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BurmaNet News: November 20, 2000
- Subject: BurmaNet News: November 20, 2000
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2000 12:31:00
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
________November 20, 2000 Issue # 1665__________
NOTED IN PASSING: ?Last week the 175-member International Labor
Organization took the unusual step of condemning the junta's use of
forced labor and invited member countries to impose sanctions. A good
start would be restricting trade and investment in areas of the economy
that profit from forced labor.?
New York Times editorial. See New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar
INSIDE BURMA _______
*AFP: Suu Kyi to be allowed out for court hearing
*Radio Myanmar: Burma rejects International Labour Organization
resolution, ceases to cooperate
*DVB: Burma: Anti-insurgent group levies poppy cultivation tax in Shan
*Bangkok Post: Burma has offered to host the annual Asean army
commanders' meeting in 2002, an army source said
*DPA: Myanmar dissidents again hit out at Maung visit to India
*Daily Star (Bangladesh): Myanmar shrugs off economic effects of ILO-led
*Press Trust of India: Myanmar Dy PM calls for better economic ties
*New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar
*Boston Globe: Penalizing Burma
*NY Times: Letter--Burmese Rice
*The Ottawa Citizen: : Road to Mandalay: Luxury cruise offers a timeless
peek at pagodas, temples, royal palaces and into the spiritual heart of
The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
AFP: Suu Kyi to be allowed out for court hearing
Nov. 20, 2000
YANGON: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to emerge
briefly from house arrest on Tuesday if she chooses to attend a court
hearing over her brother's claim on her Yangon home, a Junta spokesman
If Aung San Suu Kyi chooses to answer the summons in person, it will be
her first public appearance since September 22 when the Junta laid down
the restrictions after she attempted to travel outside the capital
The Nobel laureate was subpoenaed to appear in Yangon divisional court
after her brother Aung San Oo filed for half-ownership of the house
which belonged to their late mother Khin Kyi.
Colonel Than Tun, the military liaison between the National League for
Democracy (NLD) and the military regime, said Aung San Suu Kyi and other
detained party leaders were allowed leave for medical check-ups,
religious ceremonies and other important functions.
"We are not preventing them from going out if there is a legitimate
reason", Than Tun told AFP. "Since there is this provision, we have no
reason to bar Aung San Suu Kyi from attending or responding to the court
summons if she wishes to go".
Aung San Oo's legal move comes a month before the statute of limitations
expires on the 12th anniversary of his mother's death.
The US-based businessman has never played a political role in Myanmar
but makes regular low-key personal trips here and has escorted groups of
potential US investors to the country.(AFP)
Radio Myanmar: Burma rejects International Labour Organization
resolution, ceases to cooperate
Radio Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese 1330 gmt 17 Nov 00
Text of report by Burmese radio on 17th November
At its 279th session in Geneva, Switzerland on 16th November 2000, the
governing body of the International Labour Organization ILO decided to
activate the measures against Myanmar Burma stipulated in the resolution
adopted at the 88th session of the International Labour Conference. This
decision was made despite concrete and detailed legislative, executive,
and administrative measures taken by Myanmar in accordance with the ILO
Convention No.29 on forced labour.
The so-called issue of forced labour in Myanmar arose from arbitrary
judgment based on misinformation. The allegations against Myanmar
emanates from elements opposed to the government, insurgent groups, and
self-proclaimed workers' organizations that are more
politically-motivated than dedicated to promoting the interests of
workers. Regrettably, some western governments also joined in as they
would like to put political pressure on Myanmar.
Although Myanmar has dissociated itself from the relevant ILO
resolution, it has tried to cooperate with ILO in finding solution to
the problem, and even invited ILO Technical Cooperation Mission to
Myanmar twice, during which very fruitful discussions took place.
