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The Road to Mandalay

I just vis­ited Myan­mar, known to most of us as Burma, where the peo­ple have been under the oppres­sive boot of a huge colo­nial power, the Japan­ese fas­cists and home­grown social­ist nut cases for nearly 150 years. Finally, they have democ­racy, and for the most part, are happy as hell.

Here’s a brief history:

From 1824 to 1886, Britain con­quered Burma and incor­po­rated the coun­try into its Indian Empire. After World War II in 1948, Burma attained inde­pen­dence from the British Commonwealth.

In 1962, the mil­i­tary launched a coup and ruled as “social­ists” with a sadis­tic desire to kill their con­stituents for more than 50 years. In 1990, the main oppo­si­tion party, the National League for Democ­racy, won a land­slide vic­tory. Instead of hand­ing over power, the junta placed NLD leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recip­i­ent Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for about 15 years.

Suu Kyi’s party won elec­tions in 2015 and rules the coun­try today, but she could not become pres­i­dent because her chil­dren have British pass­ports. More­over, the mil­i­tary rewrote the con­sti­tu­tion before leav­ing power to allow them to con­trol key ministries.

Nev­er­the­less, the peo­ple I met are relieved that they can actu­ally speak freely after years of oppression.

I vis­ited Bagan, the beau­ti­ful for­mer cap­i­tal of the coun­try. Bagan is near the city where George Orwell, a British offi­cer in Burma, wrote The Road to Man­dalay. You can find numer­ous copies of Orwell’s books in the local bazaar.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_97300” align=“alignnone” width=“800”] More than 2,000 Bud­dhist sites – mainly from the 10th to the 13th cen­tury – exist in Bagan, Myanmar.[/caption]

My Bagan guide told me how he and his fam­ily had lost their home under the mil­i­tary in 1990. My guide, now 41, recalls as a teenager the trauma for his fam­ily and dozens of oth­ers being forcibly removed from their homes. But he sees a bright future for Myan­mar, par­tic­u­larly in his home­town, which has some of the most amaz­ing Bud­dhist tem­ples in the world.

Yan­gon, the largest city with more than six mil­lion peo­ple, still shows the signs of the errant ways of the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. Some of the old British build­ings stand vacant and in despair because the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment ignored their decline. The new gov­ern­ment has launched a ren­o­va­tion cam­paign to pre­serve these beau­ti­ful struc­tures that sur­vived World War II but almost did not make it dur­ing 50 years of social­ist oppression.

Inter­est­ingly, there is a grow­ing Roman Catholic com­mu­nity, with a large church and a sem­i­nary, Unfor­tu­nately, I just missed the time when it was open.

Myan­mar still has its prob­lems — a mix of eth­nic groups seek­ing auton­omy — and con­tin­ued ten­sions between the gov­ern­ment and the mil­i­tary. But, for the most part, the peo­ple are happy that free­dom has come to Myanmar.

The visit made me think that we Amer­i­cans need to take a breath and real­ize how lucky we are!

I just visited Myanmar, known to most of us as Burma, where the people have been under the oppressive boot of a huge colonial power, the Japanese fascists and homegrown socialist nut cases for nearly 150 years. Finally, they have democracy, and for the most part, are happy as hell.

Here’s a brief history:

From 1824 to 1886, Britain conquered Burma and incorporated the country into its Indian Empire. After World War II in 1948, Burma attained independence from the British Commonwealth.

In 1962, the military launched a coup and ruled as “socialists” with a sadistic desire to kill their constituents for more than 50 years. In 1990, the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory. Instead of handing over power, the junta placed NLD leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for about 15 years.

Suu Kyi’s party won elections in 2015 and rules the country today, but she could not become president because her children have British passports. Moreover, the military rewrote the constitution before leaving power to allow them to control key ministries.

Nevertheless, the people I met are relieved that they can actually speak freely after years of oppression.

I visited Bagan, the beautiful former capital of the country. Bagan is near the city where George Orwell, a British officer in Burma, wrote The Road to Mandalay. You can find numerous copies of Orwell’s books in the local bazaar.

More than 2,000 Buddhist sites–mainly from the 10th to the 13th century–exist in Bagan, Myanmar.

My Bagan guide told me how he and his family had lost their home under the military in 1990. My guide, now 41, recalls as a teenager the trauma for his family and dozens of others being forcibly removed from their homes. But he sees a bright future for Myanmar, particularly in his hometown, which has some of the most amazing Buddhist temples in the world.

Yangon, the largest city with more than six million people, still shows the signs of the errant ways of the military government. Some of the old British buildings stand vacant and in despair because the military government ignored their decline. The new government has launched a renovation campaign to preserve these beautiful structures that survived World War II but almost did not make it during 50 years of socialist oppression.

Interestingly, there is a growing Roman Catholic community, with a large church and a seminary, Unfortunately, I just missed the time when it was open.

Myanmar still has its problems—a mix of ethnic groups seeking autonomy—and continued tensions between the government and the military. But, for the most part, the people are happy that freedom has come to Myanmar.

The visit made me think that we Americans need to take a breath and realize how lucky we are!