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Running out of time and money after 3 weeks in Thailand we opted for a day tour out of Chiang Mai to see a few wats & visit the Karen ('long neck') tribe in Chiang Dao. By this point in our travels in Thailand we’d become dubious that we’d find anything ‘authentic’ but somehow hoped visiting tribespeople might give us something real to cling to. When we finally got there the village was set up as a series of stalls to sell things. Kinda like the tourist areas in Bankok. And Chiang Mai. And other places. They sold us a lot of 'handmade' things. The same 'handmade' things sold to us in Bangkok. And Railay. And Phi Phi. Made by 'my mother'. The scarves were being handmade right there in front of your eyes, which was unique. Booth after both of women competing for sales with identical merchandise (Bangkok…etc) left me feeling little more than guilt. Some of the tribes/sales people seemed to thirve off of it. Some were aggressive. Others, the ones that stung the most, looked at us with pity. I took very few shots there as the entire set up was made for it. (Call me a subvert, but I don’t like taking pictures of things I’m ‘sposta) & I felt like I’d been had. Just like Thai culture has been had. I asked one of the young ladies selling stuff if I could take her photo. She looked like she hated her job (Thai culture rep/salesperson) & felt as uncomfortable as I did. She couldn’t have been more than 15 and she looked at me with such pity. The look in her eyes said ‘you need this don’t you, tourist?’. I took one shot of her & just stopped. I shook my head a bit, said ‘khorp koon kap’ and looked at her as if to tell her I was sorry. Perhaps it’s my wounded ego consoling itself but I think we shared one of those ‘I know’ moments. The ones that transcend language & speak with the understanding of a long held look. A moment of mutual pity & forgiving.
The rest of my busmates snapped away, oblivious to the two-sided swindle they were partaking in. I bought a scarf for my mum from a woman who was weaving them & got on the bus saddened that there is nothing left on the planet that doesn’t have a price tag on it.
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