Saturday, October 06, 2007

Worldwide Protests Against Crackdown in Myanmar Ring Out Today

The Myanmar ruling junta continues to crack down on protesters within its borders, but outside Myanmar, protests over the cruel and violent suppression of the Burmese people by their own army continues unabated.

Protests were held in London, Paris, Vienna, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, New Delhi, Bangkok and even in Singapore. Burma is a former British colony, so it stands to good reason that British citizens have a certain feeling of concern, even 60 years after Burma won its independence from the UK, largely through the efforts of U Aung San, Suu Kyi's martyred father.

I especially appreciate the Belgian union tract that calls for a boycott of Total, the French national oil company which continues to deal with the corrupt Myanmar government. I think I mentioned before that I spent a month in Myanmar in my other life as an explorationist for oil and gas. At the time I was deeply torn at having anything to do with oil exploration in Myanmar, and the idea of actually going in country to interact with my peers in the MOGE (Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise).
I mentioned then that I had some photographs that I took during my stay there and I finally managed to get scans of some of them.

I want to show you what it's really like in Myanmar in words and pictures. Mainly to show you what a peace loving people the people of Myanmar truly are. And how truly heartbreaking it is to see them being crushed under the iron fist that is called The Tatmadaw, the army lead by the corrupt generals in the government.

This first one is the government or customs house in downtown Yangon. It was built by the British in the 1880's. Classic Victorian colonial architecture.

I took several photos outside and inside the Shwedagon Pagoda. It's a Buddhist temple whose construction was begun in the 14th century. Its main feature consists of a stupa that is covered with 24 carat gold. They say that a 76 carat diamond is housed at the top of the stupa. Or at least it was there the last time anyone looked.

This was taken inside the Shwedagon Pagoda. There are all sorts of shrines strewn about. It seems chaotic there but everyone seems to know what they are doing. The umbrellas in the distance is from a family procession. Their son, maybe 8 or 9 years old, had just been inducted into a monastery and they were celebrating. No one can wear shoes at the pagoda. You store your shoes in racks that are provided, but since Myanmar is a poor country, and I wanted to wear them the next day, my shoes went into my backpack. At the Sule Pagoda, downtown, there is a hand-painted sign at the entrance, in English, that reads "No footwearing allowed".

This is a banyan tree, a sacred tree to Buddhists. Buddha is said to have sat under one of these until he gained enlightenment. This one is planted near the Shwedagon's outer wall and is nearly the same age as the pagoda itself.

This is the south entrance to the Shwedagon. My favorite entrance. You walk up several flights of stairs in this dimly lit arcade. There are booths on each side where vendors are selling all kinds of religious things. The twin guards are called Chinthes, and pronounced Chin-dits. They guard the Shwedagon about as jealously as the Tatmadaw guards the wealth of the generals.

I took this from a main drag on the west side of the Shwedagon. That park with no one in it, because no one is allowed in it, is dedicated to the people of Myanmar. See the light standards? More than one person has commented that these light poles make Yangon look a little like Disneyland.

This is the place I stayed at while there. It was simply called "Staff House" and it housed workers who were in transit, and people like me who were temporary workers in country. My company leased it from one of the generals. It was cheaper than putting everyone up at the hotel the Russians built in the 1960's, and leasing it from him probably kept the wheels greased

Speaking of hotels, this is The Strand Hotel. A British Colonial classic. It stands opposite the harbor. Cameras are not allowed here, I was told, because the harbor was a military operation. I took this photo very surreptitiously. Rudyard Kipling was one of those British expatriates who stayed there on a regular basis. Kipling wrote the famous poem, Gunga Din about a Burmese who was a water bearer for a British soldier. Gunga Din's great grandson is Aung Din, a geologist who used to work for the MOGE. He's retired now.

I had to work on a Saturday one day and that meant that my host had to come in to the lab as well. He agreed to come as long as I gave him a lift home after work. My host lived in a "suburban development" well south of Yangon, called, for want of a better name "New City". The main transport between New City and Yangon was the city bus system. As you can see, there is a need for more buses. This was a typical sight.

Getting close to New City now, here is one of those Red Signs I told you about earlier. They're everywhere and the propaganda they spew runs the gamut from the ridiculuous to the mundane to the ominous. This one says "Build the nation through successive diligent efforts".


Here is my host's development. New City. It looks dismal but I really think my host was happy to be living out there. It took an hour to drive here directly from the office. It took him twice that time to commute via the bus, and walking.

This is another Red Sign that I found in Yangon. It reads "The Tatmadaw shall never betray the national cause". A bit more ominous, this one. It essentially says don't rely on the army coming over to your side, they will shoot you before doing that.

This Red Sign I found on one of my walks around the city. It reads "Down with the minions of colonialism". They didn't really like being a British colony, so you would think that this was a sign placed within view of something British, wouldn't you? Nope. This is the view you get when you walk out of the main entrance to the American Embassy in Yangon.

And finally, this one. A photograph of some street urchins playing soccer on a Saturday afternoon. All of these children are in their 20's now. Either in the army or on the other side trying to gain their long lost freedom.

Myanmar has one of the poorest populations in the world. Ironically, the country is one of the richest in south asia, with an incredible mineral wealth. The generals suppress these people for one reason and one reason only: they get to have all the stuff. They get the money, the posessions, the power and all that those things bring.

What do the people get?

They get killed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating my friend...You can sure tell a story.

I was talking to Elizabeth about this mess over there, and I think what bothers me most of all is that this situation was the kind of crisis that took priority in a Clintonian model of foreign policy.

After the horrible shame of Rwanada, "moral unilateralism" became the big buzzword. In 2000, I remember Bush running against this ideal, slamming the idea of "nation building."

Now, it seems we couldn't intervene even if the White House wanted to.