Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No Soccer This Week

About a month ago, the Burmese in the area put together a soccer team. They approached us foreigners and urged us to put together a team as well. We did, and we've been playing every saturday. We lose by less and less each time!

The Burmese asked us, because the Thais wouldn't play them.

But this week, the Thai military government made a law that does not allow more than 5 foreigners to gather together in public. They said "foreigners", but they meant Burmese. And so no more soccer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

My Chop-Sockey Love Affair

My love of kung fu movies began in the mid-70s. In the days before DVDs and VCRs, this meant going down to now-defunct Chinatown movie houses like the Pearl, the Shaw, and the Golden Harvest.

As a seven year old, I marvelled at the seemingly superhuman abilities of performers such as Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, Philip Kwok, and, of course, Bruce Lee (already elevated to legendary status just a few years after his death). Thirty years later, I have clear memories of their amazing speed, agility, and precision. I also remember that back then, they were the only people on a movie screen who looked liked me.

The Five Vengeances is my theatrical homage to the heroes of my youth. It is a free adaptation of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy now retold in the style of a kung fu movie. The Five Vengeances retains the Jacobean flavour of the original play and adds high-flying kicks and chop-sockey sound effects performed live as our actors fight on-stage.

It should come as no surprise that Jacobean tragedy and kung fu fighting form a harmonious union. First, revenge is a central element in both forms of storytelling. In plays such as The Spanish Tragedy, The Changeling, and The Jew of Malta; and films such as The Five Deadly Venoms, The Crippled Avengers, and The Bride with White Hair, we see recurring themes of vengeance, betrayal, murder, and cruelty.

Also, kung fu cinema lends itself well to stage adaptation because it actually derives from theatrical forms. Chinese opera typically presents great feats of athleticism, acrobatics, and martial arts. Many Hong Kong kung fu stars emerged from the ranks of Peking opera rather than through fighting schools. Legends such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Corey Yuen were all disciples of Master Yu Jim Yuen at the Peking Opera School in Hong Kong. Though Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun at an academy, his father was a Cantonese Opera star.

Here’s why I love the conceit of using kung fu conventions on stage: it allows one to present extraordinary people with extrordinary conflicts. In the beginning, all theatre was like this. We wrote about exclusively about gods and heroes and how they warred with other gods and heroes. Centuries later, we figured out that ordinary people could have extraordinary problems and that’s what we wrote about. Fast forward a few more hundred years, and the age of naturalism was born where we wrote about ordinary people with ordinary problems.

With The Five Vengeances, I’ve attempted to return to a mythological world where people can be propelled through the air, bare hands can stop swords, and virtue can defy insurmountable odds to conquer evil. Our heroes and villains all have extraordinary powers and their conflicts are literally life-and-death affairs.

If this adaptation is starting to sound somewhat earnest, rest assured that The Five Vengeances retains what good ol’ Wikipedia calls “the earthy—even obscene—style, irreverent tone, and grotesque subject matter that typifies Middleton’s comedies”.

If you enjoy kung fu movies, Jacobean Tragedy, Grand Guignol, or you basically like your drama over-the-top (like Knots Landing, for example), come and check out Cahoots’ workshop presentation of The Five Vengeances. The details of when and where are below.

It’s got kung fu, it’s got sex, it’s got Englebert Humperdinck. What more could you ask for?

Humber Theatre in association with Cahoots Theatre Projects
presents a workshop presentation of


directed by Guillermo Verdecchia & Jovanni Sy
composer/sound design by Richard Feren
fight choreography by Richard Lee & Kara Wooten
set design by Jackie Chau
lighting design by Bonnie Beecher
costume design by Sarah Armstrong
choreography by Anita Majumdar

Humber Studio Theatre
Lakeshore Campus, Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive
(Kipling Avenue south of Lake Shore Boulevard West)

Performance dates and times:

Tue Nov 28 @ 8pm
Wed Nov 29 @ 8pm
Thu Nov 30 @ 8pm
Fri Dec 1 @ 8pm
Sat Dec 2 @ 2pm
Sat Dec 2 @ 8pm

Please call (416) 675-6622 x 3080 to reserve tickets

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Conversations with Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand

Earlier this week I visited my Burmese friend Atcha – she works at the human rights office for the Burmese (Grassroots) up the road. I’d interviewed her because I wanted to understand the situation in Burma. When I visited her this week I asked if there were other people who I might be able to talk with. She told me I could come along on Wednesday (today), because she was going to survey migrant workers about why they left Burma, as part of a report for the UN.

