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I had to wait until I got out of Myanmar to post this without getting prematurely deported or thrown in jail. I got a small rush writing this while still in the country, but I didn’t want to take my chances before leaving Myanmar for good (as if posting this in China or North Korea is any better).

It’s funny that among the locals, the name “Aung San Suu Kyi” in Myanmar has the same effect as saying the name “Voldemort.” Like “He Who Must Not Be Named/You Know Who,” the Burmese refer to her instead as “The Lady.” But unlike the Dark Lord, Aung San Suu Kyi represents the other side of the fear spectrum.

For those of you who don’t know, “The Lady” is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a revered figurehead in Myanmar whose father was a national hero for securing Myanmar’s independence. Representing the opposition party to the military junta, she won the national elections to lead Myanmar but was summarily arrested by the military who feared her influence (i.e. threat) on their reign. She was placed under house arrest 3 times for 14 years (out of the last 20) before some random U.S. tourist named John Yettaw swam in a lake to spend a night at her house, which compelled the government to add even more years to her sentence (there are some theories among locals that John Yettaw was paid by the government to keep her under house arrest for longer). She was eventually released in February 2011 and has since been laying low, traveling around the country with her son.

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The celebrated father of Aung San Suu Kyi, General Suu Kyi

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The is the closest I could get to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, where she spent 14 years under house arrest. The road to her house is otherwise closed.

Before you even finish saying the words “Aung San Suu..” the people around you will immediately put a finger to their lips and dart their eyes back and forth. “There are spies everywhere” they say, “you can be deported or have your visa revoked for mentioning her. And we can be thrown in jail for 20 years simply by talking about her in public.” So what then? “Refer to her as ‘The Lady,’ but please don’t talk to me about it. Okay?”

Okay.

And instead of talking about what state-controlled media is like, how about I simply post all the headlines that was found in a single “New Light of Myanmar” newspaper? They hand it out everywhere; especially on domestic flights that mostly foreigners use. I think there might be a pretty obvious trend; just take a look and compare the articles about Myanmar vs. the articles about countries outside Myanmar:

Myanmar-related articles:

  • World Breast Feeding Week and Nutrition Promotion Month commence
  • World Breast Feeding Week and Nutrition Promotion commemorative ceremony held (yes these are 2 separate articles in the same newspaper)
  • Matters for improving tourism industry discussed
  • Myanmar, India eye closer cooperation in health sector
  • Union Minister meets guests from Republic of Korea
  • Union Minister meets permanent members of Myanmar Language Commission
  • Union Minister meets entrepreneurs in Mon State
  • Union Mines Minister receives guests
  • Union Agriculture & Iriigation Minister visits genetically modified paddy field of Yezin Agricultural University and Yezin Agricultural Research Department
  • Myanmar stands 4th in International Judo Open
  • Breeder groups formed for rural development and poverty alleviation
  • Hluttaw representives to report to Hluttaw Office, Nay Pyi Taw
  • Ambassador U Tin Oo concurrently appointed as Ambassador to Mongolia
  • Flood warning

 

International/non-Myanmar related articles:

