Atchafalaya Swamp

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

O' People of Burma, We Stand By You

A time in Rangoon

Lost Generation

August 8, 1998.

The battered Toyota taxi weaved along Pyay Road through a police checkpoint, the morning sun causing beads of sweat to appear on Zeyar’s wide forehead. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, immediately regretted dirtying it --and rolled it up to hide the offending stain. The heat irritated him because the AC had broken down a long time ago. Like everything else in this junta nation, spares are difficult to come by. The police constable (or military, rather – in Myanmar everything is military), seeing the empty taxi, waved him through.

Zeyar was on his way to pick me up where I was staying at the Ramada Hotel by the airport.

I met Zeyar about a week ago outside Yangon International where I had just arrived from Bangkok, fresh from my triumph of getting a Myanmar work permit in a record time of four hours at the embassy in Bangkok. I didn’t even have to appear in person. The agent who collected my passport at the hotel suggested I try the newly-opened “Ancient Massage” near the corner across the hotel. That was the best way to pass the time, he said, so why not? Let him battle demonstrators at the embassy instead. Having a lithesome doe-eyed beauty (yes… that one --number 26) with flawless taut skin expertly knead my legs, shoulders, thighs . . . was definitely better than waiting in a snaking queue any day.

In yesterday’s Bangkok Post the big story was UN’s Special Representative to Myanmar, Tan Sri Razali Ismail being denied a visa. Even the cover letter from Kofi Annan did not sway the junta in Yangon into letting him visit Daw Suu Kii. Rumors of a ten-year anniversary to commemorate the ’88 uprising was rife and foreign NGO’s and observers were already warned not to attend or will face the consequences. The Generals had already fired the first salvo...

Exactly a decade earlier on 8 August 1988 --the day of infamy --students and citizens from all walks had gathered peacefully at the Sule Pagoda near the city center. What happened next was unthinkable. Without scant regard, troops had opened fire into the crowd --mowing down students, schoolchildren, pregnant women and monks with impunity. The carnage ran into the thousands. Some news report said there were more than 3000 dead. Some said 5000. Thus a decade later the junta was very careful not to have a repeat of this bloodshed. After all, the junta had recently opened its doors to foreign investment and the seeing of thousands of bodies of being carted away is not something the Generals ever want to see again. That was why I called Zeyar to take me to Sule Pagoda, the site of the bloodshed ten years ago, to pay homage to the dead but brave protestors.

After the massacre, the Junta had hit upon a brainwave. Who are the demonstrators? Why, mostly college students of course. Let the country cease to have students! Brilliant! Now why didn't we think of that earlier? And that’s exactly what the enlightened Generals did – shut down every institution of higher learning in Myanmar. And they have stayed shut ever since. I call the these young people Myanmar’s ‘lost generation’ –people who were denied an education because of an exaggerated government phobia. Living in the 21st century I almost didn’t think that such a thing could have happened. But it did.

8.8.88 was thus an unlucky day for the thousands of students, ordinary workers, schoolchildren, pregnant women and monks who chose to peacefully gather at Sule Pagoda; their dreams of a democratic Myanmar crushed, their lives lost in a hail of bullets. What where the Generals really thinking? Any feng shui master I meet from now on would be judged on how he answers to my question: Is 8-8-88 considered lucky?

When I opened the door to his taxi Zeyar looked troubled.

‘Mr. Salo, I don’t think it’s a good idea’.

‘Why, I’m just a tourist. OK, maybe not Sule Pagoda today but we go to Shwedagon. Don’t worry I give you special tip.’

At the mention of “tip”, I saw Zeyar soften a little. Shwedagon is Myanmar’s finest Pagoda, but I had other ideas in mind, I want to see Suu Kii’s house, peer through her gate. But I’m not telling Zeyar yet.

I sat at the back, smoking my Dunhill’s. At a traffic stop Zeyar turned his head to me.

‘The military intelligence, Mr. Salo, know already that foreigners have come into Yangon to show support for eight-eight-eighty eight. I also heard on the radio that some Thai and Malaysian activist have been caught at the airport for carrying leaflets . . . I also see more roadblocks put up . . . there is a planned demo this afternoon but I think it will not happen’.

I was disappointed upon hearing this. But further down the intersection of Pyay Road I saw an army tank. Another road-block was being assembled to protect the many foreign business premises along the wide avenue; my employers included. Zeyar pointed to the tank. ‘See Mr. Salo, I hope you have your passport with you because they maybe want to check ID in case we are stopped’.

As a rule I never carry my passport. A passport should only be shown at a country’s port of entry or disembarkation, but I didn’t tell Zeyar this.

‘Eh, Zeyar, you show me University of Yangon first?’


The area the university was in was what I presume to be the Yangon’s poshest district; wide shady streets and peach white bungalows along the ground's perimeter. The setting was quaint. It was scenes such as these that brought back nostalgic memories of my hometown of Seremban in Malaysia. Myanmar is still locked in the Sixties when the century was already drawing to a close. This is what I tell people when asked what Myanmar is like: A time that land forgot –if you remember what Klang and Seremban looked like in the Sixties –that is what Yangon is today. That’s what one party military rule does to you.

But the university was totally deserted. So it’s true then. Shrubs and opportunistic plants have rendered the once-pristine lawns turn into an eyesore. Creeper vines have taken over one side of a red building, presumably the bursar’s office.