However, the ILO and the governing body in particular have turned a
blind eye to the comprehensive framework of legislative, executive, and
administrative measures put in place in Myanmar. This decision by the
governing body is most regrettable and contrary to the wishes of many of
its member states who would like to see a more prudent approach rather
than a path of confrontation and coercion. Myanmar also wish to put on
record its sincere thanks and appreciation to many friends and
like-minded countries who took a principled stand against this
unwarranted and unjustified action by the governing body.
Today, Myanmar is singled out for punitive action. Tomorrow it may be
another developing country. This decision sets a most dangerous
precedence in which the big powers can use the pretext of labour rights
and unfounded allegations to exert pressure and interfere in the
internal affairs of developing nations. This decision will no doubt
place the credibility, integrity, and reputation of the governing body
and the ILO in question, as the effect of this decision would have the
negative impact on the very people it purports to protect and serve.
The action by the governing body is most unfair, most unreasonable, and
most unjust. Myanmar therefore totally and categorically rejects the
governing body resolution and dissociates itself from it and any
activities and effects connected with it. As such, Myanmar will cease to
cooperate with the International Labour Organization in relation to the
ILO Convention 29 and any activity connected with it. The present
situation arose out of the attempts of some western nations to impose
their will on Myanmar. Myanmar will never be shaken by such pressure
tactics and will never accept such attempts. As a national commitment,
Myanmar has already taken the necessary legislative, executive, and
administrative steps to prohibit the use of forced labour. Despite the
negative decision of the ILO governing body, Myanmar will continue to
adhere and implement these positive measures in the interest of the
DVB: Burma: Anti-insurgent group levies poppy cultivation tax in Shan
SOURCE: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1245 gmt 16 Nov 00
Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16th November
The Kachin Democratic Army, KDA, is levying opium tax on farmers who
grow poppies in northern Shan State's Kutkai Township. A tax of 6,500
kyat Burmese currency unit is levied on a poppy field planted near and
around Nanwin Village in Mu-se Township. As the KDA has issued an order
stating that poppy could not be cultivated without paying tax, the
villagers have been giving tax since 1st November. The KDA is a Kachin
armed group that signed a cease-fire agreement with the SPDCState Peace
and Development Council and is allowed to hold weapons.
Furthermore, during October the anti-insurgent group formed under the
auspices of the SPDC levied a poppy tax of kyat 14,000 per household on
poppy farmers in Namhkam Township, northern Shan State. Besides, a poppy
growing household has to pay 2,000 kyat per household for the Namphat
Khan Village Tract fund. DVB Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Myo
Min Thant filed this report.
Bangkok Post: Burma has offered to host the annual Asean army
commanders' meeting in 2002, an army source said
Singapore and Vietnam had earlier put in bids for the meeting.
Burma's representatives made their proposal at the shooting competition
which precedes the first military chiefs meeting in Cha-am, Prachuap
Khiri Khan, from Nov 21-22.
Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye turned down an invitation to attend
this year's meeting. Next year's meeting is in the Philippines. "Burma
wants to make amends for Gen Maung Aye's not attending this year's
meeting, because he was unhappy Thailand invited US army chief of staff
Gen Eric Shinseki to be the guest speaker," the source said. "However,
Gen Maung Aye still wants to tighten relations with Asean army leaders
and he has offered to host the meeting in 2002."Sharpshooters from all
10 Asean nations, including 40 from Burma, are competing in this year's
shooting competition, which began on Friday at the infantry centre,
Prachuap Khiri Khan. On Nov 22, army commanders of eight Asean countries
will test their shooting skills at the closing ceremony.
The source said Burma had paid eight million baht to a Thai firm for an
automated target system which would be used in the 2002 shooting event.
DPA: Myanmar dissidents again hit out at Maung visit to India
Deutsche Presse Agentur
Nov 18, 2000
Myanmar dissidents in India again hit out Saturday at the visit of
Burmese general Maung Aye to India.
"India is a great democratic country. It should not align itself with
the Burmese (Myanmar)junta which is a most cruel regime," Kyan Thaw,
president of the All Burma Students League said.
