For the Global Thinker

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Land of Shadows

Land of Shadows

It's the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.
The carnival-like atmosphere doesn't last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.
"Welcome to the Hotel California," calls out a voice from...

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Here's another great article on Burma...well worth the read...

Burma's Convict Porters

Restaurant owner Win claims he was jailed on trumped up charges of heroin trafficking and sentenced to 10 years. He spent two years in one of Burma’s notorious labour camps.
‘We were chained at the ankles while we broke rocks for roads. We worked six days a week, even when we were sick. I saw prisoners badly injured, some with broken legs, who still didn’t get treatment,’ Win says.
One Burmese man, Bo Kyi, has made it his life’s work to make sure political prisoners aren’t forgotten. A founding member and now secretary of the Association Assisting Political Prisoners (AAPP), Bo Kyi was jailed three times for a total of seven years and three months.
‘In Burma, there are 109 labour camps, 42 jails, more than 400,000 prisoners, and only 33 doctors and about 60 medics to treat them when they get sick. All prisoners, irrespective of their crimes, should be treated as humans. Animals are treated better than prisoners in Burma.’
Outside a small, bare room in a safe house on the Thai-Burma border that Win now calls home, children kick a football against a wall and play war games with plastic guns. Motorbikes roar past and dogs bark after them.
Win studies his broken fingernails, calloused hands and scars before explaining how he was taken to the front line.
‘The army came for me at 4 am on January 1. Seventy-five of us were taken from our cells and put in two army trucks. We weren’t told anything, but we guessed we were going to the frontline. I planned to escape.’
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