Shan New Year in Chiang Mai

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  • Topic: Thailand, Burma, Shan
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Participant observation: Shan New Year’s Festival 2107 (14th, Dec, 2012 from 7.30 p.m to midnight)

Reported by Thanh Thanh Phan

Topic 2

General Questions: Who they are? Where they come from? Why they came here and when? When they started their business? Do they have citizenship and how? What are they doing here? What are their monthly incomes?

Interviewing sellers of a consumption shop, cloth shop, CDs shop, food shop and their customers. ____________________________________________________________

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). 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...
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