This is about last New Year’s celebrations. I went to Chiang Mai with Soe Soe. She went ahead of me for journalism training and I left a week later. We met at the Chaing Mai airport and our plan was to spend a few days there and then go to Mae Sot. Soe Soe’s brother has 88 Gen friends in Mae Sot.
The brother (Soe Soe’s) is exiled in United States. He was one of the many at the front of the Saffron Uprising. That point was confirmed by the friends I made in Chiang Mai over the next week. He was a political prisoner – twice. He slipped away after Saffron and got himself up to the border and crossed into Thailand through Mae La Refugee Camp. The, he got asylum in the U.S. He also had some rather nefarious history with ABSDF and he may never be able to return to Burma.
The day before we were to leave, we got news that a younger brother of an 88 Gen person we were to meet was blinded by a land mine. They were on their way to Chiang Mai to bring him to the hospital so we didn’t go to Mae Sot. What a sad case. The guy is 24, married with a baby. He was laying mines in Tatmadaw territory over the border. While they were standing around, another guy asked him for his cigarette lighter. When he flicked it to light his cigarette the static electricity, it was told to us, detonated a mine that was lying on the ground. It was a small mine, made to cause severe damage.
That was on January 22. It seems the mine did its job and that cigarettes will do their best to kill you one way or another. I doubt if they had much training.
This was my introduction to All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF). I was planning to interview Soe Soe’s brothers’ friends. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Soe Soe and I hung around with Son, the leader of a group of ABSDF. He conducts journalism and film training, and apparently, as we learned after the just mentioned tragedy, other stuff.
We had a New Years Eve party at his house. There were about 14, including me and Soe Soe. The rest of them were all Son’s contacts in his ABSDF cell. None of them used real names but they knew each other by their cell names. I also used a fake name, just for the hell of it. This is a unique feature of underground activities in Burma and over to Chiang Mai, it seems.
Burmese people often use several names. Even in classes they have a name for registration, a name for peer to peer use, a name for Facebook – some have four or five names. I get friended by people on FB from people with names I don’t recognize. Later, they’ll come up to me and say, “Teacher, why didn’t you accept my friend request?” You can guess the rest of the conversation.
Anyway, the party was great. We had bbq wings, and great Thai food, lots of whiskey, beer and Absolut. By 11 pm we had been dancing and singing, taking photos, and laughing through all of it. Finally we packed ourselves into two cars and headed to 700 Year Stadium for the awesome fireworks. It was not a pretty drive, the drivers were both smashed – but we made it.
We stood around the cars, parked in some huge expanse of fields. I couldn’t make out details but fireworks were going off in the distance and there were box lanterns all over the sky – by the hundreds if not thousands. The illumination from the fires in the lanterns and from the explosions of fireworks gave the event a surreal feeling, especially being as drunk as we were – I was. It felt as if we were in movie scene. Lanterns were at all levels in the sky, going up, coming down. We were catching them, they were landing in the trees above us, it was very cool and unnatural but beautiful and romantic.
Eventually Soe Soe, who almost never drinks, got sick. I saw her through it and then she bounced back to life. On the drive home I had my turn. I like Vodka but damn – Absolut is very syrupy and because of that I never drank it in volume until that night. I hung my head out the door a couple of times as we drove. Lucky I didn’t lose it.
Back in CM near the Thaepae Gate there were still celebrations going on and it seemed like a crazy night all around. People were partying all over the place until almost dawn. That was a great New Year, and the hangover was bad but worth it for the fun we had. The next day was a day to recover and ate well and moped around for a while, had ice cream and went shopping for gifts. A good day.
Chiang Mai is always wonderful.