Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Myanmar mission

4 Feb ~ 11 Feb, 2009

While the rest of Asia marches on, Myanmar is lost in a time warp. Tragically, the ruling junta - in power since 1962 - maintains its stranglehold, oblivious to the suffering of its people, doesn’t look like it’s going to loosen its grip any time soon.

There is a lively buzz in the city of Yangon where new office towers are beginning to dominate older colonial buildings. Yangon is clearly not in the same league as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, or even Hanoi of course. But someone remarked that it does seem to have changed since he was here 6 years ago, although it is still cloaked in dust and diesel fumes.

And there is heart-rending poverty everywhere you look, not because people lack determination, but because opportunities aren’t there. On the surface, there may be a sense of helplessness but don't mistake that for resignation; there is resilience and energy, and it shows in the way the Myanmar population continue to keep their heads up.

Vendors hawk fried snacks on sidewalks; children race after buses with newspapers and sweet snacks; men selling soft toys at traffic junctions; a mother breastfeeds her baby amidst squalor; Yangon airport baggage handlers ambush travelers to carry their bags (it’s 300kyats per bag, mind). Life finds a way in little acts of resistance.

Myanmar’s day will come. I pray it will be sooner than later.

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