A Burmese Monk Speaks Out Against the Government
"I think I was happiest when I was a child in my village with my parents," S___*, a 25-year-old monk, told me. "That was before I came to [city name], got an education, and learned about the country, the people, and the situation [in Myanmar]. Now I cannot be happy."
I met S___ at a pagoda on my first night in [city name]. My friend Dave stuck up a conversation with him and, because of S___'s good English and friendly personality, we became friends.
Initially, the most remarkable thing about S___ was his willingness to discuss the government situation in Myanmar, a topic that's strictly off limits with most people. On that first evening, S___ spoke at length about the country's poor economic state, the troubles his sister had in financing medical school, the uprising in 1988, and the sorry salaries of everyday people in Myanmar.
On the following night Dave and I rode a trishaw through the dark, bustling streets of [city name] to visit S___'s monastery. An older monk ushered us through the monastery's weathered concrete gates. "S___ is a very wise man," he said.
S___ lived in a small house across a courtyard from the main classrooms and living quarters. He was reading a newspaper when we arrived. Happy to see us, he gave us a tour of the monastery, introduced us to his friends, and treated us to tea and cakes at a nearby tea shop.
I arranged to return to the monastery the following day to have lunch and then interview S___ on camera.
"There's no reason why Myanmar people should be so poor," S___ said. "This country has many natural resources teak wood, gems, rice. The country is rich. The government makes us poor. "
S___'s chief criticism was with the state of education in Myanmar. Education is very expensive, he explained. Anything beyond primary school is unaffordable for most people.
For many young men like S___, the only option for education was at the monastery. "My mother knew that it was my only chance." So at the age of 13 he left his village to study at a monastery in [city name]. "I like being a monk. I like studying Sanskrit and the teachings of the Buddha. But I don't know if I'll be a monk forever."
Change in Myanmar must begin with the Myanmar people, S___ said. "We must make a protestation, demand a democratic election. Especially in the big cities, people must gather and protest. Then maybe the United Nations or America will notice." But such a protest could result in violence. "I think the government will shoot. Sure. They will shoot and kill five, six hundred people."
S___ was unsure how many people in Myanmar would be willing to participate in such a protestation. "People are afraid," he explained. "I think we will have to wait to change something at least twenty years. For me it will be too late. Forty years old is too old to get an education or get ahead in Myanmar."
Posted on November 21, 2002 09:49 AM