After a week of wondering how to approach this post, I’m finally writing this truly from my heart. There are so many daily activities or key parts of our day where it’s normal or common for us in the UK and many parts of the world. Do we take the time to stop, think and scrutinise every opportunity that we come across each day? This is acknowledging what we eat for our three plus meals a day, purchasing technology that assist us with daily duties and even more so, freedom.
I travelled to Thailand 2 weeks ago for a few days to wrap up my short break to Souh East Asia. I decided to stop in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand as I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this town. (I will be writing travel posts in due course, once I get my head around a hectic real life schedule.) As part of my stay, I chose to travel further north to Chiang Rai for a day tour. Even though I got to see two extraordinary sights, my absolutely favourite part of my day was seeing a traditional rural Thai Village, where a Long Neck tribe reside.
The Long Neck tribes are refugees from nearby Myanmar, who have fled to escape conflict. It is said that they are unable to work normal Thai jobs. Instead they have turned their once closed villages into a tourist attraction to earn income. I visited the Long Neck Karen Hilltop Tribe to get an insight into this cultural tribe. After paying 300 Thai Bhat (roughly £6) at a wooden hut outside the village, I started a journey into the unknown. All I knew was that the women had golden rings fixed around their necks. The tour guide mentioned that the history of this was to protection against being eaten by tigers and because the tribe believe that the coils enhance a woman’s beauty. An elongated neck is achieved by the weight of the coil rings pressing down on the collar and shoulder bone, which effectively compressed the abdomen towards the lower extremities.
A little tiny circular village space appeared before my eyes. The space inside the huts is all occupied by stalls of handmade scarfs, wooden memorabilia and faux stacks of golden neck rings. You’d think that you’ve visited a stall before as they’re all quite similar if not the same as their neighbour. As the Thai Bhat is next to nothing, as a tourist the crafts aren’t that expensive at all. Definitely a sign that the village is a tourist attraction.
Anyhow, let me get back to my point. The only individual of the tribe who really struck me was an 11-year old girl called Mary. She was sat in her stall cradling a young baby. She greeted me in Mandarian, which I said hello back in English. We conversed in English where I learned that the baby was her cousin, how much time and effort goes into making the scarves on display, how she did her own makeup and got an insight into her daily life in the tribe. Now, Mary does not go to school at all or has never been. So at this point I know that this young girl can speak two languages. I looked at her scarves and asked her what were her favourites. I settled on buying a blue and white scarf which cost around £3. Mary then proceeded to talk to me, in Cantonese this time. This is now THREE languages this girl can speak. I was shocked. I just wanted to know more about this girl out of fascination but due to time constraints it wasn’t possible. I kindly asked for a photo of her which she kindly approved of. I proceeded to the following huts completing the circle.
I seen fellow tourists from my group stopping off at Mary’s hut. They all clearly shared the same consciousness as I do as we deliberated about Mary on our way back to the bus. I now learned that Mary knows how to speak to FIVE languages. FIVE!!! She doesn’t even attend an educational institution. This girl has picked up these languages from tourists. She can speak and listen, just not read and write. Between the group everyone expressed the need for Mary to go to school. Who knows who this little girl can grow up to be or do in future.
Of course it may be tradition that the Karen females stay at home, but since the opium trade was made illegal the tribe has had no choice but to open their village to tourists and produce craft items to earn income. Our tour guide had told us before we entered the village that the tribe are now sending children to school because “they are aware of society changes in Thailand.” This was obviously not true on this occasion!! We asked about how we can get Mary educated but the guide was having none of our concerns. The 3 hour journey back to Chiang Mai was dominated about Mary, cultures and how lucky the western world is to have access to free mandatory education. As I got back to my hostel, I raised my issue with my ever so knowledgeable and lovely host. Here, she told me that due to cultural differences it is a different path. One that is unlikely to successfully reach a goal point.
I live by conscious living. I think about the impact my plant-based diet has on animals, environment etc (also how I’m trying to cut back on quinoa as the prices have sky rocketed due to demand from the Western society, meaning locals who once ate the grain as a staple in their diet can no longer afford to eat it. Why should I be able to consume copious amounts of quinoa but South Americans can’t?). Or like why are food and clothing items so cheap? What’s the manufacturing or farming story behind these products? Basically, what is the bigger picture of something (so) small. Maybe that’s why I work and wish to stay in healthcare. A patient’s journey from a nadir to normalcy is so rewarding.
It can be hard to forget about such issues and realise how everything we come by on a daily basis is a privilege, but I want you to try and set healthy intentions. You’ll be surprised of how perceptions can change.
The Nutty Noodle