Myanmar Literature’s Divided House

  MANDALAY—I was all set to headline this blog entry “The Barefoot Lit Fest”: a reference to the unusual decision to hold an international authors gathering in the halls of an ancient Buddhist pagoda, where shoes and socks must be left at the door. But then the Myanmar government got in the way and—in a style typical of the military junta preceding it—pulled the rug out from under everyone. This morning I arrived at the…

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Learning to Cope in a ‘Trauma Society’

  Meet Saw Thet Tun. As a student in 1988, he was involved in the pro-democracy movement. A few years later, the authorities caught up with him. Now, look at his right eye. Looks normal, right? But it's useless. He lost all its vision during the nineteen years he spent as a political prisoner of the dreaded SLORC/SPDC military regimes. Saw Thet Tun didn’t explain exactly how he lost the eye when he spoke recently to…

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The Best of Burma: A Reader’s List

Since Lune and I arrived in Myanmar in September, a few people have asked me what they should read about this fascinating country. In no particular order, and with some comments included, I’ve compiled a selection from the books I’ve read. For a general historical view, one of my favourites is River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma (2006) by historian Thant Myint-U, erudite grandson of former UN Secretary-General U Thant and—according to Foreign Policy—one…

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A Pox on Both Their Houses

A Pox on Both Their Houses
Anti-government protesters wave Thai national flags as they march toward the Labour Ministry in Bangkok November 27, 2013. Thousands of Thai demonstrators massed outside four ministries, a major government office complex and 19 provincial halls on Wednesday in an effort to cripple the administration and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

    YANGON—To borrow from a favourite line by Captain Willard in “Apocalypse Now,” sometimes the bullshit piles up so fast in Thailand that you need wings to stay above it. The “bullshit” in this case—as in the 2008 and 2010 rounds of political gridlock in the kingdom—is the braying and sloganeering of both “red shirt” and “yellow shirt” sides in a series of anti-government demonstrations and pro-government pushback rallies that have once again turned…

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Yangon Diary: Bomb Blasts a Dark Omen

  YANGON—On Tuesday morning, I received a message from a friend in Vancouver I had just wished a happy birthday. “Thanks Dan,” she said, “I hope you’re having a blast in Yangon.” I winced at the unintended irony: my friend had no way of knowing that Yangon had just been shaken by a series of bomb blasts. Minutes before receiving her note, I learned that another bomb had exploded just before midnight on Monday at…

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