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Nadi on Mon, 10 Jan 2000 09:29:11 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Burma (2x)

1............ Subject: ASEAN
2............ Subject: Burmese Culture: Part I

From: Nadi {AT} hotvoice.com
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 1999 07:55:08 -0500 (EST)
To: nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net
Subject: ASEAN

Editorial & Opinion
Southeast Asia searching for solutions
The Nation - 28 December 99


Southeast Asia's economy may have ended the year on a positive note but
there are still long-term security and political challenges to overcome,
writes Don Pathan of The Nation .

In Thailand, the two-year old crisis was a blessing in disguise. Sins of
the past have been met with calls for transparency, accountability and good
governance from the military, as well as the public and private sectors.
The country's fiscal crisis has taken its toll on just about every military
procurement project, thus ending years of frivolous spending and shopping
sprees for military hardware that critics said might or might not enhance
country's overall defence capability. A frigate without a minesweeper is a
useless frigate, indeed.

Moreover, the move towards reforming the armed forces is well on the way
and a new batch of officers is being trained to command units that are
leaner, meaner and quicker. A new defence mandate aimed at uniting all
forces under one tactical command is also in the pipeline.

Army Chief Gen Surayudh Chulanont has kept his promise to take the military
out of politics and educate the men to make them ''professional soldiers''.
But the making of a respected institution means giving up scores of radio
stations, as well as a number of army-owned enterprises. The idea of
putting their future in the hands of civilians might not sit well with many
of the top brass. Nevertheless, all are agreed that there is no turning
back. This year also saw the Thai military's ego get a big boost with the
departure of about 1,850 troops to East Timor on a peacekeeping mission.
Thailand was made second in command after Australia in a multinational
peacekeeping operation in the war-torn island nation.

In Indonesia, the world was brutally jolted when its fourth most populous
nation was brought to the brink of collapse. A near-blind Muslim cleric
with great vision for diplomacy and good governance stepped into the
political arena and restored a sense of hope. Abdularahman Wahid is an
Indonesian president extraordinaire. Besides East Timor, which had drifted
violently towards independence, Indonesia is currently witnessing calls for
separation and autonomy in other parts of its territory. The country's
military is keeping a low profile as it licks its wounds from the violence
in East Timor. But though it may be down, no one is counting it out.

*Trouble-plagued Burma* got a wake-up call when five armed dissidents
stormed the country's embassy in Bangkok, taking diplomats and foreigners
hostage at gunpoint and stating their grievances to a world that doesn't
seem to be listening. In spite of the fact that the 25-hour crisis ended
peacefully with no bloodshed, the aftermath resulted in a drastic downturn
in Thai-Burmese relations. It was also a big blow for the so-called Asean
solidarity. Meanwhile, the Rangoon government's offensive against the
ethnic rebel armies is reportedly moving into full swing and more refugees
are expected to flood over the border into Thailand in the coming days.
Talk of Tokyo aiding Rangoon financially in return for economic reform may
not go down too well with Burmese dissident groups but many are taking
silence from Washington as a tacit sign of approval. After all, say
Bangkok-based diplomats, neither Washington nor Tokyo would like to see
Rangoon drift further into the hands of Beijing. Nevertheless, it remains
to be seen if the new American administration will carry the ''free Burma''
torch of Secretary of State Madeline Albright, sometime referred to as the
''Burma Desk Officer''. Burmese dissidents say Washington's rhetoric
against Rangoon is likely to fade away with Albright's departure as the
next administration takes over after the American presidential election
next year.

Land-locked Laos was brutally jolted after a group of students, disgusted
at the way things are going -- or perhaps at the way things aren't going --
were reportedly planning to stage a public protest. Vientiane was
dumbstruck by the unprecedented incident because never before had anybody
dared to question the Communist rule. The move was stopped before it got
off the ground but those in the know said the issue is far from over. Along
the Thai-Malay border, the threats of the old days have faded with more
cross-border links between ethnic Malays. Thai Muslims in the South are
delighted at the outcome of the recent general election in Malaysia that
resulted in the expansion of the Islamic party, PAS, in Malaysia's northern
states. On the Thai side of the border, community and religious leaders say
Bangkok has to get over the old fear of armed separatists and look to PAS
in terms of what it has to offer.

