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149 minutes | Jan 16, 2022
Sitagu Sayadaw, The Coup, and Burmese Buddhism
“My own feelings would be that it would be good for Sitagu Sayadaw to leave the country and then speak out [against the military]. If he speaks out now, he would probably be arrested immediately.”Thus says Bhikkhu Cintita to preface his take on the controversies now swirling around Myanmar’s most famous living Buddhist monk, whose words and deeds since the coup have caused so much angst among the Burmese people. A long-time American scholar monk, he comes across as honest, open, nuanced, empathetic and even-keeled, and to a degree that is quite remarkable.Bhikkhu Cintita describes Sitagu Sayadaw as a kind of “Renaissance Man,” known in Myanmar as the “monk who gets things done.” There is no denying the enormous number of good works Sitagu has accomplished over the years, and his dedication to continuing to support both Dhamma projects and humanitarian missions across the country. Still, this record is mixed with a series of confounding incidents over the past few years, and coupled with his more controversial actions since the coup, many Burmese have interpreted his behavior as tacit support of the military. This has given rise to the extremely unusual situation of the laity publicly calling out this senior monk who was once so revered. Bhikkhu Cintita picks his way through this minefield with honesty, openness, and skillful discernment. Having spent several years working on a biography of Sitagu Sayadaw, Bhikkhu Cintita provides context where he finds it lacking in the public discourse, and traces the arc of Sitagu’s political entanglement with the generals. In some cases, he frankly expresses astonishment at, and outright disappointment in, his preceptor. In other cases, he talks about how Sitagu’s actions might have been misconstrued by those who haven’t followed him as closely. In yet others, he describes a mix of the two. Even in those cases where he feels Sitagu’s actions or words might have been misunderstood, or their context not sufficiently taken into account, Bhikkhu Cintita empathetically acknowledges how and why the Burmese people have become so disappointed and angry, and how people might not be so interested in these nuances explain why this or that particular thing was said or done.
92 minutes | Jan 11, 2022
The Fabric of Change: Feminism, Art, and Revolution
When Chuu Wai Nyein was just eighteen years old, she was with her sister at a Mandalay teashop. As they were leaving, a man sexually assaulted her sister. The event deeply traumatized them, and Chuu was horrified to learn this was not an uncommon occurrence for women in Myanmar, and the typical response was equally troubling: basically, if something happens, just stay quiet about it. Chuu decided she would work to address the relative powerlessness of women in Burmese culture. She eventually found her voice through painting. When the coup first happened, it was still relatively safe for people to assemble in non-violent gatherings outside. Chuu’s artistic skills were put to good use at demonstrations making signs that became very popular, even catching the eye of foreign journalists and observers. Long lines would form as protestors waited for her to make their personal signs. She transformed her studio apartment into a kind of warehouse, and began selling artwork on her Facebook page, with all funds going to support the Civil Disobedience Movement.But one day, the military chose to respond to a peaceful protest with force, and their crackdown sent Chuu and all her friends literally running for their lives. Moreover, it was clear that she urgently needed to empty her apartment of all protest-related material. This was tense and very dangerous work, with soldiers camped out on nearly every corner. Fortunately, she and her friends managed to clear out all the artwork just in time, as only a few days later, a dozen soldiers appeared at her door. Following this close call, Chuu realized that she could do more for the democracy movement by relocating to a place of safety, where she could speak freely. So she decided to go to France.The transition there was not easy, but Chuu adapted. She connected with some galleries, and also developed her own kind of performance art to highlight the coup, giving performances in front of the Louvre and Montmatre. Her work has been featured both in Time and on BBC. But her heart remains with the Burmese people. From afar, she appreciates her home country as never before. She is already looking beyond what she regards as an eventual victory, towards the new Myanmar she hopes to see, one which will bring female empowerment into the Burmese cultural mainstream.
