Last weekend I was the MC for the 9th Annual Run for Relief, a race in support of internally displaced people in Myanmar.
Here I am in my MC get up with a Karen friend named Ben:
The previous weekend I had run two other races as well. One was the Payap Mini-Marathon and the other was a race that started at the Chiang Mai Zoo and ended up the mountain at the Doi Suthep Temple. Both times I was beat by an 8-year old barefoot runner…
These days I’ve been meeting with the various student speakers for the International Baccalaureate to coach them on their speeches. The student speaker for the Linguistics department is Ketchin, which is an ethnic minority in Myanmar. I had never met him so when he came in to talk about his speech we sat down and began talking. I was expecting a brief sharing of pleasantries followed by the business at hand. We ended up talking for over 30 minutes about his life in Myanmar, politics, and education. After that, we discussed the speech for about 90 seconds and he was on his way. It doesn’t take long living in Asia to realize relationships are generally more of a priority than tasks.
I was glad to hear from this student about his perspective on the situation in Myanmar. There’s been fighting in Ketchin State since July 2011. It is estimated by several NGOs that around 90,000 Ketchin are internally displaced due to fighting between the Ketchin army and the Myanmar military over land rights. Sadly, very little aid, if any, comes from China – disproportionate to how much energy is exported to China via illegitimate energy projects on Ketchin land.
The present situation in Myanmar is still mostly disheartening. While major reforms have been made in the last 24 months, it’s a long road ahead. The military, with its history of corruption and violence, receives 25% of the seats in parliament, the current president is former military, and most the rest of seats have military connections. To change any part of the constitution, 75% of parliament must be on board. Not exactly hopeful circumstances for comprehensive reform.
I remember in May 2011 driving on corroded roads past the former Rangoon University, once known as the best university in Southeast Asia. Most of the buildings were shut down, empty, and dark with overgrown grass and weeds along the metal fences. Not far down the broken road was friend of the military and owner of Air Bagan with a Ferrari and other expensive cars in his driveway. The contrast of a Ferrari on broken roads down the street from a visible symbol of suppressed education was tragic.
I enjoy learning about Myanmar but whenever I read a new book or talk to Burmese friends it just makes me want to go there again…
Love you all,