Insight Myanmar

Insight Myanmar Podcast

We stand by the Burmese people in their quest for democracy and freedom. Listen to our podcasts to hear from activists, artists, leaders, monastics, fighters, authors, and more to learn more about what's really happening in Myanmar. read less

Grahame White, Part 1
1w ago
Grahame White, Part 1
Episode #190: A carefree Australian surfer, Grahame White’s life changed dramatically on a chance encounter with Hermann Hesse’s, Siddhartha. After reading it, he decided to practice breathing based on a short line in the text. What happened next blew him away. “The mind became very bright and luminous after about five minutes and I said, ‘Oh, this is better than drugs!’” Grahame then practiced Buddhist meditation in the Mahasi style at a monastery offered by the Thai Embassy in London, before heading onto Bodhgaya and ordaining there as a monk.At Bodghaya, he learned about an Indian vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka, and Grahame made plans to go to the Tibetan monastery in Ladakh where Goenka would be conducting his second ever course.Those days in Bodghaya were an amazing time. He met Joseph Goldstein and Munindra, among many other names who would become prominent in Dhamma circles. Goenka soon announced his intention to come there to conduct a series of courses. Even among all the other spiritual teachers he was encountering at the time in India, he found that Goenka stood out in a remarkable way. “I feel as though Goenkaji just had a presence about him from his meditation practice,” he commented, adding that his strong personality and humility also stood out. He spent long periods in Goenka’s presence, and listened to Goenka and Munindra converse for many hours on the Dhamma.In those days, Goenka courses were intense, but quite relaxed.  But little by little, Grahame felt an emergent “fundamentalism” in the organization as it rapidly grew in size, which made him uncomfortable, and so he returned to his Mahasi practice.In 1973, Grahame made his first visit to Burma. With only 7-day visas given to foreigners, he practiced briefly at the main Mahasi monastery, where he studied under Sayadaw U Janaka.Mahasi was also gaining a growing interest among Westerners, and when Grahame finally made it back to Australia, he began to involve himself with supporting Mahasi courses there. He eventually stepped into the teacher role himself, which will be the subject of Part 2 of our interview with him.
The French Connection (Bonus Shorts)
Sep 15 2023
The French Connection (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #189: Nan Su Mon Aung took on a significant role to support her country and government by agreeing to become the NUG Representative in France. Despite acknowledging the challenges and responsibilities that come with the position, she embraced it with determination. Nan Su Mon Aung's mission is to inform French society about the situation in Myanmar, represent Burmese citizens in France, and foster communication between the NUG and French organizations.She expresses gratitude for the support provided by the global Burmese diaspora while recognizing the sacrifices made by those in the resistance movement who are on the ground. Nan Su Mon Aung highlights the ongoing struggles faced by people in Myanmar, such as arrests and ongoing human rights violations. Having grown up under previous dictatorships, her aspiration was to provide freer and more open education to Burmese youth. She aimed to encourage critical thinking and create a learning experience similar to that of international universities. However, her plans were disrupted by the coup.Nan Su Mon Aung also discusses her mixed, Karen/Pa’O background and the ethnic divisions still present in Myanmar. She praises the younger generation for their acceptance of diversity and their awareness of human rights and equality, and chalks it up to their easy access to information, which sets them apart from previous generations. She also emphasizes the global nature of the conflict in Myanmar, urging outside observers to recognize the involvement of Russia and China and the threat it poses to neighboring countries and the international community. Nan Su Mon Aung believes in the importance of eradicating dictatorship worldwide and encourages support for the ongoing revolution.“As long as we don't lose hope in our revolution, we are already winning. And we should be believing in it, because our revolution should prevail
Picturing a Revolution
Sep 12 2023
Picturing a Revolution
