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Tai Yai tribal culture in Mae Hong Son, and long neck Karen at Thai-Burmese border

Brigham Young University Dancers’ Company enthralls Chiang Mai audience

Tai Yai tribal culture in Mae Hong Son, and long neck Karen at Thai-Burmese border

Saksit Meesubkwang

Normally, when one talks about Mae Hong Son, most people think of a dried-out border town and rough roads far away from the modern world. Nevertheless, Mae Hong Son people are kind and honest, and include different cultures of Tai Yai merging Burmese culture, Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Lisu, Palong or long neck Karen and Karen Ka Ya, most of them having escaped battles and suppression in Burma. They have their own unique cultures, all equally interesting.

These two pagodas merge Tai Yai tribe and Burmese styles.

Primary residents of Mae Hong Son are Tai Yai tribes who moved to Thailand at the time of World War II; with a culture like the Burmese, which is reflected in pagoda styles, temples, houses, and the way they dress. They also use a similar alphabet, except that language is different; however, the elders still speak Burmese.

Young long neck Karen girls.

Mae Hong Son’s history reveals that it was an independent city, and its first king was Chan Ga-le or Phaya Sinhanad Racha, who reigned from 1874-1884. The city is located near Burma and its abundance enticed the Burmese to attack it several times but they were repulsed until the Thai king occupied it to protect the city, whereupon it became a province of Thailand rather than of Burma.

Mae Hong Son is well known as a tourist destination, and its main income derives from tourism. Most of the tourist attractions are natural such as caves and waterfalls or modified natural tourism such as elephant trekking and bamboo rafting.

The oldest woman of this long neck Karen village.

The Doi Kong Moo Temple and Jong Kham Temple are both famous temples of the province. The construction of the two temples was undertaken in Tai Yai and Burmese style; Buddha images are from Burma, and monks speak the Tai Yai language.

You can move on to visit a fresh market offering some goods from the wild. Afterwards, drive from the city to Baan Huay Dua port about four kilometers, for a boat trip on the Pai River, and visit a long neck Karen tribe village that is nine kilometers from the Thai-Burmese border. A two hour drive to the village will cost you 80 baht for the mini bus and you can enjoy the scenery along the way. At the village you will see long neck Karen tribe women wearing brass rings around their resultantly deformed necks. There are 100,000 visitors, both Thai and foreign, per year, especially during the winter season.

Long neck Karen dolls are sold to tourists and children will pester visitors for 20 baht to take a photograph with them. Then, boat down for four kilometers to a police station on the border to visit an air raid shelter. A policeman told us that the police station used to be attacked by unknown militia, thence the air raid shelter was made to protect from unexpected events such as a shell landing on your head, and it later developed into a tourist attraction!

Most temples in Mae Hong Son feature Burmese style.

A boat landing to visit a long neck Karen tribe village, only nine kilometers away from Burma.

Fishing during summer in Pai River.

A big rock along Pai River side.

Fresh market in the evening displaying products from the jungle.

Not signing cooperation, but visitors can leave their comments and signatures in this ‘guest book’.

A Ranger assisting a foreign tourist, explaining how far the border is away from this point.

Brigham Young University Dancers’ Company enthralls Chiang Mai audience

Michael and Marion Vogt

Although Chiang Mai’s Ballet aficionados are well taken care of by local and renowned Ballet schools, they miss out on modern dance acts. Last weekend, however, they had a very special treat and, not surprisingly, the Kad Theater was almost filled to capacity.

English language MC of the evening Cheryl Penney, H.S.H. Prince Bhisadej Rajani and company, event organizer Linda Buck and the Thai MC of the night, Miss Aom.

To raise funds for the Chiang Mai School Cricket Alliance and Zonta’s School Funding for orphans, Linda Buck, Cheryl Penny and ML Preeyapun Sridhavat, the artistic Director of the Chiangmai Ballet Academy, organized the performance of “The Ugly Duckling through the Four Seasons”, staged by Chiangmai Ballet Academy plus “Imaginaire”, performed by the 16 member ensemble from The Dancers’ Company of Brigham Young University, Utah, USA.

Flowers from (center) H.S.H. Prince Bhisadej for (left) artistic director Rebecca Wright Philipps and representative of the BYU Dancers Michelle Nielsen and (right) artistic director for the Ugly Duckling and dance workshop organizer ML Preeyapun Sridhavat and American Coordinator Jonathan Wood.

“The Ugly Duckling” was the ‘warm up’ for the audience and was inspired by the 200 year old Hans Christian Andersen tale. Both Tchaikovsky’s classic music and the more upbeat rhythms of today created an up-to-date mix, performed by our local dancers. After only one week of intense practice, the audience, including HSH Prince Bhisadej Rajani and members of the diplomatic corps, thoroughly enjoyed the high standards they are now accustomed to see from the local cast.

Pure comedy! Using crutches to push themselves through space to the strains of Mozart and poke fun at the ever so serious classical dancers.

Artistic Director Rebecca Wright Philipps, on behalf of the whole Brigham Young University ensemble, expressed her delight to be here in Chiang Mai, and was sincerely surprised to see so many people in the audience. The program was divided into two show blocks, and included a vibrant mix of music, comedy, acrobatic, and the “classic” art of ballet.

Very much appreciated was the bi-lingual explanation, as it was possible for the Thai and the foreign audience to follow the scripts and understand the meaning behind the program, which went much deeper than just visual entertainment. The 16 member ensemble sent a message with each dance, beginning with ‘Genesis’ and images of light, led to an intimate duo performance about companionship and included a comic approach, much to the delight of the children. Part two started with a piece called ‘Steppin 2005’, an American version of the Irish ‘River Dance’, but Irish music was replaced by a combination of African rhythms, funk, blues and rap. Rap has its roots in the South African gum boot dances and migrated to American soil, adopting new movements and cultural changes.

To ‘warm up’ the audience Chiangmai Ballet Academy showed their version of “The Ugly Duckling”.

The only letdown was that the organizers did not leave time for an intermission between the two parts as the young and older audience members found 150 minutes is quite long to sit still, even for a non stop quality program.

Nevertheless, the cheering and applause after each show was thunderous and a huge “Thank you” goes out to all involved, for bringing world-class educational family entertainment to Chiang Mai. The performance enhanced the culture of our city and will help the Chiang Mai School Cricket Alliance and Zonta’s School Funding for orphans.

‘From Our Valleys’ was the name of the dance, dedicated to all individuals who survived America’s Great Depression in the 1930s.

‘Disintegration’, a dance with yet another message as it showed the deterioration of society with the dancers moving in perfect unison and gradually moving toward chaos.

A showstopper when the artists created hilarious shapes with foam mattresses and danced frenetically. Kad theatre was roaring with laughter.

The pioneering spirit, the waiting for rain, and unity at the end, all with traditional folk hymns in the background.

Rolling and leaping off mini trampolines onto foam mattresses.

Give me wings! The most elegant dance at the end with pieces of material floating with the same grace as the artists.