Same Same, But Different

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I came to this country with full confidence that this one phrase would save me from being utterly wordless before a local – that is “sawaddee krap”. Honestly, you could survive visiting thailand with just that one phrase; you fly in and fly out with it. I greet everyone with this, and with the expectation of a smile, of recognition, of bridge gap-ing. But this time I fail: He stares at me blinking, mutters something to his fellow men, teeth disfigured to a slush of red and black. He scratches his backside through a longyi, and then his cheek, spreading the iconic traces of thanaka. These are the Burmese people.

Burmese street in Mae Sot

Burmese street in Mae Sot

We are along the border of Thailand and Burma, accessible only after a series of mountains. You’d be surprised that this is Thailand. The contrast is stark, and it is appalling knowing that you have crossed no borders and are very much still in Thailand. The Thailand we were in before does not stray far from one would expect, save for the rurality of some villages which hardly count for surprises. This is a whole different ball game. We didn’t fly from Bangkok to Mae Sot, the effect I see now as so similar to the cleansing glass of cold water served between wine tasting glasses. We had no teleportation of sorts, no “Welcome to Northern Thailand” sign; we simply moved on land, slowly cycling through the same country.

Thai table set-up

Thai table set-up

Burmese table set-up

Burmese table set-up

The same country? Jurong and Changi are in the same country. I’ve lived with that, and I guess I’ve built my understanding of “same country” along those lines. I guess Singapore gives one a sense of “country” that is unlike most places in the world. We are small, so concentrated and so accessible amongst each other. I start to see in us an identity that probably escapes the many countries surrounding us.

Burmese street food

Burmese street food

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