Thaw told Deutsche Presse Agentur dpa that India, as leader of third
world countries, should have taken a lead in keeping away from the
"But now it looks like India has changed its policy towards the
democratic movement in Myanmar" Thaw said.
He said even if India trying to get close to Myanmar to get its help in
fighting insurgency in the northeastern areas, support to a brutal junta
cannot be condoned.
Thaw said the dissidents in Delhi had already organized protests against
the visit on November 15, when some were arrested by local police and
detained for few hours. He said they were planning more protests but did
not give details.
Thaw's organization operates from the house of Indian Defence Minister
George Fernandes who has decided to stay away from the functions with
Myang Aye and his team.
The Asian Age newspaper reported - quoting the minister's office - that
Fernandes, a staunch supporter of democratic movement in Myanmar, also
had no intention of meeting Aye, who is vice-chairman of the ruling
Peace and Development Council.
General Aye arrived in New Delhi Friday accompanied by his wife, Daw Mya
Mya San and a high-powered delegation. He is to hold talks with the
Indian leaders including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his
India is Myanmar's biggest export market. It exported goods worth 141.14
million dollars during the fiscal 1999-2000 while imports from Myanmar
were worth 75.36 million dollars.
India and Myanmar are scheduled to sign a 15-million dollar credit
agreement for the purchase of Indian goods by Yangon, officials said.
Aye, the second most important member of the ruling military junta in
Yangon, is visiting at the invitation of Indian Vice-President Krishna
The Myanmar team arrived in Delhi late Thursday after visiting Bodh Gaya
in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, to pray at the site where Buddha
is said to have attained enlightenment.
This is Aye's second visit to India this year and a clear sign of closer
ties between the world's most populous democracy and one of Asia's most
notorious pariahs, criticised internationally for its poor human rights
record and suppression of pro-democracy movement.
There has been criticism in the Indian newspapers in the past days over
Delhi giving a red carpet treatment to the visiting leader.
Aye's trip is being treated by India with all the pomp usually
associated with visit of a head of state.
Replying to criticism, Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani said
India had weighed the pros and cons of the visit. "We have to deal with
all kinds of governments but at the same time we are keeping in view our
national interests," he said.
Senior Indian officials say that the high profile welcome is mainly on
account of India's recognition that Myanmar's strategic location is
central for promoting Delhi's "look east" policy.
"We no longer look at south east Asia as an extended neighbourhood. It
is indeed our neighbourhood as endowed by geography which we have failed
to recognise over the years," officials said on condition of anonymity.
Sandwiched between south and southeast Asia, Myanmar is a natural "land
bridge" linking the regions. India is keen to exploit this location by
building cross-border roads into Myanmar. India proposes to use this
link to get connected to southeast Asian heartland and beyond.
India is already building a road which will link the Indian far- eastern
state of Manipur with Myanmar, and will be part of the trans- Asian
highway. This highway network will terminate at the Myanmar
communication hub of Kalemyo.
India also plans to tap Myanmar's energy potential. Talks between
technical teams of two countries on the possible transfer of natural gas
from Myanmar to India via Bangladesh are already being held.
India also recognises Myanmar's importance in strengthening its natural
security in the far-flung north eastern regions. Delhi is looking for
joint operations with Yangon to curb an insurgency in the area - the
insurgents have found safe havens in Myanmar's jungles - officials said.
Aye was due Saturday to begin a two-day visit to Agra to see the Taj
Mahal, the 17th century monument of love built by Moghul Emperor Shah
Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
He will meet Vajpayee and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh on
Monday. He leaves for home on Tuesday. dpa mvb sc
_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________
Daily Star (Bangladesh): Myanmar shrugs off economic effects of ILO-led
YANGON, Nov 18: Myanmar Saturday downplayed the economic effects of an
International Labour Organisation (ILO) decision to recommend its
members impose sanctions over the issue of forced labour, reports AFP.
