I haven’t seen a country read as much as Myanmar. Workers, lounging adults, soldiers and even kids pour their attention into the folds of newspapers – their lunch, checkerboards, or AK-47s at their side. I ponder the reasons that this country seems so active in reading. Is it lack of electronics, lack of electricity, lack of internet, the need to know what’s happening daily due to government uncertainty and constantly changing policies / implications / events that affect each and everyone? Is it a flat out act of rebellion at government attempts to censor information? Most likely all and more than these reasons.
Whatever may be the cause, I’m fascinated as I try and track down a copy of the Myanmar Times in English. I’m told to try the “book street” which continues not down a small street, but one of the main roads and continues for blocks. They’re less ‘stores’ than they are stalls with book walls; books stacked as high as a blockade or mimicking wallpaper. Customers squat down on the sidewalk as they page through potential purchases, and the amount of browsers would make Amazon.com jealous. I’m in awe of people submerged into books as much as Americans are submerged into smartphones. Prehistoric mobile entertainment.
Finally getting my hands on the copy of the Myanmar Times, I’m stunned at what I’m reading. The Katchin conflict in north Myanmar is plastered on the front page, making you look down the barrel of a KIA soldier‘s rifle (what happened to government censorship?? – it must be chipped away inside the writing, right? …?) The second and third page is fully dedicated to the ownership-struggle of the Myanmar Times, itself. Then, more and more relevant substance. Electricity shortage for the year, foreign business laws changing, religious intolerance in the north. Important and developing topics on page 6, 7, 8,..11 U.N. actions, political prisoners, Yangon fires, refugees, Chin National celebration… as I read I feel like I’m reading a Newspaper the way they were meant to be – each article you want to read, and many you HAVE to read. It’s packed full of events and issues that are relevant to the community and as opposed to light, sensationalist fillers and ads like a good majority of our papers back home. It’s like the first time you eat a Californian Las Barcas carne asada burrito after eating Taco Bell burritos your whole life.
My next thought was: THIS is their newspaper in a country that censors cleavage, thighs and kissing on TV?? I’m not allowed to see a girl blow a kiss at me on a TV ad, but their newspapers print about the Katchin conflict on the front page? (Another example of quite a different picture than I had printed in my mind before I came here – experience overrules education). Is this another obvious change of recent life in Burma or am I not looking close enough?
I entertain more thoughts of how things might change for these people in the coming years with more access to the internet and Western products. Will these venders eventually go the way of Borders book stores (the modern day Dodo)? Will the internet offer an endless supply of information, articles, opinions, text books, resources and news updates, only to be mainly used 90% of the time for online video games, Facebook and porn? (which is what I witnessed on most Internet cafe screens in Yangon). How will the politically active and aware population of Myanmar be affected by these new influences?
I think this, and then think back to America with such a low approval of Congress, watching constant undesired and unhealthy events unfold that drastically affect our living and enRAGE us to yelling and shunning the other half of the country, yet most of our activism is curtailed to unfocused protests, overly-simplified “solutions” such as “less government” and how facebook “slacktavism” is slowly replacing a knocking down the doors to congress.
… but I ventured off topic as my over analytical mind skims undetermined directions. When rants such as these occur, my mother’s voice pops into my head, “An unaware life is almost not worth living, but an over-analyzed life is also, almost not worth living.” Do what has to be done today, prepare what you can for tomorrow, don’t worry the future, feel the grass beneath your feet … time get some Burmese tea-leaf salad, write a blog post and explore this place a bit more.