I slept in, unfortunately, because I have a terrible cough that keeps me up at night, but goes away after the sun rises, allowing me to sleep well into the morning. Pal, a friend from Australia who speaks exactly the same language as me when it comes to doing this sort of work (and is completing a fascinating degree in social inquiry) called me and woke me up, asking where I was. I got on my bike and rushed to the centre. We forgot that we were working in Thai time though… and our 10am pick up happened at about 130.

It was a long road trip, and Pal and I weren’t even sure where we were going or what we’d accomplish during the day… could we even ask questions to the workers or did they not speak English? Would Atcha and Pupu be willing to translate for us – to support our research – or would we listen in on their work? We didn’t really care what would happen. On the drive down, we asked a lot of questions about Burma…

Then we got on this road… and I thought, holy smokes, I have never been on a road like this in a place like this. We were going into the rubber plantation. The road was bumpy as hell and lasted 10 minutes, weaving and winding, and very possible to go over the edge. I trusted our driver – even though I never introduced myself to him the whole day, never made eye contact, never said hi… he kept to his role. He took off his shades at one point in the day and I sort of saw his eyes and face in the rear view mirror.

So our first stop was the little protected community in the middle of the rubber plantation. There was a learning centre there (a tiny outdoorish building) on the top of a hill. Kids inside. Two teachers, each teaching from opposite sides of the class on white boards that didn’t really erase. They were cool teachers though, making the kids laugh and stuff. But didn’t mind stopping class to do the surveys with Pupu. Atcha and Pal and I went into one of the homes and sat on the floor with a mother. Atcha said we could interview her and she would translate for us. It was fun – people came in and out, giving us pepsi, hanging out listening in on the window sill, in the doorway.

We didn’t ask her name… She is from Mandali and has been in Thailand for 4 years. Back in Burma she worked for a small company, but the salary was too small to support her family. Her and her husband contacted someone about coming to Thailand. Here, she saves her money and sends it to Burma. She wants to go back to Burma, and hopefully will in about one year – when she saves enough money. Here, she works as a teacher, and her husband works on the rubber plantation.

Her journey to Thailand should have taken 1 week, but they were halted in ktown (lookup?) for a month. Their broker took their 6000B and took off, without completing his side of the deal, so they needed to work odd jobs in this border city before they could pay another broker to take them. They crossed in a boat to Ranong with 10 other people. It was about 6 months after they arrived in Thailand that they were able to contact their family to let them know that they arrived safely and were working in Thailand.

We tried to ask her about the political situation in Burma, but she didn’t really understand. She talked about forced labour that was happening to men in her village for road and dam construction, but it was hard to grasp if this was happening to people she knew… She came for higher wages – economic reasons. She says that now she is in Thailand, she can see that there are problems with the way of life in Burma. She says that here, even the poor people have tvs. She can see the standard of living is really nice here, and she said that now she can see that Burma needs international help, and needs a democracy.

I looked around her place at that point. It’s a tin can with a concrete floor – but it did have a tv, huge speakers, loads of cds, a vcd player, a jug of clean drinking water, a religious shrine, nicely decorated. Paper posters up on the wall – of weird things! Pop stars, I think. Haha!

Her and her husband are illegal – as are most of the migrant workers – and so they stay in this little community in the rubber plantation. They have safety here – their thai employer has a responsibility for them. I asked if they have any community with the Thai people and it seems that she feels a safety with the thai manager – but the Burmese and thai don’t work the same job. No thai person works the same jobs as the Burmese on the rubber plantation – the thais are the managers. She said the work is very hard. They work 7-11, lunch 11-12, then again 12-3, and it’s difficult work. Her work in Burma was easier, she said, in an office, but the wages were not nearly as good. Here, men make 140B/day, and women 130B/day (and don’t get me started on lower for wages for women is apparently ok  ). In Burma, she was paid 2000Jaz/day but would spend it all. Here, she can save half of her wages. I gather they are quite lucky with their manager. The girls have been telling me that there exist serious problems for the migrant workers in Thailand because they are not always given their wages… and if they stop showing up to work because they aren’t getting paid, their managers call the police – and then they are deported back to Burma. Common procedure.

