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Portrait of An Exile Burmese by Lin

Dear All:
The following article represents my view.  What do you think?  The 
author is one of our senior student leaders in Burmese pro-democracy 
If your views are the same as mine, what do you think we should do 
towards solving Burma's problem?
If your views are different, clarify your stance.

Aung Soe


It has been almost one decade since I left from Burma (Myanmar).  Since 
then, so much have been changed in my life and in my way of thinking.  
It was interesting to look back all different facets of my life in 
Burma, Thai-Burma border, Thailand, Japan, and USA.  It seems like 
looking into the kaleidoscope. 1 saw constant changes of colors and 
patterns of life.

I was bom and grew up in a remote village of northern Burma, where modem 
facilities such as electricity, color TV, running water were unavailable 
to school children, not to mention well-trained good teachers, computers 
or leaming aids of any kind.  As a child, I taught myself by reading 
textbooks under the dim light of a kerosene lamp.  Life without 
entertainment such as movies, concerts and TV shaped my interest to pick 
up reading as my hobby.  I didn't know it was fortunate or unfortunate, 
but I did find very good library in my village.  I was told that most of 
the books were donated by former bureaucrat officer serving in British 
government.  I devoured almost all the books which introduced me the 
western and eastern literature.  It was indeed ironic for a village boy 
from a remote area of least developed country to be familiar with Guy de 
Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, Harriet 
Beecher Stowe, Jean-Paul Sartre, John Steinbeck, Jack London, Ernest 
Hemingway, Alexander Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorki, Pushkin, and so 
on.  Later I found out this library changed my life totally.  My 
detestation to the military dictatorship was implanted inside me 
unnoticeably since I was young by reading those books as much as I loved 
free and open society.

Miraculously, I passed a highly competitive national exan-tination to 
enter the medical school.  There are only three medical schools in my 
country.  Only 500 students are selected to enter one of those medical 
school.  It was outrageous for a village boy to go to medical school.  
No one from my family, from my village, or from my township ever go to 
medical school.  I was nervously excited among the bewildered relatives 
who were fan-ners all their life and had never been to Rangoon, the 
capital city.  The only person who was so proud of me and could shared 
my feeling was my mother.  She didn't have even elementary education and 
couldn't read and write very well, but she decided to send me to medical 
school, knowing that life would be harder for her to earn extra money 
for my education.

I still remembered the day when my mother, some relatives, and my close 
friends saw me off at the local railway station which is ten miles away 
from my village.  She said to me to behave myself, not to forget my 
root, and to study hard to be a doctor.  I still saw those tears from 
her eyes when the train departed.  I broke my mother's heart after six 
years unwillingly.  I was arrested for my role in student demonstration, 
just before finishing my studies.  Knowing that my future would be 
jeopardized and my mother would be devastated, I did choose to be 
involved in politics along with thousand of university students to 
restore democracy in Burma.  I didn't regret for what I had done, but I 
had second thought later that my life might changed into different form 
and different direction if I finished my MD degree first before going to 
prison.  Of course, there were not so many choices about our life in 
Burma.  Nonetheless, I still had a few options what I want to do about 
my life and future.  What the well-known people in current opposition 
groups who arrived on the political stage only after 1988 student 
demonstration were doing at that time? They were doing for better life.  
Don't get me wrong! I am not trying to ridicule to any body.  What I 
meant was the choice and dramatic consequence are separated by only a 
thin layer.  How could we define what choice was right and wrong?

 Which yardstick are we going to use to measure it? Only I could say was 
some people were smarter than us, knowing the right timing, to get where 
they want to be without risk and suffering.  During that time, trying to 
topple the ruling military dictatorship was unthinkable.  This 
self-imposed isolated country was ignored by outside world.  General Ne 
Win ruled the country with iron fist and there was no opposition party 
on the ground.  In fact, nobody cared our voice.  At that time, United 
States was so busy to settle its own domestic strife and to retreat from 
Vietnam military quagmire.  The cold war between east and west seemed 
like everlasting.  Human right issue had no serious place in 
international community at that time.  All the domestic and outside 
situation forced many people dared not to participate in demonstration 
against government during those days.