110 minutes | Jan 4, 2022
Artists Against Tyranny, Part 2
The situation in Myanmar continues to be intolerable. Day by day innocent civilians are being killed, maimed, starved, and forced from their homes, and the military continues their campaign of terror. The need for financial support is a dire one, in so many ways. The Art Against Tyranny auction was held to support the Burmese people in this time of great need. Using art to combat tyranny might feel somewhat dissonant. But art in whatever form is essentially communication that expresses the human condition. It is through art that Burmese rappers, painters, poets, graffiti artists, video editors, and others have expressed their opposition to the junta, and inspired their compatriots to continue their march to ultimate victory. It is through art that the true horror and carnage of the military's reign of terror can be conveyed to people all over the world.A New York City art gallery graciously donated its space for free to showcase revolutionary art from Myanmar artists, in order to highlight the plight of the Myanmar people. And virtually, artists from around the world have united through their art to fight against dictatorship, oppression, terror, and tyranny. Some pieces on display today are biting, while others are hauntingly beautiful…but all of it is inspiring.Please take time to see what on display, listen to artists speak of their work, and maybe buy an exquisite piece for a good cause. The more money raised, the more lives saved, and the sooner the military's campaign of death and destruction will end.
101 minutes | Dec 26, 2021
The Revolution's Roving Eye
Moe, a photojournalist, has long chronicled the inhumane injustices that the Tatmadaw had committed in his country. From the jade mines of Kachin to the Rohingya camps in Rakhine, he had seen first-hand how ruthless and evil the regime could be.His first fame came in the form of pictures he took of Aung San Suu Kyi after she had been released from house arrest, and was starting to campaign in 2012. He later exposed the horrible conditions at the lucrative jade mines region of Kachin state. After that, Moe began reporting on the unfolding Rohyinga situation. In his reporting, Moe managed something that very few journalists had been able to do for the Bamar people, in that challenging and complex situation: humanize the Rohingya.When the February coup hit, Moe was faced with a somewhat unique decision: whether to document events as an objective reporter, or join in the resistance as an activist. He chose to be a journalist, and started taking pictures that very afternoon. He tried to trained himself to “just focus in my viewfinder and try to capture what's happening in the best way possible of the atrocities. But there were times where I couldn't make it. It was too intense and I couldn’t keep shooting.”Moe’s archive of work was recently recognized by the prestigious Bayeux War Correspondents in Paris, who awarded him first prize for his photojournalism. Ironically, he had to accept the award anonymously for security reasons, preventing him from receiving well-deserved, widespread recognition (at least for now) for his high achievements in the field he has devoted his life to.And while he could have decided to remain in the safety and security of France, he chose to return to Myanmar to continue his work to document the country’s continuing revolution so that the world may see. He believes that the Burmese people will soon be triumphant, and he wants to be there to take their pictures when they are!
121 minutes | Dec 10, 2021
Artists Against Tyranny
As many already know, the situation in Myanmar continues to be intolerable. Day by day innocent civilians are being killed, maimed, starved, and forced from their homes, and the military continues their campaign of terror. The need for financial support is a dire one, in so many ways. And towards this end, the Art Against Tyranny auction is being held. This supportive and hopefully inspiring event will be held over two days: the 11th and 12th of this month (Eastern US time), or 12th and 13th for those in Asia. Using art to combat tyranny might feel somewhat dissonant. But art in whatever form is essentially communication that expresses the human condition.It is through art that Burmese rappers, painters, poets, graffiti artists, video editors, and others have expressed their opposition to the junta, and inspired their compatriots to continue their march to ultimate victory. It is through art that the true horror and carnage of the military's reign of terror can be conveyed to people all over the world. A New York City art gallery, the Jane Lombard, has graciously donated its space for free to showcase revolutionary art from Myanmar artists, in order to highlight the plight of the Myanmar people. And virtually, artists from around the world have united through their art to fight against dictatorship, oppression, terror, and tyranny. Some pieces on display today are biting, while others are hauntingly beautiful… but all of it is inspiring. Please take time to see what art is on display, listen to artists speak of their work, and maybe buy an exquisite piece for a good cause! The more money raised, the more lives saved, and the sooner the military's campaign of death and destruction will end.