She has a cute daughter who had mixed emotions about the pepsi we were putting in her mouth. Her mother said she wanted her daughter to go back to Burma, and go to school.

We said thank you in Burmese when we left, and everyone got a big kick out of that! Haha! Gi su timaray!

I started to feel like the work at Grassroots is totally valuable because it’s about human rights. And so often here at the tsunami volunteer centre we all question our position as westerners here helping… are we imposing western solutions… all sorts of questions… but I think when it comes to human rights, there is no such thing as a cultural division to look out for.

Back in the truck we started we all got a little goofy ‘cause we were all trying to speak Thai. Realized I’ve got a lot in common with the Burmese… we neither of us can speak Thai! It does rather show the power of the Burmese communities here that they live here and never need to learn it. The girls said that only a few, if they stay here for years and years learn some Thai. But usually they live in these hideout spots like the rubber plantation communities, and really don’t have the need.

Next stop was Safari Island! A tourist elephant riding place, and a hotpot for Burmese workers, training the elephants. We goofed off at first, had ice cream, watched the monkey-on-leash do tricks (Atcha grabs me and jokes “animal rights ne?”). The Burmese were all dressed in blue uniforms for their work and they all followed us as a group out to the back of the park and we sat on the ground to do the surveys that the girls had prepared. We were just interviewing one guy, but everybody else gathered around. The man, from Mandali, left in 2003 because of lack of work and a concern for his family. He came to earn more money to support his family. Back home he worked on a bus as a ticket-taker. The government forced him to leave his home because his family had a skin disease, so they were forced to leave the city and move out to the country side.

I think that the workers wanted to get home, so they told us to come with them and do the interviews at their home rather than in the back of the park. I think that’s what happened ‘cause we got back in the truck and drove the long way around (they were on motor bikes so just drove on the wrong side of the road). There were about 3 homes in the middle of a field – and then another 3 homes a bit further over. And a few elephants behind the homes (chained??). The houses were built from wood and plants. We sat on the porch and everyone sort of listened in. Different than surveys back home. No closed doors… no asking for confidentiality. No informed consent sheet. Sometimes one person would do the first half of the survey and someone else would finish it. One of the girls would sometimes hit the person they were surveying to get them to pay attention again if they got giggling with the others.

The girls asked the questions of the survey and wrote the answers, translating for us as they went along. We threw in the occasional question too, and people were happy to answer. One man said he’s been here for 7 months. Came to avoid forced labour and heavy taxation. He couldn’t feed himself and his family. Back home he was a farmer. On his way through Burma to the border, he had a lot of trouble, was stopped many times at many check points and had to pay a lot of money. 12 others from his village were doing the same thing along side him.

As a farmer, he was forced to grow cotton. Then he was forced to sell the cotton to the government at a cheaper price. Then he was evicted from his home so the government could begin a development project on that land – a dam. That’s when he decided to leave Burma. Others left with him because of money, lack of work, to avoid forced labour and other human rights abuses. He said that the army would try to force them to be soldiers. If they refused, they would be beaten and tortured. He knows people from his village in this situation.

Another man, from Pyee Bew township, Mandalai Division, came in June 2006 after 6 days of traveling. He talked about problems with his ID card. It seems that in Burma, you have a birth certificate and a student card until you are 18. They you apply for a citizenship card. But this costs a lot of money (although the price seems to be dependant on your situation). Without a citizenship card, you can’t travel outside the province. People are arrested if they don’t have this card.

As much as I was saying before that you didn’t need to shut a door to talk about these things with the people, you could tell it wasn’t a breeze. The best I can describe the way people were talking was that they weren’t really breathing when they were talking.

I asked if they were happy to be in Thailand. They said no, not happy. But the income was their reason for being here. They are saving up to go back to Burma. Then I asked (finally) what I was dying to ask: …but aren’t you scared to go back? Are you nervous about the forced labour. They said yes, yes they are scared. But their family is there.

Their journey across the border involved them laying on the boat, covered in a sheet. They said they couldn’t breath. 5000B/person to the broker.

I’ve got the names of the towns near where they crossed, but I’ll have to look them up. Small places though, Pupu said.