  • Kurdish rebels kill 3 Turkish soldiers
  • 4 dead in Pakistani suicide blast at hotel
  • 2 killed, 8 wounded in South Philippines motorcycle bomb blast
  • 2 African Union troops die during suicide bomb raid
  • Malaysia police hold 2 over “Facebook murder.”
  • Head-on bus collision kills at least 11 in Bangladesh
  • Indonesia landslide at Freeport gold mind kills 1
  • Death toll from 2 Philippine storms rises to 70
  • Investigation of Alaska midair collision continues
  • 1 death, 76 illnesses linked to U.S. ground turkey
  • Missing U.S. girl’s body found in river near home
  • 10 killed, 8 injured by lightning in eastern India
  • Suspect arrested in murder of 2 French women in Argentina
  • Dozens of African migrants found dead in Italy/Lampedusa-bound boat
  • Japan police raid cult behind 1995 terrorist subway attack
  • 23 wounded in church attack in north Iraq
  • Minor accident in Indian nuclear plant
  • Situation between Lebanon, Israel remain calm after exchanging fire
  • New Zealand tourists injured in Vanuatu plane crash
  • Indian aviator regulator orders checking of Boieng-777 engines after near accident
  • United flight diverted to Cuba due to ‘unfamiliar’ odor in plane.
  • Singapore again refutes human trafficking report released by U.S.
  • Compared with Europeans, British are more likely to get cancer
  • Panama police make massive heroin seizure
  • Mexico, Colombia to step up anti-crime co-op
  • Britons released from detention in Afghanistan
  • U.S. to propose ammonium nitriate regulations from bomb-making
  • U.S. carjacker targeted detective
  • Small U.S. spending cuts to have little economic impact
  • Toyota posts big first quarter loss hurt by quake, yen
  • Barclays profits slide 38%, flags job cutes
  • Bank of Korea buy gold, as dollar & euro lose clout
  • China emissions scheme due for rough landing
  • Official data shows Australia’s housing market continues to weaken
  • Tropical Storm Emily eyes Puerto Rico, Hipaniola
  • Heavy flooding swamps Manila, government suspends work
  • Monsoon interifying over Andaman Sea, Bay of Bengal
  • Drought-hit bears head to town in Texas
  • Chavez opts for close-shaved head due to chemo
  • Indian woman marries cobra
  • 10 tons of U.S. tomatoes used as ammo
  • U.S. Doctors warn of hot dogs via billboard
  • Shark trawls near “Sarko” on French Riviera
  • Kings of Leons cancel rest of U.S. tour dates
  • U.S. internet archivist seeks one of every book written
  • Google rolls out experimental Hotel Finder

And everyday, the following “reminders” are printed in big bold font on the front page (ahead of all the headlining articles):

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4 political objectives:

  1. Stability of the State, community peace and tranqulity, prevalence of law & order
  2. Strengthening of national solidarity
  3. Building and strengthening of discipline-flourishing democracy system
  4. Building of a new modern developed nation in accord with the Constitutions

4 economic objectives:

  1. Building of modern industrialized nation through the agricultural development, and all-round development of other sectors of the economy
  2. Proper evolution of the market-oriented economic system
  3. Development of the economy inviting participation in terms of technical know-how and investment from sources inside the country and abroad
  4. The initiative to shape the national economy must be kept in the hands of the State and the national peoples

4 Social objectives:

  1. Uplift of the morale and morality of the entire nation
  2. Uplift of national prestige and integrity and preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage and national character
  3. Flourishing of Union spirit, the true patriotism
  4. Uplift of health, fitness and education standards of the entire nation

TRUE PATRIOTISM:

  • It is very important for everyone of the nation regardless of the places he lives to have strong Union Spirit
  • Only Union Spirit in the true patriotism all nationalities will have to safeguard

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PEOPLE’s DESIRE:

  • Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views
  • Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation
  • Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State
  • We favor stability
  • We favor development
  • Crush all internal and external destructive elements at the common enemy
  • Wipe out those inciting unrest and violence

FINALLY:

  • Anarchy begs anarchy, not democracy
  • Riots begets riots, not democracy
  • Democracy can be introduced only through constitution
  • VOA, BBC-sowing hatred among the people
  • RFA, DVB-generating public outrage
  • Do not allow ourselves to be swayed by killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles

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On the bright side, though, you can wear T-shirts printed with obscene language on Burmese TV, which otherwise wouldn’t pass under FCC regulations in the U.S.

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I must also mention a chat with a local whom I met in Myanmar. He/she’s lived in the country all hs/her life. Whenever I mention anything about the government, however, he/she brings his/her finger to his/her lips and his/her eyes go dark. “We don’t know who is listening.” Most surprisingly, however, my friend would later admit that he/she him/herself ratted someone else to the government by sending recorded phone-taps (although he/she says it was because he/she wanted to expose someone of incest and child molestation). Everyone has their reasons, I suppose.

The general Burmese population, however, never seem oppressed on the outside; everywhere I look adults go about their business like any other country, children laugh and play with abandon. Had I not known the right questions to ask, I could’ve passed through Myanmar without suspecting if anything was amiss.

But when the topic goes from the harmless “where do you come from” to “tell me about your government,” or “tell me about ‘The Lady’”, facial expressions change like day to night. Eyes dart back and forth, and the once seemingly permanent smiles and perky heads conform to gravity. It’s the fear that someone might be listening; a passer-by or even a friend…you don’t know who to trust in this country as anybody could be reporting to the military junta.

And with that, the conversation always ends there.

– At time of posting in Beijing, it was 86 °F
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: cloudy