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January 9, 2004

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The Padaung tribe are also known by the creative name 'longnecks.' They wear neck coils that weigh up to 50 pounds. The neck coils depress the collarbone and rib cage, which make their necks look like stretched rubber. A popular myth claims that if they remove the coils, their heads fall over and their necks break. Actually the women can remove the coils without difficulty. No one knows why this tradition started. Some say the rings kept tigers from carrying off the women by the neck. But men would need this protection too and they don't wear them. Beauty means having a long neck among the Padaung.
The Padaung are refugees from Myanmar, where they suffered ethnic persecution. They earn most of their money in Thailand by selling handmade clothes and crafts. They also collect a fee from every tourist that visits their village.
The women also wear copper hoops around their arms and calves. It doesn't keep them from doing heavy hutwork around the village.
We've helped the Padaung with their chores and they've warmed up to our presence. We spend a lot of time with Ma-Pa and help her finish chores and watch the children. Ma-pa speaks excellent English. She tells us her husband stays with his second wife but that arrangement (she exclaims with her eyes) is better for her.
By late afternoon we reached the region where Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet. This place is better known as the "Golden Triangle," where most of the world's opium poppies are cultivated. If there's a wildfire, don't breathe too deeply.