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REVISIT: Feature: Portrait of a generation of Shan

Special to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.)

In a dimly lit corner of a bar in Chiang Mai’s red
light district, Hseng Hawm greets the approaching
customers, “Sawasdee kha”. She guides them to a table
and sits with them as another girl takes the guests’

Her sweet and demure smile grabs the attention of the
guests, from the karaoke music played in the bar —to
her presence.
Her fair skin looked smooth. But make up didn’t cover
all of the little scars on her face.  Her black blouse
and skirt fitted well with her youthful body. Hseng
Hawm is only 20. The dark color of the bar’s red light
on her clothes made her look older and aloof.
According to her, she is a waitress in the bar. As she
sits and talks with the customers, she knew she was
doing more. “I am only doing this as part of my job,”
she told one of the guests who speaks her native

She spoke with confidence. With her head up and a
smile flashing her white teeth, she looked at ease
with what she was doing.
But this didn’t hide her anxiety. She asked to be
excused after an hour of conversation. She explained
that she and the other waitresses have to hide from
the police, who are inspecting the employees of
another bar nearby.
She hurried to an exit door trying not to lose her
poise. In an instant, she was gone.
Noom Hseng, 24, who comes at the bar “from time to
time” said like Hseng Hawm, he also has to run away
from police inspectors. After passing through the
border from Burma, Noom Hseng Sow said his “papers”
allow him only to work in the factory and in
construction sites.
He works at a Shan organization based in Chiang Mai.
He said it has been difficult for him and the likes of
Hseng Hawm to freely live the way they want to.
Everyday, they have to deal with some realities like
fearing the possibility that the police might arrest
them. Their movement is limited.
But Noom Hseng said his difficulty in Chiang Mai is
already heaven to those who are left in his hometown.
“I only realized many things about freedom here, there
are so many good things about life that I did not know
about back there,” he said.
For 29-year old Awn Tai, Noom Hseng’s friend, running
away from the police has already become part of who
they are as a people. They are not only fleeing from
the Thai police. They also have fled from their
homeland. He said they are a generation who runs away
to be free.
Awn Tai is a translator of Shan literature into Thai.
Having been in Thailand for the last 10 years, his
Thai is fluent. Also, he holds a Thai ID card, unlike
Noom Hseng and Hseng Hawm. But he is very much a Shan
in his ways. He said, he longs to go back to Shan
State, someday.
“Life here is difficult, but we want to be free from
poverty and fear, that’s why we are here,” he said.

According to estimates from the Shan Human Rights
Foundation (SHRF) and the Shan Women Action Network
(SWAN) there are at least 150,000 Shan refugees in
Thailand since 1996 up to 2002.
Most of them came from forced relocation sites in
Central Shan State.
In a 2003 study by the SHRF, it was shown that there
is a direct relation between the abuses committed by
the Burmese government in the forced relocation sites
to the number of refugees moving out from those areas.

Hseng Hawm’s family, now in Chiang Mai, came from
Kunghing, an area where most of the refugees came
from. But she doesn’t want to talk about what was left
behind there. While she missed her hometown, she said,
she will not go back there until the situation will
Her 21 year old friend, Mawn, another waitress, said
if she has a choice she would not be in the bar.
“Every night I shed tears of fear, of uncertainty,”
she said. Mawn, who sat with Hseng Hawm at the table
before the police came, said she looks forward to
another day for hope.
Unlike Hseng Hawm, who wants to be a tourist guide,
Merng has her eyes on an ambition.
“I wanted to be a teacher. Since I was a kid and even
up to now I still wanted to be a teacher. I will be a
teacher,” she said.
As a waitress, Merng earns 2, 000 Bt ($50) every month
with free food and bed space. She said she is going to
try her best to earn more money so she could go back
to school.
But Mawn, went up to primary school only way back in
Kehsi, a township in Central Shan State. She knew she
would have a hard time going back to school. But she
said what else she would look up to but her dreams.
Like Mawn, Charm Tong is also a young Shan woman. But
at 24, Charm Tong is probably one of the most
prominent Shan personalities. Her father was a leader
of a resistance group fighting the Burmese military
until his death.
Charm Tong is popular because her effort to help young
migrant Shan people like her to get education and her
contribution in exposing Rangoon’s human rights
violations had been recognized by international award
giving bodies.
She now travels to other countries to share about the
Shan people’s struggle for freedom. She has become an
inspiration to both young and old Shan people in
But Charm Tong came to Thailand when she was 6 inside
a basket with her younger sister on a horse back.  She
has to climb up with difficulties in growing up just
like the other young Shan youth. She attended the
school of a Shan teacher in a village along the
Thai-Burma border.
Now a woman of strength and influence, Charm Tong
flaunts only humility and sincerity. She said growing
in a conflict zone has greatly influenced who she is
Like Charm Tong, Hsai Lao, 24, also saw a turbulent
Burma in his life. But unlike Mawn, he has graduated
from High School. His English is good, thanks to years
of education in an American school in Rangoon.
He is in Thailand to scout for a school that could
offer him a scholarship. While still out of school,
Hsai Lao helps a Shan organization for its English
language works.
As he drove a motorcycle he borrowed from a friend,
Hsai Lao talked about his determination to study no
matter what it takes. “But it has to be in Thailand so
that I could work for Shan organizations at the same
time,” he said.
“I still do not know if I can reach my goal, but I
will do anything to get it,” he said.
Hsai Lao, in one of his reflections in coming out of
Burma, once wrote that he is not like other young
people who go out to other countries to become rich
and never come back.
“I will be back, yes, but I have to have education
from outside. I can help my country more if I am
educated,” he said.

