Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mae Sai

Mae Sai - Taichilek border crossing, from Mae Sai
I'm back in Thailand, in the lovely, seedy border town of Mae Sai. I'll be heading back to Chiang Mai in a few hours. I have lots of photos and stories to put up, but I'm going to wait for a better internet connection to do so.

Let me just say that Burma is a strange, strange place. When you step across the border, you set your watch back 30 minutes, and move back in time a half a century. It's a dictatorship, but one held together with carbon copies, handwritten account books and library paste. The streets are dirt, the houses bamboo and thatch, the vehicles improvised, held together with hope and wire. More than anywhere else I've ever been, it's a place apart. And yet...the thing I've come to understand, above all, is that Burma's isolation doesn't --as it were-- happen in isolation. The life is being sucked out of the country, and that's very, very good for the rest of the region. Whether their interests are in gas, oil, timber, hydropower, gems, drugs or labor, powerful people in the surrounding countries benefit from Burma staying exactly as it is. The chaos in Burma allows for ruthless extraction of its resources in a way that would never be possible in a country where the government bears any accountability to its people. Thailand benefits, China benefits, India benefits, the Burmese junta benefits -- and the Burmese people are left to pay the price.

This, I think, is the most important story about Burma, and I'm working on how to communicate it through the frame of the issue I'm focusing on.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Smoking Lounge, Taipei Airport
Made it to Taipei, Taiwan. Confirming, once again, that airports (at least the big ones) are pretty much identical the world over -- though this one is a bit chillier than average. Points for free wireless. Demerits for bad, overpriced coffee.
2 more flights to go.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Heading off..

I'm off to the airport in just a few minutes, to Chiang Mai, Thailand via Taipei and Bangkok. I'll try to post again when I arrive.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Fall Creek
Snow? In upstate New York? In March?
This is something that should have occurred to me in advance. But living in California has made me soft.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The (semi)final cut of my series on the drag show at Marlena's Bar in Hayes Valley:

Check out a few more from the series on my flickr acount

Friday, March 07, 2008

Traveler's Song

My loving mother, thread in hand,
Mended the coat I have on now,
Stitch by stitch, just before I left home,
Thinking I might be gone a long time.
How can a blade of young grass
Ever repay the warmth of the Spring sun?

- Meng Jia, translated from the Chinese by Mingfong Ho
I looked up, and discovered February had already slipped through my hands.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Adventures of Isabel

I’ve been asked a few times lately, so: the title “Adventures of Isabel” refers to a poem by Ogden Nash about a little girl who refuses to be intimidated by anything or anyone. Those of you who were never a little girl named Isabel may find it a bit obscure, but she’s always been an inspiration to me…

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Other Peace Process in Mindanao

While public attention is focused on peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines, a third, much quieter peace process has been underway in Mindanao. Since 2003, the Revolutionary Worker's Party of Mindanao (Rebolusyonaryang Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao - RPM-M) has been in negotiation with the government to end three decades of conflict.

Mediated by Balay Mindanaw, a local NGO, and conducted locally, transparently, and with the involvement of the affected communities, this "other peace process" is focused on identifying and meeting the needs of villagers before an agreement is signed.

By giving all affected parties ownership over the process, focusing on the needs of communities rather than politicians, and avoiding high-profile international involvement, the process has avoided much of the chaos, violence and media posturing that mars negotiations with the MILF and the CPP. Unfortunately, corruption and insincerity on the part of the government and government contractors (and the unwillingness of international agencies to give aid before a final agreement is brokered) threaten to undermine the process. Villagers often do not see the infrastructure projects they are promised -- and every time the government fails to deliver its side of the bargain, it becomes more difficult to reengage communities in the peace talks.

I had the chance to meet with Balay Mindanaw president Kaloy Manlupig earlier this week, and was very impressed by his commitment to the peace process. I'm hoping to visit the affected areas this summer, so more on this later...

(And I'm going to quickly note here that US involvement in the region is, of course, complicating this process as well -- partly by pushing the Philippine government further towards a manichaean division between "good guys" and "bad guys" that discourages negotiation with "enemies" and "terrorists" like the RPM-M and the villagers who support them, and partly by threatening to disrupt the ceasefire in its hunt for "terrorists" in Mindanao.)