Category Archives: travel

Teaching Initiative for Refugees and Migrants around Mae Sot

The Burma Education Program are looking for teachers.

In 2011-2012 BEP will provide a Training Award for migrant teachers to include for the first time an accredited certificate. In the refugee community BEP will continue with materials development to provide EL curriculum materials for all primary schools in the refugee camps along the border. In support of this programme, BEP will provide a Mobile Unit offering professional training to the refugee teachers.

They need people with British or Irish citizenship plus a degree and ELT certificate. If this is you or someone you know do look at the job description.


Fauna at Mae La: Barbara’s first solo post

Not "our" frog, who was bigger and fatter, but a reasonable substitute, from Spiros2004

Things were quite different at the camp, from our first trip, regarding animal life. Tim saw a small snake in the loos one night, and I saw a dead mouse on two evenings in the inside toilet.   Not very appealing but at least it was dead. Of more concern was the extensive noise of rats in the space between the roof and the tarpaulin “ceiling”. Much more than 2008, and increasing during the 3 weeks we were there. Our Danish colleagues saw a very large rat in their room so we did quite well, but hard to sleep with rustling and other noises from them and the geckos . Quite a few geckos too. One kind frequent in Mae Sot and Klee Thoo Clo which goes “gee-ko” was not so apparent but lots of other ones were seen reguIarly.

It doesn’t do any good to get too upset by these things, but I was glad not to meet any frogs until the very last night, and although unlikely to be the same one as 2 years ago, was in nearly the same place and enormous! On the bright side, only one cockroach was seen. Lots more mosquitoes though and I got badly bitten as usual so the routine of late afternoon wash, change into long wrap and apply insect repellent helped.

One morning at prayers we were told the mosquito sprayers were coming that day. For some reason they did not, maybe they’ve been after we left, I hope so as there are already cases of malaria and dengue in the camp. There were fewer cats than last time which may explain the rats, but I am very grateful our overall experience of the wildlife was not too unpleasant.

Transport in Thailand: Buses

Private buses are often highly decorative (Photo by Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer)

For travel between towns in Thailand, unless you spot a great deal on Air Asia, it is hard to beat the buses. We’ve tried just about every variety:

  • second class overnight
  • intercity stopping bus
  • first class
  • VIP Government bus
  • VIP cheaper sleeper
  • VIP privatised sophisticated
  • Mini Bus

Second class "Government Buses" are more basic (Same source)

All provide cheap efficient transport from one place to another, with enough loo and/or food stops. Most of the time, if you pay more, you get what you pay for, greater comfort, speed or extras (like on board loos, air-conditioning, blankets, drinks etc.). The mini buses will even stop pretty much on demand for loos or refreshment at the next roadside vendor’s. However, for daytime travel the stopping bus’s slower speed allows you to see more of real life in Thailand. Paying more also makes the journey seem more reliable. Our stopping bus sometimes seemed about to run out finally, though every time the driver and his assistant with the threat of the proverbial “flipping big spanner” managed to coax another 50Kms out of the old girl. As we reported two years back the second class overnight did break down once (until half the passengers got off and walked up the hill to relieve the load), and had its brakes catch fire. Despite this we still arrived only a little late, and the other buses were on time, every time. One bus even left early, since all the passengers were already aboard 🙂

There are two sorts of Bus station, those (like this one) where buses are boarded, and country ones where meal and loo stops are made (Photo by Jeremy Burgin)

The food/loo stops on night buses can seem rushed, we would not want to shovel down a meal of soup that fast, but then we chose the alternative drinks. Either way, you show your tickets (which are torn to invalidate them) and get your goodies. On day buses you pay for any refreshments at the loo stops, vendors do a roaring trade in sticky rice and kebabs in convenient plastic bags.

Ticketing is computerised, and you can buy your ticket (and book your seat) in advance, if they refuse to sell ahead of time it probably means that the buses are already full and they are not sure if extra ones will be put on – that was how we got our second class sleeper that broke down. On one occasion a language breakdown gave us a long delay before the VIP bus left, when a stopping bus arrived to leave several hours earlier (even though on a different company) we were able to cancel and redeem our tickets and grab the alternative.

The whole operation is a huge industry with many many hundreds of buses arriving at the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok every morning at 4:30-5:00am. The bus stations in larger places can also provide several hours of entertainment as you watch the world go by (or, like you, wait to go). All the bus stations are well equipped with seats and snack outlets, the loos are OK and only 3 Bhat, though they may seem a bit grubby, the number of times we paddled through recently swabbed floors suggests a strong ethos of cleanliness.

