Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Myanmar Travel Document

I have decided to structure this post differently, in order to maintain the integrity and detail required in documenting exactly what I have seen and experienced, over the 7 day period in Myanmar.

Day 0 – Arrive in Yangon (whizzing around to get my essay done), snaking car ride. How developed the city is compared to Pyongyang, lights and stuff everywhere. Switched hotel rooms due to lizard and foul smell.

Day 1 – Morning exploration of Burma (small temple) Fridge magnets bought. Breakfast (mohinga) with the Australian Ambassador for Myanmar. Chill out with Winnie (stroopwaffel) after 2 years abroad. Briefing by British Council; Met Joe for the first time and British Students. Dinner at the British Club, chicken curry. Complications arose regarding the last day in Megwe, and the two nights that we spent in the Alfa hotel, as well as the (lost?) money towards the loft.

Day 2 – Visit to Naypyidaw. 5 hour car journey, had some awkward conversations/small talk. First meeting was with the Military government (education committee). Second meeting was with the National league for Democracy private eatery. Student union leaders were also present. Met Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Naypyidaw is a extremely expensive ghost town. Politicians so far removed from the plight of the common man. Also started working on our power-point presentation. Felt like we weren't doing the student union leaders justice. Dinner at a local eatery.

Day 3 – Early morning meeting with the Student Union leaders. After that explored Yangon a little bit more. Then had lunch with some of them. After that we visited Shwe Dagon and did some exploration together for a little bit. Bonded on a very surface level with the British students. Had dinner on 19th street, variety of meats and other nibbles etc. Gave out the little tiny koalas.

Day 4 – Early morning meeting with the Student Union leaders. Straight after that we headed off to the airport. Flew to Nyaung Oo, then to Megwe. Had dinner at an amazing local eatery in Megwe.

Day 5 – Woke up early to visit local tea shop. Met with student union leaders. Electricity went out, very very hot weather. After that they took us around Megwe, saw the countryside. Went inside a Buddhist monastery. Gave out the Nougat to the Burmese students. Explored some buddhist places, old village, had a bull-cart ride. Evening: Had a good talk with Oxford Univeristy students: THREE AIMS: 1. Google collaboration with the First respondent/ application. 2. How we can assist Burma in the future, what actions we can take. 3. Reforming Australian universities to promote Unionism.

Day 6 – Woke up at 4.25am to catch the airport. Spent the early morning exploring Bagan, 13th century buddhist temples, rural villages. Found the abstract commercialism distasteful. Arrived far too early at the airport.

Testimonies

Glasses Boy: Mum died when he was 10 due to Heatstroke. Implied that inadequate health facilities were to blame for this. Dad then died when he was 15, due to alcoholism. Implied that this was because of the grief over the death of his mother. Acknowledges that the reason that he is unable to  go outside of the country is because he is poor. If he is rich then everyone leaves Myanmar as soon as possible.

Aung Shwe: 10-15 years ago some of the labour camps in western Myanmar had death rates hovering around 80%. labour camps were for petty crimes, prison was for “political prisoners”. Once you are arrested it is a lot more difficult to get back into university. Prison systems have systemic corruption, which leads to the leaders being oblivious to the plight of the average prisoner. Torture is not systematic but is present for certain things.

Union boss email: Students have been held in prison since the time we have been in Burma, others may or may not be in hiding away form the authorities

Oxford Students: We came here for a specific purpose. Australian university unions are weak. We shouldn't have held British University unions as the model example. If anything we came and contributed friendship, warmth and solidarity that we have their back, and that we are helping them out in some facet from abroad.

Sean Turnell: There is rank incompetence in the Burmese government. Economic adviser to Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Known to be a very practical economic adviser, not one to talk about theory too much.

Joe Fisher: Aung Sun Suu Kyi: Everyone has a temper. She expects a very great standard from herself and as such expects similarly from her staff members. As such she can be considered to have a little bit of a short temper.

Zeya: Formerly rock punk band. Political prisoner for 3 years, second youngest member of the NLD.

Yellow Jacket MP: I have been a political prisoner for over 20 years. But I still want to improve our country, which is why I am running as an MP for the NLD. A lot of the staff have been in political prisons for the actions of free speech and the simple act of democratic protest.

Sentiments

- Empathy for the students
- Frustration at the barriers of entry for change to happen in the country.
- Some people have been in political prison longer than I have been alive on this earth.
- We are all sharing the same earth and the same reality, yet our worlds are so divorced.
- Comparisons with the political apathy of most Australian students. We are too comfortable with little to fight for. Thus we have become complacent while our freedoms are slowly eroded away.
- They are fighting for a freedom that they have never had before. They do not know what is reasonable to demand from the government.
- The government neither criminalises or legalises the formation of student unions. But, when student unions meet the government may cut off electricity supply. They have an incredible determination to fight for what they believe in.
- Its important to note that student union leaders may not be representative of the entire student population. They may only be the radical left wing faction, for instance.
- Our standard of living is immense. There is NOTHING good about living in Megwe. Hot, arid dustbowl like conditions. Poor quality governance, education, food, shelter, health.
- You can be moved if you keep an open mind and allow yourself to be moved.