THAILAND'S HAPPY LITTLE REFUGEES
Flying Sporran’s Diary
Have been very busy preparing to relocate recently, hence some inactivity here, but in between packing I have been settling down to rest by watching British television. There were four Channels when I left the UK now there are something like 200 available – most of them dire.
But then I came across this programme, being repeated for the umpteenth time – ‘Better Later Than Never’.
This NBC programme followed some ageing American former superstars travelling round Asia together, laughing, joking, bickering, and the formula was copied from a South Korean programme.
So, we see Henry Winkler (‘The Fonz from Happy Days’) William Shatner (Captain Kirk ‘Star Trek’) George Foreman (boxing champ) and Terry Bradshaw, football superstar quarter back whooping it up through Japan, South Korea and finally ending up in Thailand.
Mrs. Juthaporn Rerngronasa, TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing (Europe, Africa, Middle East and Americas) announced at the time, “We are very excited to serve as the final destination for this new show. The audience will see a very special side of Thailand with a behind the scenes view of one of our biggest cultural events Songkran, and many more surprises in both Chiang Mai and Phuket.” Wow.
A behind the scenes view of Songkran? That seems an upfront cultural activity. What happens behind the scenes? I think what she meant was that the scenes of Songkran were faked, but was too shy to say.
The scenes showed our ageing superstars being blasted with water and powder in their tuk tuks as they arrive on Terry Bradshaw’s birthday. (For his birthday, he was given a dinner and a full-on smooch from a chubby singing ladyboy)
There was something odd about the Songkran scenes. They were all close-up, not scenes of any distance showing how big the crowd was. It looked like they could have almost been on a film stage set.
It turns out they were.
Terry Bradshaw’s birthday is September 2nd. He was born in 1948. Songkran is between April 12 and 15th – even in Phuket.
Anyway, they then all flew to Chiang Mai which was described in a caption as Thailand’s ‘biggest AND most cultural city and went on to see Thailand’s most well-known hill tribe the ‘Karen’ who, lo and behold, had long necks and brass rings around them.
Some mistake surely?
The long-necked women are from the Padaung hill tribe, not the Karen. But they are a sept of the Karenni. No long-necked woman is Thai unless she has suddenly won nationality rights (Something the Thais would do if they made money for them).
The Padaung living in Thailand have either fled their villages to a refugee camp due to actions by the Burmese military or been lured across the border by Thai businessmen. These communities are have been better known internationally as ‘human zoos.’
Prior to the turn of the millennium a Director of the Tourist Authority of Thailand wrote to me decrying the camps and the unscrupulous businessmen involved in one of them.
I had just completed an investigation series for 'The Times' on a group which had been lured across the Thai border and forced to work in a 'human zoo' in Thaton, near Mai Ai.
After the Director left his position the number of long-necked ‘human zoos’ quadrupled.
Terry Bradshaw was in awe of the ‘Karen’ who he described as a satisfied and happy people. I don’t think anybody appears to have told him they were filming in the refugee camp in Na Soi, near Mae Hong Son and that these people wanted their own land, human rights and not just the pocket money they are handed for selling imported Chinese made dolls to tourists, or weaving scarves.
What never ceases to amaze me is how little Americans seem to know about the outside world - even when they are rich megastars. Unbelievable!
Still, its entertainment, and 'pon proyote' as one camp commandant told me 'For the benefit of all'.
Beam me up Scottie.