‘So these students, Zeyar, what do they do now? They need jobs, right? For that you need some sort of paper.’

‘Actually Mr. Salo, the government gives them degrees so they can get employed.'

‘But how . . . there are no classes?’ The taxi had now stopped and as I looked closer, most of the windows in the buildings were broken.

Zeyar turns the engine off.

‘Believe it or not, once a year the universities are opened for exams. Since nobody go to class, so nobody learn anything so they let everybody pass so they can get jobs’.

‘My God,’ as I took another Dunhill from my duty-free pack, ‘so you mean to tell me the universities are opened just once every year, students take exams and they let everybody pass?’


A whole generation lost was the phrase that went to my mind.

Like all Myanmarese, Zeyar never ventures an opinion. He merely states facts, often in cynical harsh monotones. It must be honed-in to their heads to never speak their minds out. Lest they are spies out there so they might get arrested if they talk anything bad about their government.

Top down in my 4.0

In the taxi I told Zeyar to just go up the road. I had already cased the phone book at the Ramada and noted the Nobel Laureate’s address. And I knew it was just down the road from the university, at an intersection off the main road. Zeyar seemed to have read my mind.

‘Mr. Salo, you know we cannot enter the street where Daw Aung lives.’

‘Why not,’ I said. ‘I mean I just like to see the architecture of these old British-built houses. Almost similar to the bungalows we have in Malaysia . . . okay, just show me the street then.’

But as soon as we approached the junction that led into her street I asked Zeyar to stop. I got out of the taxi.

‘What are you doing Mr. Salo? –The police will catch you -‘

‘Just wait here ok?’

I quickly walked up the shady avenue. It had a very generous sidewalk. The bungalows here must have once housed Burma’s British colonial administrators. Some had swimming pools but all were now dry and have become refuse pits: broken branches, leaves, an upturned bicycle. I turned around to see Zeyar lean against the taxi, looking restless. Then I saw her house. Her gardens were huge and I stopped to admire the Flame of The Forest at the perimeter of her chain-link fence. When my dad was a Planter back in the Sixties, I too had once lived in fine bungalows with breezy corridors and wide banisters and a dog named Johnny. And I just particularly liked the tree‘s name . . . it just has a sexy ring to it. Flame of the Forest.

Her front gates, from what I gathered in the distance seemed to be made of solid iron and painted light green. It was still a further fifty yards ahead. I heard the clanging of the gate being opened. But there were no cars coming in or out.

“Arghh…” I flicked my cigarette. One of the military guards had noticed me. I can pretend to do . . . what? This was not a tourist area. I was the only one loitering in the street. Although he was now on the sidewalk in front of the gate and fifty yards was what separates us, the bullets in his rifle can definitely cause serious bodily harm, and I wasn’t about to argue with .22 caliber bullets. In short, I’m not going to hang around to find out. The guard had already thrown a menacing pointing finger at me.

As casually as I could muster, I turned around and came back in the direction I had come, my steps exaggeratedly unhurried. But now the taxi was nowhere to be seen. Shit!

I ran down towards the intersection and looked around the corner. Sure enough the taxi was parked under a tree by a large monsoon drain.

‘Zeyar, why didn’t you wait’, while I huffed and puffed to catch my breath, ‘like I asked you to?’

‘I told you no one is allowed to pass her street’, Zeyar said, a note of triumph in his voice, 'Lucky the police didn't chase you'.

Just then a curious thing happened. From her street emerged a sports car – we actually heard it before we saw it - a two-door coupe with its top down, dark blue and a very young male driver looking smug. Asshole. Not just any sports car but a left-hand-drive ‘99 Mustang four-point-oh. In the US, the latest models are always called “the following year’s" - the latest model produced in ’98 is thus called the ’99. The same it was with my US magazine subscription. (I receive my September Stereophile issues usually in July or August but never in September itself). .

We both turned our heads to admire the car – the rims must be at least twenty inches with a large block V-8 at the heart of pure American muscle.

‘Wow, how come this car is in Burma, Zeyar? That’s the latest Ford Mustang, just released in the States’, I said, exhaling a billowing smoke from my envious lips.

‘What‘s so strange Mr. Salo? That boy you see driving the car is one of the top General’s son. They control all business in Burma. Only children and family members of the junta are allowed to do business. I’m sure your company’s local agent has powerful military connections. . .’

I only know too well of the military connection. Fax machines are a “controlled item” in Myanmar. Just the other day my boss complained that he spent three thousand dollars just to get a fax machine set up in the office. Five hundred for the fax machine, five hundred to set up the line, one thousand for a permit from the Telecom ministry. And then there’s a three month wait. If you don't want to wait another thousand would get the service connected immediately.

Palace's Palatial Pleasures

That night my boss decided to show me Myanmar’s top “meat market”, the Palace. A female Australian engineer who was going to be part of my rig crew insisted on tagging along. She was perhaps barely twenty-five. The problem was she had been holed up in the hotel room for the past one week and mostly ignored by me and a Filipino engineer called Jorgen. It’s not that, but in a equal opportunity world we do not want to be construed as doing anything remotely sexist. So she said she was "bored out of her skull" and wanted to “go out with the boys”.

‘Sharon, I said, ‘our boss is going to bring us to a rather notorious joint. Err . . . It’s a fancy nightclub but really it’s a high-class state-sanctioned whorehouse . . . for top government people and expats. You sure you want to follow?’ And for added emphasis, 'really, for sure, really?'

