A couple of weeks ago I featured the comments of a journalist and human rights activist from the Philippines following his visit to Bangkok. Our peripatetic friend has now made his way to the Thai-Burma border at Myawaddy. Here is an account of his brief sortie across the border:

Friendship Bridge is not friendly

It was 9am when I crossed the border. Carrying a Filipino passport with me clueless and curious of what lies ahead. While walking along the “Friendship Bridge” I saw several Burmese crossing back and forth, carrying their products in baskets on their heads. None of them looked well-off. One could quickly notice the poor state of their health.

When I approached Burmese immigration, they checked my passport and without fully explaining, told me to sit beside the immigration officer’s chair. I was surprised that my face was already on his computer. Later I realised that his colleagues had taken a picture of me discretely using a webcam. I did not ask about it as there was no point. They could not speak much English. One asked me job, and before I answered they just typed in “student”. They took 500 baht as a fee to cross the border without giving any receipt. Later I was told that I paid too much.

“My country: friendly people, no terrorists, we don’t war or trouble”

A Burmese guy approached and offered to be my interpreter for the day. He said that he had learned English from his father and grandfather, who served as an interpreter for the British in the old days. He later told me that he had been fishing in the river all night and had not slept yet, but was glad to meet me because in the past days no tourists had arrived. His wife sells his fish catch in the morning while he guides tourists in the daytime.

The quote above is exactly how he described his country. Perhaps he had honest intentions in singing praises about his country; because at the end of the day if no tourists come, he won’t get anything for his living. For want of any choice, this is how life goes on.

What you can see in Myawaddy is how under dictatorship the abnormal can become ordinary. For instance, my guide showed the spire of a temple which has jade and jewelry atop. He said that since the early 1990s, at least 30 suspected thieves had already been shot dead by soldiers and police, in open public, allegedly trying to steal from the temple. People must know that they risk death doing that, but still they try. I could not guess at the value of the jade and jewelry placed on top this spire while people surrounding it can hardly eat and may dare to steal knowing that they could be shot and killed.

Humble tribute

At the end of my three-hour stay inside Burma, I had plenty of reflections and realizations; that when things become ordinary or common, they are seen as legitimate, and anything goes, aggravated by fear and lack of remedies.

One need not conduct a survey: the gap between the poor and rich is too apparent. If Burma is so rich, as my interpreter told me, why does he have to fish at night and serve tourists all day to support his family?

I pay humble tribute to him and all the other people struggling to survive as best they can under a stupid government.