Mong Pan Town
Mong Pan literally translates to the "City of Moving Around." Local people tell the story that when visitors come to Mong Pan, they find it very difficult to leave both because they become attached, and because it's very complicated to do so. There are many festivals in the township throughout the year, and until now people remain generous.
Located in Southern Shan State, Mong Pan township is around 33 miles from the Thanlwin River, which people in Mong Pan call Nam Khong. Shan people are the majority ethnic group here, but there are also Pa-oh, Pa-laung, Lisu and Burmese living together. The majority of people are Buddhist in the community, but there are also Christians. Mong Pan town lies at quite a few crossroads, making it an important location for exchange of trade, culture and ideas.
Mong Pan township used to be a very beautiful place. It is surrounded by mountains, and in the past had a river flowing through the heart of the township. The river, sadly, is now more because the water has been blocked upstream by a military camp. The township used to be formed of 80 villages, but since 1996 it was forcibly combined by the Myanmar government at the time into 20 villages.
The majority of people depend equally on many different types of non-timber products from the forest, together with agriculture, in particular subsistence rice growing. Their main income is from growing garlic, which is exported to Thailand across the border. There are many teak trees across the area located within deep forest. There are many different specifies of wildlife there too. These too are under threat from logging companies,
In this town you will also find the Mong Pan Youth Association, created to empower the youth of the region and to train new generations to have a more active role in building peace and sustainable development, particularly after many decades of internal, often violent, conflict. The Association focuses on education and capacity building activities, that will prepare inspired youth to then go out into their own communities and work together to make meaningful impact and practical change.
Illustration by Rujira Sirimongkol
Once upon a time, a farmer was out tending to his field early in the morning. He saw a white horse in his field eating his crops so he ran up to it and tried to chase it away but it did nothing to deter the horse from continuing to eating his crops. A mysterious man yelled out from afar, trying to get the farmer's attention. He reached the farmer, huffing and panting and apologised to the farmer, informing him that the white horse was his. The farmer was quite angry as the horse ate quite a bit of his crops. The horse's owner asked if he could compensate the farmer in any way, but the farmer was too angry to think of anything so the horse owner told him that he did not have anything on him at all. The farmer asked if the man had any money but the horse's owner told him that he has no money so he offered him a bag of the horse's manure and told him that it could be used for the next batch of crops. The farmer snatched the bag and walked away as he was about to explode. He went home and told his wife about the man and the white horse. He told his wife that he couldn't believed what that horse owner was thinking and how outrageous it was to offer him a bag of manure. His wife told him to calm down and to pass the bag to her. She opened the bag and what she saw was not manure but a few clumps of gold. She was in awe as her husband continued to ramble on about the audacity of the horse owner. She told him to shut up and passed the bag to him. The farmer opened the bag and ran out of the house, back to the field where he had encountered the horse. His wife caught up to him and saw nothing but an empty field.
Visiting Upper Myanmar
Presently, certain areas in Myanmar are still restricted for foreigners to visit including Mongpan, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the beauty of upper Myanmar.
A good place to start would be Mandalay, the former capital, full of rich heritage and breath-taking architecture. There's an international airport there where multiple airlines now fly into daily and it is also accessible by land via buses from many cities.
From here, there are many options for one to explore. Taunggyi, the Shan state's capital to the east. Indawgyi Lake in Kachin state to the north or infamous Bagan to the west, home to a once grand empire, now known for the thousands of crumbling stupas and temples left behind.
by Sai Aung Nawe Oo
This is the first film we have ever made so the learning curve was quite steep. We learned a lot about the production process on the go, from finding subjects, editing, and shooting. In our village, not many people wanted to talk in front of the camera because they were shy.
I wanted to make this film because I wanted to tell people about my town, the dam and how it will affect our livelihoods. I wanted to explore the relationship between division of labour and gender.
This film was shown at the 2016 and 2017 Greater Mekong Forum but I've recently edited this version specifically for Salween Stories.
The rain started to fall as I stepped into the cab outside the Mandalay International Airport. My phone buzzed as I've received a text from Sai Aung Nawe Oo or Ice (his Thai nickname as we conversed in Thai, our shared mutual language) telling me that he has arrived at the hostel in downtown Mandalay from Mong Pan via an overnight bus. The cab driver told me that the drive would be about 45mins to an hour as the airport is quite far from downtown. I texted Ice back and told him that we should meet up in an hour at the lobby. The monsoon rain kicked in even harder as a few motorbikes pulled over underneath the trees alongside the road.
Over the next few days, I spent my time with Ice to learn about his life, from fleeing to Thailand in his late youth to his dream on becoming a documentary filmmaker.
Ice was born in Mong Pan, Myanmar. His childhood was marred by a lengthy period of fighting between Tai Yai ethnic group and the Myanmar military government. He told me that when he was young, gunshots could be heard nearly everyday and the closest fighting that broke out was merely 4 miles away from his village. It was not until he was 15 years old that his family decided that it would be best to send him to Thailand as it was deemed unsafe for a boy his age to be growing up there due to the risk of the Tai Yai army recruiting him or him being abused by the Myanmar Army. He said that he was lucky as his family had a relative that was staying in Chiang Mai so one morning, he was put on a bus to Mae Sai, Chiang Rai to begin the next chapter of his life.
Ice arrived in Chiang Mai informally, as to get legal permits would have taken too long and his family was fearful for his safety so they decided that it'd be best to move him out as soon as possible. Ice stayed with his relative for a few months until he got his paperwork sorted out. It was a difficult time for him as he didn't speak the language and this is the first time he's ever been away from his home and family. He felt alienated and alone.
"The landline was very expensive, there wasn't internet or 3G at my parent's home. If I missed them and wanted to see them, I'd ask my friends to take a photo of them and send it over to me via courier" he said. The crossing wasn't as smooth for everyone, some had to embark on the journey on their own because they couldn't afford "the service," while others were less fortunate and paid the wrong people who disappeared with their hard-earned money.
After a few months, he landed himself his first job at a textile store in Chiang Mai. He studied hard while not working to learn how to read and write Thai. He told me that the Thai northern dialect is quite similar to Tai Yai but common Thai is much harder to learn. He said, "I really like Pu Pongsit and Bodyslam, so a lot of the time I'd listen to their songs and learn the lyrics." At one point when he felt like his boss was a bit mean to him, he would go back to his room and listen to a song called "Samor" by Pu Pongsit. "I felt like no matter who we are, we should be treated equally and my boss at that time didn't give me the respect I deserved." He grinned a little saying " Even though I was really useless and I think my boss had all the rights to criticise me."
After a few years Ice and his family decided that it would be safe enough for him to come back to Mong Pan. "I ended up working as an accountant at Mong Pan Youth Association. I did really enjoy crunching numbers." He shifted in his seat and continued "But I think my calling has always been in photography and making films." Ice is now working as a filmmaker at Mong Pan Youth Association and produced the film above. "I want to get my films into film festivals around the world, I want to show people my town and our stories." He smiled through his red teeth as the paan (betel) he chewed earlier left its stain on his teeth.
A huge thanks to:
This story wouldn't have been possible without these amazing people:
- Sai Aung Nawe Oo and his Mong Pan Youth Association Team.