I spent almost five years in notorious prison as a prisoner of 
conscience.  Actually, I was put into solitary confinement in a small 
cell without any basic necessary things such as mattress, pillow, 
toilet, towel, newspaper, radio.  The only thing in the cell was a small 
container made of clay for sanitation purpose.  A pot of water was 
outside the cell.  I could get water through the rusty bar.  I was not 
allowed to meet with my family members for a long time.  I was told 
later by my mother that she came to Rangoon from our village several 
times. but she was not allowed to see me.  I felt very sympathetic to my 
mother and loved her more than ever.  It was amazing how I could survive 
from torture, diseases, and solitary confinement for almost five years.  
But, I became a totally different person, from a shy and gentle young 
man to a very angry, outspoken and aggressive person.  The life after 
that was not a pleasant one either.  I was shunned and ignored by many 
people whom I have known very well in good term.  In Burma, even your 
close friend could not associate with you if you were convicted by 
military government.  Political discordance with ruling government was 
regarded as the worst crime you could ever commit.  Those hard and long 
ordeal took away all the happiness and bright future as well as 
optimistic way of thinking.  I don't live in regret but I truly miss my 
old self where happiness, innocence, and compassion exist.  I could not 
continue my study to finish medical study.  No job was available for 
political convicts.  My family didn't have enough money to let me start 
a small business.  I had no time to be confused with my situation.  I 
tried to find all kinds of odd jobs: farm worker, quack doctor, 
smuggler, tutor, painter, and polisher.  At the same time, I took 
correspondent course to get a bachelor degree.  I got married and became 
a father.  Private teaching gave me a little amount of money to maintain 
my family life.  After finishing my MS degree, I became a faculty member 
of Rangoon University by the help of my old professors.  Life became a 
bit stable as a family man with beautiful children and as a successful 
teacher at that particular time and I recalled that period as only 
precious period of my life in Burma.
Life became upside-down again in 1988 as other thousands of Burmese 
families.  The decision which I made to be involved in people's 
democracy movement was the most difficult one and I did again at the 
expanse of my family including my beloved three little children.  At 
that time, my oldest daughter was only five-year-old, the middle 
daughter three-year- old, and youngest son only one year old.  They 
would regard me as a cruel and selfish father for their whole life.  I 
asked myself why I couldn't behave like other university teachers who 
are still in the campus in Rangoon.  I painfully knew nobody cares my 
feeling and nobody honored my sacrifice.  Once I left them behind, I 
have never been happy and I will never be happy again.  Well, who cares!
Life in jungle made me an angrier person.  I simply believed when I came 
to the border that we would defeat that brutal government in a few 
years.  This was the only window of opportunity to defeat the military 
institution and we couldn't lose this timing.  The whole country was 
against the government.  There were approximately twenty thousand 
soldiers in combined among the ethnic minority armed forces and 
approximately twenty thousands soldiers in Burmese communist party which 
was not defunct yet at that time.  Along with ten thousand students who 
fled to the border area, we had about fifty thousand fighting forces.  
If these forces were united under the interest of country and 
revolution, we could wage decisive battles against the government forces 
to defeat totally or to occupy the half of the country along with 
non-violent struggle inside Burma.  The reality was totally different 
from what I thought.  Instead of forming a united front, almost all 
parties were busy with their regular business as usual: trying to make 
money and trying to gain control over other parties.  Chronic infighting 
and power struggle was spreading like a plague.  I saw the true concrete 
condition and realized my dream to go back home in few years would never 
be materialized.  Not surprisingly, the momentum and strength of armed 
revolution died down consequently.  Almost all ethnic minority armed 
groups made cease-fire with government or surrendered.  Burmese 
communist party disintegrated and become defunct.  Thousands of students 
went back to Burma, leaving their dreams and heart and soul at the 
border.  Hundreds of students went to US, Canada, Australia, Norway, and 
Sweden, to continue their whatever dreams.  A few hundreds students were 
still along the border, pursuing their unfulfilled dreams.  Many 
activists including my close friends and colleagues were still in 
different prisons in Burma.
I left my revolution dream at the border and went to Bangkok.  I asked 
myself again why I couldn't decide to go back to Burma like those who 
returned home.  It was a tough call and I didn't find the definite 
answer.  My safety was uncertain if I went back since I was sentenced to 
twenty-year imprisonment in absentia.  But, this was not the only reason 
because I didn't have intention to return even if my safety was 
guaranteed.  The main reason might be lack of intention to surrender 
under any circumstance.  Secondly, I couldn't stand the propaganda works 
from radio, television, and newspapers run by government.  To live in 
foreign land without legal status was not an easy one at all.  You can 
hear endless stories of hardship the Burmese students encountered in 
Thailand.  They were subjected to be arrested and deported to Burma 
against their will according to the Thai govemment's policy.  I only 
want to focus my own personal feeling and attitude towards Thailand only 
based on my own experience.  I have ambivalent feeling about Thailand.  
I was amazed when I saw the booming economics of my neighboring country.  
I felt very sad when I compared the situation and living standard of 
people between the two countries.  I couldn't understand why the Burmese 
government has led the country to be one of the most outdated and 
backward country in the world.  Those ruling class frequently visited 
abroad and I was pretty much sure they had seen enough the progress and 
development of other countries.  How and why couldn't they realize the 
mistakes they had made and try to change the policy if they truly loved 
their country as they said so? They have got more than thirty years to 
restructure and build the country in the right direction.  It was much 
more than enough time required if they wanted to do so.  I think I will 
never understand the mentality of those people.  I love Thai people who 
are very friendly, kind and helpful to those less fortunate people.  I 
felt sad when I heard they had a hard time recently due to the economic 
crisis.  However, I disliked the Thai government which was corrupted and 
greedy enough to exploit from its unfortunate neighboring countries.  At 
least, the life and living standard of Thai people were much better than 
those of Bun-nese and Cambodian people.  I wonder how the life of 
Burmese people will change if we can have a better civilian government 
than the Thai government.
Uncertainty of displaced Bun-nese people in Thailand forced them to get 
to democratic developed countries.  I was one of them.  The first route 
of migration was to Japan.  I got a chance to see a economic power house 
of Asia.  Unfortunately, the wealthy democratic
Japanese government had no policy to take any Bun-nese refugee legally 
at that time.  I was very frustrated and outraged.  I was confessed by 
my Japanese friends from different nongovernmental organizations that 
they were embarrassed and ashamed of their government's attitude.  I 
heard later that a few Burmese asylum seekers were accepted after two 
years I had been there.  At that time, Japan was seriously suffering 
from economic recession.  However, it was incomparable between Japan and 
my country.  I was totally shocked to see the development of Japan since 
this was the first time I ever been to a developed country.  After 
second world war, the Japanese started to rebuild their country out of 
ashes without any natural resources.  At the same time, Burma got 
independence from the British to start its own destiny with full of 
natural resources.  Where are we after forty years? Actually, we have 
spent precious four decades fighting each other while other countries 
were focusing to build their country.  Worse of them, we were ruled by 
unbelievably stubborn, selfish, narrow-minded people with no vision.  
Anyway, bypassing Japan, I came to The States.