‘Ummm, yes’, her, face lit at the prospect but me thinking her blond tresses would certainly look out of place at the club tonight. ‘I won’t get in the way I promise, I just want to come along to drink. I can’t be drinking beer from the mini-bar every night . . . it’s expensive for one, and where’s the fun in that? C'mon have mercy, Salo. '

‘We’ll . . . I won’t argue with that, Sharon. But promise me no regrets, eh?’

‘Don’t worry; pretend that I’m not even there.’

We first had a round of post-dinner drinks at the hotel lounge. When the girl went to the restroom I told my boss of her decision to tag along. My boss was of the “old school”, never giving a damn about 21st century workplace ethics or appropriate behavior with female underlings in the office. He was liable to pat a secretary’s rump if necessary or comment freely on the tea lady’s bosoms. My boss’ response was, “If she wants to follow let her come”.

In any oilfield town, or any town for that matter, chief amongst our duties (as oilmen, that is) was to visit the most happening place, usually a bar with the most exquisite women in it and disseminate the information gathered therein far and wide. This will also provide fodder for endless tales of bravado in trashy oilfield bars across Asia in years to come.

Jorgen and I looked forward to the evening in anticipation. I can see my Filipino colleague distractedly licking his lips while we were in the car. Sharon sat between us. Our boss sat up front with the driver. Sharon sensibly wore jeans and rather plain white blouse, the sleeves rolled up to expose her elbows. If her hair was shorter, she could pass as a guy almost because her chest was a bit flat.

The place was dark like most discos and night clubs are. It was actually much classier than I thought, with a Captain wearing a suit leading us to our table. The low wide velvety sofa engulfed us. There were a few couples on the dance floor under a solitary globe, bodies not moving in tune together giving it a surreal jerky atmosphere. The Captain asked what we wanted and drinks were ordered. It was time to develop a nice buzz in anticipation of sexually charged evening ahead. Want to see the girls now, Sir? The Captain asked. My boss casually flicked his hand and said, ‘later’. I can see the disappointment in Jorgen’s eyes as I believed he wanted to see them now. Yes, where were they? Perhaps cloistered in a room in the back somewhere?

The Twenty Dollar Siti Nurhaliza

The reason for the unnatural heightened sense of expectation was a story making the rounds called “Twenty Dollar Siti Nurhaliza”. The story was told by a Malaysian construction company executive whom we breakfasted with one morning. We both saw, from a distance one early morning, a young girl exiting the guy’s hotel room into a waiting taxi. She did look breathtakingly pretty but was painfully thin. The exec had boasted, in his excitement spluttering spittle and beans over our table, ‘Only in Myanmar can we get to sleep with Siti Nurhaliza look-a-likes for twenty dollars.’

So that night at the Palace, Jorgen’s thoughts were full of Filipina mini-serials starlets, mine consumed by . . . err I don’t remember –all which can be had for twenty dollars or less.

Actually that’s not true. The Palace being the classiest of the bordellos charges forty dollars at a minimum. Some go as high as three hundred dollars for the night. The girls are carefully selected and guaranteed clean by the military junta. The Palace is a controlled military facility designed for expatriates to channel their sexual needs in a responsible manner. At the very least we can credit the Generals' understanding of business wants and needs. ASEAN-style.

We ignored Sharon completely and drank while making small talk with the boss. The boss suddenly said, ‘Ok let’s get the Captain to bring them out’. Jorgen let out a palpable sigh of relief.

The girls would pass Jorgen first who was sitting to my boss’ left while I sat to his right. The Captain said there was more than twenty girls with a few “fresh ones from Mandalay”. A door at the end opened and soon a train of Burma's finest poured forth, walking awkwardly in heels, chests up, faces forced into a smile framed by too-generous lipsticks. Our pulse quickened. But it was so dark that we can’t quite clearly see their faces.

In order to see our prospects, each time the girl passes, the Captain would pull a mini flashlight to first train the light on her face, then her bosoms before finally settling on the hips. It very much reminded me of a meat market, which it was. If we like her all we have to do is take her hand and beckon her to sit with us. So twenty girls were flashed before us because our boss had instructed to “check out all first” before having them pass slowly the second time around.

Sharon seemed to take all this in quite in stride as she sat in the corner nursing her Gin and Tonic. I wondered if it was fun for her watching guys in their true element.

But something that happened next took me aback.

A girl stood towering over me and holding up the queue. My boss had a certain idea that I might like this one – and indeed her cleavage was phenomenal with all the right curves. But what my boss didn’t know was breasts never factored much in my equation. I was a modern male and equated flatter chests with higher IQ’s. I’m not anti-bimbo per se but honestly I prefer legs, and how a girl looks at me is important. Even if a girl can be had by paying, I subscribe to the theory that there must also be some sort of chemistry involved.

Anyway the girl’s crotch area was level with my boss’ face. She wore a dark colored blouse with some sequins and a short faux-leather skirts with legs stopping down to white stilettos. The next thing I knew my boss had put his hands under her skirt - using both hands grabbing her buttocks.

‘Mat Salo’, my boss with a leer in his eyes, said, ‘check it out --she’s not wearing panties’. This of course wasn’t true because he pushed her to me and picked my reluctant hand to join him feeling her buttocks. My fingers immediately got tangled in something. It was just his version of a rowdy macho-guy joke. I can't help but think what Sharon might make of this wanton display . . .

