FEBRUARY 3, 2019
A SUPER AUSPICIOUS Mingalar New Year to aunties, uncles, sisters, and brothers,
With massive regret and pity-wanting pain, Jet Ni would like to inform you that he is writing this round robin from Mandalay Hospital.
In November, Jet Ni’s motorcycle ran into a luxury SUV on Sagaing-Mandalay road. Of course, just like every other Myanmar man, Jet Ni doesn’t own a motorcycle license or a helmet even though he owns a motorcycle. To local police it was all his fault, even though he was driving in his own lane when he hit the car that was u-turning fast and furious in the middle of the no-u-turn road. Some people say they saw behind the wheel of the SUV the 14-year-old son of jade trader Kyin Yu from Mandalay, but later only his driver was found in the car.
Maybe the witnesses were right. Maybe they were wrong. People at the scene were busy taking photos of Jet Ni’s suffering for Facebook, no one cared or dared to give Jet Ni first aid. Heavy traffic meant it took hours to arrive at Mandalay Hospital in a bumpy charity ambulance. At the hospital overworked-underpaid physicians wouldn’t care less. There were already half a dozen fatal motorcycle accidents that very afternoon just like all other days!
What little money Jet Ni had vanished in the hands of the authorities, for his treatment and for the damage and distress he had caused to the SUV family. Since the accident the lower half of Jet Ni is in cast and he remains in hospital. To relieve Jet Ni of a heavy burden, mother who was battling cervical cancer decided to die just before Christmas. You might recall that father took his own life after our land was seized by the military and turned into a hotel zone? May father and mother reunite in peace and prosperity in the afterlife.
As you all know sister Mya May has been studying Singlish to go to Singapore as a housemaid. But the news that Myanmar domestic workers in Singapore are paid in counterfeit Kyat has unnerved her. A domestic helper who came back to her family in Bago in December ended up in jail when all of her 10,000 Kyat bills (worth nearly USD 1,000 she made over the year in Singapore) turned out to be fake. These days many shops in Myanmar will decline 10,000 Kyat notes, the largest denomination in this country. Now Mya May doesn’t know what to do.
Let’s not dwell on Jet Ni’s unabated agony. Jet Ni is just one of hundreds of road accident casualties this year. He counts himself lucky that he is still alive, albeit no more kicking. In October, an 11-year-old girl who was doing homework outside her school in Magwe was instantly killed when hit by the debris from one of the two Myanmar Air Force jets that crashed onto her village. Some people blame the weather, others the suspect quality of China-made fighter jets.
2018 has been yet another year of vicious violation of Myanmar children. The year opened with the rape of a boy waiter by his employer in Yangon, and ended with the abduction and rape of an eight-year-old girl in Mandalay. From January to May, out of a total of 682 rape cases reported to the police, 482 were committed against children under 16. Children as young as two years of age were raped and murdered. Despite public outcry calling for death penalty to child rapists, sexual violence against children is on the rise. In most cases the perpetrator is a relative or a friend of the family of the victim. This makes Jet Ni particularly worried about sister Mya May who is 15, and home alone.
Mya May said that many of her friends are victims of date rape. If you go to the police to complain about date rape, the police will most likely ask you to marry your rapist-boyfriend. Myanmar policemen can’t be bothered with as trivial matter as date rape. In Sagaing, in July, a monk was caught having sex with a mentally disabled woman. The community punished him by ordering him to disrobe and marry his victim!
Jet Ni is aware that every national school curriculum has a pinch of patriotism. Consider the following sestet for Myanmar fifth graders: “To preserve our own race is our children’s duty / We who love our own race will protect its dignity / A human race the earth will not guzzle / When our race is swallowed by another, we are in trouble / Be afraid of losing race and becoming a slave in a swamp / We hate to mix blood, for it means nipping our race in the bud.” The verse is aptly titled “wunthanu satedat [the spirit of racism].” Our basic education department insists that the verse only intends to advise our children not to marry members of their own kin.
Our children are not supposed to marry members of their own sex either. On 5 May, 20-year-old Sagawa Kyan and Maung Chit Ko, 17, got enough and took pesticide in a suicide pact on a farm in Taungtha near Mandalay. The transgender couple frantically called their friends when they began to suffer unbearable chest pain, but it was too late. Even in death the couple are separated as their unforgiving relatives decided to bury them in different cemeteries.
2018 was also remarkable because for the first time in history the Myanmar armed forces admitted they were engaged in an extrajudicial killing. In January the Tatmadaw said some of their officers were responsible for the Inn Din massacre in Rakhine where 10 Rohingya men were executed in 2017. The Tatmadaw is officially genocidal today, and of course all the Myanmar people and everyone else who has a stake in Myanmar are complicit in the genocide. Facebook, the second most powerful institution in Myanmar after the Tatmadaw, is a vehicle of hate speech. Even the Norwegian company Telenor became an accessory to genocide when a Telenor communication tower was used as high ground for Myanmar army snipers in Rakhine in 2017.
Kismet of people in a political transition is like a kite in a cyclone — plunging one moment, soaring the next. For our Mother Suu, it looks as if her halo had slipped through her head and turned into a noose around her throat. The Trumpian world has revoked many of her human rights trophies. On the other hand, police captain Moe Yan Naing who was reportedly at the scene of Inn Din massacre is widely hailed as a hero today. Moe Yan Naing remains in jail for conceding that Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were duped and arrested by the police for nosing around the massacre. Information minister Pe Myint, a vocal activist for press freedom when he was a writer, is now widely regarded an instrument in the oppression of press freedom! May all the prisoners of freedom of expression be free soon.
The star of the year is retired military spy chief Khin Nyunt, the most dreadful and dreaded man in Myanmar in the 1990s. The Myanmar literati were outraged at the end of the year when Khin Nyunt was among the ranks of 245 senior writers who received obeisance at a ceremony organized by Myanmar Writers Association. Chief among the kowtowers was none other than Yangon minister Phyo Min Thein, a political prisoner from 1991 to 2005 when Khin Nyunt was in power. After all Khin Nyunt and his ghostwriter have published two autobiographical tomes, effectively convincing some readers that without his torturing and jailing of dissidents there wouldn’t be any human rights champions in Myanmar today.
One other issue that captured our imagination was the ongoing legal dispute between Mother Suu and her brother Aung San Oo over their USD 90 million lakeside villa. Other than that, 2018 is business as usual — untrustworthy, unequitable, and unsustainable. Peace process is getting nowhere, opium and methamphetamine remain two of the biggest contributors to the country’s GDP, desperate mothers sell their infant children for adoption, people keep poaching wildlife, felling age-old trees, razing mountains for jade, dredging sand from riverbeds, and continuing to take home draft beer in used plastic bottles. In the season of great floods, roads all over Myanmar continue to be lined with climate refugees asking for help.
Being aware of all that, Mother Suu in her Singapore Lecture in August concludes, “Our obstacle course is different from that of others. So instead of leapfrogging, I think I would like to think of perhaps flying over the obstacles.” Happy flight to Mother Suu, and to all the refugees from Myanmar.
With loads of metta for the year ahead,
Jet Ni [Kyak Ni]
[hopefully temporarily at]
Jet Ni is a character created by ko ko thett.