FEBRUARY 26, 2017
A SUPER AUSPICIOUS Mingala New Year to dear, dear friends of Myanmar.
Hope 2017 finds you in the best of clime. Shall we begin with glad tidings?
It’s super awesome that Myanmar imitates the Star Wars universe. Just as Darth Sidious, the darkly charismatic senator from Naboo, rose to the position of supreme chancellor in the Galactic Republic in a far faraway galaxy, our Mother Suu rose above the president as state counsellor in Myanmar in April.
The post of state counsellor was created especially for Mother Suu by her election-winning party since, as you probably know, the 2008 Myanmar constitution, which was crafted by the military, disqualifies Mother Suu from the presidency on the basis that she was married to an alien!
Mother Suu may be bigger than the president, but, of course, she is light years away from Darth Sidious, who was corrupted by power and became a dictator during the Clone Wars. May the farce be with you! Long live Mother Suu!
Perhaps Jet Ni’s life is less interesting than Myanmar politics? Jet Ni’s plan to invest in telecommunication, the most lucrative sector in Myanmar after charity and tourism, has not been realized for want of capital. Jet Ni still works as a doorman for the Mingala Hotel, which was built on the land seized from Jet Ni’s father. Jet Ni shall not dwell again on Father’s suicide five years ago following the seizure of our farmland.
Nor would he like to talk about his Uncle Myint Aung, who set himself on fire and died in agony in protest against land-grabbing in Taung Gyi in March 2015. U Myint Aung’s self-immolation notwithstanding, this December saw the imprisonment of 40 men and 32 women who were charged with farming on the 5,000 acres of land owned by the Eastern Command in the Taung Gyi area in eastern Myanmar. Rest in peace Uncle Myint Aung!
Jet Ni has not heard anything from his cousin Shwe Mi, the Zhang Ziyi lookalike, who was working in the streets of Mong La, a Myanmar town bought up by China. Jet Ni’s sister Mya May is growing up really fast but had to quit school to sell betel quid so she can help Jet Ni pay our mother’s medical bills. Remember? Mother has cervical cancer.
Jet Ni’s egghead friends often compare the contemporary Myanmar to the decolonizing Burma of the 1950s. In the newly independent Burma, U Nu, best known for his translation of How to Win Friends and Influence People, became prime minister. In transitional Myanmar, author Pe Myint, a physician known for his translations of numerous motivational treatises including Chicken Soup for the Soul, has been made the Minister of Information.
A writer-physician leading the information ministry is one thing. A mechanical engineer being made the Minister for Construction is another. Not to mention a handful of poets who competed for Mother Suu’s party in the election and became PPMPs, proud poetic members of parliament. Long live PPMPs!
In June, when Mother Suu’s government announced that betel quid chewing and spitting in public would be banned, the betel industry, which might account for a tenth of Myanmar’s GDP, spat back with a vengeance. Myanmar’s economy almost collapsed. After all, no cabby in Myanmar is able to drive without betel between his rotting gums. The taxi industry accounts for another tenth of Myanmar’s GDP!
Westerners measure out their lives in coffee spoons. We Myanmar in betel quid. Singapore’s strongman Lee Kuan Yew was known for proscribing betel quid in his island state. Similar harsh measures are not going to work in Myanmar. Only by allowing betel quid to flourish can Myanmar hope to overtake Singapore economically in 20 years’ time. So we hope. Long live Mother Suu, and betel quid!
Myanmar remains a failed state, because her denizens shun tax. Mother Suu’s administration has been pushing hard on tax revenues. You can become a “tax informant” if you know a tax dodger. The reward is 10 percent of the tax he or she owes to the state. Attempts were made to license dodgy drug and liquor stores. When numerous drug stores were shut down in July, many people who usually got their prescription medication from those drug stores suffered from hypertension, anxiety disorder, and the like. In the underworld of unauthorized liquor stores and their clientele, it was apocalypse. Almost.
Monsoon deluge is no news in Myanmar these days. Almost half a million people were affected by the overflowing Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers in 11 regions across the country in 2016. From July onward, travelers in Myanmar are bound to see Myanmar youth collecting money for flood relief. Floods are probably one of the reasons why Myanmar is ranked the most charitable nation on earth.
In August, a strong earthquake shattered hundreds of stupas in Bagan, the land of pagodas in central Myanmar. The damage — surprise, surprise — was most severe on the parts of the ancient structures that were restored under the military regime. The earthquake also fractured parliament buildings in the capital Naypyidaw, prompting naysayers to claim that U Thein Sein, the former president, had designed the parliament buildings so that they wouldn’t outlast his term in office.