I quietly whispered to him, ‘Boss, if Sharon puts in a complaint of sexual discrimination -- Sheeat . . . we die, man’ (that’s why these days we can’t display images of naked women on company PC’s screen savers for fear of a sexual discrimination lawsuit).

My boss, his speech beginning to slur, ‘Goddamm Salo, this if Burrrmah. If she wants to, well, let her. Who cares?'

In the meantime I was obliged to entertain the girl that we both had pawed. The music changed into something soulful, and I felt the need to dance. I took her hand and we both headed to the dance floor.

I never noticed it earlier, but out of the shadows came two military guards. The girl said to me in very good English, ‘Don’t worry Mister Salo, this is normal. Army take care of your safety here’. But it was quite unnerving nonetheless to see two young commandos on the dance floor in full military dress looking over at us. They just stood there at the edge of the dance floor, immobile. Apparently they only step out of the shadows when foreigners get on the dance floor.

At the end of the Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Boogie Wonderland’, I decided to get out of the spooky stare of my two minders and sit at a different table to chat with the girl. As she linked her arms in mine, she bent her long graceful neck to my shoulder and whispered, 'one hundred'. I put one finger up in a non-committal gesture of “maybe later”. What I really wanted was to pick her brains. She was a first year Economics student at the University of Rangoon she said, when the massacre happened. That was a decade ago and she must now be about twenty-eight. A bit too old for my taste, I thought. Plus she had hardly looked like Siti Nurhaliza. I looked across and was a bit disappointed that Jorgen had already secured his Filipina wet dream; a teenage version of Kris Aquino from what I could see.

My boss also had a girl draped across his lap. Only Sharon seemed to have shrunken into the folds of the sofa, alone and looking bored.

I looked at the girl, and tried in my best apologetic voice, ‘Sorry Miss, I hope you don’t mind.' She immediately sensed that I wasn’t interested in bedding her and she laid out an opened cupped hand. A tip was expected, of course.

I put in some kyat (pronounced chart) notes the equivalent of five dollars to thank her for her time.

I lay back in the sofa, slumped and wondered whether I should just call it a night soon. The answer came soon enough. I caught Sharon’s eyes across the room and nodded.


To show solidarity with the peoples of Myanmar please sign the on-line petition:

Hello, I thought you should know about this:

Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. For decades the Burmese regime has fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages, imposing forced labour, creating refugees- But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, revered in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people and public figures joined in, finding the hope they'd lost. Now they're facing crackdown – so please, show your solidarity to this movement towards reconciliation and democracy and sign the emergency petition supporting the Burmese people -- it'll be delivered to United Nations Security Council members and international media all week:


In the past, Burma's military rulers have massacred the demonstrators and crushed democracy. The world must stand with the Burmese people at this time, to show the military rulers that the world will not tolerate repression and violence.
Right now, global leaders are gathering in New York for the annual United Nations summit. In speeches, press interviews but also in real actions, we need them to show Burma's military junta that the global community is willing to act in solidarity with the protesters.

Show your solidarity to this movement for peace and democracy and sign the emergency petition supporting the Burmese people. It'll be delivered to UN Security Council members and the UN press corps all week:


Thank you for your help!


Free Burma! said...

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.


tokasid said...

Salam Matsalo:

There are so many things to absorbed at one go with this entry.

The state of physical and mental torture faced by the ppl of Myanmar is beyond belief.
I'm sure the world community doesn't really know the extend torture the myanmar ppl are going through.

The closure of universities is certainly shocking news to me.( and it reminded me of attempts to refuse funds to religous schools back here)How can a country progress without adequate education. It seems that the junta really wanted to close its door from the outside world. What I cannot understand is WHY? The only reason I can come up with is: They want to hold to the power they had forever. What else could it be?

And thank you for your Palace visit ...its fun to read. Maybe next time you can tell us what was Sharon's reaction to all this.

cakapaje said...

Salam Bro Matsalo,

Initially, I rather amused with your entry. Then slowly, I became glum. No, not due to you, but the situation in Myanmar. There's something notable I would like to comment about the closing of higher institutions:

Sometime ealy 2006, I managed to interview Yvonne Ridley when she was in KL. She recounted her experience in Afghanistan and explained that the Toliban had to close all schools - not only women's, but men too were not allowed to go to school. The reason was that the entire was still reeling from continuous fighting and the government was not able to operate any schools at all! But the western media only mentioned about the women's school only.

I logged this entry in September 2006 under "Yvonne and I".

My q here (to no one particularly) is, why does not the western media condemn the Myanmar Junta for the closing of the higher institutions? Double standard!

Anyway, I signed my name already. Thanks bro.

Mat Salo said...

Pak Dok - Wa'alaikum salaam. You're right - them Generals always say they want to relinquish power and make way for a democracy - but they're not sincere at all. Perhaps they want to hold on forever. Don't they understand history? I pray and hope that the Junta will do the right thing this time - listen the voice of the people and ease their sufferings. As a member of Asean we should castigate their Govt's behavior. But it's tough because we got business interest there. Betul kesian because the people there are smart and hardworking.

Sharon's reaction to all this? Actually her name isn't Sharon to protect her identity. But I remember she too was moved by the hardships of the ordinary Burmese. And that was ten years ago.

