Category Archives: Thailand

Back on the Lisu Trail

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

I was overjoyed to track down old friend and mentor Otome Kline Hutheesing in Chiang Mai. Otome is an anthropologist who has been studying and writing about Lisu since the late 1960s, particularly Lisu women. Her study village Doi Lan, about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, was one of the first Lisu villages in Thailand. We had a great adventure together in 1997, when she accompanied me to Yunnan and was able to translate Lisu dialect there, working from her knowledge of Thai Lisu.  Otome doesn’t “do” hightech, so keeping in touch over the past 15 years has been hard. I found her through Victoria Vorreiter, a musicologist/filmmaker documenting the songs, music, and rituals of  Thailand’s minority peoples. (Look for her book, too: Songs of Memory, Resonace Press, Thailand). I met Victoria through Doree Huneven, a Suzuki method violin teacher and sister of my old friend Michelle Huneven. Doree and Victoria taught violin together in London in the 1980s, so of course when she heard I was going to Thailand, Doree  passed along Victoria’s email to me. An astonishing linkage of people is ushering me and this project along — magical, logical, I don’t know, I’m just grateful. Otome is now in her 80s, beautiful as ever, and still game to help me get this book, meant to come out in the late 1990s, published. Here she is in the Lisu hut she built in the garden of her Chiang Mai house where she mostly lives these days.

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Anarchists of the Highlands? New book will explore premise.

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With a Lisu woman in China in 1997.

For the next two months (July and August, 2014) I will be working on a popular ethnography on the Lisu, a group of about 1.5 million people, most of whom live in remote highland areas of Southeast Asia. I first wrote this book the late 1990s, but my then-publisher went out of business before it saw print.  “Close to the Water and Far From the Ruler”  will now be published by University Press of Colorado in 2015/16.

I have some updating to do, and will be visiting China, Thailand, Burma. Like the world in general, the world of the Lisu has seen a lot of change in the past 15 years. Then there’s the author: the (relatively)  young and bold 40-something has also moved on to a different life and career, slightly more sedentary. Note to self: must get chops up!

But how could I not take up this second chance to go back and rewrite my first book? The opportunity to complete long-marinating unfinished business, and to keep a promise to bring the story of these unusually resilient and independent-minded people to a broader audience, is a great surprise and an even greater gift.