Mandalay was the most difficult and antagonizing place I have visited, however the internal turmoil it created lives in me. Here is where one feels the infamous repression of Myanmar. Spending time in the Picturesque Villa hotels of Bagan, the thriving industrialism of Yangoon or the utopic beaches of the south the repression can be overlooked. However here in the Nations capital, in a city made mythic by Vegas casino’s, repression it is palpable.
The city if off-limits to tourist, rumors of salve labor on the other side kept out of sight. Burmas dark side hangs thick in my imagination. This once thriving capital is now urban sprawl, left on a dusty plane a scar, once a thriving teak forest.
The military headquarters are located here. Second to the buddhist clergy the military is the largest employer in Burma. Peoples relationship to the military is complicated. I came with a firm, preconceived view that the army was nothing but an evil repressive entity however, I have since learned the ignorance of this viewpoint. People know that the Junta leaders are corrupt. Their children flaunt new BMW’s and Mercedes. As we read gossip magazines in the US the news of the elite is fodder amongst the Burmese. However they do not fault the military. How can they when it gives their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers employment and an honorable means of putting food on the table. I am learning to check my western idealism and see the military as the Burmese do. An important often beneficial part of their lives. Despite the gross concentration of wealth it is building the middle class and giving those around me the ability to realize a better future.
Here in Mandalay on the steps of the Lumpy Buddha we met a young girl holding her little sister. Coming from India I had seen many children rented out and maimed for the purpose of begging, but this is not the Burmese spirit. This young child suffering from a disease causing her to waste away. The thing about such small children starving for nutrition is they start to age hauntingly. Their skin wrinkles eventually hanging from their protruding bones like old paper. Their needs, wants and protestations lessen as if they are growing up. The part that chills me the most is their eyes. Nothing prepares you to see the eyes of a three-year old calmly convey knowledge of deep eternal suffering. A seemingly ancient wisdom, it is peaceful as if they understand their life. It is like looking into the eyes of your elders, however, without a history of their own. I do not envy this young girl but I know that she conveys a unique grace to the our world, it is pristine and it is powerful.