As for the events in my story? It's just a story - but some things are 'close enough'. Klentong sket tu biasa lah.Heh. Glad you enjoyed it.

Brother Shah - Wa'alikum salaam. Yes, clsoing of schools and higher institutions is one of the worst things a goverment can perpetrate against its young people. Imaging causing a whole generation to be "dungu". It makes it worse because these young kids have nothing to do (laying idle) and will forment future social problems. No prospects and all that and then they take up arms. Definitely double standards in not condemmning this! Gotta check-out your 'Yvonne & I'. Man you guys are the "real" correspondents, I'm humbled...

shar101 said...

Dammit MS,

You made me read through all that, just to get to the obvious.

There ain't no such thing as a blond, flat-chested Aussie chick. And her name was not Sharon huh?

But you can still wax lyrical with the 'klentong' part, that's for sure.
AAB's got no clout on foreign policy compared to TDM. He doesn't have the charisma nor the diplomatic network necessary to implement a strategic approach in dealing with the Myanmar junta. In other words, AAB's out on a limb on this one.

RDC's economic leverage and perhaps, Jakarta's big brother's presence might sway things for the better if 'constructive engagement' is still given a chance and if matters are confined to the Asean region. Alternatively, China and India may have to make their presence felt.

Still, I don't see how AAB (Malaysia) can play a leading role in all this.

Btw the 'Dungu' generation started with UMNO, remember. Keep them shoeless and dumb for the malays to continue depending on government handouts. Sampai hari ni pun mereka tak faham lagi.

P.S. Raya balik, bro? Sound sikit yop.

Mat Salo said...

Yo' Shar - Bloody hell, mate. Only you can see thru' my journalistic sleight-of-hand. Yes, her name wasn't Shar-On (it was a play on your name godamit) and now that you mentioned it, ain't no such thing as flat-chested Ozzie 'Sheila'too - they all had too much Fosters I reckon...

Yup, agree there that PL has no clout for Foreign Relations, which is ironic, since he once headed that Ministry. Our neighbors don't take us seriously anymore. God Willing, I hope to share some of your Raya largesse dude. Will give you a holler once I blow into town...


mat salo,

i was really absorbed... reading yr entry just after sahur...
you're good, bro.

did i tell you that my maternal grandmum is Burmese. Not Rohingya. But Burmese. That's why I have always had a special interest in Burmese affairs.

great story, Mat!

The Ancient Mariner said...

Damn near missed my sahur reading yr story. I sure hope that a book is forthcoming. See you next week?

Mat Salo said...

Kak Ena - Foooh! Thanks, coming from you..Means so much lah! Anyway, I'm real happy you enjoyed the story. Eh Kak Ena, Burmese on your maternal side, I thought De Witt? Or a mix of both? But what exactly is Rohingya yang banyak refugees kat Malaysia tuh? I understand they're mainly muslims, that's all I know. By and large the Burmese are Buddhists. But believe or not, when I was there I met a little known Jewish-Burmese sect... Macam-Macam.

Bang Cap't - Damn near missed sahur? Damn, I actually missed boka puasa correcting typos and idiotic sentence constructions. Book? Like I've said before, you first, Cap'n. But it's all hard work. To me I need to re-work that story a thousand times and I still think it can be improved. So a book seems beyond me... But if it engrossed you a little bit sampai miss that last stick before Imsak.. good enough for me. Thanks.

tokasid said...


Kalau tak silap aku, Rohingya ni their place is at the border of Bangladeshi-Burma. They are like the bangladeshi ppl in appearance and religion. Political geography border made them the citizens of Myanmar. They have been victims of abuse and torture for a very long time, much ealier than what the junta did to the rest of Myanmar.
If you think of Patani,Songklha and Naratiwat, thats what the Rohingya are to Myanmar.

Mat Salo said...

Pak Dok - Ooo patut laa depa nampak macam aner sket... Tapi serious, aku ada jumpa Jewish-Burmese sect. Macam Somalian Jews. Hitam abih tapi Jew. Peilk bin Ajaib. Thanks for the clarification.

IRLAN said...

Bang Mat...

Hang ni macam Indiana Joneslah...

Nama pun Mat Salo... macam Han Solo gitu... heeeeeeeee...

Mat Salo said...

Lan - Han Solo? Yang aku tau Wong Solo, the Javanese restauranteur yg banyak bini tuh ... Eh, awok buke sepatutnya 'berkabung'? Thanks for visiting, dude. Nak suruh bini cari Issue 54...

alliedmartster said...

Shites Man, Fer fook's sake (to borrow this froim a matey of mine...) get the bookout already! It will be a combi of MS/AM,and Z! aptly titled, 'the adventures of an Oil man,a sea dog and an unmasked chegu'!
Shar-on will do the intro........

Mior Azhar said...

Wow, what can I say... very engaging. The way I see it, the junta will never relinquish their power.. full stop. kesian the burmese

Daphne Ling said...

Wah Abang Mat,

I thought my posts were long...I'll come back and finish reading another day...Mata semaking tutup di, since very late adi...And with my Japanese *sorry guys* eyes, it means close...Wait, wait, I'll bookmark this! But no promises I can post a comment then (wireless gila, cannot log on), so I comment first!


Mat Salo said...

