Sunday, March 16, 2008

Proverbial "Ambulance Chaser"

When Eline and I saw a truck with over sixty men squeezed into the back like sardines behind bars and a lock, we decided to give a short chase to see where they were being taken. Typically, this sort of vehicle is deporting Burmese caught working, but this truck was heading away from the bridge and down a side street.

For five kilometers we followed them not lazily through bumpy dusty streets when the truck made a sudden left turn down a small alley towards the Meoi River (the border). We felt quite obvious directly behind the truck-of-unknown-intentions, but thankfully a golden stupa was also down this alley so we played tourists while watching for what would happen to these cooped up men.

Surprisingly, the atmosphere as they unloaded was not "death camp life penalty" rather it was "its the freaking weekend and I am gonna have me some fun" they jumped out with luggage and smoking cigarettes as they made their way down to the riverside ferry.

For an illegal system, the ferry possessed impressive infrastructure. A large floating steel platform performed as a dock for a fifteen meter steel convoy boat. Once the men were all aboard, the experienced boat handler slid across stream keeping the boat facing upriver with a powerful "long-tail" motor. On the Burmese side they jumped out with backpacks and walked into the village! We can only imagine what circumstances could lead to this. Why were they under lock and key being transported to the river? Who could be sponsoring the large underground ferry terminal?

After the men had left we stayed watching other river traffic distributing cement, boxes, bags, and people to and fro. The steel convoy boat returned to the dock where an empty truck had come down and was waiting for a pick up. The boat handlers placed two boards across the beam of the vessel and saddled up to the dock whereupon the experienced truck driver drove out onto the narrow supports, his front and back axles more or less over the water. Without any tiedowns, the boat handlers pushed off and floated downriver through a tight and narrow stretch of river to another dock unseen.