110 minutes | Nov 29, 2021
The Story of Magway
“It's really sad that our young people had dreams, but after the military coup, every dream of theirs has been destroyed.” So starts the interview with May, who tells us why she became a revolutionary, and updates us on how the Magway Division has fare since the coup.May had been studying in New Zealand, and had only just returned to Myanmar when the coup hit. Like many, she was unsure how to respond at first, but faced with a real-life struggle against evil, she committed herself to activism, delving into fundraising work. Because her father was so concerned for her safety, May had to keep her activities secret and stay in safe locations away from home in order to carry out her work. Her level of involvement has carried with it a serious mental and emotional burden, and May turned to a combination Buddhist meditation and a practice of “positive psychology.” She observes the mental content in her mind, and tries to give less food to those negative emotions and thoughts, which has the result of making her “relaxed and focused on the the right things.”May waxes poetic about her home region, the Magway Division, which is famous for its ancient pagodas, and a common pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists. But sadly, the military has instigated repeated, targeted assaults in and around Magway, which have resulted in thousands of newly Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). May has added this issue to her mission portfolio, and is desperately trying to locate funds to support them. Compounding this even further is that the conflict has prevented farmers from tending to their crops, increasing dangers of a looming starvation. May clearly more than has her hands full! In closing, she has just one message for listeners. “To end the military regime, we have to stand together and fight back… If not, we will never, ever decrease their evil. So please become involved in this revolution.”
140 minutes | Nov 23, 2021
Bart Was Not Here
Imagine a conversation that ranges from The Life of Brian to the modern Burmese Sangha, from The Godfather to trashy Burmese style romance movies, from Eminem to Ashin Wirathu… and lots more in between. That is the discussion that follows with the artist, "Bart Was Not Here." Bart employs an unpredictable blend of classical influences with modern, often Western pop influences in support of his main underlying theme: social commentary on contemporary Burmese society. Bart’s primary artistic inspirations specialized in “worldbuilding”—the creation of a unique world, with all the elements of that world, believable—and that is his own creative motivation. As one might imagine, the present situation has deeply affected Bart, both as a Burmese citizen, and an artist, and he has used his artistic talent to support the movement. His works this year are strong, artistic statements on his feelings about the current situation. Perhaps surprisingly, though, Bart did not intend any of these pieces as “political statements,” per se. He views this artwork as a kind of diary about the protest movement. One of his most well-received recent works is a rendition of a photograph of a military truck being attacked and bursting into flames. For Bart, like for so many Burmese, this moment was the first time that the bully who had been terrorizing them had finally been finally punched in the nose. Staying true to his artistic inspirations, Bart continues to temper his driving home of powerful messages with a sideswipe of parody or satire. Hs explains that humor exposes the generals not as karmically-endowed divine leaders, but rather poorly-educated, deteriorating old men.
113 minutes | Nov 15, 2021
Dave Leduc: A champion stands with the people
Dave LeDuc loves all things Myanmar. But maybe more than anything, Dave loves stepping into a fighting pit without gloves or shoes, and giving well-placed head butts that knock an opponent cold! Dave is Myanmar’s first— and only— foreign champion of Lethwei, a traditional martial arts boxing practice that dates back centuries.Dave became interested in mixed martial arts and trained in a variety of forms. He eventually went to Thailand, and began looking for fighting opportunities. He landed a controversial bout through the Department of Corrections, which invited Dave into a Thai maximum security prison to spar with a convicted felon. The stakes were high: if the criminal beat Dave, he would be released from prison. But Dave won, and is currently in talks about a movie being made about that encounter. That bout was also the springboard for him to enter Myanmar and learn Lethwei. From the moment he arrived in Myanmar in 2016, he knew he had found a home. His first opponent was the then-undefeated Lethwei champion, Too Too, and after beating him became a cultural phenomenon in Myanmar. He even got the very painful Lethwei tattoos, a rite of passage in the sport.Now living in Turkey, Dave was, like so many, horrified when the coup broke in February. He knew that refusing to stay silent would close off any potential business he hopes to build in Myanmar, along with ensuring that he won’t personally be able to visit for the foreseeable future. And yet he has chosen to speak out, highlighting the struggles of the democracy movement in light of the naked aggression faced by the Burmese military. He closes with, “Keep fighting, stay strong! You're not alone. There's a lot of love from around the world.”
