After much effort over the past 2.5 months, I finally found a way into Burma (if you go as a tourist ("legally"), you in turn support the Burmese military).
Sai Sem, the Shan medic I met in Fang (see Fang Clinic photos from Thailand), was heading into Shan State in Northern Burma to build a new medical clinic. I was joined for the first three days by Pam Rogers, an addiction therapist from Canada, who gave an Addiction Therapy Workshop, the first ever inside the Shan State!
I stayed for 12 days in a Shan State Army (who fight the Burmese military) camp, which DID have a generator for electricity, although no water supply. The weather was very similar to San Francisco: foggy, cold, and rainy for the entire stay. When it did clear, you could see a Burmese military outpost on the next ridge...
Although we picked a site and laid out a plan for the new clinic, we never got to start it. The Thai backhoe driver simply didn't show up to level the site... 10 days in a row! After three months in Asia, this came as no surprise; see 'Primer #4' on Asia at the end of this email.
15 minutes from the camp is a village of 420 "internally displaced people." These people stay close to the army for protection; most left their original homes when they were burned by the Burmese. Roughly 1000 more are expected to arrive for protection in the next year.
In addition to no electricity, water, and minimal food, there is no school or teacher for the 100+ children. Unfortunately, due to several conditions particular to this village, most aid organizations will not provide support for these people. See where I'm going with this yet?
Dr. Ben Brown of the Burmese Refugee Care Project has kindly agreed to collect and redistribute donations for a school. Those of you who have no access to medical supplies but wrote to say you still wanted to help, here is your chance to be a real star. You all are the only chance for a school that these children have. Small donations go a long way in this country. Details of the project, funding needs, and how you can donate are provided as a link on my webpage.
Language and cultural differences can be difficult to understand. Many of these stem from the Asian concept of "saving face." I can not even begin to understand the concept myself, but it manifests itself in almost any interaction you have.
One such case involves conflict: in simple terms, one does not get angry or EVER accuse someone of a wrong doing- these are accomplished by subtle social cues which I have yet to pick up on. An excellent example is what I call "yes means no."
In Southeast Asia, when someone tells you "yes," they might mean "no," "maybe," or perhaps even "yes!" A real life example experienced by a doctor who asked for some medication to be given follows:
Doctor: "You said that you would give this patient medication."
Doctor: "Did you give this patient the medication?"
Medic: "Yes, I gave the medication."
Doctor: "But the patient's chart shows no medication given. Has the patient received the medication?"
Medic: "The patient has not received the medication."
Doctor: "But you said you gave the medication!"
Medic: "Yes, I gave the medication."
While it is impossible for us to understand, the medic is NOT lying (in Asian culture, at least); he is merely saving face for not having given the medication, which is considered acceptable. The doctor is the one in the wrong for verbally accusing the medic!
If you think THAT'S confusing, just try to set up a meeting. "We meet at 3 pm this afternoon" means "We meet between 4 and 5." "We meet tomorrow at 3 pm" means "It would be nice to meet tomorrow, or perhaps the next day. I hope it works out." "We meet Tuesday of next week at 3 pm" means "Have a nice day. Perhaps we should set up a meeting some time, but not now."
I am NOT kidding. Believe me when I say the western world has no need to fear a new, strong Southeast Asian economy!
Several of you have written to me, concerned that I may no longer be the shallow person you once knew. Let me set your minds at ease; I assure you that regardless of my foreign adventures, I remain equally shallow to the person you have known and, er, loved (?). Perhaps tolerated would be a better word. I leave you with evidence of this fact:
During a long conversation with Puea Ghon, a Shan-English translator who lives in Thailand, I was asked what I wanted for the last days of my life. True to form, I answered "If possible, I want to ski as much as I can, and huck myself off large cliffs." When I asked her the same, she responded "I wish for peace in the Shan State, so that I can return and die in my own country." Boy did I feel like a shmuck!
The quest for fun continues,
I have pulled way ahead in the competition. The current score stands at:
Ken: 19 (days)
The following web pages have been added since my last email:
Page Revised 6/7/00