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Letter from Burma, Road to Thamanya
- Subject: Letter from Burma, Road to Thamanya
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 04 Dec 1995 06:00:00
Subject: Letter from Burma, Road to Thamanya, part 2
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MAINICHI DAILY NEWS
December 4, 1995
LETTER FROM BURMA
By Aung San Suu Kyi
Glimpses of history and untamed beauty
Road to Thamanya
The country we had been going through was rocky. At
Mokpalin we had passed a rock quarry where, I was told,
convicts were usually to be seen working. We saw none on
our way to Thamanya, but on our way back we saw two
men in white with chains on their legs trotting along the
roadway, shouldering a pole from which hung large baskets
full of broken rock.
In the vicinity of Kyaik - hto is the Kyaik - htiyoe pagoda.
It is only 15 feet in height but it is one of the most famous
religious monuments in Burma because it is built on a large
skull shaped rock amazingly balanced on the edge of a
jutting crag 3,600 feet above sea level. Its perch is so
precarious that the push of one strong man can set it
rocking gently. Yet it has managed to maintain its
equilibrium over many centuries.
There are rubber plantations all along the route from the
Sittang bridge until the town of Thaton, a straggling place
with a slightly battered air. When we were schoolchildren
we were taught that rubber was one of the main export
products of Burma. But over the last few decades our
rubber industry gradually went downhill and now rubber no
longer features among our important natural assets.
Once upon a time Thaton with its twilight air was a thriving
capital and a famous center for Buddhism, ruled over by the
Mon King Manuha, a monarch who commanded the respect
of friend and foe alike. Although he was defeated in battle
and carried away as a captive by King Anawratha of Pagan,
Manuha's personal stature remained undiminished. Popular
Burmese history has it that even in defeat his glory was so
manifest, every time Manuha made obeisance to Anawratha,
the victor king broke out into a goose flesh of fear. In the
end, it is said, Anawratha managed to destroy Manuha's
glory by underhanded means.
In Pagan today there still remains the Manuha stupa with
dedication by the captive king praying that he might never
again, in any of his future lives, be defeated by another. The
sympathetic account given of King Manuha is one of the
most admirable parts of Burmese history, demonstrating a
lack of ethnic prejudice and unstinting respect for a noble
>From Thaton we continued to travel in an easterly direction
and at about eleven o'clock we entered the state of Karen.
The state capital Pa-an lies on the east bank of the river
Salween which we crossed by car ferry. Pa-an is a spacious
town, quiet and pleasantly countrified. We did not stop
there as we had made arrangements to meet members of the
Karen State NLD only on the way back from Thamanya.
There is an untamed beauty about the lands around Pa-an.
The area is notable for its striking hills that rise sheer from
the ground. In some of the hills are caves in which old Mon
inscriptions, images and pagodas have been found. It was in
one of these caves that a queen of Manuha took refuge after
the defeat of her husband. It is believed that this queen later
moved, for greater security, to the foot of "Paddy Seed Hill"
and that it was she who had the two pagodas constructed on
As we approached Thamanya, the quiet seemed to deepen.
It was difficult to imagine that we were close to areas which
have served as battlefields for most of the last 50 years.
Fighting had broken out between government troops and
Karen insurgents almost as soon as Burma was declared an
independent nation in January 1948. And there has not yet
been a political settlement that could bring permanent peace
to this land with its wild, magical quality.
The Hsayadaw of Thamanya is a vegetarian and only
vegetarian food is served in his domain. It is customary for
those making the journey to Thamanya to start eating
vegetarian food at least the day before they set out. We too
had been eating vegetarian food and we felt full of health
calm self - satisfaction as we covered the last lap of our
journey. Suddenly it occurred to us that the quietness and
feeling of ease had to do with something more than the
beauties of nature or our state of mind. We realized that the
road had become less rough. Our vehicle was no longer
leaping from crater to rut and we were no longer rolling
around like peas in a basin.
As soon as we passed under the archway that marked the
beginning of the domain of Thamanya, we noted that the
road was even better, a smooth, well - kept black ribbon
winding into the distance. The difference between the road
we had traveled and the road on which we now found our-
selves struck all of us. This road had been built and
maintained by the Hsayadaw for the convenience of the
villagers who lived around the hill and of the pilgrims who
came in their tens and thousands each year. It was far
superior to many a highway to be found in Rangoon.
(This is the second in a yearlong series of letters, the
Japanese translation of which appears in the Mainichi
Shimbun the same day, or the previous day in some areas.)
By Morse Saito
In 1972 the Mainichi newspapers took a stand involving
Okinawa and nearly died. The old prewar home office in
Osaka needed to be replaced and a new site near the Osaka
Castle was found. Okinawa changed all that.
Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, brother of former Prime
Minister Nobusuke Kishi, had just become Japan's longest -
ruling leader. The proud prime minister was to cap his
career with the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Okinawa
was so completely under American jurisdiction that even the
local currency was the greenback and U.S. - minted coins.
The Mainichi is owned by its full - time employees. If the
paper suffers, all will suffer. When employees leave or
retire, their Mainichi stock shares are bought back and
eventually given to future employees. Part-timers like this
columnist are not part of the ownership.
During the Diet's discussions on the reversion of Okinawa, a
Communist opposition leader asked if the government was
secretly funding the U.S. payments of land rent to Okinawa
for the U.S. to use for military purposes. Prime Minister
Sato hotly denied the question.
The Communist produced documents which indicated the
Sato was lying. The furious prime minister ordered a thor-
ough investigation of the Foreign Ministry. A secretary had
given the information to a Mainichi reporter. Both were
immediately jailed on sedition charges.
The Mainichi challenged the government on constitutional
grounds and the reporter was released. Sato tried his
utmost to damage the Mainichi. It took another 20 years
for the Mainichi to build its new Osaka office. More
importantly, for a decade the Mainichi hovered near
At the time a senior Mainichi editor told me in a private talk
that the Mainichi would back the reporter all the way. Fine,
I said. He added that after six months, when things quieted
down, the reporter would be fired.
I gulped as the editor gave me a lesson in Japan's new
democratic journalism. It was the reporter's duty to gather
the news, for which the paper backed him completely. The
reporter, however, thought it was more important to give
this information to the opposition parties. He was duly
released within the year.
The Mainichi never regained its former strength. Instead it
upheld a new standard of journalistic morality.
We warmly welcome "Letter from Burma" and the Nobel
Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Personally, I won-
der if and when she will be arrested again. However, I
know the Mainichi's response.