152 minutes | Nov 9, 2021
Revolution As Art
This is the fifth show in the “Love Letters to Myanmar” series, focusing on the role of artists in the democracy movement. It is part of an ongoing conversation about the role of art in the democracy movement, with several past and future shows continuing this exploration.At the present moment, the Burmese people are in the middle of a life-or-death struggle against an organized military that is attacking, shooting, bombing, raping, abducting, torturing, and killing their friends and family every day for the past year, and with no end in sight. Artists are now in the forefront of that movement, which insists upon basic human rights, dignity, and freedom. Far from just being a luxury to pursue when times are safe, artistic inspiration is essential in this struggle!The first guest is music producer, Aye Win. He recently assembled a dozen hip hop artists from across the country for an album, Rap Against Junta’s “Dickcouncil,” to call out the military while helping the people keep their spirits up during these difficult times. Next up is May, a poet and writer. She has also been drawing dozens of portraits of people around the world, with proceeds going entirely to her organization’s fundraising mission to help people within the Civil Disobedience Movement. The final guest is Alex. He is an Australian living in Montreal who, with a friend, designed a mural depicting the country and showing his support for the democracy movement, with a central tribute to Angel, a young woman who was tragically killed early on in Mandalay. It is our hope that this episode educates listeners about more of the great art being produced in resistance to the Tatmadaw and their cruelty.
131 minutes | Oct 29, 2021
The Side Effect of a Revolution
Burmese artists are rightly gaining global recognition for their courage and bravery, standing up for freedom of expression against a murderous regime. While this is somewhat of a new phenomenon for the younger generation of Burmese artists, Darko has been at the intersection of protest and music for some time, as the lead singer of the Indie band "Side Effect."Darko grew up under the prior military regime, when one could be arrested for simply expressing oneself, and so has been well-trained in the art of hiding meaning and keeping a low profile. He feels disappointed that younger musicians don’t appreciate how hard he and his generation of artists had to struggle against the limits of censorship. Yet in spite of that, Darko continues to support their creative expression not only by his 20 years of ground-breaking artistic work, but also through creating platforms and opportunities for younger artists to get their voices out. Aside from music, Darko’s other passion in life has been spirituality and meditation, but he’s not a traditional Burmese Buddhist, especially after he looked into growing anti-Rohingya activity. He visited the camps, and was stunned at what he saw. He was overcome by guilt, and heartbroken to see how the Rohingya were being treated. This experience led to his song “Meiktila”, named after the city where terrible anti-Muslim violence had recently occurred. Because Burmese Buddhists started referencing the Buddha in order to justify violence against Muslims, he began to question everything about how organized religion was manipulating— and perhaps even perverting— the Buddha’s teachings.Ironically, moving away from traditional Buddhism is what allowed Darko’s nascent meditation practice to really take off. He became fascinated with “brainwave entrainment,” which explores how brain waves can be synced with auditory or visual stimuli.He doesn’t have a proper meditation teacher, but finds inspiration in Alan Watts, as well as the Satguru philosophy. Essentially, his practice can be boiled down to simply observing the mind without judgment. However, the military’s brutal behavior has challenged his non-judgmental observation of unfolding reality, to put it lightly.
