12/12/11

why burma matters to me

Hilary Clinton's recent visit to Burma was a historic trip, and part of me rejoices at Pres. Obama's assessment that there are 'flickers of progress' coming from the military dictatorship, and the other part of me is more cynical, remembering the imprisonment and violence towards the protesting monks only three years ago. I remember reading that the reason the monks staged the protests against the government was because they were the only dissenters who were not yet in prison. Nevertheless, I do find hope in Hilary's meeting with both the dictators and Aung San Suu Kyi.
All this brought memories bubbling up, and between that and talking to an old friend from SAS, I thought I'd post some pictures I took in Burma, and maybe a story or two. Its difficult to get a visa to Burma in the first place, but my art history professor had lived there for some seven years in the 1970s, and he greased the wheels. My strongest memory was driving past Aung San's house in Yangon, where she was currently under house arrest (I went in fall 2004). As tourists, we only saw what the government wanted us to see. Unlike China, where we were required to take government sponsored tours, we were generally free to wander around. Not so in Burma. We were literally herded here and there, so we only got to drive by her house for the briefest moment. Knowing that one of the world's bravest women was behind those doors, literally fighting for her people's rights, was deeply moving. Her house is situated on a tranquil lake, where there's so much green foliage tumbling from the ground into the water its hard to see where lake begins. On the other side of the lake I caught a glimpse, maybe only three seconds worth, of an extraordinary royal barge. It was massive, with golden dragons rearing their heads above water, golden pillars and purple curtains. It was like a dream, and summed up my whole experience in Burma - signs of significant oppression mingled with fantastical visions.
Then I took a flight in a rickety airplane (stocked with anti-western literature, that I wasn't allowed to take with me), to Bagan, land of a thousand shrines. I stayed in a teak cabin on the Irrawaddy River, and woke at dawn to see the sun rise over the myriad of shrines. I'll never forget that. People there lived not unlike their ancestors a hundred years ago or more, wearing the traditional clothing, and women with black hair reaching past their waist. One evening I saw a marionette show, which sounds childish, but it was cool. I ended up buying two antique puppets, that I cleaned up and restored a bit, and are very, very cool. I'll show you if you want to see them someday.
I could probably write a book about Burma, but I've found that nobody reads long blog posts, so I'll just put up some pictures.




















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