Friday, May 9, 2008

Ruili, Methadone, and Stepping into Myanmar-Oct'07

Yunnan Province

This map is useful because it shows the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Laos, and China) and show the origin of three major rivers, the Salween, MeKong, and the Yangtze. Thailand and Vietnam also can be considered part of the triangle. An expanded map would show how close Thailand is also.

We have been in Kunming before and visited tourist attractions around the city. Judith’s student, Dr. Wei, was born here and he is going to set up and study how the spread of AIDS/HIV is influence by drug injection users along the boarder of Myanmar. So we visit the boarder town of Ruili (Ree LEE) which can not be seen on the map above, but it is next to the “R” in Myanmar. We get there by flying into Luxi and riding 3 hours by van to Ruili. Afterward Ruili, we go back to Luxi to fly back to Kunming so we can fly to Lijiang. From Lijiang, we ride 4 hours to Dali and from Dali, we fly back to Kunming, to Beijing, to Chicago.

Myanmar (also called Burma by the U.K. who named it, and the U.S.who officially refuse to acknowledge the new name) is the world's second largest producer of opium, after Afghanistan. Most of the tribes people who are growing opium are living under the poverty line. The opium is processed into heroin along the border and makes its way into Thailand for international distribution. The border near Ruili is like many borders. There are official entry points and you can just walk or drive across the boarder. Because the price of a fix is cheaper in Myanmar rural people just walk across the border to get their injection.

Side note-Most Chinese go by their last name which is printed first on their business cards. So when I gave one of my left over Hong Kong business company’s card early in our trips to China, I became Mr. David, so rather than try to explain, I decided being called Mr. David was okay by me. For instance, Hu Jintao is president of China. He is called President Hu. Hu is his family name. So when I talk about Wei, I am talking about Judith’s student and I don’t have a clue what his other name is. He is Wei. Having joined us in Kunming along with another of Judith’s student, Professor Chevie Williamson, a black female, we became kind of a weird foursome during the rest of our travels. Chevie especially draws looks from the people as they probably have never seen an Afro-american woman. They usually fixate on her hair. A lot of children got wide-eyed and stared as we walked by.

When we arrive in Ruili, we check in and have dinner with the mayor and a couple of her staff, with some members of the local CDC. The major is quite energetic and wants us to come back and hold a workshop there. Not likely until transportation is better, which it will be in the future.

Our first thing the first morning in Ruili is to visit a methadone clinic. They have about a 125 people that come in regularly to receive their methadone juice and the incidents of AIDS among the people in treatment is very low compared to the rest of the drug injection users (DIU’s). So one would have to conclude that methadone treatment helps people kick the heroine habit and stop some of the risk associated with dirty needles and sexual contact with others. Another thing we learned is that the families of people in treatment are almost always supportive.

Wei is the white shirt in front, Chevie is between Judith and I, the two next to Judith in the back row and the woman in the yellow shirt in front are in methadone treatment. The young woman next to Judith is from a rich family. The rest are some of more important people running the clinic. The three “patients” sat with us and told us their stories. So I thought this would just be a visit to the clinic, but the CDC people put us in a van and drove us all over to visit people and relatives in methadone treatment, some of whom have AIDS and are on anti-retrovirus medication. It took all day.

This photo was taken at a family's home in a small village. The man in the middle has AIDS. His wife (far right) and son do not. The other Chinese in the picture are CDC people.

However, their daughter below also has AIDS. Both are on anti-retroviruses. He and his wife were quite forthcoming about their lives.
But finally we are finished touring and only have the obligatory dinner to finish up. Lots of drinking and toasting as usual. However, these people were quite friendly and are doing much good for their people. I celebrate them.

The next day we are on our own and we have hired guides and transportation for the next 7 days. We travel to two official border sites and take pictures. We are told that what you see looking into Myanmar are mostly fake facades.
Here is our group looking into Myanmar. There are a lot of new shops on the Chinese side and a lot of them have signs in both the Chinese and Myanmar script. This is the most commercial border crossing.
Here is another boarder crossing and monument at the boarder bridge commemorating the joint cooperation between the United States and China during WWII. General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell saw to the road construction through Burma that helped supply the Chinese army. While I was reading the side of the monument, this Chinese boarder guard came up to me and asked in very good English, "Can I help you, sir." I immediately became a little cautious, thinking I might have unintentionally done some wrong. He asked me to wait there and then ran off quickly and came back with a camera. He wanted to have his picture taken with me. Maybe he thought I was a movie star, huh?
Notice that I have one foot inside Myanmar standing on a bridge separating the two countries.
However, later, we drove close to someone’s back yard got out to find a border marker marking the line between the two countries and found out we drove into Myanmar. None of this would be especially noteworthy except Myanmar was closed to foreigners at this time. But the border here is like the border between the U.S. and Canada where you can just walk in. Indeed, that is what all the rural people do living along the border. And if you had a Chinese passport at the official check-ins there was no problem either. We saw one man walk up to the border and hand over a huge bundle to another man on the other side with the border guards unconcerned.
When we got out of the van we thought we were in China but we had drove into Myanmar.

Standing in Myanmar.
Then our guide took us to a rain forest up a mountain next to the river. The road along the river was built my Stillwell and his men. This is a Buddhist temple in the forest.
Koi are quite popular in China and they can usually be found in any pond in any park. I think this is an interesting picture.
One can see the rain forest effect.

At the end of the walk up the mountain, is this waterfall.
Next, the four of us travel to Li-Jiang.


GETkristiLOVE said...

Great pics, as always Mr. David.

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