"The resolution cannot hurt us too much as it does not carry much weight
and individual countries are not obliged to comply with ILO's urgings,"
Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win told a press conference.
"Trade patterns are mostly with neighbouring countries who are not
obliged to follow the resolution," he said.
In an unprecedented move, the ILO Thursday urged its member states and
organisations to reonsider their relations with Myanmar because of its
"widespread" use of forced labour.
A majority of the 56 members of the ILO's governing body voted in favour
of imposing sactions, despite the opposition of several Asian countries
including China, India, Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan.
Thailand refused to join in a united Association of Southeast Asia
Nations (ASEAN) defence of Myanmar, which joine the bloc in 1997.
Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry Friday said the decision was "most
unfair" and ignored Yangon's efforts to cooperate with the ILO in
stamping out forced labour.
"The effects of this decision would have the negative impact on he very
people it purports to protect and serve," it said in a statement.
Khin Maung Win said the ILO decision was a political move by a small
group of hostile Western countries intent on decrying its efforts to
deal with the issue of forced labour.
Myanmar's home ministry announced a new law banning forced labour in
October after an ILO mission visited the country. The decree was
reinforced on November 1 by a military directive.
But the ILO judged the measures were "too little too late".
Myanmar has been in the organisation's sights since 1998, when a
commission of inquiry found the use of forced labour to be "widespread
According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU) nearly one million people are currently subjected to forced
labour in Myanmar, particularly in building roads, railways and military
The army has been singled out as a main offender, due to its practice of
using villagers as "porters".
The ICFTU on Friday urged tour operators and multinationals working in
Myanmar to apply the recommendations of the ILO.
Any new sanctions, on top of those already imposed by the United States
and the European Union, may seal the fate of the tottering Myanmar
Press Trust of India: Myanmar Dy PM calls for better economic ties
PUNE: The vast potential for trade and investment in the industrial and
service sector in Myanmar needs to be tapped by Indian industrialists,
deputy prime minister of Myanmar Lt Gen Tin Hla has said.
Addressing the members of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII)
here Saturday night, he said, "there exist immense possibilities for
collaboration between the two countries, both in the public and private
Lt Gen Hla said economic and technical cooperation between India and
Myanmar has increased since the bilateral trade agreement in 1994. Even
after this positive development the volume of trade and investment
between the two countries remained 'disproportionately low' in relation
to the potential that exists, he added.
He said Myanmar has adopted a market oriented economic system in 1988
abandoning the centrally planned system and the Union of Myanmar Foreign
Investment Law (FIL) was promulgated the same year. The law provides for
a number of incentives and guarantees to foreign direct investors and
prepares an investment-friendly environment, he added.
He said FIL provides for investment in the form of 100 per cent foreign
ownership or a joint venture with a Myanmar partner, from private,
cooperative or state sectors. The state-owned economic enterprise law
prevents private sector in 12 economic activities but these could be
allotted to the private sector if deemed beneficial for the state, he
Hla said the law provides for tax holiday of three years which could be
extended. Foreign investors could lease land and immovable property from
the government initially for 30 years and extend it for three terms of
five years, he added.
He said Myanmar possesses vast land areas for cultivation and priority
has been given for the development of agro-based industry. Rich marine
resources, availability of metallic and non-metallic minerals along with
the forestry and energy sector provide vast opportunities for foreign
investment, he added.
He said Myanmar has a comparative wage advantage with availability of a
literate labour force. The foreign investment law guarantees that the
foreign investment under this law is not nationalised and allows
repatriation of capital and net profit, he added.
In a joint venture, foreign participation should not be less than 35 per
cent of the total equity capital. The minimum amount of foreign capital
stipulated for each investment is $500,000 for manufacturing and
$300,000 for services, he added.