Outspoken Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammad called on the region to
form its own security forum but did not elaborate on the nature of the
proposed body or how it would be any different from the half-hearted Asean
Regional Forum, often referred to as a ''talk shop''. Meanwhile, future
joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines aimed at
turning the bilateral tie into equal partnership will replace the outdated
security arrangement. The Philippines is supposed to feel that it's on an
equal footing with the American military but it is well understood that the
bilateral defence agreements between the US and a number of countries in
the region will continue to be the main security arrangement for some time
to come.

In Cambodia, the collapse of Khmer Rouge has enabled the government to cut
back on military spending. But a planned tribunal to try former KR leaders
could very well turn out to be a mockery of justice. If a compromise
between the western countries and Cambodia cannot be reached, Phnom Penh
ties with the international community could go into a tailspin again. Talk
of upgrading the Asean Regional Forum from a talk-shop on ''confidence
building measure'' to an organisation with teeth capable of managing
conflicts received a boost at the 1999 ministerial meeting in Singapore.
However, Asean's call for a ''code of conduct'' in the South China Sea for
countries engaged in territorial disputes doesn't seem to have a chance of
survival unless common ground can be found between Beijing and other
claimants. Meanwhile, Beijing continues to play hardball with its
neighbouring countries, particularly those with overlapping claims,
refusing to negotiate with them in a multinational forum. Instead, the
Chinese are calling on these countries to engage them in a bilateral
setting. To deal with hot issues that may pop up unexpectedly, Asean has
proposed setting up a ''troika'' similar to the three member ad-hoc
committee that helped end the dispute between the two warring Cambodian
factions two years ago.

It is believed that its small size would help it respond more quickly than
Asean could acting as a whole. The idea is still floating in the air,
however, and more debates will come up in the near future. All in all,
Southeast Asia in 1999 was shaped by events that called for political
changes and questioned the old social and political models that have
sustained decades of economic growth. If the trend continues, such concepts
as ''Asian values'' or ''Asean ways'' may no longer be a thing of the past.
Until then, nations in the region will continue to do more soul-searching
in order to find ways to meet the challenges of the future in a sustainable

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From: Nadi {AT} hotvoice.com
Date: Sat, 8 Jan 2000 08:18:38 -0500 (EST)
To: nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net
Subject: Burmese Culture: Part I

Burmese Culture: Part I
Excerpts from COLORFUL MYANMAR by Khin Myo Chi

#Pagodas and What They Mean to Buddhists

*Pagodas: romance and legend

It all began, long before I was old enough to understand that stupas and
pagodas symbolize the great wisdom and compassion of the Buddha to whom we
owe our way of life, our philosophy, our culture and above all, our
fortitude that helps us to survive all trials that life has to offer.

My earliest memories are of the green wooded hills rising out of the wide
flowing river Ayeyawady. On every hill top I saw one lone pagoda or a group
of threes and fours, some gilded, others whitewashed and gleaming. Since I
had many opportunities to make trips up and down the river, pagodas on hill
tops remain one of my happiest recollections of childhood.

Of the first things I learned about pagodas nothing had to do with the
intellectual side of Buddhism but all was full of colour and romance. Once,
while we were crossing the river from Mandalay to Sagaing in a small
flat-bottomed boat (it was long before the beautiful Inwa bridge was built)
we headed towards the long dark range of thickly wooded hills, crested with
shining pagodas, and the tinkling bells from their htis as the fretted
wrought iron spires on top of the pagodas are called, chimed welcome to us.
Colonnaded stair-ways zig-zagged through the flowering foliages. They
looked so inviting that I could hardly wait to run up the steps and reach
the pagodas up there.