126 minutes | Oct 21, 2021
David Eubank: A Man of Faith and Action Fights for Burma
David Eubank didn't know that a single moment on a jungle path in 1997 would prove to be so eventful for not only his own life, but an entire nation as well. Living in Thailand at the time, David was growing distressed hearing about a Burmese military operation that was displacing over half a million people. So loading up four backpacks with medicine, he decided to travel the border to see if he could find anyone who needed help. One thing led to another, and that trip ultimately give birth to the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).In this episode’s wide-ranging interview, David goes into his background of 25 years living and supporting those many ethnic communities, sharing what he’s learned from the different groups, the various hardships they’ve faced, and even the strange and exotic foods he’s sampled. As a Christian, David’s faith in a higher power has been a major factor in his work. To this day, his faith animates all of his humanitarian work. “That's the heart of why I do it,” he says. Even in these most difficult of times, he draws on the reservoir of his faith; in spite of his first-hand knowledge of 25 years of Tatmadaw cruelty, he still tries to love his enemy. Still, this does not mean allowing entire populations to be victimized without recourse, and David acknowledges that self-defense, whether on an individual or communal level, is a basic human right everywhere in the world.Compounding the Myanmar military’s brutal tactics used has been the almost total lack of response or engagement by any international actor, a fact which has surprised and greatly distressed David, especially given the extent of the unfolding humanitarian disaster and Myanmar’s geopolitical importance. He believes there is so much good that other nations and foreign entities could still do now, if only they chose to.
123 minutes | Oct 15, 2021
Courage Under Fire
Just a short window of five minutes might have saved the life of Dr. Troy… but he doesn’t feel good about it.In a country where just practicing medicine can now be cause for arrest, Troy is a part of a network of underground doctors who tend to patients in secret, often using rudimentary equipment in undisclosed locations. Earlier this year, he was on his way to relieve another doctor, but was delayed in traffic. During those few moments, soldiers stormed in and arrested his colleague. That doctor is still in prison, a fact which weighs heavily on Dr. Troy to this day.In order to increase capacity, doctors have begun to train Burmese civilians in secret to perform some basic medical interventions if a doctor is not able to come quickly. This arose out of the tragedy that occurred during the siege of Hlaing Thaya. Even though doctors had prepared for the violence, military roadblocks prevented the injured from getting out—or doctors from getting in—and so many the wounded succumbed to otherwise treatable injuries. Compounding matters today is the Third Wave of the COVID pandemic. Because the military is preventing the importation of oxygen concentrators, and the black market cost of oxygen canisters have skyrocketed, the situation is dire.To deal with the enormous stress and mental trauma, Troy has tried to fall back on his Mogok meditation practice, but he has been unable to string together even a few moments of mindfulness. But his practice has helped him to understand his mind more, even during these challenging moments. As a Buddhist practitioner, he tries to send metta to his aggressors, acknowledging how they must still be suffering through this. No matter what they are doing on the outside, he feels that internally they must be haunted by their evil actions.For Troy, his own path is clear as he continues on in his work. “We are not going to give up now, or ever, until we we achieve or we achieve the true democracy of our country.”