He expressed hope that his visit would strengthen the bonds of
friendship between the two countries. (PTI)
New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar
November 19, 2000, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is a case study in repression and
misgovernment. For 12 years a secretive military junta has ground down
the liberties and living standards of 50 million people. By banning most
contact with the outside world and buying off the leadership of restive
ethnic minorities, the junta has deflected serious challenges to its
rule, despite the dismal failure of its economic policies and spreading
The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, when it was known as Burma.
After the violent suppression of a democracy movement in 1988, an even
more ruthless set of generals took charge. They permitted elections in
1990, then ignored the results when democratic forces led by Daw Aung
Sang Suu Kyi won an overwhelming victory. She has spent 6 of the past 11
years under house arrest. Other leaders of her party have been
relentlessly persecuted, university students have been relocated from
the cities, and unions and civic associations have been prohibited. The
junta has banned computer modems, e-mail and the Internet and made it a
crime for people to invite foreigners into their homes.
The Times's Blaine Harden recently reported that Myanmar, which a
half-century ago had one of Asia's best health care systems and highest
literacy rates, is now near the bottom in these and many other measures
of development as government spending has been diverted from schools and
health care to the military. Most people now live on less than a dollar
a day. Drug smuggling and AIDS have grown explosively and threaten to
spill over to neighboring countries like China and Thailand.
The United States has led international efforts to isolate Myanmar
through economic sanctions, including a ban on new investment. But other
Asian countries have been reluctant to apply pressure. China, in
particular, has helped sustain the junta through military aid. But an
increasing number of countries are losing patience. Last week the
175-member International Labor Organization took the unusual step of
condemning the junta's use of forced labor and invited member countries
to impose sanctions. A good start would be restricting trade and
investment in areas of the economy that profit from forced labor.
Washington too should consider additional steps like encouraging
disinvestment by American companies. Myanmar's people deserve
international support in their struggle against a destructive tyranny.
Boston Globe: Penalizing Burma
Nov 19, 2000
TOO LITTLE ATTENTION has been paid to a showdown this past week in
Geneva, where the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization
debated punitive measures against the military junta in Burma for what
an ILO Commission of Inquiry called ''widespread and systematic'' use of
The ILO's decision to impose sanctions on the junta represents a
principled stand by the oldest UN agency against the horrific human
rights violations perpetrated by the illegitimate regime in Rangoon. The
ILO's Commission of Inquiry reported in 1998 that forced labor ''on the
scale practiced in Burma, amounted to a crime against humanity.''
Because of the international composition of the ILO, the decision to ask
its members - labor groups and employers as well as governments - to
punish the Burmese junta becomes a paradigm for multilateral sanctions.
It was to prevent such a precedent that certain countries, anxious to
protect their own right to abuse their peoples or to invest anywhere,
sought to delay any definitive action by the ILO. With Malaysia in the
lead, China, India, Russia, and Japan backed a dilatory amendment. But
to no avail. The junta had been given five months to cooperate with the
ILO but did nothing in that time to change its laws or cease its
practice of dragooning villagers into unpaid and hazardous labor.
In Geneva, Andrew Samet, the undersecretary for international affairs at
the US Department of Labor, noted that the junta had not complied with
an ultimatum that the ILO issued last June. To make his point vividly,
Samet described the human meaning of forced labor under the Burmese
''Workers are subject to frequent beatings or physical abuse by
soldiers,'' he said. ''Some are killed. Women who perform compulsory
labor are raped. Deaths, rapes, and beatings - there are no harsher
measures than these.''
This is the first time in its 81-year history that the ILO had to invoke
its Forced Labor Convention against a member (Burma ratified the
Convention in 1955). Henceforth, the unions, employers, and governments
that are the ILO's constituents must review their relations with the
Burmese dictatorship to make certain they are not taking any action that
might contribute to forced labor in Burma.
Thailand in particular deserves praise for vetoing an effort by its
neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to oppose ILO
sanctions against the junta. A million victims of the Burmese junta have
fled into Thailand. The Thais have suffered corollary damage from the
Burmese inferno. Thanks to the ILO's just action, the rest of the world
may come to understand that all peoples have a stake in helping protect
the people of Burma.
