Written by U Ne Oo on 2002-05-21

by Ko Dee

(a translation from New Era Journal, April 2002 )


"Let's studying harder for the mother land -- Singapore !". This is a usual jibe among Burmese students in the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) and Government Technical Institute (GTI). Not really comfortable joke to be heard [by author, because Burmese students should have been working hard for their own country et cetera, E.D.]. Then again, when I look at the situation, the students in Rangoon Institute of Technology are studying at a place call Hlaing Tharyar satellite town, across the river from the Rangoon City.� To begin with, there are no teaching aid and technical assistance available in RIT. Neither students are having to get taught by properly qualified and experienced teachers. Also, there hasn't been a proper full-termed studying either: One years' course has to be finished up within six-months. Therefore, the students have to approached experienced teachers for private tutoring. Technically dated books, not readily available from Uni bookshop, have to be sought from various sources. The students, mindful of getting practical experience, also have to arrange the training at their own expense at private businesses, such as Motor Workshops. It is therefore understandable that those who went through such hardship for their education no longer would want to work under the oppressive military government. This isn't the case of the 'brain drain'. Nor these educated youths went abroad for a 'greener pasture'.� It is the case of decent survival become impossible for the educated in Burma.


While some educated youths try to go abroad, there are university graduates who are working in the sweat-shops. In those places, the majority of managers are foreigners from Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. Working condition is atrocious. The workers are not allowed to talk or sing. Girls (workers) are not even given time to tidy up their faces. These managers watched with a closed circuit TV, evaluating workers performance.� Over Time is routinely demanded off from the workers. On the one hand, there have been no such thing as workers rights: no sick leave, no maternity leave. The workers have no dignity because there are so many unemployed ready to fill up for any vacancy. This is the kind of slavery you've got inside Burma (if you haven't bother searching for one from abroad, E.D.).


Burmese military has a quick fix for everything. Look at the Rangoon Taxi Supervisory board. In fact, there are various problems, both for taxi drivers and passengers in Rangoon.� Any night-time taxi drivers has to take� a security person on board because of the frequent robbery. Then again, the passengers are also afraid to commute alone at night time because of frequent robbery committed by taxi drivers.

In Northern and Southern parts of New Dagon, and on Mingladon Highways, robberies are frequent. There have been cases of taxi drivers being robbed and murdered. So too are the passengers who reportedly have been raped, robbed or murdered.

In Tharkeyta (lower income suburbs), there are instances of imposters deliberately jumped on in front of (relatively) slow moving cars at night time. As the car stopped, the accomplice of this impostor get out in groups and threaten the driver. The impostor who pretend to have been hit by the car will jumped into the car and said the car owner to drive off -- and then ask for compensation. These are the sort of blackmail carried out by the desperate people in Tharketa.

Of course, the root of these problems has been the poverty. The military, however, formed a Rangoon Taxi Supervisory board to solve such matters. This will only create another avenue for the board members in way of corruption and to take graft. But the crime rate is not likely to be reduced because of this Taxi board.


In Rangoon, it become too common for newborn babies to have been abandoned by their mothers. There are so many orphans by this circumstances. There have also been increasing report of the deceased being abandoned by their relatives. Regarding with this new, an editorial on 18/2/02 in the New Lights of Myanmar (Burmese edition) denied the fact.

Eventually, because of frequent abandonment of the deads, there are (indigenous) welfare groups supporting funerals have appeared in Rangoon and Mandalay. Now a days, such funeral support group are springing up even in smaller towns like Kyauk Si, Pyinmana, Natoegyi, Hkyauk, Yezagyo, Kalaywa, Sibaw, Lasho ...etc. In Mandalay, it is called "Byamaso Athin" ("Humanitarian Group" -- in Burmese meaning) to help out in the funeral cases. In Rangoon, the writers U Aung Thinn, Daw Than Myint Aung, Film Star Kyaw Thu are the patrons of such welfare group. This means that the population in Rangoon can no longer afford the funeral costs.� The costs of arranging a funeral cortege and hiring a funeral parlor are beyond the reach of average people in Rangoon. When someone has died in a family, there is no time to mourn for the dead. There is a greater pressure on those alive as to how they're going to survive in the next day.


