JANUARY 22, 2018
A SUPER AUSPICIOUS Mingalar New Year to dear, dear friends of Myanmar!
Jet Ni hesitates to write this, but write he must. 2017 has been yet another year of mad tidings from Myanmar.
The most distressing news of the year of course is the Rohingya exodus since August. The exodus wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last. Jet Ni has several relatives in Rakhine, on both sides of the conflict.
When in primary school in Sittwe in Rakhine, Jet Ni was often derided as a Bengali kalar. The Rakhine teachers would always sit Jet Ni and his kalar classmates in the back rows. We were not supposed to outshine Rakhine classmates. Bullying was routine. We found no point in making a complaint. We lived in our own ghettos in Sittwe, which were burned down in the 2012 pogrom. The apartheid has been very, very real for us all along.
It was extremely difficult to get a national identity card for Jet Ni, until he bribed the authorities Kyat two lakh in 2010 so he could travel outside Rakhine. Compare Jet Ni’s situation with that of a local administrator in Mawlamyine, who was found flaunting two national identity cards in 2015. To the dismay of the locals, he is running for the office again in 2018.
Jet Ni was lucky to have left Rakhine before the 2012 pogrom. Most of Jet Ni’s classmates who remained in Rakhine are now either in the IDP camps or in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. They are all Rohingya today!
In September, one of Jet Ni’s aunts, a Buddhist from Myebon in northern Rakhine, was accused of selling supplies to “Bengalis.” A mob beat her up, shaved her head, and hung a board with “Traitor of the Nation” written on it around her neck, before parading her around town. Such is the hostility in Rakhine. And yet a group of interlopers calling themselves Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, waging jihad, is there to fan the fire of Islamophobia.
No matter what Bono or Bob Geldof say, the Myanmar people will never unlove the pooh-bah Mother Suu. Should Mother Suu face Rohingya genocide charges? Absolutely yes — when President Trump and all the living presidents of the United States are in the dock for the genocide of the Native Americans, slavery, Vietnam War, and all other atrocities elsewhere in the world, committed in the name of freedom and the war on terror. Long live Mother Suu!
Loving Mother Suu means loving her father General Aung San. Transitional societies are known to have pulled down the old statues, but here in Myanmar we are over-building new ones! 2017 saw General Aung San statues multiplying like Myanmar beer joints all over the place.
Amid opposition from locals, General Aung San statues were unveiled in Mon State and Kachin State early this year. In July two Aung San statues were erected in a park the size of a football pitch in South Okkalapa in Yangon by two rival political groups. In April a bridge over the Salween in Mon State was named General Aung San Bridge, despite the opposition from Mon people.
Good news is that General Aung San, the biopic project, which had been stalled because too many auteurs were involved in the same film, will be resumed in 2018. However, the main actor, the Aung San lookalike who had been picked by Mother Suu herself, has gained weight in recent years. Today he begins to resemble retired Generalissimo Than Shwe.
To top all that off, the parliament has also approved General Aung San images to be printed on future Myanmar currency notes. Jet Ni is hoping they pick the World War II–era image of General Aung San in Japanese army garb, wielding a samurai sword with both hands over his head, as if he was about to chop off someone’s head. That would serve well to remind any skeptic of the un-contestable legacy of the architect of Myanmar’s independence. Long live General Aung San!
When asked if the NLD has thought of an heir to Mother Suu in an interview with a Myanmar journal, the NLD’s most-cheerful Uncle U Win Htein made it absolutely clear: “Of course not. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is irreplaceable. No one can do her job. After General Aung San, it took 70 years [for us to have a leader like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi]. Don’t expect any newcomer to replace Daw Aung San Su Kyi!”