Episode #188: Min Ma Naing, a photojournalist and narrative visual artist, stumbled onto her path accidentally. While studying in Hong Kong, she often went to a park to take a break from the strain, where her innocent smiles were misconstrued by men. To deter unwanted advances, she carried a camera, igniting a passion for photography.After attending an intensive international reporting training, she ventured to Meiktila, a town marred by religious tensions. In contrast to the media’s usual focus on the negative, she wanted to find positive stories to cover, and after further media training, she returned to Meiktila to do just that.Employed by The Myanmar Times, disillusionment set in, not only with the media’s focus on the negative angle of stories, but also gender bias in the newsroom. So she began to explore the field of documentary photography.Min Ma Naing ended up spending extended time living in Bangladesh, where she very much felt like an outsider. So when she ended up serendipitously meeting some Somali exiles there, she realized they both shared the experience of being outsiders. This led to a project she called “Jigsaw,” which shared many diverse, individual stories of displacement.Her portfolio then expanded to encompass diverse topics, including nunnery life and human trafficking, as well as more personal stories, such as one project exploring a failed relationship. But the military coup in February, 2021, dramatically shifted her focus. Through film photography, she captured the diverse perspectives of those opposing the coup. Her stories explored the individual experiences of ordinary people because it was, after all, a people’s revolution.The coup upended her life, and after surviving some close calls as a protester, she realized that the military would be coming for her sooner or later. She finally fled the country, with her family’s blessing, although her sister remains in prison to this day.Now in living in safety, her art has become a double-edged sword, reminding her of her privilege in being in a place of safety and escaping arrest. Seeking healing, she began to chronicle her emotions in visual diaries on the advice of a therapist, which later transformed into poignant handmade books that help her bridge the emotional chasm caused by her exile and love of her country.Min Ma Naing continues today to give a voice to her country’s vulnerable population who are struggling to be heard. Yet, she notes, “I don't like the term like a voiceless. We were not able to hear it, but they have their voice, and we [just] fail to hear it.”
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Sep 5 2023
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Episode #187: Guillaume de Langre, a former adviser to the Myanmar Ministry of Electricity and Energy, paints a bleak picture of the country’s multiple, overlapping, energy crises. He describes how the junta's inadequate governance and years of mismanagement under past military regimes have exacerbated the situation. Today, power cuts are becoming more frequent, causing the spoilage of food and vaccines, business closures, and postponed surgeries, among many other disruptions.De Langre points out that approximately 50% of Myanmar's power comes from gas they produce, but a resource expected to run out by 2030. this poses a critical challenge for the country's economy. Importing gas or transitioning to alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower requires significant investment and time, both of which the current regime lacks. Foreign investor trust eroded after the coup, leaving energy projects abandoned. De Langre underscores the dire, society-wide consequences of failing to address the energy crisis.De Langre notes that the military's primary interest is in securing foreign currency and funding, rather than developing energy for the people’s benefit. As a way out of the current energy crisis, and to build a better future, he suggests a transition to solar and wind energy along with hydroelectricity, coupled with rebuilding investor trust. However, the military's history of neglect hinders any possibility of progress in this area. Still, De Langre envisions a possible silver lining in this challenging period – an opportunity to reimagine a decentralized, renewable, power grid. But this would take an awareness and a shift in the current authorities’ priorities, something not likely to happen.In closing, de Langre highlights the economic aspect of Myanmar's tragedy, which is often overlooked in light of the many other atrocities continuing to take place. “It is a massive opportunity cost for the development of regional unity and stability! It is a massive opportunity costs for keeping that qualified labor in Myanmar… that’s really critical to the economic freedom of people of households of individuals of businesses.”
