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Shan New Year in Chiang Mai

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As a part of the course trans-border studies, we went to Wat Kutao in Chiang Mai where Shan’s New Year festival was taken place and celebrated by Shan Literature and Cultural Committee to practice participant observation method. Shan, a sub-group of Tai ehnic group of Southeast Asia, primarily live in the Shan State of Burma (Myanmar). However, The Shan have been engaged in an intermittent civil war within Burma for decades. During conflicts, the Shan are often burned out of their villages and forced to flee into Thailand.

There, they are not given refugee status, and often work as undocumented labourers (wiki).

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Some of Shan people I interviewed have transbordered to the border of Thai and Burma in Weing Heng (close to Golden Triangle) around 20 years ago and from there some have lived in Chiang Mai. Their culture has lots in common with Lanna culture of Chiang Mai city both in term of language and geography. According to estimate, today, in Chiang Mai province alone, Shan migrants make up one-sixth of total Chiang Mai population, of around 150,00 in the city, with the population of one million.

To know more about Shan people in Chiang Mai, We were assigned with different tasks.

My friend Molika was assigned of observing the concert and stage performance to understand the expression of identity, including interview the audience about the aspect of Shan concert, Shan identity as it is performed on stage. Faey was taken charged of Exhibition – what kind of history they exhibit, how the audience view it, what the organizer want to display. Suan’s responsibility was to Interview 3-4 audience, trying to understand who they are, what they think about living and working in Thailand, what do they like about Shan new year here, what are the differences of Shan new year here and at home, how they came to the new year.

I myself was responsible of space inside the temple – food, commodity, Shan goods that are sold inside the festival, including observation and interviews with people, sellers. As planned, we went together to the Wat Kutao gate at around 7. 30p. m 14th, December of 2012. Shan people also might celebrate this festival elsewhere separately, however, this place was the biggest one and attracted almost of Shan people population in Chiang Mai. The overall landscape in front of the gate that time was just fairly crowed and not many people showed their traditional clothes caused by being the last day of this celebration.

The participants as we saw are almost young at around the ages of 20 to less than 40. They normally went with peer friends, boyfriends, girlfriends who are working as migrant workers with them in working places like factories, construction or plantations. At this indoor gate, we bought tickets to go inside. There were several Thai polices standing around to ensure the security during the festival. Anyone wearing belt had to take it off in case of being used as a weapon.

Going inside, I saw many shops around the guard of the pagoda in Shan style, there was one place for exhibition, one stage for modern Shan singers’ performance and one for traditional performance. As my assignment was to observe shop owners and sellers, I spent most of my time near shops of several kinds: Shan foods accounting for majority of numbers. The second ranking was clothes (majority is traditional clothes). Next was CDs shops and some shops for game play of entertainment. There was only one shop of traditional medicine, cosmetic and dry food.

Together with my friend Chai Thong as translator, I was quite interested in the owner of this shop while he was selling something with his wife and two small children. His name is…, 44 years old now, was born and living in Weingheng, the border of Thai and their family all have citizenship of Thailand. It was quite far for them to travel from there to Chiang Mai but they just sell those kinds of things once a year for the New Year festival. His frequent job is driver and sometimes a farmer together with his wife working almost of the time at home and farming field to bring up 5 children.

On average they can earn total of 16,000 Baht per month (including 5,000 baht of his wife). The reason he chose to sell those items was to gain more benefits and can restore them for longer time. Those products were transferred from Shan State. During the time standing there, I saw his costumers are almost of ladies visiting to his shop for traditional cosmetic. By chance, talking with a young Shan woman of around 20 years old, I knew that 20 of her friends who are living and working with her as ironing workers in the factory of textile in CM also still use this kind of cosmetic every day.

There are only around 10 people who use Thai cosmetic products. She looks nice and friendly and didn’t wear traditional cloth. She said that because of the high price of the traditional custom of around 1,400 Baht/each, she couldn’t afford to buy. Of her friends, only 6 to 7 people have to wear. Moving to a traditional cloths shop, I met another friendly shop owner. Her name is…, 54 years old. Her family moved to Pang Long, Weing Heng about 20 years ago since the conflict in Shan State, Burma. At the early days, she earned her living by selling noodle or working as temporary contract worker. It was such a difficult time and I didn’t have enough money for my children” she said. It was only 10 years ago when she started to run this business. That was also the time when her husband passed away, leaving to her 2 daughters. They altogether design and make those clothes by their own hands. This work takes time and need much of detail paying attention, leading to a quite expensive price for each product from minimum of 1,000 Baht. Sometimes they need to cooperate with other workers for specific details or decoration for the products. Their average monthly income of 3 family members from this business is around 30,000 Baht.