90 minutes | Oct 9, 2021
How to Stop an Innovative Start-Up
One night in March, Hla Hla and her husband, Yan Min Aung, were on the rooftop of their condo as part of a neighborhood watch group, where ordinary citizens banded together to protect themselves—not from common criminals, but from those supposedly charged with protecting them. That evening, the police arrived to take down some barricades, and she took out her cell phone to film them. They saw the light of her camera, and started shooting. That experience and others caused Hla Hla and her family to flee the country. Choosing to leave Myanmar represented not only the end of a life and community in their home country, but also the realization that the innovative company they had started there, a fun, augmented-reality learning app known as 360ED, would be severely impacted as well. Hla Hla had combined her professional backgrounds in tech and education to create a service that could bring learning opportunities to those marginalized groups often left on the sidelines. And as they knew that many of those who would need the service most wouldn’t necessarily have reliable or inexpensive internet, much of the app can function even when offline.After nine years of product development, they launched in Silicon Valley in 2016, but moved operations to Myanmar as part of the “re-pat” movement, in which exiled Burmese settled back in the country during the stable and optimistic 2010s transition period. And, it was remarkable that they chose to establish their company there, essentially bringing one of the world’s most innovative and cutting-edge technological learning tools to a country that had only recently gotten on-line at all. In other words, when the coup broke, 360ED was well on its way to becoming Myanmar’s first true tech start-up success story!Of course, all this came to a crashing halt in February. Their team members began to go into hiding, and with the educational system in complete disarray, it became apparent that collaborating with school administrators would not be possible. While many outside observers have been following the daily terror and pervasive human rights violations that are now sadly commonplace in Myanmar, stories like these often slip through the cracks, and thus, the extent of the damage and disruption being unleashed by the Tatmadaw is not fully known. In the case of Hla Hla and Yan Min, this meant not only trauma in their personal life, but at least the temporary end of their technological and educational dream in Myanmar as well.
135 minutes | Sep 23, 2021
Resiliency in the Face of Terror
“Myanmar people are very resilient,” Meredith Bunn says at the start of the conversation.“They have the older generation who lived through so much already. And very luckily, in a way, those people have explained to them, ‘Well, this is what we used to have to do. Let's do this again.’”As much as Meredith has witnessed countless examples of the Burmese people’s courage, she still encounters scenes evoking a horror that is hard to describe. From children so hungry they are literally eating dirt, to young girls mysteriously disappearing, to the military deliberating sending COVID-infected patients into high population areas to intentionally spread the pandemic, to depriving oxygen for infected patients literally suffocating with the illness. It doesn’t end.As someone so deeply connected to a country and a people enduring this suffering, she is clear on who she holds responsible. “I don't hate the Tatmadaw. I don't hate everyone in it. I hate Min Aung Hlaing…I hate the puppets that he has inside.” And while she understands that not every soldier is courageous enough to defect or refuse commands, many are engaging in acts of deliberate cruelty for which there is simply no excuse.While Meredith appreciates any foreigner who has decided to stand with the Burmese people, she has also found herself uncomfortable when those living in safety have arrogantly opined on what Burmese activists should or should not be doing to respond to the carnage there, made even worse if they have not researched the situation and show little interest in listening empathetically to better understand the context. She is equally concerned by what she characterizes as “voyeurism,” beyond just opinionated judgments.With all this, Meredith certainly has her hands full, but her mind and her heart are clear, and the Burmese people are fortunate to have such a person on their side.
112 minutes | Sep 13, 2021
Keeping the Faith
The minute that the military took over on February 1st, Hassan was under no illusions as to what was in store. “I never believed we could win without non-violence, because I know [the military],” he said. Hassan’s answer was interrupted by a cough. He recently contracted COVID, and was only beginning to recover at the time of this interview.But while much of the population had no way to escape the oppression and terror that awaited them, Hassan did. He had grown up wealthy, and at the time of the coup was operating a string of successful businesses. “If you have money, you can build a good relationship between you and military.” This was certainly true for his family, who developed close ties with senior military leaders. It might come as a surprise that Hassan’s family, being Muslim, could be on good terms with the Burmese military, by now globally famous for its Islamophobia and Rohingya atrocities. However, Hassan, says, “The military, they have no religion! Trust me, they have only money and power.” Hassan has been helping people throughout the country, venturing into the deepest slums as well as the remote countryside. He has used his own personal funds to support thousands of CDM workers as well as PDF fighters, and begun to fundraise from foreign friends abroad to expand his work. For safety, he works alone, which often makes even the travel to those remote areas challenging enough, besides the dangers inherent in his work.Hassan believes the only way the Burmese people can ultimately win is by an influx of foreign support, including arms and military training. But he acknowledges the likelihood of this is low. And without it, the Burmese people have only their determination and endurance, and as long as they can maintain it, a sense of unity. In a country that has long been divided by ethnicity, region, and religion, Hassan now feels “there is no separation.”
