Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Aka boys

Walking quietly up the hill with bamboo shoots in the bags, they made no sounds and I couldn't read their emotions. I spoke a simple Thai hello, had an urge to shop for the goods, but the ridiculous thought of carrying a bamboo shoot in a mountaineering trip stopped me. They didn't speak back. I posed beside them for a photo and oops, I didn't ask for their permission. But how would I know if they had granted me an okay for photo shooting? They didn't speak at all. I felt that I was taking advantage of their silence. How many bamboo shoots could they sell each day and who had sent them up here? I waived a good bye and walked to the car. They seemed to frown a little but perhaps it was just my illusion. I kept turning back to check on them, waiving my arm several times and there they were, standing still, looking at me. They did not move at all. I waived my final good bye before getting into the car, and finally one of them waived back. The gesture melted my heart at that moment. I wanted to make sure that they knew we were leaving and we weren't going back to buy those bamboo shoots. Weren't they supposed to be in school at this time of the day? Were they curious at us too as we were at them? What if I were born an Aka woman? Was this the way I would have raised my children and would I surrender to my fate?

For the rest of the clear day in northern Thailand, these boys' images stayed with me. I wondered what they did and where they went after our brief encounter.


  1. They are so sweet! It's amazing how people respond to simple acts of kindness or even just a stranger who pays them a little bit of attention. I'm glad you got a response.

  2. Hi, Roger, Aka is one of the hilltribes in northern Thailand. Please visit the link in this entry for a brief introduction on hilltribes. Many of them had migrated around China, Laos or Burma before settling in Thailand. I saw them all over the mountains during my trip.

    Hi, MIT, I thought so too. Perhaps they didn't know what to do to respond besides standing still to watch us. For visitors like us, it is difficult to show our joy in meeting them and interest in getting to know them without making them feel too self-conscious.

  3. How fascinating a reflection. If you had visited 12 countries and had one from each country, it would make an interesting journal article. Ah, that is why we blog...someday, someday, we will put our disparate thoughts and adventures in one format. Good to see that you care for those little ones. I thought the same thing when in Chiang Mai December 18th and a little Burmese girl sold me some jewelry and other things to take home. We negotiated a big but not too much.

  4. Thanks, Curt. Never thought of turning these thoughts into an article. I've tried to separte job-related writing with my personal life. You know how much I suffer in the Taiwanese academia. But that is an interesting suggestion for sure. Where did you run into the little girl in Chiang Mai?