A Double Minority
Sep 1 2023
A Double Minority
Episode #186: “The term ‘double minority’ simply means a ‘minority within minority,’” Christopher Win explains. “Rakhine is an ethnic minority group in Myanmar, and Maramagyi is an even smaller group than the Rohingya! I'm from that small minority group, and I work as an ethnic rights activist.”The Maramagyi have faced discrimination and marginalization from the larger Rakhine and Rohingya communities, as well as severe restrictions placed on them from the Burmese state. Despite these challenges, Christopher has been involved in activism, documenting human rights violations and collaborating with organizations such as the UN Human Rights Office.He views the issues faced by the Maramagyi as part of an "ethnically patriarchal system," where dominant ethnic groups oppress smaller ones. Christopher believes that smaller ethnic groups should unite to amplify their voices and push for their rights through a new federal charter, rather than narrowly seeking freedoms for their own groups alone.The military coup in Myanmar has brought greater awareness to the ethnic struggles that were previously ignored or misunderstood by the majority Bamar population. Christopher sees a positive shift in the Bamar perspective, as they now recognize the importance of federalism and respect for ethnic diversity.Christopher was politically active after the coup, which put him in the crosshairs of the dreaded Special Branch. So he had to make his escape, and eventually found his way to Washington, DC. Here, he joined the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, a group working towards a unified resistance against dictatorship and advocating for the rights of Myanmar's diverse ethnic groups.“We’re making especially Bamar people understand that Myanmar is extremely diverse country and our rights have long been violated. We're experiencing all these atrocious acts every day, but since people of Myanmar are determined, and they are on the right path, I am hopeful that we will win eventually, because we never had this sort of momentum in the past!”
From Reconciliation to Resistance
Aug 29 2023
From Reconciliation to Resistance
Episode #185: Alan Clements returns to the podcast, this time to talk about his recent book, Burma’s Voices of Freedom in Conversation with Alan Clements: An Ongoing Struggle for Democracy, a four-volume opus consisting of his interviews with “dozens of the country’s most respected and well-known politicians, pro-democracy activists, artists and religious leaders from Burma’s democracy movements” since the 1988 uprising.  Clements first addresses concerns about Aung Sang Suu Kyi, devoting the book’s first volume to her. He sets it up as one long interview, writing simple questions that she “answers” with selected verbatim quotes. Clements claims that her actual words disprove many of the narratives that have arisen about her since the Rohingya crisis. He insists that her actual words demonstrate that she in fact was not an apologist for the military’s genocidal actions against the Rohingya. The next part of the book is an interview Clements conducted with Fergus Harlow, who he believes to be one of the leading experts in fascism, totalitarianism indoctrination and related subjects. The third part of the book is a letter Clements wrote to General Min Aung Hlaing, requesting permission to come to Nay Pyi Daw to interview him. His outreach is based on the themes of shame and redemption in the Angulimala Sutta and the life of King Ashoka. The fourth section of the book is what Clements calls a “brilliant” letter written by a very prominent (as yet unnamed) Tibetan Buddhist teacher, addressed to Aung Sang Suu Kyi, that explains how the world got the Rohingya crisis wrong. The final part of the book summarizes important events of the past few years in Myanmar. Finally, the conversation turns to Clements’ defense of the use of violence in self-defense in the appropriate circumstances, which applies to those now in the resistance movement in Burma. While he still believes in an emphasis on reconciliation, he also thinks that pragmatically, people should have the right to choose how to defend themselves.
Rising Above Borders (Bonus Shorts)
Aug 25 2023
Rising Above Borders (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #184: One of six siblings, Tu Lor Eh Paw grew up in a bamboo hut in a tiny village in Karen state. Her mother was a local Karen Christian missionary, and Tu Lor grew up celebrating Christian holidays and basing her ethics and values on Christian teachings.When Tu Lor was just a child, her mother unfortunately passed away, and her father made the difficult decision to move most of the family to a refugee camp. He felt he just couldn’t support the entire family in the village anymore, and there was a constant fear of the military.After two years in a Thai refugee camp, the family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Arriving in the thick of winter, her first thought was, “Hey, what’s all this white stuff?!” They did not have the right clothing for that climate, knew few people there, and couldn’t speak any English. Her siblings ended up going to different schools.Fortunately, Minneapolis boasts a sizeable Karen community, which Tu Lor quickly integrated into. Tu Lor has since made the most of her new life in the United States, but she can’t help but feel a sense of guilt when thinking of her remaining family back home. She is constantly thinking of what she can do in the United States that will help those back home, which is a challenge with the conflict continuing to rage.While Tu Lor is hopeful about the democracy movement in Myanmar, she is tired by the ongoing stress and trauma, tired of the international community barely paying attention or providing support, and tired of hearing about yet more airstrikes around her home village. “But I am hopeful that we're finally going to get the freedom that we want.”
