Novice monks in front of monastery,
village beyond May Myo, Shan State Burma (1997)
Burma takes your heart.
In the fall of 1997, my Biman Air flight from Bangkok arrived in Rangoon's Mingaladon Airport a half-day delayed and full of backpackers. We were an earnest crew - un-linked but collectively buoyed by the budget traveler's hubris that, moving low to the ground, our presence in Burma wasn't in direct opposition to Aung San Suu Kyi's wishes. Mounting a noisy front against the enforced changing of currency at the airport, we vowed to get our few dollars directly into the hands of the common man.
More than the dollars (we had few, their impact would be spotty and sparse), we hoped our presence - as we fanned out on our Burmese adventures - would communicate a universal acknowledgement that yes, Burma still existed to the outside world and we - badly dressed + largely unemployed idealists, would bring their stories home with us.
At least, that was the hope.
I left Burma 4 weeks later smitten and saddened - with no idea where to begin helping the people I'd met and harboring the naive assumption that a kind people in a naturally blessed region couldn't possibly in our modern and connected era be saddled with the oppressive military regime for too much longer. Thus did I excuse myself from responsibility and look to the world and ASEAN to right the wrongs.
And now, of course, the world is again standing by - its attitude and actions stymied by the oil interests of enormous nations, the weighting of political stakes and an appalling inconsistency of our standards for what, in this world, can be called acceptable.
I have no authority to write about Burma but here some recent pieces (thank you R for forwarding "What Makes a Monk Mad")
From today's NY Times: You are no longer monks.
And, "What makes a monk mad"