Quick flight this morning from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and it just feels better here. It's the second-largest city in Thailand, but it's small. It's surrounded by mountains, the air is better, and it's not insanely hot and busy. This is more my speed. Plus we've had the good fortune to find a café with wireless Internet just a few blocks from where we're staying, and it's cheap (wireless is one Canadian dollar per hour) and the coffee is fantastic (actually, at this point, coffee that isn't instant is fantastic; this coffee is divine). I'd say things are turning around.
But I need your advice on something. We're close to where the Karen hill tribes live, including the Paduang people, a.k.a. the "long necks." (You've seen images of them: the women with the long brass-ringed necks.) It's easy to take a daytrip from here to see these people. I'm curious to see them, but by many accounts, such tourist trips have turned their villages into "human zoos" (e.g., "In the opinion of many, the village is a human zoo where people come to gawk at and photograph these long necked creatures. Thai authorities and tour companies have been condemned for turning the Padaung villages into colonies and exploiting the women for profit making."). I don't want to contribute to the exploitation of anyone. If I go there and spend some money, am I helping or hurting? As I'm writing this, I'm realizing I probably shouldn't go; trying to justify it feels a bit like the argument I've heard many times about eating meat ("But the bird's already dead, so why can't you eat it?"). Still, I'm curious to hear what you would do. Believe me, I'd love to be convinced that it's OK, since I'd really love to see these women in person.
Friday, May 20, 2005