Pabhassaro Bhikkhu
Aug 22 2023
Pabhassaro Bhikkhu
Episode #183: Sebastian Copija began his journey amid the mesmerizing mountains and bountiful nature of his southern Poland home. Through the years, he developed a strong interest in American and British music, especially heavy metal, yet there was also always the deep yearning for living a life of simplicity.Fueled by an insatiable thirst for understanding consciousness, Sebastian delved into an array of wisdom, exploring Zen, Thich Nhat Hanh's writings, and NLP.  And his encounter with an old pianist revealed the power of pure, open-hearted expression. However, Sebastian realized that the old musician’s joy was just tied to playing music, and Sebastian was looking for something more profound and lasting.Sebastian started working at IBM, but left after a year to teach English in Thailand. Immersed in Thai culture, he found himself drawn to monastic life; he took robes, and was given the name Pabhassaro Bhikkhu. He embraced meditation and immersed himself in Buddhist traditions, with one foot in the Thai Forest Tradition and the other in the structured meditation of the Mahasi tradition.“If that intention is very clear, if we know that we are practicing the path of renunciation… then those are tools to support, and to bring nutriment to the heart. That has been the most important shift in my way to see the practice, [not] trying to see which is better, which is worse, but how to really see oneself as a monastic, a son of the Buddha, and to see one's teacher as the Buddha….”Pabhassaro Bhikkhu has since disrobed, and is Sebastian again, living back in his native country. His quest for inner freedom and unconditioned joy remains steadfast, illuminating the path for all who seek true fulfillment.
The Dark Side of Teak
Aug 15 2023
The Dark Side of Teak
Episode #182: “If you're a millionaire, or a billionaire, you want the best,” says Timo Schober, a German-based journalist who works at Papertrail Media, “and the best is natural grown teak [from Myanmar]...And that's what is driving the demand.”Schober joins the conversation along with Shirsho Dasgupta, an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald. They talk about the decimation of Burma’s once vast forest lands which started during colonial times, and today is just 40% of what it once was.After the military coup in 2021, the US imposed sanctions on Myanmar Timber Enterprises (MTE), a military-linked corporation controlling the teak trade. Following a leak from Myanmar’s tax department, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) collaborated with 39 media outlets to investigate teak exports and potential sanctions evasion, and their work is the subject of this episode.The international demand for high-quality teak remains strong, particularly among the ultra-rich. At least $400 million worth of teak has been exported since the coup, mainly to European and American markets.Traders argue that they don't buy directly from MTE but through private companies, and therefore their teak trade is legal. This creates complexities for customs officers in enforcing sanctions. Additionally, others believe their actions are legal as they bought teak before the sanctions, though officials state that the date of purchase does not exempt them.At the end of the day, Dasgupta reminds listeners that it comes back to finding a way to speak directly to the consumer about this murky business, as a way to discourage any involvement in teak. “A lot of luxury products that we covered, they do lead to conflict and the destruction of the environment, and we should keep in mind that even if we're not buying teak, we might be complicit in in other ways when we buy
Scot Marciel
Aug 8 2023
Scot Marciel
Episode #181: “I was walking into a country that was in the middle of significant change,” states Scot Marciel, the US Ambassador to Myanmar from 2016 to 2020.One of the first challenges Marciel faced was the role of sanctions. While initially imposed to pressure the regime, he found they had limited effectiveness, and argues that the policy, long driven by a justifiable anger towards the junta’s brutality, ultimately hindered analytical thinking about more helpful approaches. “You can’t wait until it’s Norway or Switzerland to act, you’ve got to come in and try to do what you can to support and encourage more change! And so I think it was the right move [to remove all sanctions]… if you want to have influence at all, you got to be there.”The Rohingya crisis was the most challenging issue that Marciel faced in his entire diplomatic career, as the military perpetrated violence so extreme it was later determined to be a genocide. Despite international pressure, the Myanmar government denied the atrocities, and it was difficult to get access to even basic facts. “Thant Myint U wrote at some point that you can't fix Rakhine if you don't fix Myanmar,” he recalls. “I took that to heart, and so that's what we tried to do. But it was a struggle. It was a lot of anguish, and not everybody agreed, and there weren't any great options.”Regarding the current situation in Myanmar, Marciel believes engagement with the military junta is unproductive. Instead, he suggests supporting local governance, public services, and the resistance elements opposing the junta. He is cautious about providing lethal weapons to resistance groups due to potential logistical challenges and the risk of escalating conflict with China's involvement.“First and foremost, I think 80 to 90% of whatever happens is going to be decided within the country by people of Myanmar, and that's just a reality,” he says in closing, adding that there are also ways the international community can help.