I asked if they felt like their country needed international help. (I asked this a bit for myself – do you want my help? My country’s help? Tell me if you think there is trouble that needs fixing here. I see trouble… but do you? Do you just want to me stay away?) I noticed when Pupu translated she said ‘tsunami’, comparing I think the amount of international help that the tsunami received. They all nodded their heads. Yes. International help. Help. They mentioned education for the kids. And health care – they say there are a lot of diseases in Burma: HIV, TB, Malaria.

The reception that I felt as a foreigner was much different from the Burmese than I usually feel from the Thai – perhaps because we’re both outsiders – albeit in very different ways. Noticeably a different relationship though.

Ming Glaba (good day), for now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Visa Run

A visa run to Burma is popular for Thai tourists. A few hours on the bus, a quick boat ride, a crisp American 10 dollar bill, and you're over and back the border like it was as easy as crossing the street. Easy, if you can ignore that you have this priviledge of jumping back and forth, while you watch the security screens showing people handcuffed laying on the floor, and truckloads of illegal burmese refugees caught at the border.

Of the 10 dollars you give to cross into Burma, only to return into Thailand, 4 goes directly to the military.

Not that I'm necessarily recommending a stay in Burma. It's hard to stay in Burma without supporting the military government. The hotels are government owned, the tourists attractions, the transport. And it's a terrible thing to support. These toursits attractions were built by forced slave labour... people picked out of their homes and forced to work for no pay, building nice roads and tourist attractions so other people can live comfortably in their country. There are many websites that talk of boycotting travelling to Burma altogether. I have a Burmese friend here who suggested that travelling to Burma is important - to talk with the people, and help to spread an education to the world about what is happening in their country. But responsible travel to Burma would be essential. I refuse to give a single dollar to the military.

James, a Burmese friend who works in a shop along the main road here, and who I sit out with chatting most evenings, often talks with me about his country. He always has his burmese/english dictionary with him (his english is really strong - much stronger than my burmese!) and the first thing he learned how to say in english that he wrote in the front cover of the book is:
"I really hate the military control in my country."

Press Release

Thai fisherman, a Crown Prince, and 50 Countries build a better future for villagers.

What takes a Crown Prince, 52 nationalities, a swamp, tools galore, a ton of hot dirty builders and the brains of fishermen?

The answer is of course the Ban Man Chaow village and it is now complete! Thanks to the widest array of people, classes and cultures ever assembled in Thailand. These fishermen had been forgotten after the Asian Tsunami of 2004 when the Governmental and Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) support went directly to previous homeowners, leaving the worst off worser off.

This group did not wait for handouts! They took control and banded together, created a co-op and attracted the attention of the Crown Prince of Denmark, NGOs the world over, and new skills the local people didn’t know they had!

The Rent Homes Group, established in response to the neglect of this group after the Tsunami by the villagers (fishermen) themselves. The results have been tremendous and with 50 homes built each for less than $3000 US each, no mean achievement! This project was built on the sweat of over 50 nations, not least the Thai’s who led every stage themselves.

This spirit of international co-operation with a Thai leadership has proved so successful that there is a project now as a result a new village in the making, called Ban Naem Cem 2. Here the first stone has just been laid to build a town which is again sustainable and just what the people want.

This project is about empowerment, the people here have come from nothing to earn something they can call their own. There are opportunities for people of all nationalities to volunteer and use there skills on the new town to build a better future for the poorest people who were affected by this tragic event.

If you would like to volunteer over the next year and want to have the experience of a lifetime, please contact the Tsunami Volunteer Centre in Khao Lak Thailand on our website. www.tsunamivolunteer.com or via email Sheila@tsunami.com
by ulla laidlaw and jack bradley
And a little commentary.......
Nam Khem is finished!!....anyone..? anyone..?