This story ran on page C06 of the Boston Globe on 11/19/2000.
NY Times: Letter--Burmese Rice
November 19, 2000
To tthe Editor:
"For Burmese, Repression, AIDS and Denial" (front page, Nov. 14) shed
some much needed light on the lamentable situation in Myanmar. Although
Myanmar probably produces enough rice to feed its people, a sizable
portion is taken from the farmers as taxes and exported by the State
Peace and Development Council in order to earn hard currency. The
farmers' taxes are so exorbitantly high, sometimes more than half the
crop during a bad year, that many can barely grow enough rice to sustain
The widespread use of forced labor in Myanmar remains a major problem
and is to be addressed on Nov. 30 by the International Labor
Organization, which has in effect already expelled the country from the
_____________________ OTHER ______________________
The Ottawa Citizen: : Road to Mandalay: Luxury cruise offers a timeless
peek at pagodas, temples, royal palaces and into the spiritual heart of
November 18, 2000 Saturday FINAL EDITION
MANDALAY, Myanmar - From the western bank of the Ayeyarwady River,
looking down and across the surprisingly clean, flowing expanse of
Burma's longest waterway, time seems to stand still.
Only a short distance up the river, lean, bare-torsoed dock workers
shoulder 45-kilogram bags of rice from a decrepit-looking riverboat
moored at the bankside -- as they have for hundreds of years.
Across the water, a steep hill studded with what look like gleaming
sharp-edged jewels in a jade background rises up to meet the sky.
The jewel-like objects are Burmese pagodas crowding one upon another,
where monks and nuns and common folk have come to worship Buddha for
almost a thousand years.
Directly below the riverbank, at the bottom of a steep incline of stone
steps, the gleaming white hull of the luxury riverboat Road to Mandalay
is moored, a welcoming crew in starched, white naval uniform waiting to
greet passengers as they board.
The 100-metre-long ship will serve as a floating hotel for the next
three days and nights, as the captain navigates through the sandy shoals
and swirling depths of the Ayeyarwady River between Mandalay and Bagan,
200 kilometres to the south in this country now known as Myanmar
Along the way, knowledgeable guides will accompany passengers ashore to
visit some of the most famous and glorious Buddhist temples and
monasteries in all of Asia, as well as local villages where the families
eke out a slim living by fishing, agriculture, local crafts and, of
course, the visits of tourists.
Although Myanmar has recently taken steps to open up the country, it has
a long history of isolation from the western world. As a result, it is
one of the few countries of the world completely unspoiled by tourism
This cruise from Mandalay to Bagan is a three-night trip.
The usual itinerary is to fly to Bangkok, Thailand; allow for a day or
two to recover from jet lag, then fly to Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the
capital of Myanmar.
The mighty Ayeyarwady River originates in the very north of Myanmar, fed
by the melting snows of the Himalayas.
It flows down through the length of the country, reaching its delta on
the Bay of Bengal.
The northern reaches of the river are unnavigable, but the current flows
smoothly and rapidly from Mandalay onward.
Because the river can rise and fall as much as 7.5 metres in one season
of monsoon rainfall, it takes a special kind of boat to navigate the
Its engines must be powerful enough to buck strong currents during
high-water season, and yet must be built with a draught shallow enough
to glide over portions of the river that at times may be only two metres
deep during the dry season.
Incredibly, the boat that seemed to best fulfill both of these
requirements was one that was built in 1964 and was found by the Orient
Express organization plying the waters of the Rhine River. The
reconditioned ship was given the new romantic name of Road to Mandalay
for service on the Ayeyarwady.
And truly a romantic adventure is in store for its passengers. From the
spacious staterooms, one looks out upon the river scene -- passing
timber rafts laden with enormous teak logs, crowded double-deck
passenger boats, and barges transporting vegetables and fruits, cement,
fertilizer, and glazed pots.