She has a permanent shop in Pang Long where about haft of Shan population is doing the same business like her. This was only her temporary shop for the festival. Her frequent costumers are mostly Shan, Akha people, sometimes Chinese and Thai. A frequent Shan woman custom may buy one cloth every year. When talking with her, I met a very interesting custom who comes from US, living in CM for 2 years. She is 73 years old, working as voluntary English teacher of best friend library organization for Shan people. This also was her first time attending this festival. There was about 9 p. now and I felt very hungry. We moved to a food court to try some Shan food. Almost of the food are Shan traditional one, there were just some mixed with Thai style. The owner of the food court where I tried was a Shan man, working as a cook and his wife as a food seller. They don’t have any stable restaurant but move around night markets in the city every week for this business. Their customers normally are Shan, many of them working as construction workers around Chiang Mai. One night like this, they can earn total of 1000 Bath. They are living in Chiang Mai now.

Their children are studying and having Thai citizenship. He has moved here for about 28 year and already has had Thai citizenship. Relevant to Shan traditions and culture, CDs shops also made me fascinated by. There were about 6 CDs shops in total. The shop was shown in the picture is the biggest one. CD products of this shop are varied from traditional Shan music, contemporary Shan music, Burmese music to Thai music, Thai movie and Hollywood movies with Thai subtitle. The other 5 shops left displayed majority and variety of Shan songs and documentary films about conflicts in Shan State.

In general, the customers seemed to choose modern Shan songs (singing about love… in Shan language) and many of them still have a strong sense of listening songs in Shan language even they can speak Burmese or Thai. My reflections: Shan people in CM still have a strong link/relationship with Shan in origin of Burma in term of commodity come from, the representation of Shan symbolic culture in commodities they use and information in Burma what they concern about. After reading two papers of Ajarn Amporn, I have a stronger sense of this link between Shan people in Chiang Mai and in Burma through mass media onsumption of CD, VCD on Shan music and documentary about conflict of Shan and Burmese Armies that is difficult to them to access to in their nation og home land, have influenced dramatically on what is called Shan nation pride on Shan in Chiang Mai. Moreover, with the support through Thai media policy, Shan mass media programs such as radio program is also disseminated more to mass population of Shan in Chiang Mai, giving them a negotiation space for both their army in Burma and contact with outsider world such as international organizations and claim for support from them. 1.

Technique questions: when, where, how, why, what? Eg: Exhibition: What? Representation of Shan: the past, presence absent because of politics, past-map territory, heroes in the sense of knowledge, royal, political people, culture, housing, food, clothes (21 Tai rares…), text book to represent language, old politic books. When?… Where? At temples?… How? Absence + presense Why? Need to organize this exhibition: they want to use different flatform to show culture to audience, youth, others including Thai people… (they have others in their mind) => afraid of Shan culture is going to be lost.

Who invest the money… Shan education and culture Audience: young, new interactive Absent of Burmese… 1958 after 10 years of the Banlong agreement between the Army Government and rebel group of Shan insurgency, Burmese State broke the promise. Policy of divided and ruled, Buddishm grand to be budh to rule shan state without convincing send to tax to the rule, they remain independence. To join hand in Balong agreement to fight the British colonism. Who are imagined audiences topic 3: concerts: 1.

Stage: space arrangement, singers tradition, Shan letter, Thai flag, Shan State flag/script. 2. Activities: traditional dance/art Modern songs: Singers from Burma, they are Shan, and some from CM. What’s happened in the first day of the festival??? Thai authority came to open this ceremony. What kind of msm they send out to this audience. New year Eve: What did they do? The same as Thai do or not? They celebrating Shan custom in the first day? 3. Message of the DJ keeps saying all the time? He is a part of the organizer. How they reacted? 4. Audience: * Reaction * Interview: Who got a lot of support, photos from mobile, brand name of fone=> modernity, use all senses: eyes, ears, smell… * Public sphere: People who come to join: what they think about politics… everything. When you want to transnational public sphere. Commodity…tend to celebrate the migrants they challenge the boundary states. Celebrate it because it is the space outside the country. Celebrating power of migrants. Public sphere has a lot of actors involved, have a lot of brokers who organized and Thai State. There are different actors involved to different interests…

Cite this Shan New Year in Chiang Mai

Shan New Year in Chiang Mai. (2016, Oct 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/shan-new-year-in-chiang-mai/

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