121 minutes | Aug 31, 2021
Towards a More Just Society
Marlar has spent years researching gender studies, women’s rights, and violence against women in Burmese society. She notes that besides Myanmar being a patriarchal culture, there is the Burmese Buddhist belief of “pon,”which refers to the good karma inherently bestowed upon men. Due to pon, Marlar is prevented from meditating in certain places in Shwedagon Pagoda, which led her as a girl to wonder if even the lowest male thief has more merit than she or any other woman does in Burma.Marlar acknowledges that her critique of the ways in which Burmese women are marginalized flies in the face over a century of writings that in fact claim the opposite. Colonial British literature highlighted the greater freedoms they observed among Burmese women than in societies in other colonial lands. And more recently, several notable Burmese female writers, such as Ma Thanegi and Mi Mi Khaing, have made similar claims, pushing a theory of agency and independence for Burmese women. But Marlar claims they are writing from a place of privilege that is more indicative of their own circumstances, and at the expense of understanding the lived reality of the vast majority of other women across the country. Marlar notes that more recently, technology and the Internet have connected the Burmese people to the rest of the world, allowing the #MeToo movement to take off in Myanmar. In her view, any potential solution needs to be holistic, bringing together family, community, and culture to end this destructive cycle. She has worked with both community organizations and legislators prior to the coup on a watershed law punishing violence against women, but it was not passed, and she feels that part of the reason was that the Rohingya crisis monopolized the NLD’s attention. She also places blame squarely on Aung San Suu Kyi for not being a real feminist leader.On the sensitive topic of rape, Marlar explains that one of the main reasons it goes underreported is out of shame. However in Myanmar, there not only is shame for the woman, but also the male relatives, who feel emasculated for failing to properly protect them. This is why rape is a favored tactic of the Tatmadaw, as it undermines the pride and morale of the men they are fighting. As challenging as Marlar’s struggle for gender rights have been, nothing compares to the current state since the coup was launched, which she calls a total “nightmare in which basic human rights have disappeared.
117 minutes | Aug 24, 2021
The Third Wave
In Myanmar, we know that the coup has been an on-going nightmare since February, and more recently there has been a sharp, Delta-driven Covid spike that the military leadership not only can’t control, but seems driven to exacerbate. People there have started referring to the double crises as “Coupvid”, a term which accurately reflects the obstacles the Burmese people face in just being able to survive day-to-day in these challenging times. In this episode, our three guests discuss what daily life has been like during Coupvid, the possible long-term impacts of this trauma on the population, and what we can do from our own places of safety to show solidarity and support.Alyson and Sandra are medical students living in the US. They are Chinese-Burmese members of the Myanmar diaspora, experiencing Coupvid from two directions: worried about family still in Myanmar and as workers in the medical community. Both young women have been advocating on behalf of striking healthcare workers in Myanmar since February, supporting fundraisers to get critical supplies, and expressing solidarity when the Tatmadaw started targeting and arresting healthcare workers.“Michaela”, using an alias for extra security, is currently living in Yangon. She and her roommate contracted COVID-19 in July, shortly after friends notified them that they had tested positive. Michaela shares her personal story of surviving COVID-19 and nursing her roommate back to health at the same time, as well as the fear and uncertainty that she and many others face when making decisions with limited information, and no access to healthcare.