Transport in Thailand: in town

Bangkok is a huge city, filled with hurtling or traffic jammed cars, motorbikes, buses, taxis and tuktuks. (Plus one evening we saw an elephant strolling down the main road!) Getting around is easy if your base and your destination are near the main transport lines MRT, Skytrain or Klong. But walking far in a hot humid climate with thick smog, even in the winter cool of 34ºC is not recommended.

Thai Tuktuk

For short distances tuktuks are ideal, cool and fun, just agree a price (25-50 Bhat most often) in advance – in small towns bargaining beforehand is usually unnecessary, but in Bangkok or Chiang Mai it can save difficult post hoc discussions 😉 Their size and comfort varies more than the prices should. We’ve seen the extra large ones with two parallel facing seats, that might hold four Thais easily and even four farang with a squash, a luxury semi recliner, and at the other extreme the old small one we could barely squeeze into that, however, took us, without a serious breakdown, to the bus station in Lampang.

Thai taxis offer smart air-conditioned comfort

For longer trips especially if there are two (or three) of you, take a taxi. Ride in air conditioned comfort, and let the driver worry about the traffic. Bangkok’s taxis are metered and cheap, to or from the city centre and our hotel out near the Northern Bus Station was never more that 100 Bhat (NZ$4-5) even in the rush hour. For taxis don’t negotiate, just hop in and ensure the metre is turned on. (A negotiated price, even with cut-throat bargaining is likely to cost double the metered amount 😉

It does help to know a landmark near your destination, or to have the hotel’s card with the address in Thai and a small local map. Most of our trips have been hassle free and efficient, Bangkok taxi-drivers are easygoing and efficient. Most of them. The guy we got from the huge queue at the bus station, despite asking directions several times still managed to take us on a zigzag tour between Moe Chit and the city centre, gradually eastward till finally Barbara spotted the hotel on the other side of the street 😉 still it only cost less than 300 Bhat which at 5:30am with lots of luggage was probably better than a LONG walk 😉

The klong, and I think only one is still operating, is quick easy and “quite an experience”. Avoid the rush hour, as dozens of experienced commuters hop on and off in seconds and the boats are REALLY packed. But for a different view of Bangkok life traveling east-west along Petchburi Road (and down to the River) the klong is fun and convenient. Just avoid licking the spray off your face, because probably you won’t copy discerning locals and wear a mask 😉

Barbara’s Birthday

College chapel each weekday morning

Since her birthday comes in the NZ holiday season Barbara is used to having somewhat muted celebrations on the day, and then an “official birthday” with family and presents sometime later when we are all home again.

That was the pattern we expected this year, just the two of us in a refugee camp did not seem the setting for a conventional Kiwi Birthday celebration.

At lunch our Danish colleagues brought a very fancy cake

The first surprise was during college chapel, when Dr Simon announced her birthday and the whole company, 250 students plus staff sang “Happy Birthday” including a verse about “long life to you”, then the treat, lollies were distributed to all attenders!

At lunch another surprise our Danish colleagues had slipped away, and into Mae Sot, and bought a really flash birthday cake complete with impressive icing sugar roses.

The Cake: Just look at those roses!

The family and I will have to try hard in a week or two to match her birthday here! Even if one or seven too many people did ask how old she was 😉

She was also so moved by the gift of a beautiful pashmina from one of the teachers. That someone who has so little, living in rooms in friends’ houses and moving as their family needs require, should want to give such a lovely present, is very humbling.

Mae La and Mae Sariang (Work begins, and “real” holiday also)

KKBBSC across the gardens, this is NOT a typical view of the camp, but does show the industrious nature of Karen refugees

From Klee Thoo Klo we were dropped at Tee Toh’s home in Mae Sot. Tee Toh is the Dean at KKBBSC, so we needed to discuss what (and exactly when) we could teach on this trip. He is also one of the Karen with KKBBSC diplomas who would like to upgrade but finds current possibilities difficult, so in both roles he is a key person in developing possible postgraduate opportunities on the border.

I will be covering subjects that Wah Doh (who has travel documents and is making a fraternal visit to Karen in Australia during January) would have covered:

  • Understanding the Bible: this course was begun last semester, so I’ll be giving the students guided practice at studying and interpreting sample passages – this is the easy one to teach and prepare, especially having prepared and taught Understanding and Interpreting the Bible at Carey last semester 🙂
  • Ecclesiology: this course starts this semester, so I need to lay foundations, so I’ll deal with biblical resources for being and understanding church – this one will be harder as it does not relate directly to any of my teaching experience so far!
  • Philosophy: also starting this semester, this course will later on include sections on “Nietzche and the Nihilists” and other groups that were dead trendy in the 60s 😉 Since I have never formally studied philosophy this might have been the biggest challenge to my academic integrity, till I had the bright idea of teaching Ecclesiastes as a biblical foundation to Philosophy. This may broaden to include other elements of a biblical foundation to Philosophy, with a special focus on Old Testament. Since we only have three weeks that should enable me to do something useful that is also academically respectable and more important something I can actually do well 😉

Barbara will teach:

  • Introduction to Counselling: which she will enjoy and find easy 🙂
  • English Grammar: for which there is a textbook!