In the year when a headline read “Up to 150 Children Under Five Die Each Day in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar,” the WHO and the Myanmar Ministry of Health declared the Japanese Encephalitis mass immunization campaign a success — only five children have died from adverse reaction to the vaccine out of a five-million target. Reiterating the report in India, when 22 children died after receiving the vaccine in 2006, the WHO investigation maintains that the children’s deaths had nothing to do with the inoculation, but everything to do with their preexisting health conditions, which were unknown to the medics who administered the vaccine. Long live Myanmar children who have survived the vaccine!
Most of the crimes remain unsolved in this country. Solved murders turned out to be murder-suicides — case closed. Retired Lieutenant General Aung Win Khaing, the key suspect in the high-profile assassination of the NLD lawyer U Ko Ni in January, remains at large. Let Jet Ni remind you that U Ko Ni was taken out not because he was a Muslim, but because he was an ardent detractor of the 2008 Constitution, which, among other things, offers impunity to the Burmese generals.
Development is as slow and scenic as a ride in a Yangon Water Bus. And yet fuelization of the economy has invaded even the most impoverished regions in Myanmar. Filling stations are as ubiquitous as General Aung San statues. In Sagaing, Jet Ni has seen a family of beggars who owns a scooter, albeit a tattered one. “Motorized poverty,” we call it, and more than a third of all Myanmar denizens, not including the Rohingya population, now live in motorized poverty, which is way smoggier than absolute poverty. The good news is that, for the first time in history, the Myanmar government is receiving the return of billions of Kyat from over-budgeted development projects. This has yet to happen in the civil society sector, where the millions of dollars of excess cash are carefully ironed out by chartered accountants.
What about Jet Ni’s life? Jet Ni still answers the door at Mingalar Hotel, which, you might recall, was built on the land seized from Jet Ni’s peasant father. Jet Ni shall no longer dwell on father’s suicide six years ago, following the seizure of our farmland. How can Jet Ni whinge about his land loss? Even the UN headquarters in Yangon sits on property owned by the Burmese Muslim businessman Mr. Shalfi, who had lost most of his assets to “the Burmese Way to Socialism” in 1979. Long live the UN!
As you know Jet Ni’s mother’s life has been hanging by a thread since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer a few years ago. All of Jet Ni’s income goes into mother’s treatment. Jet Ni’s teenage sister Mya May has quit school. She now wants to go to Singapore to work as a housemaid to help mother, but, alas, the ban imposed on Myanmar women going abroad to work as maids means that we now have to entrust her soul to a human trafficker. What should Jet Ni do?
Jet Ni’s cousin Shwe Mi, the Zhang Ziyi lookalike, who was walking the streets of Mong La, a Myanmar town owned up by China, came back this summer. She now looks like an Angelina Jolie who has been on a year-long fruit juice diet. Shwe Mi has tested HIV positive and her family, under pressure from the community, has expelled her from the village. Of course Jet Ni’s personal problems are nothing, compared to what his country is facing toward the end of the year.
In keeping with the custom, the Myanmar Tatmadaw Artillery Unit had pounded four times at the Kachin Independence Army Headquarters at Laiza on Christmas Eve, seriously wounding a schoolteacher. The recent arrest of two Reuters reporters for stealing state secrets sounds like a set-up, as the state secrets were handed to them by the state police themselves.
The loser of the year is the hate-speech master Abbot U Wirathu, who was banned from preaching for one year in March. His organization, the Mabatha (the Patriotic Association of Myanmar), was banned in May, but has reemerged as the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation, just in time to chip in for the Rakhine crisis.
The celebrity of the year is British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was caught on camera reciting Rudyard Kipling’s orientalist verse “The Road to Mandalay” at Shwedagon in September. Perhaps the mumbling-bumbling Johnson was simply remembering Mother Suu’s all-time favorite poet? In Myanmar we all know that General Aung San’s favorite verse, Kipling’s “If,” is also Mother Suu’s favorite.
As such, it would be apt to end this round robin with the following lines:
If you can meet with Trump and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!
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.
Banner Image by DYKT Mohigan.