Cooking Up a Revolution
Aug 1 2023
Cooking Up a Revolution
Episode #180: Immediately following the military coup, Trish, participated in the nonviolent demonstrations by cooking and serving food to protesters. Soon, however, she became a target of the military, so she relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she continues to cook and raise awareness about the situation in Myanmar.Not satisfied limiting her cooking to Bamar dishes, Trish delved into researching and showcasing recipes from Myanmar's diverse ethnic and religious minorities. Inspired by a “Chef’s Table” episode about safeguarding traditional recipes as a means of preserving culture and history in Mexico, Trish sought to bring the same spirit to her own work. And by exploring traditional recipes and techniques, she discovered the importance of fermentation in Burmese cuisine and its role in ensuring food preservation in a tropical climate.After matriculating at a French culinary school, she tried to elevate Burmese cuisine with French influences, but realized the effort ended up erasing the authenticity and devaluing the culture she sought to promote.  More recently, Trish established “Bamama Cooks,” a platform that initially focused on creating food content but has expanded into community building and product-based ventures. By employing displaced Burmese individuals, including those affected by the coup, Trish aims to provide a sense of stability and purpose during a time of great uncertainty. Earlier this year, she organized the "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" event, combining music, art, and food to demonstrate resilience and continue living despite the military's attempts to suppress lives and identities.Like many journeys, Trish’s culinary voyage has landed her back to where she started. Today, she continues to contemplate the deeper meaning behind not only the food of her homeland, but also what it represents. “I had to ask myself, as a Burmese person, what is the essence of Burmese food? And that was just bringing people together and having that community vibe.”
A Post-Coup Thriller (Bonus Shorts)
Jul 28 2023
A Post-Coup Thriller (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #179: Deputy Chief Inspector Lu Fei, the Chinese protagonist of author Brian Klingborg's thriller series, represents an archetype often seen in fictional detectives—an honest officer seeking justice in an unjust society. The series, set in the Chinese city of Harbin, near the Russian border, aims to entertain readers while also shedding light on various aspects of modern Chinese society. Klingborg, drawing on his background in East Asian Studies and his experiences abroad, wanted to create a Chinese character relatable to foreign audiences while staying true to his cultural roots.In the second book of the series, "Wild Prey," Klingborg explores Chinese connections with post-coup Myanmar. The plotline balances such disparate subjects as the COVID-19 pandemic and illegal animal trafficking trade between China and the ethnic regions of Myanmar.Klingborg's research involved studying real-life drug lords, as well as historical figures like the female warlord, Olive Yang, who inspired him to create a layered, female warlord character who challenges gender roles. He emphasizes the importance of developing well-rounded characters, even the villains, with motivations that extend beyond a simple dichotomy of good and evil.Klingborg mentions that while the average Chinese citizen may not think much about Myanmar, there are parts of the country which attract a certain Chinese clientele. He highlights Mongla, the infamous border town, which is offered compared to Las Vegas or Tijuana. “Busloads of Chinese tourists, mostly men, would go down there and… drink tigerbone wine, gamble, and pick up prostitutes, basically,” he notes. He adds that a wide variety of animal products are available there, like ivory, as well as all kinds of exotic food that isn’t legally allowed to be eaten in China.Circling back to the current conflict since the military coup, Klingborg notes in closing how “Myanmar is a fascinating place with tragic history. We all hope that things can change sometime in the near future.
