I empty my apartment and get my security deposit back, closing the long arc I'd played out in Krung Thep. I might have stayed longer, but Thailand has its rules, so it's time for the next episode of The Next Episode. I'm roaming again, with one final swing through destinations in The Kingdom.
Bangkok to Sangkhla Buri, with a stopover at Hellfire Pass. We board a bus with standing room only left. I'm in the aisle, gripping the luggage rack as we lurch forward, and in the two seats beside me sit four humans, the closest of which being a threeish-year-old girl sitting on her very young mother's lap, drinking from said mother's exposed breast.
And no, we haven't been in metaphorical Kansas for a while, but it's a powerful reminder that where you're born has much to do with how your life turns out. And when the little one looks my way, her eyes going big at the sight of me and my beard, it's a reminder to stop pontificating and analyzing and just be human. So I smile.
The smile fades at Hellfire Pass, where man's inhumanity to man is memorialized in stone.
In 1942 the imperial Japanese were growing their borders by unpleasant means and, needing a railroad to connect occupied Burma with Thailand, pressed 60,000 Allied POWs and 200,000 Asian civilians into the cruel labor of its construction. They worked up to 18 hours a day through 400 km (250 mi) of thick jungle, rocky terrain, hills and rivers. In Hellfire Pass they used hand tools to "hammer and tap" through solid rock 20 meters deep.
The Burma Railway was completed successfully, but at a terrible cost: exhaustion, starvation, disease, and outright murder by their captors killed 12,000 POWs (20%) and an even more shocking 90,000 civilians (45%).
This is why it's also called The Death Railway.
Then it was onto far happier Sangkhla Buri, home of diverse peoples (Thai, Burmese, Mon, and Karen live alongside each other in apparent peace), the world's longest hand-built wooden bridge (voluntarily by villagers for free), temples sunken and abandoned due to the construction of Lake Vajiralongkorn (yup, that one), and gorgeous waterfalls largely unknown even by locals.
Sangkhla Buri is also a 40-minute ride from the Myanmar (Burma) border, so why not go explore another country? I worried I'd be unable to cross since Myanmar (Burma) requires Americans to get a visa in advance, but the little birdie told me it'd be no problem based on her research. And she's always right about these things.
Except this time.
We walked down to the border, and while taking pictures I was approached by a uniformed man who told me, friendly but firm, I could go no farther.
We asked around and were told this border was an "indulgence", meant to accommodate Thais and Myanmarians (Burmese) but really no one else--even if I'd had a visa they may have struggled to process it. We mused on proposing to pay a "processing fee" to let me pass but realized even if the agents accepted our "fee" any other agents on the other side would know I didn't belong and who knows what "fees" I'd incur then.
So we turned back, and I was admittedly in a bit of a huff. Because on this journey I imagine myself as a modern Citizen of Rome:
Or a Citizen of Roam, if you will--peaceful, interested only in learning, collecting pictures and experiences, meeting people and slowly scattering my life's savings. Why would any country not want me to visit?
But some are just that way. Don't get me wrong--my American passport gets me access to more of the world than almost any other:
But I still felt the frustration, because to me it makes no sense. I think it's no coincidence that the most open countries are the most successful economically. I also know that open borders are politically unpopular these days, regardless of the data supporting them.
So I'll bring it down to the human person level. I was turned away, so any chance I had to contribute to Myanmar's (Burma's) economy that day, however small, was lost to them. That small amount of money could've meant a lot to someone who might make just $2.90 that day. It also made me think of people who have it much harder than me, people who can't roam as easily as I can. People who seek opportunity and a chance to make their lives better, but because of where they were born are now being sent away--and when that happens, the many lives that get wrecked in the process. It made me think of Ricky Solis and Sandra Mendoza.
I'm not making a political argument. I'm not debating the rights of countries to maintain their lines or limit who can cross them. I'm only thinking of people who are impacted by how those lines get drawn, and how they separate us.