 To divert all my mental trauma, unhappiness, and solitude to somewhat 
meaningful purpose, I devoted and spent most of the time in campus, 
laboratory, library and science meetings.  Apart from my thesis 
research, I did extra small scale research about international students, 
especially from Asia, studying in America.  Approximately one hundred 
thousand students from Japan, the same number from India and from China 
came to America annually.  Thailand sends about fifty thousand students.  
More students are sent by Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South 
Korea, and Indonesia.  How many students from Burma are there in 
America? A few hundreds supposed.  How many students are there in 
graduate school? I hate to answer that.  Let's imagine how many 
technocrats and highly educated people will be produced from our 
neighboring countries in ten years.  How far will Burma be lagged 
behind? At the same time, the schools are frequently closed in Burma.  
Why do the Burma ruling people cannot break the habit of closing schools 
very frequently as a short term political solution? This small research 
gives me nightmare and makes me hopeless.  Burmese students don't need 
extraintelligence but opportunities to grow their own intelligence.  I 
am a living evidence.  A man with shattered dream and traumatized mind 
with agony and anger could obtain the masters degree and keep working 
for Ph.D. degree in the most advanced field of science in America.  
There are many outstanding students and educated people inside Burma who 
are much smarter than me.  What they really need is just opportunities.  
Right now, they are nothing but lost generation.  Who is going to give 
those opportunities and chances to Burmese students inside Burma? I 
strongly plead from my heart to every player of the Burma politics from 
different sides that this is about time to forget their own ego, 
mistrust and hatred, to try to learn how to compromise the different 
ideas and opinions, and to start to work together for the sake of 
Burmese people who are in miserable condition.  In fact, it was already 
too late.  We don't need heroes but good people with good heart, a 
vision and farsightedness in it.  Only those people can take Burma to 
twentyfirst century in the same pace with our neighbors.  I have said 
before it was just a very thin layer between the choice and dramatic 
consequences.  I really worried if the people who are in a position to 
make choices of the destiny of Bun-na are not going to make the 
pragmatic choice good for Burmese people. f Let me remind you that I am 
just talking about people inside Burma.  I am not talking about some 
Burmese people from America who are in self-appointed fictional 
positions in fictional organization with fat wallets (but, they haven't 
earned a penny with their own merit or skill or sweat so far) and 
plentiful of popular democracy and human right words in their mouth.  I 
am sick and tired of those opportunistic and self-made important people, 
and they make me more angry man).

Experiences and age make me a person who no longer has perfect beautiful 
dream and who can learn how to live with imperfect situation.  Burmese 
are very contented people in trait.  They don't ask much.  They don't 
want much.  But, they deserve better and peaceful life like all other 
people around the world.  Personally, I don't expect much about the 
future of Burma.  Life is so short and not many years left for me.  Now, 
I have only a small dream to finish my study, to be with my children in 
Burma or in US or anywhere, and to get a chance to confess to my mother 
how selfish and undutiful son I was in the name of progressive 
revolutionary.  Don't get me wrong and please remember I had sacrificed 
not less than you did.  Also, please remember no one can monopolize the 
patriotism.  I just try to be honest to myself and to Burma.  By the 
way, I almost forgot to tell one thing.  I am participating in one of 
anger control programs now.

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