Maesai: The Dead and the Dying

Written by Travel

Posted from: Chiang Mai, Thailand

“Bob” and I drove forty-five minutes in the wrong direction based on the the strength of his intuition, though he’d never been to Maesai. It was around six in the morning, and he and I were day tripping to the Burmese border town on a motorbike to get our Visas renewed. Every month I make the pilgrimage up there, 4 hours up, one hour wandering the stalls and fending off the roaming cigarette peddlers, and 4 hours back. Until now, I’ve always taken the bus, and when Bob suggested going up on a motorbike, I welcomed the break in the monotony.

The trip started out well enough. On the outskirts of Chiang Rai in the middle of nowhere there is a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms whose mascot is, you guessed it, a smiling cartoon condom touting the benefits of hygienic cooking and safe sex. We didn’t stop as we should have, both of us too aghast at the happy little contraceptive proclaiming: “CABBAGES AND CONDOMS, 300 M!” You think I’m kidding. On the way up there are also numerous other diverting stops, gorgeous views of Thai jungles and farms, and roadside sticky-rice vendors. What more do you need, really?

We’d been going for about 3 hours and had just gotten set back on track by a vivacious paint shop proprietress when the bike started wobbling out of control and the only thing that had time to occur to me was that at our then current speed of 90kph, a crash was imminent. The world went white. I remember being upside-down at one point, but when my mind caught up with my body I was sprawled in a ditch below the roadside, several layers of skin scraped off one arm and the opposite shoulder, stunned and mumbling “help… help…” at a gathering group of farmer children. My legs wouldn’t move.

One peasant woman whose face I can’t recall held my head in her hands and seemed to be doing nothing more than holding my skull together. When she let go, my head had cleared enough that I could stand, and I had stopped talking to myself. Not that an online journal is usually heaven’s messenger or anything, but if deities take note of blogged prayers, may someone please send that woman the blessings I was too thrown to offer myself. I didn’t catch her name. I didn’t know where we were. I didn’t give her anything. I think I might regret that for some years.

Surrounded by a crowd of helpful Thais, a truck was quickly hailed and we were ushered off to the hospital where we watched a man our age die despite the best efforts of the hospital staff, his body changing color from brown to yellow and then to green. His mother sat in a tearful stupor across from us, and I cast around in vain for some gesture that would comfort her until I realized the best thing I could do was stay out of it.

Having come that far, we made the border run as soon as we were discharged, people staring and beggar children standing uncertainly several paces off as we limped, bound up and scraped, towards the checkpoints. I’d lost half the skin on my back, and the air was so humid, I kept sweating my bandages off and rivulets of blood leaked down my back. But a day late across the border meant deportation, and there really wasn’t anything for it. As we waited to cross into Maesai, a Burmese-Thai goodwill parade of dancers passed through, spinning and cheerful – incongruity I’m hard-put to describe. Our cuts re-opened as we wandered through the Burmese stalls, staring glassy-eyed at the endangered animal pelts. No, we did not want a cheetah skull. No, we did not want to buy automatic weapons. Thanks, but no.

We came back through and strapped our broken bike to the back of a songtheaw (truck taxi) and paid the equivalent of 4 round trips to Maesai to be hauled back home. On the way, it began to rain, and as we turned a corner, we came across a bus accident that had yet to be cleared up – it must have happened moments before. Two dead children and one dead man were strewn over the road curled and twisted in streaked puddles of blood.

I’d seen bodies at a funeral, but I’d never seen the brutal act of dying. We like to think we’ve seen enough gruesome battle scenes and B-horror flicks to be immune to the shock of death, but I’ve learned otherwise. Violent, untimely death breaks the windshield of your soul and you’re driving blind, sense of spacelessness, blinking, on a causeway.

Later that night, Tom tried to take my mind off the carnage and took me, gaping shoulder wound and all, to the movies. I couldn’t lean back in the chairs. “I heard Passion of Christ is good… and it’s the only thing in English.”

My heart needs a hot cup of tea.