Around the same time, the much-loathed “overnight guest registration law” was debated in the parliament and abolished in September. Yet local authorities by and large still demand that they get the name, age, occupation, arrival, and departure of your overnight visitors, even though they would no longer come to inspect in the middle of the night who is inside your mosquito net. This was the custom under the military regime, which dreaded communists underground above all things else. Today everyone is paranoid about terrorism, speaking of which there were several small explosions in Yangon this year, and our police have yet to name the perpetrators.
Now we can speak of “9/10” (9 October) when about 400 Islamic militants attacked border police checkpoints in Maungdaw township on the western Myanmar border. Imagine some stateless militants attacking American border checkpoints at Niagara Falls. The United States would probably respond by invading Canada on the same day. The Myanmar temperament was much more composed with “clearance operations.” There was no invasion of Bangladesh.
Yet Mother Suu has been internationally censured for not speaking out for the plight of the Rohingya, thousands of whom remain segregated in the IDP camps near Sittwe in western Myanmar since the 2012 communal clashes. In contrast, even U Ye Htut, who was information minister in U Thein Sein’s government, is now standing up for Rohingya rights from a safe haven in Singapore. We cannot imagine Mother Suu’s information minister doing the same thing.
“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart,” we say, but it doesn’t apply to Mother Suu of course. Despite her hectic schedule as state counsellor, Mother Suu even took time to design three types of fashionable glass-topped tables, which became a national sensation in November. The Ministry of Industry will mass-produce and sell Mother Suu tables to boost the country’s income. Long live awesome Mother Suu!
Not long after the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, complete with walkouts and photocalls, spilled millions of US dollars of donor money and concluded in September, a motley crew that call themselves “the Northern Alliance” attacked the Myanmar military strongholds in Muse on the Myanmar-China border, displacing thousands of people. Of course the peace conference had been “all inclusive,” except for the Northern Alliance. Peace sells, my friend, but peace is not a piece of cake in Myanmar.
The other political celebrity of the year must be our Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, who in April caused a furor when he banned all for-profit pavilions during New Year water festivals. In July, during a visit to Singapore, U Phyo Min Thein said that the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) was not necessary. Soon afterward, Ma Ba Tha was disowned by a patron organization of senior monks. Today our vulnerable Venerable U Wirathu, the leader of Ma Ba Tha (promoted as Myanmar’s Bin Laden by Time magazine), can feel good about himself — all he has to do is relate himself to Donald Trump.
And yet when U Phyo Min Thein was seen wearing a $100,000 Patek Philippe watch in November, the general opinion was that it was not handed down from his grandfather. After all, U Phyo Min Thein makes $2,500 a month, wrote Myanmar’s Eleven Media mogul U Than Htut Aung. The mogul was sued, and sent to prison and has apologized profusely from behind bars. Too late, it occurred to him that the watch could have been made in Hong Kong. Long live Hong Kong watches!
Speaking of attacks against the media, my friend, this year continued to see several arrests of Facebookers whose posts have upset some powerful individuals. Apart from chasing after the Facebookers, the Myanmar police were enjoying a vacation.
2016 was a record breaker in many respects. It was the year of sexual violence against minors! 534 cases already reported, compared to 216 cases the previous year. Our Buddhist land is also “The Land of Many a Smiley Pedophile,” a slogan that would bode ill for the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism. The number of murders reported was 1,000 — 300 cases down from the previous year, but the police complained that this year saw highly bizarre and brutal cases. Human trafficking remains a serious issue with 119 court cases, most of which involve Myanmar women seduced into neighbouring China.
Alas, the accident rate was also high. Death on the Yangon–Mandalay “Highway to Hell” was competitive, with nearly 500 accidents resulting in 100 or so deaths. A ferry accident on the River Chindwin near the town of Monywa in October may have drowned as many as a hundred, though nobody knew how many passengers were on the overloaded ferry. After the United States lifted economic sanctions against Myanmar in October, the price of US dollars soared in Myanmar. The value of Myanmar Kyat went from record lows to record highs in the same year. Soon after Mother Suu took over, the Kyat went from 1,160 per dollar to 1,440 Kyat per dollar, yet another record. Down with the US dollars! Long live Mother Suu!
The celebrity of the year is heartthrob Soe Thu’s ex-wife, who took to Facebook to air her grievances in a series of videos. Oh, no! She is not into revenge porn. The poor woman even admitted she bit her husband in a fight. Yes, power to the Myanmar women! Long live Mother Suu!
With loads of Metta for the year ahead,
Jet Ni (Kyak Ni)
Hotel Zone 24 (formerly Gyobingone Village)
Myanmar (formerly Burma)
Jet Ni is a character created by ko ko thett.