His name is Jack. He’s 24. Short. Pleasant. Looks and acts a bit like a Thai-version of Jack Black the comedian. I like him.
Jack is the waiter at one of our local haunts. He likes to practice his English with us because we talk more than do the Scandinavians. “What do you think of the Scandinavians, Jack?” “They don’t talk much. One or two words. They do not use English. We point to the menu mostly.”
Seems Jack is NOT Thai, tho. He’s Burmese. He prefers to use the term Burma for his country altho Myanmar does not offend him. Myanmar is the name chosen by the ruling ethnic group that has been winning the civil war for over thirty years. The civil war is more of a tribal war than a strictly political one altho, there is not much difference, I suppose.
Jack is a member of the Karen community. That’s a tribe NOT part of the ruling ethnic group. Jack’s people (and Jack, himself) are refugees now relocated in Thailand (since May, 1997). He mostly grew up in the 6000 strong refugee camp named Tham Hin just ten kms from the border. Semi-jungle-cum-swamp environment. No resources. The camp is off the road, water and electrical grids. It’s cramped, primitive and isolated. Plastic-roofed tent-like structures. Almost a prison.
Sometime around 2005 the Thai government started to lift some of the restrictions on those so-housed. Some of the inhabitants were allowed to work and Jack eventually did just that by securing a position as a waiter while hoping for a chance to emigrate to North America. His chances are slim.
Too bad. Jack’s alright. Canada has taken just over 4000 Burmese refugees so far but Tham Hin is just one of many refugee camps and, sadly for Jack, one of the less visible or visited ones. Canadian diplomats do not traipse into the jungle very often to conduct the critically important interviews on which ride the hopes and dreams of the Karen.
“Is Jack’s life hell?”
Not to him. He’s optimistic. He’s working. He has a girlfriend. His employer provides him housing in this resort area and he only has to go back to the camp to check in now and then. He has a poor-Thai person’s future but it is better than a poor, refugee camp-inhabitant’s future. Jack still has hope.
And he’s upbeat. Great sense of humour. Learning English as fast as he can slowed only by the monosyllabic Scandinavian customers he mostly serves. At this rate, he’ll never get fluent but he can make himself understood so I’d give him a D+ linguistically. C is achievable given the circumstances. But he’s smart enough to do much better if he had teaching or even more English speakers.
He’s a Buddhist. Most Burmese are. Somehow that seems to translate into ‘good attitude’. Like I said, Jack’s alright.
I do not have what it takes to be a good Buddhist. Smiling too much hurts my face. But I must admit, I have a great deal more than Jack does to be smiling about. These adventures Sal and I have had over the oh-so-many decades are always interesting but even more, they are always re-affirming. We have it great!