Local fishermen fling nets from homemade wooden boats and along the high
sandy banks of the river, whole families camp in tents, their campfires
flickering in the dark at night. In the daytime, the people work their
cornfields and peanut plantations, rice paddies, vegetable patches and
With four passenger decks, the Road to Mandalay offers its guests every
The shore excursions are among the highlights of the trip. On the first
day aboard, passengers disembark for a tour of Mandalay, visiting a
partial reconstruction of the former Royal palace, a walled square
compound built at the direction of King Mindon in the mid-19th century.
Surrounded by a moat protecting the "forbidden palace," the compound was
designed to be the jewel of Burma's capital, a symbol of royal peace and
Constructed entirely of teak and decorated lavishly with gold leaf and
lacquer, the palace was surrounded by an elaborate arrangement of teak
pavilions, throne rooms and halls. The original compound was bombed by
the British during the Second World War in an attempt to rout the
Japanese who had made it their headquarters.
The tour continues to nearby Amarapura to the shallow Taungthaman Lake,
which is traversed by U Bein's bridge, the longest wooden-planked bridge
in the world, almost a mile in length, constructed two centuries ago. It
is still a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, with hundreds of villagers,
monks and nuns moving across it, with the sun, blood red on the horizon,
For those who are up for it, there is an early breakfast call the next
morning to motor to a nearby village, where monks line up for their
daily acceptance of alms. The monks, each holding a black lacquered
bowl, pass in line for portions of rice and Burmese breakfast delicacies
donated by the ship's staff. It is a ritual of the Buddhist religion for
monks to go from house to house on regular rounds during each day of the
week to collect food and other contributions, and it is no way viewed by
the Burmese as begging.
The monks do not offer thanks as they accept their gifts; on the
contrary, it is those who give who feel thanks that they are able to do
so. The monks range in age from 80 to six years old, and only the
littlest fellows seem willing to offer a shy smile as they receive their
Visits to other villages are similarly intriguing. One village is
devoted almost entirely to carving stonework from limestone, beautifully
rendered sculptures of Buddha and various mythical creatures. Most of
the statues, some of them weighing as much as 10 tonnes, are shipped
overland to China, and comprise a flourishing industry for the
Before weighing anchor from Mandalay, there is a visit to Sagaing, the
hillside site directly across the river, and a spiritual centre of
Buddhist life. Some 20,000 monks and 5,000 Buddhist nuns reside here in
500 monasteries and nunneries. Religious heart of the region is the
Mahamuni pagoda, dating from the 14th century. It houses the most
venerated Buddha statue in Mandalay.
A highlight of the visit to Sagaing is the opportunity to observe the
inside of one of the nunneries. The nuns wear beautiful lavender robes
(contrasting favourably with the saffron yellow of the monks). Like the
monks, their heads are shaved. They are mostly slender and quite
beautiful in their serenity. Their lives, like that of the monks, are
spent in studying and meditation.
The Road to Mandalay moves smoothly down the river and after a day of
river cruising, it reaches its destination city, Bagan, capital of the
first Burmese empire that flourished from the 11th century until its
defeat by the armies of Kublai Khan in 1287. Calm and serene, it has
been designated by the UN as a World Heritage Site.
Of 13,000 pagodas that existed at that time, only 2,000 remain today. As
a result, the fields in and around the city are filled with ruins dating
from the 11th century, abandoned remains that are somehow still
impressive, awesome, mysterious and sometimes even grotesque.
But of the 2,000 pagodas that remain today, perhaps 100 are
world-ranking monuments, rivalled in southeast Asia as architectural
masterpieces only by Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia.
Chief among them are the imposing whitewashed 13th century Ananda,
considered to be the masterpiece of Mon (early Buddhist) architecture,
and the imposing Shwezigon pagoda with its enormous gold-leafed dome.
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