We’re 3 or 4 hours behind schedule on our journey south to Surat Thani, after a few – I assume – unplanned stops throughout the night. Rather than an inconvenience, the delay has afforded us a front-row seat to the villages of the south-central Thai countryside as they wake and get about their field work on a Monday. The landscape out my second-class sleeper car window faces west, overlooking sprawls of lush tropical vegetation dotted with curly-horned cattle and scatters of florescent green coconut palms stretching for a greater share of the sun. Occasionally the landscape dips down from the trackside and I can see that the palms are anchored to miles of rolling hills. Close to the horizon, the hills rise to fuzzy limestone-faced mountains, which I guess to be Myanmar (Burma).
This gets me thinking of a book I read about George Orwell, who was surprisingly (to me, at least) stationed in Burma as a British officer late during their occupation, sometime around 1920 I think. In the book, the author describes her own recent visit to the country in her attempt to piece together clues from some of the lesser-known events that took place during Orwell’s stationing. Much of the book ends up focusing on the author’s own experience during her stay, under close watch by Myanmar authorities, accompanied by a personal guide and forced to report her whereabouts, which she assumes are being quietly tracked by the people she meets anyway. She must also be careful to conceal her journalistic intentions and hide her writing materials so as not to be discovered as more than a mere tourist, and she has a few close calls along the way. In the end, she was able to discover a some anecdotes about Orwell’s time there. Mostly though, she uses the book to draw a parallel between the events in Burma and Orwell’s later writing in 1984, which eerily foretold a situation much like the one she had experienced, long after the Brits had left, Orwell had passed, and the military junta took hold.
I feel it’s been at least a year since I’ve read up on the current situation in Burma. Looking out at those mysterious mountains in the distance, I wonder what the people are doing in this instance. Is Aung San Suu Kyi still free? I’ll use this post as a reminder to study up on these things, as we may end up crossing into Burma later on for a visa renewal. For now though, miles from the nearest internet connection, I can only speculate, and smile at the cows.