*Why the pagoda was guarded: the story It was then that my grandfather drew
my attention to the twin pagodas on the high rocky cliff, on the Mandalay
side, "Raise your hands in prayer," grandfather said, "and make a wish, for
any wish made at these pagodas will be granted." I did as I was told, and
made a wish that guavas and mangoes in my grandfathers orchard might be
ripe and sweet, ready for eating.

Grandfather smiled and said: "Well done my child. You know, in the days of
the ancient Myanmar kings these pagodas were heavily guarded."

Naturally, I asked why, and as usual this led to my grandfather telling a
story which runs like this:

Once a prince, feeling ill-used by his elder brother the reigning king,
planned a revolt. He came to the twin pagodas and made an offering of robes
to the Buddha image there. When he did so, the image suddenly moved and
stretched out his hands to receive the gift. Later the prince won the coup
and became king. One of the first things he did on ascending the throne was
to put guards round the pagoda because he did not want anyone else to go
there and make a wish to dethrone him.

*Pagodas in war

If, at one time, these same pagodas were involved in war, they were at
another time instrumental in bringing peace. It was on the precincts of the
same pagoda that Rajadirit, the Mon king who had marched up there with his
invading forces, decided to go home in peace. Rajadirit was within a few
minutes march to Inwa, the Myanmar capital, and he was just waiting for
zero hour to strike. From the pagoda platform, the king took a view of the
beautiful land he was going to conquer; the range of hills skirted with
sand bands rested on the river; high on the hills were spired pagodas
gleaming in the pale moon-light: there was no sound but the tinkling of
bells from pagoda spires. It was a pity that the same sweet, solemn air
would be stained with blood and strewn with the slain, the noblest and the
bravest of the country's people. Thus when the emissaries from the Myanmar
king came, Rajadirit accepted the peace; terms and went home. Before he
departed, he built a rest house on the hill, where the twin pagodas now
stand as a gift to pilgrims and devotees, a Buddhist way of showing loving

*Good deeds at the pagoda

The earliest lessons I ever hat on Buddhisrn were from the visits to
pagodas. Here, in front of the Buddha image, I first learned to recite: "I
take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in His Teachings, I take refuge in the
Buddha, His order of the Yellow Robe." And as I wandered on the precincts
of pagodas, I could not help but notice the sculptures and paintings. Of
course, I asked questions. All the works of art depict scenes from the
Buddha's life and birth-stories, called the Jatakas. With no comic strips
to read in those days, visits to pagodas with my grandfather telling
stories were treats. I did not realize the principles of the Buddhas's
teachings were instilled into my young mind then and there. They were given
in almost imperceptible doses in the stories and parables depicted in
paintings and sculptures round the pagodas.

*Religious lessons

As I helped my grandparents sweep the pagoda grounds, I knew I was doing
meritorious deed that would help me to go up the ladder of life, in the
unending round of rebirth. The round of rebirth meant to me that what I did
in this present life would determine what I would become and I felt
hopeful. Never mind, if I were a plain girl with nondescript looks; no use
moaning over it; I might be reborn a statuesque beauty, if I did deeds of
merit like helping older people sweep the pagoda grounds, and offering
flowers and candles to the memory of the Buddha there . I was taught to be
responsible for what I would be in the future. This sense of responsibility
for using the present moment or life the right way lasted all through my
life, and the same has sustained me in times of stress, after all, I, no
one but I, myself, who would have to answer for my own actions, good or
bad. The past is past, it is my privilege and responsibility to make the
best of the present and the future will be taken care of. This after all,
is the basis of Buddhism.