People are just afraid to become ill. They always have to be worry about someone in family might get ill. Mind you, this (afraid to be ill) is not because you are much concern about your own well being or to become a burden to the others. But it is simply because of the cost of the medication. One visit to General Practitioner in the neighborhood would cost about 500 kyats (= 50 United States CENTS). As for the GP, this amount is fixed so that the consultation fee is affordable to an average family. On top of this, the doctor has to be mindful to prescribe cheaper generic brand medicine from China, for example. Doctors, conscious of cost involved, cannot prescribe medicines from Switzerland or England, though these are of better quality. Even for the cheap Chinese medicines, the doctor has to make sure that patients get genuine one.

Frequent electricity breakdown has also bring further difficulty to doctors. The doctors have to make boiling water from a wooden stove to sterile needles. The doctors have often felt awful to advice their patients to come back the next day to continue treatment because of the cost involved.

The patients who could not afford to visit their GP have to resort to local quads. The stores at the street corners sell assorted medicines for different illnesses (In Burma, there is no restriction/license for selling any form of medicine, including antibiotics). Some people seems to get recovered; but some others were getting worse and finally end up visiting doctor.

In Burma, you can just forget about regular medical checkup. This is too costly. Since, people cannot afford nutritious food prescribed, one has to choose eating fruit and vegetables (meat is too dear for average Burmese). There is no medicine and not enough bed at the hospitals. Nor do the public hospitals have adequate doctors and nurses. Those who can pay money, of course, are placed in a designated ward within the public hospitals.

In Burma, people surely heard about 'Hot-dogs', 'Hamburger' or 'Pizza' (i.e. considered as special treats). But they have never get to tasting one. People just have to be worry about managing two square meals a day. The husband in a family can no longer held normal status as the provider. The poor fella (the husband) commutes everyday in a crowded bus; go shopping and do the cooking --so much for the dignity. The wife, on the one hand, has to work to supplement the family income.


People are just afraid of having to host family visitors. To share much scarce family food with visitor is one thing. Main concern is one has to report to local SPDC office if the visitors come. The household has to buy forms and fill in every details. If the visitor came too late or failing to report local SPDC office, the householder is persecuted (one months jail). In Burmese jail, you may be conscripted labor which can ended up with malaria or worse.


In Burma it is not easy to get a job. Whenever there is a job vacancy or a business opportunity, competition is always fierce. Around 1993-94, there were construction booms. At that time, one who has had enough skill to hammer a nail could become the chief carpenter. People who have no skill at all can even have menial jobs at construction sites. The construction business was booming and those working in this industry can afford to sit down at the beer shops and have cigarettes (considered as luxury items).

No for long, this construction boom went bust. A lot of hotel and apartments are left uncompleted. The military government's white wash plan for a nation building suddenly went down with it. The free market economy with an open door policy for the international businesses in fact is temporary. Since 1993-94 construction booms, there has not been much activities.


No one in the public, including civil servants, is happy with SPDC. But since we have witnessed persons sentenced to seven years for shouting "Long live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi"; and some getting four years for discussing BBC news at the local tea shop. Therefore people just kept quiet.

In sum, it is ironic that Gen. Ne Win's family try to stage a coup because of less economic privileges. In fact, Gen Ne Win family has been monopolizing every aspects of businesses in Burma. The attempted coup is, in fact, the fight between greedy military and Gen. Ne Win family. The Burmese public is demanding democracy. The "coup" is in fact to undermine such demand for democracy and to divert public attention away from the military. One thing certain is that the Burmese military will not voluntarily transform towards democracy.

(End Translation)

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