As Mae Sai continues to open her doors to me, I am learning more, seeing more, discovering new gems, and meeting new people who are taking root in my heart. Yes, there are brothels and the men who frequent them, random police checkpoints, armed immigration officials, and more begging than anywhere else I’ve seen in Thailand. The border is a hotbed of movement between Myanmar and Mae Sai where both drugs and humans are trafficked. Many people are impoverished and are barely squeaking by, while others live in big, beautiful houses. Mae Sai certainly has an ugly underbelly but it also has a charming side. More often than not, I meet friendly, helpful people who make my days delightful. Allow me to introduce you to some of them…
Darling. My neighborhood restauranteur who speaks a little English to match my little Thai. She is my mom equivalent in Mae Sai. A single woman who works everyday all day preparing food for her customers in the grueling heat. She’ll make you whatever you want to eat, whenever. I make sure to support Darling often because I know she struggles financially. For Valentine’s Day I surprised her with a pink rose. She screamed with delight. The next day she grabbed me by my cheeks and kissed me on the lips – something most conservative Thais wouldn’t do. Our relationship has blossomed to one of care, adoration and pure unadulterated fun. She has given me rides to work and I have given her shoes and clothes. I can eat a meal at her place for 20 to 50 baht. 60 cents or $1.30. Sometimes I make myself something so she doesn’t have to. I’ve never met a more joyful person and I can hear her from a mile away. “Hallooooo, Dawling. Where you go? Gin kaow, mai?” She continually brings a smile to my face and makes me feel that this little corner of the world is home. At least for now.
Jamie. A young lad from Chester, England, Jamie is one of DEPDC’s long term volunteers who also serves as the International Volunteer Coordinator. He’s done a lot for me including teaching me how to drive a semi-manual motorbike, stopping my shower leak, teaching me loads about Mae Sai and DEPDC, and escorting my ass all over this town. He’s single-handedly responsible for teaching me some of my best slang yet: thicker than pig shit, gobsmacked, off his nut, aces, and the ubiquitous schlicky, which means just about whatever you want it to. Jamie literally is my fixer. In fact, he’s everyone’s fixer.
Mina. Mina is from Shan state in Myanmar. She’s 16-years-old and works at Coffee Heart – Mae Sai’s best coffee shop with free wifi and jetfueled espresso. Mina works seven days a week and earns very little money. Her mother is in Bangkok and her father is out of the picture. Mina and I practice our Thai and English together. When she’s down and out or bored at work, I make an ass of myself to put a smile on her face. She teaches me Burmese which I almost always forget. We share a love of popular music. She buys me cheap CDs in Tachileik – Myanmar’s border town just adjacent to Mae Sai. I pay her for them and burn her CDs of the music I love. I can tell Mina wants more for her life and is somewhat discontented. Perhaps it’s a teenage thing. She’s cute as a bug and I love wandering into Coffee Heart on a hot day only to be greeted by her (and air conditioning). Sometimes we sit and look at pictures on the internet or talk about boys or make fun of passerbys. She’s also responsible for giving me Coffee Heart’s entire music collection! You rock, Mina!
BYTLP. My students at DEPDC. They are Thai, Burmese, and Lao. I can never tell the difference so it doesn’t matter much to me. I love them all. They are the older sons and daughters of DEPDC who live at the center 24/7. Most of them come from the border region or broken homes and lack ID cards or enough money to go to Thai government schools. It is through DEPDC that they are given an education and the opportunity to succeed in life. They are tenacious, eager to learn English and busy with numerous projects gearing them toward long term leadership. It didn’t take long to adore them as they open their hearts so easily. They range in age from 13 to 20. I teach them English and when we’re not working, we’re dancing, watching YouTube videos, singing songs, or generally hanging out. I’m not sure I can post their nicknames so I won’t, even though most of them have Facebook pages. I’m still not sure if they are teaching me more than I am teaching them or vice versa. Regardless, they make my experience here fulfilling and rewarding. Their bright smiles and playful spirits bring me pure joy – something akin to motherhood, I imagine. I never want to say goodbye to them. “P’Well, you show me b-boy dance!?” “Good morning, teacher!” “P’Well, you teach me photo-graph-ie?” Chan chop mak mak!
Reporting live from a balcony in Mae Sai.