Hsai Lao, Hseng Hawm, Noom Hseng, Awn Tai, Mawn and
Charm Tong, six different young men and women. They
are six images of the Shan youth in Thailand having
different pains and different joys. They have their
own story to tell.
But they all are the same: the youth of a displaced
people — running away from a repressive country.
They have the same language, history and homeland.
And they all look up to something, for one thing, —
a brighter future for themselves and their country.  (Walter Balane in Chiang Mai, Thailand/October 2005)


Beginner’s Random thoughts on running in Malaybalay City

  1. Come to the race to compete only with yourself.
  2. Expect to be laughed at; laugh with them, it’s another exercise.
  3. Stretch your body before running and your limits, too; but do not be suicidal
  4. Prepare for the race and your needs after it, including one more item at the drug store: muscle pain ointment.
  5. Listen to encouragements from friends, ignore negative remarks from ‘friends’
  6. Use water and food to keep you going, not to slow you down
  7. If you can’t run faster, go slow, or walk; but don’t stop.
  8. Dress light and feel light.
  9. Smile, don’t talk, to an acquaintance while running to save breath
  10. Thank God, family, friends before and after running, it counts to be grateful of the gift of the human life.
  11. Run even if there is no race or competition; if you feel good about stepping on the finish line; be aware that the best is yet to come.
  12. Help keep our community peaceful and free so we still have fields, trails, and streets where we can still run.

I made it!

I got these points printed in my mind from the starting line of the 4.2 km. Panahik night run on January 22 up to dinner tonight.

Finally, I was able to write it down.

I’m sure there will be more I can remember later on.

To those who have other thoughts to add, please key it in as a comment. (or make your own list.)

We don’t know, maybe in the future we can write a book about the gift of running in the free streets of our communities!


Pikit stop over: Pamogon coffee break

Pamogon Store
Stall No. 04
Pikit Public Market

For coffee drinkers, a natural choice for a stop over in between Cotabato and Davao cities aside from rest room visits and road side meals, is the Pikit Public Market.

Aside from it being a vibrant and busy market place, it offers Pikit’s famous Pamogon “excelsa” coffee.

We scoured for that ‘aromatic’ redemption and found it for sale in many stalls at P130 per kilo.  

I had been curious about what makes the humble native Pamogon coffee unique. I’ve been drinking this coffee for a while and I wanted to know more about how this was made.

And in this recent trip to Central Mindanao I wanted to know the answers. Read More…

Microview: Military abuse in Ecoland terminal

Where you’re supposed to be safe, you are not.

KB’s presentation in his blog of a passenger’s ordeal with a soldier detailed at the Ecoland Bus Terminal in Davao City is comical.

His style is light and it made use of youtube-famed monicker to appeal for a common touch.

The story he revealed, however, no matter how common, is far from light and comical. It is a type of the excesses committed by those in uniform —-and armed.

In his account, the passenger figured in a spat with the soldier who is a member of the bus terminal security team. The scene was in the entrance to the terminal where soldiers hold passengers for frisking. Read his account here.

Key actions: Loud voices, defiance, arrogance …the list goes on. The outcomes: passenger complained to the soldier’s unit and alerted the media about it. Soldier will be reassigned to god knows where. Read More…

Survival Tips in Traveling Around Mindanao

By Penelope C. Sanz / MindaNews / 5 November 2005
(Republished with permission from the author)

A FEW MONTHS BACK, I wrote about the snorer, spitter, smoker, and pukers in a bus ride. This time, despite needing to pass an academic requirement, here I am writing about how to survive traveling in Mindanao. After a recent trip to Butuan City, I figured I have to sift through my old journals and collate the dos and don’ts of traveling I have listed down at least over 10 years of running around this ‘promising island’.

For starters, the must haves in your survival kit: a shawl, flashlight, loose change or coins, white flower, a plastic bag, a bottle of water, some candies, alcohol, tissue paper.

Never leave home without a shawl. It protects you from dust and the UV rays when you’re on a long habal-habal (motorcycle) ride to nowhere. It is also useful to cover yourself when you need to pee in the middle of nowhere. Shawls also keep you warm when traveling at nighttime especially in airconditioned buses. Bus drivers would tend to turn it on full blast to keep their seats cool because it is where the machine is throbbing. Read More…

Back to Sports in a Davao neighborhood

Today I broke free from a personal myth that I could no longer play basketball. I still can despite gaining weight and this strange feeling of distrust that I couldn’t even last a minute in the court.

We played ball early afternoon, after a hearty lunch of seafoods and grill today in a friend’s place along Jacinto Extension.

I was with a group of photographers visiting a friend to help him up with some academic requisites. While I began to feel envious of their cameras, I entertained myself with mangosteen and luckily another friend invited me out of respetar if I want to play.

How could I refuse. My last streetball game was in 1999, when we all anticipated the coming of the Y2K bug. That was eons ago. Read More…

Davao can do even better!

From Ferdie Ciento: “… I enjoy learning things about Davao and Mindanao. Suggestion lang, kung sana may picture tour din sa famous ninyong Davao International Airport na ma-ifeature dito sa site mo, kita ko kasi ang at maganda ang presentation nila lalo na sa updates about their place including business and tourism prospects. Sana lumago pa ang Istambay sa Mindanao…mabuhay kayo!”

Big Thanks to Ferdie C!

Honestly, I hopped by and I liked the site. It’s maintained by a 19-year old nursing student. It contains beautiful images of Iloilo City, including old churches, malls and their new “airport of international standard.”

Even if, however, I find Iloilo City via exploreiloilo’s appeal surprisingly attractive and also memorable since it was my city from 1994 to 2000, I still think Davao City, can do far better. Read More…