Emma Larkin, whom I considered an expert in Myanmar, wrote the book against the backdrop of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Her earlier book Finding George Orwell in Burma is literary, while this one is an investigate report. I admired her guts and tenacity to go to the areas to get information.
The book described three major events in recent Myanmar history. It primarily depicted the events after the devastating Cyclone Nargis that struck the Delta region and the city of Yangon in May 2008. The damage was so great but the response of the military regime at that time was to close the area and keep away relief efforts of the international community. Hundreds of thousands were believed to have been killed by the raging winds that flattened houses and uprooted trees, aggravated by a storm surge that swept those in the coastal areas. The force of the storm may be comparable to Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines recently, but the damage of Cyclone Nargis is far worse.
The cyclone is a natural disaster that cannot be avoided. The author continues to relate that a more grievous event is the “Saffron Revolution”, a man-made disaster that resulted to bloodshed. The revolution started with the demonstrations against price increase that led to manhandling of monks in Pakokku. The monks retaliated by “inverting the alms bowl” against the military. In Buddhism, that is considered as an extreme penalty, because it deprived the faithful of opportunity to make merits. The monks started their daily prayers and march with an overturned bowls when the expected apology from the military hierarchy did not happened. It spread to Yangon and other cities and was joined by the people. The response of the military was swift and bloody!
The third event was the sudden transfer of the capital to Nay Pyi Taw. In one sweep, all the national level government agencies were hauled off to the newly developed area. Employees were displaced as there were limited facilities for them and their families. Ordinary citizens with transactions with the government agencies have to shell out extra expenses for transportation and accommodation.
Five years after the transfer of the capital, the reins of the government were also transferred to a civilian leadership. It also signaled the start of the “democratization” and gradual opening of the country to the international community. Today, everything has changed. Nay Pyi Taw hosted the 27th ASEAN games and the coming summit as it chairs the ASEAN. Monks continue their daily routine, and some rose to prominence with their violent advocacy against minority Muslims in the country. The areas in the Delta have been rebuilt without leaving a trace of Cyclone Nargis. As the new frontier in Southeast Asia, business and tourists are flocking, pushing up the economy.
Hopefully, those that were broken are gradually being restored. But the events in the past should be settled as there are still no closure to most of it. There is a saying that goes…those who forget the past are bound to repeat them.