Sunda Khin, Part 1
Jul 18 2023
Sunda Khin, Part 1
Episode #177: In the captivating story of Sunda Khin, we delve into a world filled with remarkable individuals who left an indelible mark on Burma's history. Sunda Khin's father, U Chan Htoon, the esteemed first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Burma, played a pivotal role in shaping the nation's destiny.Growing up as part of an elite family, Sunda Khin encountered influential figures such as Aung San, the nation's first post-independence leader, and his wife, Daw Khin Kyi. She also had personal connections to Ne Win, the military dictator responsible for the 1962 coup, and Louisa Bensen, a movie star turned rebel leader. Sunda Khin's father shared a close friendship with U Nu, a devout meditation practitioner who found himself leading a country in turmoil.Amidst these historical events, Sunda Khin's family had unique experiences with renowned personalities worldwide. They received formal invitations from Lord Mountbatten in London, interacted with visiting dignitaries, and even became guests of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, despite historical tensions between their nations. U Chan Htoon's pursuit of Buddhist wisdom led him to connect with Buddhist monks and scholars across Asia, fostering a broader understanding of the religion.One of U Chan Htoon’s most significant friendships was with the young Indian businessman, S.N. Goenka, who suffered from debilitating migraines, and was afraid he would become addicted to morphine. U Chan Htoon strongly suggested that Goenka take a meditation course with Sayagyi U Ba Khin to help overcome his affliction. This encounter would later inspire Goenka to spread the practice of Vipassana meditation worldwide, impacting countless lives.
Jonathan Crowley, Part 2
Jul 11 2023
Jonathan Crowley, Part 2
Episode #176: Jonathan Crowley's journey into meditation at Dhamma Dhara was both fascinating and fulfilling. As he immersed himself in vipassana meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka, he discovered a deeper understanding of the practice, and himself, along with the joy of serving as a volunteer. However, learning how to integrate his newfound wisdom into everyday life posed challenges, compounded by the fact that at this time in the 1980s, meditation was still considered fringe and largely outside the bounds of conventional society.Still, Jonathan pondered how vipassana meditation could impact society and bridge the worlds of introspection and social change. Around this time, the center was organizing courses for traumatized Cambodian refugees who had escaped the Pol Pot regime and were being relocated in Massachusetts. While these initiatives brought the world to the center, Jonathan still yearned to find a way to bring the center into the world.An opportunity arose when he accompanied Bruce Stewart, a senior teacher, to a maximum-security prison in Alabama, where they were allowed to conduct an intensive meditation course for inmates. While it was a transformative experience at the time, later Jonathan would reflect upon his racial naiveté and how he had positioned himself into a role as a “White savior.”Increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity within the organization's leadership, Jonathan advocated for targeted courses for Black communities and tracking retention rates by demographics, but the center showed little interest.Earlier in his practice, Jonathan had been deeply moved by how Goenka attempted to universalize the technique, proclaiming that “breath is breath,” and explaining that it couldn’t be differentiated according to nationality, religion or skin color. But Jonathan was beginning to see that there was more to this story than this universalist-sounding messaging. “I understand structural racism as intergenerational trauma,” he notes. “So now, I would say that even our breaths and our sensations are conditioned by this level of trauma, and that has to be addressed.”
Jonathan Crowley, Part 1 (Bonus Shorts)
Jul 7 2023
Jonathan Crowley, Part 1 (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #175: Long before it was commonplace in America, Jonathan Crowley’s parents were keen on exploring Eastern philosophy. As for Jonathan, his first exposure to meditation began with a four-day silent retreat led by Larry Rosenberg at IMS. Seeking a deeper experience, he attended a ten-day course at a vipassana meditation center in the S.N. Goenka tradition. The course proved to be incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally.After taking a second course, Jonathan gained a better understanding of Goenka's teachings, and left him with a lasting experience of mettā (loving-kindness). This newfound understanding also inspired him to look at how to integrate meditation into everyday life.Still, Jonathan struggled to reconcile these realizations with conventional expectations and societal pressures. He found inspiration from books on renunciation and sought simpler lifestyles, which eventually led to applying for the sit-and-serve program at Dhamma Dhara.At this point, Jonathan faced a choice between joining the center or pursuing an intensive theater program. Ultimately, he chose the path of Dhamma, immersing himself in the vipassana community around western Massachusetts. His time spent with fellow students, servers, and teachers deeply influenced him, and is explored further in Part 2 of the conversation.“I was getting to know that world,” Jonathan recalls. “And that period of time certainly had a very deeply conditioned experience on me.”