Tony Yew! - Heh-heh, Shar-On.. Man those two ol' buggers got plenty of stories I tell you. So I respectfully will wait for their memoirs. Man.. thanks.

Bro' Mior - Thanks, man. Brother, I hope you're wrong for the Myanmarese sake. Hopefully the Generals will come to their senses. Our gomen too is as much in the wrong for acknowleging Burma in ASEAN. Constructive engagement kunon. But you may also be right - Those recalcitrant Generals already purged out the officers that are "sympathetic" to democracy...

Daphne - apa kene you puya wi-fi weh? I look forward to your comment in case you find the story risque or demeaning to women. Wannabe auteurs like me banyak buat mistake lorr! So I need to know.

Zabs said...

Salam MS,
Satu penceritaan yang sungguh menarik. Akan ada sambungan ke?
Saya pernah berkursus dengan seorang warga Burma ni di Jepun pada 1979. Quite polite, tak banyak cakap, dan ditempat tinggal dia pakai kain sarong je. Duit elaun dia kumpul untuk beli pick-up truck untuk bawa balik ke Buma.

Mat Salo said...

Pak Zabs - Waalaikumsalaam. Tak tau laa kalau ada sambungan citer2 dongeng 'orang laut' nih. Haha. Sekadar untuk hiburan aje.

You're right, the Burmese, and also the Vietnamese are one of the most refined and politest people I have ever met. But it's a fact, the women are simply beatiful.

A-ah kain sarong pakai dengan kemeja - standard office attire. The kain sarong is called "Lon-gee".. Terima Kasih, Bang. Selamat Menyambut Lebaran nanti.

zorro said...

Timely piece on Burma in 1998. What you not a titty man?
But I hate anti-climax. My scheming mind tells me that the Swampman prefered Sharon. Tell the truth and shame the devil, or I will get the truth outta you next we meet. Be safe buddy.

Mat Salo said...

Unker Zorro - Sometimes, you can read me light a open book, Sir. The swampman might've preferred Sharon - only he sometimes is too scrupluos to a fault. He's also a believer of Lao Tze and other wise old sayings. In particular "You don't eat and shit at the same place". That's why the Swampman will never have an inter-office romance. Pecause of his peculiar belief in that maxim, he can therefore share a 2-person bunk bed with a fetching young female thang - and not DO anything untoward. That's not to say he isn't "motivated" - of course he is. It's just that the Swampman has other creative ways of letting off steam. And money paid for services rendred should not be discounted...

galadriel said...

u know what, u better stay there in the swamps, MS.

I'm so green with envy at ur critical observation, your nonchalant narration...damn! the smooth selamba narration...how come u write like that huh?

Me jealous gila....if u come back I'd probably kill u.

Seriously bro...I'd give my left kidney to be able to have ur gift.

Kata Tak Nak said...

I envy you and I am jealous at how well you can write. If only I could write half as well.

Hey wait a minute, you mean to tell me those Burmese doctors currently serving here did not go for classes? Hmm! no wonder, one prescribed paraquat for flu.

jaflam said...

MS, great long adventurous story with good knowledge and values. As usual you always gave the on the ground exciting encounters for the benefit of thinkers and freedom believers. Keep on Romancing the Swamp.

Mat Salo said...

AR Galadriel - Alamaaak, jangan laa lebe lebe. You laa punya salah cakap pasal gonzo journalism and made turn to writers (plagiarize!) like O'Rourke. From there I kena the Master himself - Hunter S. Thompson (Fear annd Loathing in Las Vegas) who is the head gonzo himself. Dia gila, spent some months convincing Hells Angels to let him be a member and followed them around until one day they smashed his face to a pulp and nearly killed him. But he survived and wrote the best ever story on Hells Angels. Apa tak nya, imagery, characterization semua lah real. Eee.. takut, I'll never get that far. But people like Maupassant, Flaubert, Marquez, Tolstoy, all got REALLY CLOSE to their subject matter. Susah beb... Macamana kita nak bermalam-malam main dengan pros nih? So we do the next best thing - make it up. That's why our writing will never be as good, as authenthic.

But thanks, AR. Main thing is YOU liked it. And that matters to me A LOT!

Chegu N! - Abih laa chegu, mampuih. Takkan laa anak murid lagi power dari chegu. Ini sudah lawan tauke. Heh-heh. Jeles tak leh Chegu, it's one of tujuh dosa besaq... but for Christians.

Basically prior to '88 semua okay. But post-88 tak tau laa camner. Kalau Doctor Burma tu dah berumuq, must be okay. Tapi cerita round up tu betoi ke chegu?

Terima kasih, Chegu. Tapi jangan kasi anak murid baca ya Chegu. Which brings me to a point - do any of your students read your blog?

Jeflam - Bang, heh-heh. Romancing The Swamp? Reminded me of that movie produced by Michael Douglas. Values, ideals, freedom and all that? I don't know lah, Bang - If people must know, they will be disappointed. I write my stories on the fly, usually simultaneously while drilling - amidst the cacophany of 3000 HP Cat engines. In short, main hentam aje. But if some people feel engrossed by it, find their values challenged, made them think - even condemning me as a writer - it's all worth it. I like to engage my readers that's all, and the subject is sometimes incidental... Apa merapu nih?

Anyway, Bang, Many thanks. Nak rendezvuous ke lepas Raya sama Capt Yusof?

