Date with a Transvestite Spirit Medium
April 25, 2007 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Burmese Daze: In which the author submits to the pleasures of a transgender spirit possession festival in Burma. [Via Disinformation.]
posted by homunculus (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In other news from Burma/Myanmar:

Betraying "Democracy" in Burma

Burma: Violent Attacks on Rights Activists
posted by homunculus at 11:04 PM on April 25, 2007

Here's the print format version of the main article, which is much easier to read.
posted by homunculus at 11:07 PM on April 25, 2007

A creeping feeling of uncanniness grew inside me. Was it the billboard advertisements for Dagon beer, an alarm for any Lovecraft fan? Or could it be the garish yellow pancake makeup, derived from the thanaka tree, that many Burmese women applied in sometimes fantastic designs across their faces? Then I realized that what had unnerved me was the total absence of multinational branding, as if the crumbling city lay in some parallel dimension not yet colonized by Coke and VISA and McDonalds.

Eh, the giant billboards spouting propaganda didn't do the trick? The kind you imagine only exist in movies...

People's Desire:

1) Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views

2) Oppose those trying to jeopardise the stability of the State and the progress of the nation

3) Oppose foreign nations interfering with the internal affairs of the State

4) Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy
posted by dreamsign at 2:43 AM on April 26, 2007

I was kind of entertained by the comparison of Ko Gyi Kyaw's ritual song to 50 Cent and Hafiz:

Do you not know me? Have you not seen me at cock-fights? Have you not seen me letting off fireworks? Many times have I fallen prostrate in the gutter, drunken with my wife's wine, and many times have I been picked up by the loving hands of pretty village maidens...

On the whole though, the storytelling got in the way of the facts I desperately wanted to get out of this. This festival/ritual/whatthehellisit? is something I'd like to learn more about.
posted by bobobox at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2007

From the article:
One of a very small number of old-school military dictatorships left in Asia, Burma—renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council—remains a pariah state that practices forced labor, massive censorship, and a corrupt and criminally irresponsible economic policy. In other words, Burma resembles most developing countries, except for the fact that its generals don't play ball with multinational corporations or, by extension, most nation-states. The famous democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, currently under house arrest in Yangoon [sic], long ago asked foreigners not to visit the country, and many potential western tourists, especially from English-speaking countries, continue to honor her request.
That is SO misleading. Burma is unique in "most developing countries" in that the tourism experience is directly enhanced by forced labour:
In Pagan, where over 5000 people were forced to pack their belongings and move to an undeveloped area, many were given just 10 hours’ notice and little compensation for the destruction of their homes. [...]

In February 2004, Burmese soldiers rounded up ethnic Salons, or ‘sea gypsies’ who normally live on boats in the Mergui Archipelago, forced them to live on land and take part in a ‘Salon Festival’ aimed at foreign tourists. The Salons were forced to perform traditional dances for the tourists. [...]

Throughout Burma men, women, children and the elderly have been forced to labour on roads, railways and tourism projects, under the harshest conditions.
I've been to most parts of South East Asia and have been to the international border with Burma in three locations, the closest where I spent a night in a hut _on_ No Man's Land. I'm thoroughly fascinated by Burmese culture, love its cuisine, want to learn the language someday, and have lots of Burmese friends. Additionally, while I have enormous respect for Daw Aung Sang Su Kyi, I try to be pragmatic about the political situation there, and would like to see Burma through a distinctly apolitical eye.

In short, my reason for not visiting Burma is not just for the lack of democracy there, but because I, for one, would not like to be in a position where I'd have to spend a night or two in a place that I'd know was built through slave labour. I don't think I'd want to sleep in relative luxury fully knowing that entire communities were forced out to make way for my air-conditioned hotel room.

That is why this (non-"Western", English-speaking) tourist will not visit Burma in the near future. Not because their government doesn't 'play ball' with multinational enterprises.
posted by the cydonian at 6:48 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unnecessary derail, but I seem to have sub-consciously channeled some phrasing from The Burma Campaign's website. That's _almost_ plaigarism, but not quite. Late at night here. Think I should stop overthinking this plate of beans now.
posted by the cydonian at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2007

Burma is unique in "most developing countries" in that the tourism experience is directly enhanced by forced labour:

cydonian, the author did admit as much in the rest of the paragraph you cited:
But many Burmese who hunger for democracy disagree with Suu Kyi on this point, arguing that foreign visitors provide a flow of desperately-needed dollars to ordinary Burmese and also make violent mass repression less likely—at least in the parts of the country that tourists and their cameras are allowed to visit. With Alan's encouragement, J and I decided to take the plunge, though the news that forced labor helped refurbish some key tourist destinations, like the Mandalay Fort, hardly quelled my anxiety.
posted by homunculus at 11:42 AM on April 26, 2007

Thanks for the links on the Nats, bobobox!
posted by homunculus at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2007

Thant Myint-U: What to do about Burma
posted by homunculus at 11:45 AM on April 26, 2007

I, for one, would not like to be in a position where I'd have to spend a night or two in a place that I'd know was built through slave labour

And you don't have to. The two places where dollars in the government's pocket is basically unavoidable is i) some transport, and ii) the FEC exchange. You don't have to use much of the government infrastructure if you're not spending time in Yangon. And the people are desperate for outside news and contact.
posted by dreamsign at 11:25 AM on April 27, 2007

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