, most their leaders clearly don’t. They are after money and influence, trying to force Thailand into a pattern that suits their own needs.

Here’s a vote for the people of Thailand!

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Norwegians in May

Norwegians have celebrated their constitution on 17 May every year since 1814. Even in Bangkok yesterday, in spite of all the turmoil in the city, there was a celebration, although modest, in the garden of the ambassador’s residence. And it is important, particularly during troubled times, to sit back and enjoy our relative freedom and stability, hoping that as many nations as possible, Thailand included, can find their path forward as well, a path that is acceptable for all its people.

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Old Diesel

While we are waiting for something to happen, the reds to go home, the weather to get cooler, life to get simpler… maybe we should paint the old diesel in some brighter colours, if we had one, and make it stand out like a queen of the road. One man at the race track had done just that, and he was all smiles, so if that is the key to a happy life… no, I’m probably too lazy. Good thing that some are not lazy, and are willing to share their eye candy with the rest of us.

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Truth Today?

So, the prime minister gave them an offer, met them halfway and compromised: New elections in November, which is six months from now. And the leaders of Thai Rouge kept on thinking about this offer all day yesterday, and in the end they agreed. They accepted the road-map from the prime minister, thank you very much. But they won’t move.

So much for negotiations. So what do they want? They want to stay until the parliament has been dissolved, since they don’t trust the prime minister, or so they say. But the truth? The truth today is that they are greedy. They have tasted blood and they want more. They have seen that it’s possible to close off central parts of Bangkok for weeks, and now sky is the limit. If this is part of a plot to get Thaksin back to power or some other agenda, who knows, but the truth is that the Thai Rouge can’t be trusted.

The real victims of all this, apart from all those who have been out of a job for weeks because their shops or hotels or restaurants have been closed, are those poor farmers from the north and northeast, who have spent days and weeks in Bangkok believing they are fighting for a better future for themselves and their children. But this is all about greed. That’s the truth today, and that’s a disgrace.

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Still here

They call themselves the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. Other people call them Red Shirts. They are the Thai Rouge, using all kinds of undemocratic means, including killing, throwing bombs, storming a hospital, occupying a large portion of downtown Bangkok and thereby forcing tens of thousands of people out of their jobs, to fight against a legally elected government. A bizarre situation indeed. Do they have democratic ambitions? Probably not. It’s a struggle for power, influence and not least about money.

Upcountry, they don’t even allow those with opinions differing from their own speak. In Bangkok, they demand that only their voice be heard. It’s a paradox that their fugitive leader, Mr. Thaksin, refused to pay tax when he sold his telecom conglomerate for 70+ Billion Baht, and that this is accepted by his supporters. But there are many paradoxes in Thailand.

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