Since it gained independence from the British in 1948, Myanmar has existed in a perpetual state of civil and political unrest. Burmese people have been driven from their homes and villages by the military junta, which has ruled the country for the past 50 years. Many, especially those from Shan State, have fled to neighboring Thailand. There are currently 92,000 registered and an estimated 54,000 unregistered Burmese refugees living in Thailand, according to a 2012 report by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Sai Lang, 16, his father Tun and his mother Ying, moved from Shan State to Chiang Mai in early 2012, leaving behind two younger daughters in Burma to continue their studies. Tun, formerly a farmer in a village outside of Hsipaw, says he did not originally want to leave his home, but it was too difficult to find work and make money there. In Chiang Mai, Sai Lang and and Tun work the night shift at a snooker hall (similar to billiards) on the outskirts of the city. Only feet away from the chain-smoking, middle-aged snooker players, a wooden door inside the hall leads to a small, cinderblock room where the father, mother and son live. Sai Lang makes 200 baht (the equivalent of about 6 USD) per night working 7pm to 7am with his father, while his mother works during the daylight hours cleaning houses. They take turns sleeping in the family's single bed. Sai Lang's duties at the bar include serving beer and cigarettes to patrons, exchanging money for video game tokens, bookkeeping and taking inventory at the end of his shift. He spends many of the slow night hours completing homework for the English classes he takes every afternoon at the Best Friend Library and watching music videos. He says that he is saving his money to some day buy a house for his family in Burma.