"Minal Aidin Wal Faizin". Ma'af Lahir & Bathin . . . Selamat Menyambut Lebaran Sekeluarga.

J.T. said...

MS, as usual, another excellently written piece. I enjoyed it so much, I am now basking in the afterglow. :)

I don't think I can comprehend the full extent of the bad situation in Myanmar unless I am there myself. Reading and hearing about it does help bring me close to it, though.

Enjoyed your "Palace" story. Very interesting, legs-man! ;)
I think if I were in Sharon's place, I too would want to tag along but I would be more interested in observing the male species in such 'delectable' surroundings. :)

Speaking of delectable, my November issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived last week (in September). By the time November comes around, I will be browsing through recipes for Valentine's Day 2008.
As if that is not enough, some stores here have already started selling Christmas stuff. At the rate they are going, someday, I will actually see Christmas being promoted in June.

mekyam said...

As they say here where I am, that reads like BUDDER!

And satisfies like ikan tenggiri bakar with a well-done sambal belacan. ;D

You're extremely gifted, MS.

No more saying you envious of ppl who write better, okay! It won't come across convincing.

Zawi said...

mat salo,
I should be kicking my butt for not coming to your site any earlier. Storyteller extraordinaire, is the most apt description of you. I would like to place an advance booking for any book by you whenever you are ready to do so.
Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa Babjee (Tan Sri) the former DG of Veterinary Services Department wrote about Burma some years back in his column in The NST and described Burma as a clean friendly nation worth visiting. They were devoid of the non biodegradable plastics that seems to litter Malaysia's every nook and corners, choking our every rivers and waterways. More confidence was restored after my meeting with some Burmese Tourism representatives at a function in KL. The opening up of Burma as a potential premier tourist destination in Asean seems to augur well for the tourism industry at large even under the Junta. The Mysterious Burma with its old buildings and temples would be a tourist dream and listed high on their must visit country.
All these was shattered when the ruling Junta chose the hard stance to thwart any dissent against them.
This was definitely uncalled for.
On the Palace story, I would like to commend you for doing the most honourable thing a man could do by helping Sharon out of her misery and making her feel appreciated. Afterall aint she a woman too?
My apology for taking up too much space.

Mat Salo said...

Ai Mek Yam.. lama tak jumpa. You sure the ikan tenggiri bakar was well done?

What can I say? Coming from you? THE Mek Yam, commentator par excellence? Just bask in the feel-good accolades I guess. Thank you, thank you and thank you some more!

Bang Zawi! No need to apologize taking up space here. But 'Bang, it seems that only YOU seemed to get it at the end. You are SO astute (but blame me, as a writer my charachterization wasn't as good as I had hoped). I was thinking about her, how she went with us as a lark, and how the evening wore on she got increasingly uncomfortable. These are no scenes that a young decent woman should ever have to confront. So I knew there and then I had to be the chivalrous knight, sort of rescue her. I was going to make a point of that but then I got scared into making the story too long. I just let the readers come to their won conclusions... But you hit it.

I'm lucky to able to live and work in various hellholes. Straight reporting is boring, I'd like to tell it with some personal point of view (of a bumbling idiot with no journalistic merits, that is) and give the sense of atmosphere. It's a good thing I'm not a real reporter or I'll be badgering my bosses into sending me into the heart of every issue - like war in Iraq, for example.

I wrote two pieces of my time in Sudan in 2005. I've linked them below. This is also written in the same breezy manner that I'd like to think as "gonzo journalism".


Zawi said...

mat salo,

Abang dah tagged mat. Do it after you have visited the bazaar lest you have forgotten all the food available there. Who knows what 5 weeks of isolation on a barge could do to a man.


Let us see how hilarious you can make of this one.

Happy drilling and selamat berpuasa.

caramel m said...

Allo Salo
Was so absorbed reading your post I forgot I had set the washer to run and it ran.. unloaded...for the first cycle! That's a first..

Came by way of pak zawi btw.. looks like I'll be staying.. Hmm...heh..

Selamat berpuasa and unleash everything with your time on shore...

Mat Salo said...

Caramel M... This must be a new from of torture for me - your name reminds me of my favorite choc icecream! And I'm on a ship f'cryin' out loud, oh well.. Anyway, CM. Welcome to stay and comments (even) negative ones are appreciated... heh-heh.

Thanks for being "engrossed" - good thing you weren't boiling or frying something... and Selamat Berpuasa to you too...

Abang Zawi - Alamak Bang . . . Saya, Kata Tak Nak dan PiBani ada phobia about tagging ler. I don't know how to be hilarious laa 'Bang.. but I'll be good sport, let me find my way back to KL first ya? And aaah.. savor the streetside Bazaar Ramadhan. People take those things for granted... But besides seeing the faces of my family again it's the mostest thing that I wanna do right now! Selamat Berbuka...

mekyam said...

MS: THE Mek Yam... ???

Alamak MS, now my turn to go red between the ears.

[Actually, I almost went "what the paklah!" ... nahas, bulan2 puasa nih... hahaha!]

But Bro, you know what they say...

Those who CAN, write/blog. Those who CAN'T, amble their sorry untalented ars*s around chucking their tuppence. That's mekyam lah, basically. :D

elviza said...

I am bereft of words. I love this posting to bits. I hate ya!

p/s: thanks for being there at times we need support the most. Jefree, Luqman and I are forever indebted to you and your prayers.

