Thursday, May 08, 2008
Random notes on Myanmar:
"A blood bath punctuated by occasional bouts of clumsy dialogue...but the movie does have its own kind of blockheaded poetry," said A.O. Scott as Rambo IV bombed at the box office. Myself, I was strangely desperate to see it, but at that point, knowing that there would not be time to venture to Myanmar, I became taken by any and all accounts of that land. That said, I foolishly pass up the pirated copies of Rambo that could be found in street stalls in Bangkok, thinking it would somehow still be in theatres upon my return. In a photocopied newspaper found in the western part of Cambodia, I read about Stallone's press-baiting of the Burmese junta, applauding that the movie was making the bootleg rounds there, stating he'd be more than happy to go find the mass graves of ethnic minorities to prove his point, but that was as close as I got to Myanmar itself.
Instead, I read a bootlegged, photocopied-to-thin-newsprint-paper copy of Emma Larkin's curious book, Finding George Orwell in Burma, which argues that Orwell's 1984 world is drawn not exclusively from the Soviet state, but rather that of Burma, where Orwell served as a police officer during the decline of the British empire, a foot soldier for such oppression.
“Truth is true only within a certain period of time. What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”
A Myanmar spokesperson, talking (yet not talking) about the events of "shiq lay-lone" (four eights), a quashed political uprising in Burma that occurred on August 8th, 1988. No wait, it didn't happen. Larkin notes how post-'88, the military erased the violent protests from the record books and renamed itself State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). When another power shuffling happened nearly a decade on, it led to a new name, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). If you think it's difficult to keep up with the names, she also writes that upon her arrival in any area of Myanmar, nine departments were bid to be aware of a foreign presence in their midst, meaning nine photocopies of her passport and visa to: Township Land Police, the Township Water Police, the District Land Police, the District Water Police, the Immigration Department, the Local Peace and Development Council, the District Peace and Development Council, the Military, and Military Intelligence.
So which one is shifting sandbags? Sawing at fallen trees? Which entity sells highly-inflated petrol, the attendants gripping automatic rifles as they pour?
What's with getting a firm tsk-tsk from Laura Bush?
The lecturing monk at the meditation center in northern Thailand talks about the great peril of simply going to the neighboring country, seeing all the starving children, knowing that not even Buddhist monks are safe from the junta, knowing that government agents are planted in their ranks, with shaved heads and burgundy robes. I can still hear how he clearly intones the word "hungry."
Apparently, the (insert opposing nation) pundits foolishly thought that the grossly negligent oversight and bungling by the government in the wake of (insert natural disaster that killed scores of indigenous poor) might destabilize the country's impoverished state and lead to that military-industrial state's overthrow. The Saints played Monday Night Football in the Superdome, so we know that New Orleans is back to normal at least.
"One thing they never report," a fellow tells me in Laos, after learning that I am a journalist. "is how China, India, and Thailand prop up and support the junta, with China building munitions factories for the military. None of Burma's neighbors want unstability, lest it spill over across their borders. They don't want regime change."
Funny how my slowly accrued impressions come from hearsay, photocopied pages and books, conflicting video clips, wholly removed, all secondhand at best.
From an unpublished interview with Alan Bishop:
"I first went to Burma in 1993 (12 years after SCG began). I had never heard Burmese music before that and the experience of first coming in contact with it had a huge amount to do with me being interested in releasing some of the music I had been collecting all through the years simply because I found it difficult to believe why I hadn't heard Burmese music before---it was so brilliant, so adventurous and unique, I thought it was criminal that there were no Burmese records to hear anywhere.
"I began realizing that the international music giants have their heads so far up their asses that their financiers and management should be publicly slaughtered by dull axe blades for never roaming the world and reissuing the great music that exists out there. They waste way more money every year on endless garbage than it would take to do what I was to eventually become a major part of doing later with Sublime Frequencies. I was literally floored by Burmese music... much more so than by any other music I had ever heard before. When I brought back some recordings from that first trip and played them to Nick at Majora Records, he immediately wanted to do a release of Burmese classics on LP and so Princess Nicotine was finished within a year or so and actually came out before the Cambodian Rocks LP showed up."
Me: "I was wondering if you were familiar with this Emma Larkin book, Finding George Orwell in Burma. And if you saw the last Rambo movie?"
Alan Bishop: "No, haven't read it. I saw the movie (I always monitor the propaganda on both sides of the Burmese situation)....somewhat ridiculous but entertaining in a weird way, especially because my wife and daughter were laughing every time Stallone butchered the Burmese while he was attempting to speak!
"But there is only one side to the Burmese Junta story circulating outside the country. It is an extremely complex issue and there's hardly an international journalist alive today who even has a fucking clue as to what's really going on there--they all tout the same line coming from the same source that fucks us all in the ass daily with all the news that's 'fit' to print!!"