    Borderland hills north of Mae La

Term starts in “the second week in January” which actually means on the 4th or 5th January, so we are traveling north enjoying ourselves as tourists, planning to return to Mae Sot early in January to be ready when term actually starts.

But before this tourist phase started we were collected by Dr Simon Htoo who had things to do in Mae Sot, and taken to the camp. Although on the journey he was somewhat withdrawn and distant like in 2008, there were glimpses of his more cheerful self . However, once we were at the camp and fed, we had a really useful and lengthy chat. Perhaps he had more time with the students all away on mission trips (many “on the other side” = in Burma), or perhaps as with others the “second term” effect has cut in.Hills on the road from to Mae Sariang

[In Kinshasa we noticed that most of our African colleagues became noticeably more friendly and cooperative almost instantly when we returned after our first furlough – we call this the “second term effect”. People naturally have more trust in and respect for someone they perceive as offering a long term relationship.]

Compared with younger Karen (or Rev Newton, who is like an enthusiastic teenager with an elder’s wisdom, experience and mana) he was more aware of the difficulties (that’s twenty years experience talking, so really useful to listen to) and perhaps less inclined to consider starting with small achievable goals (here I am less sure how far we should agree, on the one hand institutional donors prefer big showy projects, on the other big plans are less likely to achieve anything, small is fast as well as beautiful 😉

The entrance to the river (border) crossing

We had a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep, the camp was tranquil with fewer people in the Bible School area, and no big jamboree in view, but we were not prepared either for the cold (we’d left our warm clothes with Shirley to have less to carry on our travels) or for cockerels (every house seems to have at least one) who took it in turns to compete with each other in relays crowing from midnight till dawn.

We were invited to share in a wedding anniversary celebration starting at 7am, the couple’s home was the other side of the river up the lower slopes of the cliff-like hill. We really enjoyed the walk and seeing more of the camp.

Crossing the Moei

I was again invited to speak a “word of encouragement” so gave them the word hesed (faithfulness/loving kindness/loyalty) like that of Ruth or God as the biblical secret for strong marriages and families.

The couple had been married 27 years, and provided a magnificent spread, including a delicious cauliflower and egg dish as well as fish with peanut and soya which was so savoury I ate it instead of the traditional pork and chicken 🙂

Boats at the crossing

Then Dr Simon (who had a pastor to drop at a river crossing and a load of stuff to deliver) took us on the road north. The river crossing was fascinating, totally unauthorised with no border posts visible, but a fleet of “long tailed” boats ferrying people and goods across the border. We drove through the most beautiful hills which stretch here for miles in every direction, jungle interspersed with occasional villages and their surrounding gardens and fields.

Mae Sariang from our guesthouse

Mae Sariang is a small town set on a beautiful river surrounded by more distant hills. We stayed at the fairly comfortable middling priced Riverside Guest House lashing out on a room with access to the roof top terraceand are enjoying a lazy morning drinking in the views 🙂 We have been eating at a neat restaurant a few doors down which also has superb river views, Internet and makes delicious Northeastern Thai dishes (last night I had fragrant Green Papaya Salad with sticky rice – I think I prefer the Karen style cooked inside a bamboo stalk to that prepared in a hygenic plastic bag, the bamboo adds to the flavour) as well as real bacon and coffee for breakfast. I’m getting a taste for the Hill Tribes’ coffee with its smokey flavour, but it is an acquired taste and Barbara would still prefer the cleaner sharper taste of the PNG based roasts we get in NZ.

This afternoon we catch the 1st class minibus to Chang Mai – we are really on holiday now 🙂

Macaques in the garden

A friend of a friend (on Facebook) wanted “more monkey videos” this is the best I can manage, but it did remind me to upload some more of the superb scenery from Sri Lanka, maybe after the weekend and before the marking 😉

Sri Lanka has three species of macaque, we spotted these guys running wild in the botanic gardens outside Kandy, and another species in the gardens at Haggala (the gardeners were not as pleased – I wish I’d got a shot of the chase 😉