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

Mat salo bro,

i'm late, as always. but really, looking at how well you write, it makes me feel so humbled, and small.

i'm all for this whole free-burma thing but cant help but to wonder if there was such siti-look alike, they could well have hannah tan-look alike too, for, say...50 bucks? haha...

one of the greatest posts of the month this one, no doubt.

J.T. said...


I forgot to add to my comment above - Wishing you and your family a joyous Hari Raya. Don't forget to post some photos. :)

Mat Salo said...

Elv - Please don't hate me laa! haha... Glad that Luke's okay... Now you can write away in peace again. Then it's my time to hatecha! ;)

JT - Thanks for Raya wishes. Still in Indo. Am making my way back soon. Will do. Will post some Raya pix up soon... God Willing.

Kerp - Actually the '20 dollar Siti Nurhaliza' was only part of it. Semua ada. Hannah Tan, Misha Omar, Paula Malai, Ning Baizura - semua ada, apa luu mau goa boleh kasi... Hehe. Funny but sad when college students have to sell their bodies... I was in Jakarta in '98 - 'krisis monitor', same story. Girls with supermodel looks, bachelor's degree, banyak yang "cari makan". Generals in Myanmar to tak tau malu ke?

Thanks for enjoying it Kerp. Take care and you betcha am gonna see you soon.

ewoon said...

Alamak, bro ...

Salah post comment i in wrong post (posted in earlier one). U can write man. Disappointed with ending. Left hanging. Keep up the "klentong" okay.

zabs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bakaq a.k.a. ~penarik beca said...

Sehebat mana pun junta Myanmar, kerajaan Malaysialah yang memulakan penggunaan peluru hidup ke atas rakyat tahun ini.

Malaysia Boleh!

Salam 'Aidil Fitri kpd Tuan sekeluarga dari bakaq a.k.a. ~penarik beca a.k.a. sang kutu sekeluarga.. من العائدين والفائزين

zabs said...

Salam MS,
Sudah dapat cuti ke?
Ada ada sedikit berita nak kongsi. Sila lawat Photo Blog saya. Yeah...

Caramel M said...

Selamat Hari Raya. Maaf Zahir Batin MS :) Have a good trip home.

Pi Bani said...

Wishing you Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri... maaf zahir batin.

kak maria said...

Hi mat,

As usual a very well written piece. Just luv it...very lengthy but I just couldnt stop reading until the end.

Have a blessed Eidul firtri, bro!

acciacca2ra said...

Salam Aidil Fitri and Maaf Zahir Batin too, to you and family.

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

MS bro...yagshimash,

salam aidilfitri bro. ampon maf jika ada tersilap kata. 0-0. been real pleasure knowing u. drop by on the first day if u happen to be near-by.

cakapaje said...

Salam Lebaran bro!

May we become better muslims and strive in His path, insyAllah.

Maaf Zahir dan Batin.

tokasid said...

Salam saudara ku Pak matsalo of Balikpapan(yang Balik Raya di Damansara Mutiara):

Selamat 'Eidulfitri.
Maaf zahir batin.

A pleasure knowing you these past 1 year.Kalu ada apa tersilap komen atau tersilap apa-apa saja lah...harap maafkan.

Do enjoy you hols and jaga-jaga with the juadah hari Raya.( aku pun sama lah)

BigDogDotCom said...

Tuan Ahmad F. Osman,

Salam Aidil Fitri to you and your family


mekyam said...

Dear MS, Selamat Hari Raya to you and Family. Safe journey!

Daphne Ling said...

Hi Abang Mat @ Mr Salo,

As promised, I came back...=) And I told myself I ain't coming back unless I was logged on...

They closed down the universities, and let students pass just like that? That is highly disturbing! Burma will always remain in the 'dumps' if that is the case...

The future generation is like non-existant...Sounds like a disgusting move (to me) to make sure those in power stay in power...After all, if the anak muda all no proper education, how to take over an entire nation and bring it to peace, prosperity, progress and most importantly, unity?

As for the little jaunt at the bar, I am, in a way, impressed...

1) You actually are about the first male I have met who says they are not interested in the chest (but managed to see that Sharon was pretty flat-chested)...And who equates a flatter chest to higher IQ ;)

2) You are actually blogging about the whole 'touching her butt' experience...

3) You were worried about being taken to task for sexual discrimination in the face of so many practically naked ladies...

Good! Now, if only more men think like that...Or maybe, we need more Sharon's who dare to go along on these jaunts...

Anyway, Happy Hari Raya! Haha...Seems so outta place, all of a sudden...;)

Zawi said...

Dear mat salo,
Wanna wish you and your family Selamat Hari Raya Idilfitri. I havent a reason to ask you for forgiveness yet and hope to make a few reasons after meeting you one day.
I will be around Kl for at least 2 weeks Nov 25 playing nanny to my grandchildren. If you are not playing solitaire on any barge anywhere in the remotest part of the world, I sincerely hope to touch paws with you while there.
Already promised to have teh tarik or plain sky juice with pak idrus of Ampang and having another one with you will be superb.
I guess by now you have done your round of the Ramadhan bazaars and forgot all about the food served on the barge.
Any contact with Sharon lately? Thoughts about her misery still lingers in my memory.

Jakartass said...

This is a classic post, Mat, and journalism of the highest quality.