We wrote up this press release, because we thought that this mattered. It mattered that there were people still living in temporary housing after 2 years. Did everybody know this?? Was everybody ok with this?? I didn't know it... and I'm not really ok with it either. But it surprises me that "the world" doesn't know that help is still needed, and it surprises me that "the world" doesn't hear about the accomplishments either. About 2 weeks after I arrived, I went to a ceremoney at the boatyard - 50 fishermen received the papers for their boats. That's a big deal! It takes a lot to build 50 boats. And last week, we finished a village - that's a big deal too! My north american brain turned on and wondered about the media... there wasn't a radio station, a journalist, a video cam to be seen (only a whole lot of digital cams that the kids kept stealing and running around with). It would have been a wonderful thing to film, to show "the world." I had spent several weeks laying floors, building walls etc. on this site and part of me spent the whole time thinking it was a little bit dreer.... just houses, that's it, build on a swamp, with a dusty road between them. But the evening that we celebrated it's completion, the community felt so alive! Kids dressed up dancing traditional dance, parents cooking for the foreigners, and everyone dancing. ....but I do wonder why nobody notices... and it scares me a bit because Nam Khem 2 is starting this week, and the initial work is hard. Laying foundations for the homes, in the hot sun, on a piece of land with no shade. I've had a few times where despite the fact that we're all keeping eachothers' spirits up, there are moment when I feel like I need help. It's hot, it's late in the day, I'm tired and why are there only 6 of us here today? Can't someone else help to mix this cement... It's far from every moment I feel that, but it does happen, and in those moments I get a little scared at the enormity of the project ahead. We've got to build another 50 houses, from scratch... and I'd like a few more people to come and help out. So at times like that, I wish there was a bit of media who would still follow a story 2 years later.

And that gets me started a bit on other things.... because Thailand's doing pretty good! This town has really woken up in the last few weeks... the tourists are really coming back and businesses are happy. I'm complaining about 50 families in temporary houses (and I don't want to belittle that), but Indonesia was far worse hit than Thailand and hasn't seen nearly the same sort of response. (Which almost shames all volunteers here...why are we here and not where we are really needed). And then there's Burma. Which apparently wasn't hit. Which reported 60 deaths.... did the wave just stop on the Burmese coast? But no one can even go to help there. Hush, hush, hush about Burma.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Catch Upcoming Toronto date with Suba Sankaran and Autorickshaw

The Red Hut

hey all,

Take note, it's a busy fall season for Dora award winning sound designer on Bombay Black, Ms. Suba Sankaran. She's performing all over the place with Autorickshaw - including an upcoming tour of India. You can catch the band live in Toronto; that's this month...on November 18. You can get full details on tour plans etc at http://www.autorickshaw.ca.

here are the short specs:

Saturday November 18, 2006 at 7:30 pm
The ARC Theatre (Academic Resource Centre)
University of Toronto at Scarborough

Tickets (Reserved):
$12 Adults
$10 Students and Seniors

Box office:

Autorickshaw will be premiering a new composition, ‘Simhanandana’, by master drummer Trichy Sankaran, (commission supported by the Ontario Arts Council).

A New CD is in the final stages of production and is entitled, ‘So The Journey Goes’, with a release planned for the new year.

So The Journey Goes features autorickshaw with some very special guests:
Kevin Breit-guitar
Mark McLean-drums
Trichy Sankaran-mrdangam
John Gzowski-guitar
George Koller-dilruba
Dylan Bell - wurlitzer
And a seven-piece horn section from the Hannaford Street Silver Band

Friday, November 03, 2006

Call for Submissions for all you Interdisciplinarians!

The Red Hut

Anyone interested in collaborative, interdisciplinary projects should really take a look at this commissioning project through FRESH GROUND NEW WORKS (Harbourfront Centre)...

Here are the deets:

The deadline for the Call for Submissions for Fresh Ground 2007-2008 (Stage One) is Friday, December 1.
You are encouraged to take a look at the criteria and please contact me or the contact given with any questions.


Modern Times Brings you Visual Art!

The Red Hut

Modern Times continues to stretch its boundaries and now takes us into the visual arts. Read on re. Modern Times bringing us the compelling contemporary work of Iranian visual artist Aydin Aghdashloo:

From November 2nd to 16th, 2006, Arta Gallery in association with Modern Times Stage Company will be presenting the works of celebrated Iranian artist, Aydin Aghdashloo, in his North American premiere. Aydin is regarded as one of the most important and influential Iranian artists. He is an authentic visionary who has created unique and wondrously compelling paintings. Aydin’s work is also regarded as the illustrated history of Iran, both ancient and contemporary.
For more information about the event and Aydin Aghdashloo, please check the Modern Times Stage Company website:http://www.moderntimesstage.com/upcoming.html