musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia


I received an e-mail this morning from a friend in Mandalay. He was replying to a note I had sent him last week, in the wake of the violence that erupted in the city. Here is an excerpt:

“Sorry for the late reply. I was not able to use the internet for a couple of days, and so I couldn’t check any mail. Thanks a lot for your concern, we were safe, but I lost a very close friend of mine, who was more like a brother to me, we have known each other very well for more than 15 years. We have been together at least once a week. He was brutally killed on his way to the Mosque in the early morning. It is still very difficult for me to accept that he left us.”

Needless to say, I was stunned to hear that one of the two people killed during the disturbances in Mandalay last week was the friend of a friend of mine … a friend I won’t name to protect his privacy at this time. I was more than stunned and saddened to hear this news, I was outraged. Honestly, if a close friend of mine had been senselessly killed under similar circumstances, I would be beyond angry. I’d want to hunt down the fuckers responsible for the killings and seek revenge. No mercy. Screw forgiveness, give me justice.


On a more pleasant note, I had a phone call on Sunday night from Baw Ga, one of the kids I know from the 90th Street neighborhood in Mandalay. Before I left Mandalay in early April, Baw Ga announced that he had a phone number (actually it’s a cell phone that is shared by members of his family) and asked if I would call him. Of course! Having access to a phone is a big deal for Baw Ga and many people in Myanmar. Until recently, having a cell phone was a huge luxury, and ownership of such phones is still not as common as it is in other Southeast Asian nations. But the gap is closing swiftly. The people in Myanmar have gone from having almost zero access to telephones to having internet-enabled smart phones with all the bells and whistles. They can take and show photos, post silly stuff on Facebook, send text messages, and talk to their friends. Needless to say, they are having a blast with these new devices.


So I’ve called Baw Ga a few times and we’ve had some very nice, but very basic conversations. My Burmese is far from fluent and his English skills are even more limited, so we stick to easy subjects like the weather, work, school, and sports. This week I asked him about the “problems” in Mandalay and what he had been doing lately. I also asked about the new school term. He’s in the 11th grade now, which boggles my mind. It seems like only yesterday that he was just one of the “little kids” that I took on trips around the area. Man, they grow up quickly!


Like most young males in Myanmar, Baw Ga is a huge football fan. In the current World Cup he is rooting for Germany. I was half-heartedly pulling for Colombia until they got knocked out of the tournament by Brazil last week, but honestly I don’t really care which nation wins. I’m not a big fan of football/soccer and watching the World Cup games with my friends from the nearby motorcycle taxi stand (most of them are Argentina fans) hasn’t changed my opinion. I find these games mind-numbingly boring. What is exciting about a 0-0 draw? Of course they would probably have a similar opinion of my favorite sport, the mighty game of baseball, and no amount of explaining the rules and strategy would change their mind. They would still be mystified and bored, just like I feel when I watch one of these sloppy football matches with player after player shamlessly falling to the ground and acting like they’ve been horribly injured. Another foul; how exciting! Give me a break! Oh well, at least I have some knowledge of the sport at this point and can use that for my conversations on the phone with Baw Ga. For that, at least, the sport is useful!




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