Jack Myint, Part 1
Jul 3 2023
Jack Myint, Part 1
Episode #174: Jack Myint’s story begins with his attempts to learn English, which was no easy feat coming from a lower middle-class background, and in a country that had intentionally restricted English language instruction. Early on, he relied on the phrases his father taught him during taxi rides and recited them phonetically to foreign tourists at Shwedagon Pagoda, even though he didn't fully understand their meaning.As Jack's language skills improved, his parents managed to find English CDs and videotapes, and his remarkable journey of becoming self-taught before he was seven years old eventually caught the attention of famed author, Ma Thanegi, at The Myanmar Times. But even at that young age, Jack had to come to terms the harsh reality of living under a military dictatorship, as his lack of freedoms and need for self-censorship became evident.Jack's insatiable thirst for knowledge later found solace at the American Center, where he immersed himself in literature and political speeches—George Orwell and Bill Clinton were his favorites, respectively. Other impactful lessons came from his tutelage at the foot of Shwe Nya Nwar Sayadaw, who taught him about the struggle against military governance and the complexities of monastic politics.Jack came to recognize how the military was exploiting Buddhism by using nationalist rhetoric to co-opt monks as messengers of their propaganda. The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and the military's effective use of social media, particularly Facebook, further divided the country.During Myanmar's transition period, Jack witnessed the hunger for a better life among the people. However, economic growth seemed to bypass many Bamar Buddhists, leading to a resurgence of racial and religious identity, which played into the military's hands.
Revisiting the Aluminum Trail
Jun 27 2023
Revisiting the Aluminum Trail
Episode #173: Historian Robert Lyman takes listeners on a captivating journey through the little-known Burma Front of World War II. Lyman's 35 years of research and his fascination with the ethnic hill tribes, particularly the Naga, come together in his book, Among The Headhunters, which serves as the focal point of this conversation.Lyman unveils the intricate details surrounding a remarkable story: an American C-47 plane crashes in the Naga Hills, triggering a race to rescue the survivors. The backdrop to this adventure is the Japanese invasion of Burma and their successful blockade of the Burma Road. The Americans needed to do all they could to keep China in the war, in order to keep Japan tied down there, and away from the fighting in other parts of the Pacific.Lyman describes how Roosevelt eventually approved the audacious logistical undertaking of transport planes navigating the treacherous Himalayas as a way to keep Chinese troops supplied. Pilots braved perilous flights without oxygen, facing towering peaks and Japanese adversaries. Lyman also introduces us to the rich tapestry of the Naga people— some of whom were headhunters and slave owners— and describes their ongoing conflicts with the British Empire as it expanded into their region.The narrative returns to the plane crash, where the survivors find themselves in the Naga village of Pangsha. Lyman talks about the initial amazement of the villagers toward the strange visitors, emphasizing the cultural disorientation experienced by both sides. He highlights the benevolence shown by the Naga people, sheltering the survivors and enabling their communication and eventual rescue.Lyman concludes by reflecting on the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, attributing it to flawed colonial mapping and the lack of effort on the part of the Burmese military to establish a unified nation for the diverse hill tribes. He underscores the importance of creating structures and processes to foster peace and urges Myanmar's government to adopt a more inclusive approach.“The really tragic thing about Myanmar is that the government doesn't seem to understand that every time they use violence, they simply create more warriors. They're not doing anything to create a long peace!” Lyman says in conclusion.