*Recreation, education and refuge

So much for childhood impressions. We do not outgrow the pagodas, even as
the years creep upon us; pagodas remain very much an integral part of our
life. As teenagers we wallow in songs and poems where lovers sing of the
troth plighted at "the golden pagoda up the hill": and we shed tears over
the stories of broken-hearted ladies who built pagodas in memory of their
loved ones. Then the pagodas opened out to us a vast wonderland of romance,
colour and Iyrical beauties; there seemed to be no limit to fancy and

In real life too it is at the pagodas that lovers plight their troth and it
is there that a newly-married couple will make offerings of flowers and
candles. In their hearts is the belief that they meet and love in this
life, because of the goods deeds they had done together in their past
lives. By doing good deeds together again in this life, they strengthen
their bond of love, and they feel blessed and secure in the refuge of the
Buddha and His teachings. Sitting on the pagoda platform side by side, each
with offerings of flowers and candles in hand, a married-couple or plighted
lovers often feel that their love for each other has risen from the common
and the earthy to spiritual heights.

*Pagoda in an adult life

As children, pagodas offer us recreation as well as education; as youths,
the sylvan fields of romance and poetry; in our years of maturity, they
give us relaxation and a sense of security and refuge; in our old age
solace and comfort. One of our greatest pleasures at this time is to lead
our grandchildren once again down the familiar paths in the wonderland of
stories and parables, coping with their eager questions, as they point
their little greasy fingers at the sculptured figures and paintings. Yes,
as Buddhists, we go to pagodas, at all times of our lives, in all moods, in
joy or in sorrow, or to seek peace and quiet from the stress and strain of

*Centres of social and cultural activities

Pagodas are also centres of social, cultural and commercial activities.
They are often the rendezvous for communal almsgiving to the monks, wherein
people contribute their share. There are annual festivals, which are,
especially in country areas, trade fairs; people kill two birds with one
stone, so to say, by marketing their wares and at the same time, gaining
merit by paying respects to the memory of the Buddha at shrines, and making
contributions towards the repair and upkeep of the pagodas.

*Why no monuments for kings and great men?

Although we have thousands of pagodas, built during more than ten centuries
of history, we do not have statues of kings and great men, with the
exception of the statue of King Kyansittha in Anandatemple, Bagan; and even
he, it must be noted, is represented not in all his power and glory, but
kneeling with his hands raised, a true disciple of the Buddha. We also do
not have grand tombs and monuments in memory of our great men in history;
the only ones we have are of King Alaungpaya in Shwebo and King Mindon and
his queen, in Mandalay. Why no tombs of Anawrahta or Kyansittha?

*No storied urns or animated busts

Why indeed! Perhaps I may be allowed to make a guess, which might be no
worse than the next person's. Lack of objects like statues and tombs of
kings and great men might be attributed to the doctrine of impermanence. It
is not in our national character to glorify the dead, neither is it neglect
or callousness, but that idea which may be summed up in Thomas Gray's
famous lines;

 Can storied um or animated bust . Back to its mansion call the fleeting
breath. Can honour's voice provoke the silent dust Or flattery soothe the
dull cold ear of death?

Since kings in their glory, soldiers in their triumphs, artists in their
renown, all must die and turn to dust, Buddhists see no point in raising
monuments in their memory, or casting their likeness in sculpture. All that
glory, all that wealth, all that fame, being the result of what a man had
done in his past lives, it is more sensible to do deeds of merit like
building pagodas in his memory so that he can have a share of the deed of
merit and go up the ladder of life: There is also the underlying humility,
with which Buddhists accept the fact that however glorious one's own
present life may be, it is nothing compared to the greatness of the Buddha,
and that if one at all were to achieve greatness, it is only through
following His teachings.

*Unifying element

Pagodas are also a unifying element in Myanmar Buddhist life. People may
have differences over many things, but these differences disappear when
there is a pagoda to be built or repaired, or a festival to be organised.
Everybody rallies round, rich and poor, high and low, giving whatever they
can either in cash or in kind or in labour towards the deed of merit.

Historically no less than in the present, pagoda provide a quite centre in
the whirlwind of life's turbulence.


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