141 minutes | Aug 19, 2021
You Can't Go Home Again
The ending line of Jessica Mudditt’s book, Our Home In Myanmar, puts a startling cap on her account of her life in Yangon in the 2010s. She writes, “Myanmar’s sudden returned to a dictatorship means that I have inadvertently written a history book.” This is the subject of the current episode, which charts Jessica’s hard-won attempts to live in Myanmar during the last decade.Jessica was primarily motivated to come to Myanmar to witness and report on the 2015 election, arriving a full three years in advance in order to be better positioned to understand that historic event. The Burmese people’s jubilation over those election results of course ended with a crash in 2021. Jessica has struggled to understand the extremes of humanity that are found in Myanmar. “I've never understood how you can have these two types of people in one geographic area,” she says. “You have these uncouth brutes who have no humanity. And then you have some of the most gentle people in the world....”Of all the ongoing tragedies now facing Myanmar, the one that particularly grabs at her heart is the wholesale destruction of the journalism field. She bore witness to the tentative growth of an entire field as state censorship eased. It was exciting to see young Burmese reporters and photographers exploring what was becoming possible… and yet now this has all been crushed, with so many journalists on the run, imprisoned, or killed.Still, Jessica reflects on the situation with optimism. “I believe that the people will get there in the end, because they are so determined… The alternative is to live a life of total darkness…I've heard people say, ‘Let's clear the decks of the NLD as well. Let's start again, build from the bottom, and a society that's inclusive, and we can avoid some of the mistakes of the past.’”
71 minutes | Aug 14, 2021
Fight the Power
There are several images that will forever be seared into the mind of the Burmese hip hop artist known as 882021; pictures and videos that he will never be able to unsee, like soldiers charging at protesters, or thugs dressed in monks’ robes cracking car windows with crowbars. 882021 references these grim scenes not only in his music, but also in the artwork in his music videos. He is one of many artists using their creative gifts to resist the military coup in Myanmar.By choosing to be so bold in his lyrics, his life is at risk, and so he quite literally made a new name for himself—actually, a number. The six digits he now identifies himself as represent both the dates of the 1988 revolution and the current resistance movement, and the digits that make up the hexadecimal number for the web color of dried blood—a color he has unfortunately become all-too-familiar with in real life since the February coup.882021 learned Mahasi meditation during his days as a monk. But as valuable as he finds the Buddha’s teachings, he prioritizes freedom of expression in a traditional, conservative society where religious mores often guide artistic output. “I feel everything should be able to be criticized,” he says. “And that includes a religion as well. Personally, I'm a Buddhist myself, but I don't believe in taking extreme measures censoring art.” He is firmly in the tradition of political rap and hip hop that speaks truth to power.In his opinion, rap is the perfect medium for expressing resistance at this current moment. As he says, “Hip hop has always had a political history. And in my opinion, it is the best type of music to express these struggles that we're having with oppression.”
70 minutes | Aug 3, 2021
Dr. Sasa on the COVID crisis in Myanmar
From the moment you begin looking into the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus pandemic in Myanmar, the numbers are simply staggering. Some projections suggest half of the population might be infected within two weeks, and there is now the risk that the country will become a super-spreader Covid state that fuels outbreaks across the region, with a full one-third of the world’s population live in nations bordering Myanmar.This approaching, apocalyptic nightmare is the subject of today’s episode, which features Dr. Sasa. The former Special Envoy to United Nations, Dr. Sasa currently serves as the Union Minister of International Cooperation and Spokesperson of the National Unity Government of Myanmar.Dr. Sasa is pleading with the United Nations Security Council to issue what he calls a “COVID ceasefire.” He believes that the only hope is for the international community to finally step up. While the Burmese have been left largely to fend for themselves with almost no outside support for half a year, Dr. Sasa notes that two things no person can manufacture on their own are essential to combatting this virus: oxygen and vaccinations. “The international community is the only answer.”Meanwhile, the military is not stopping its assault on their own people even as the pandemic reaches epic proportions. Doctors have been in hiding since February, and soldiers have been singling them out for arrest, torture, and even assassination.Somehow, in spite of all this needless death and destruction, Dr. Sasa still sees some hope in the form of the vast majority of Burmese valiantly still resisting this military coup. He references the famous slogan used to describe the ultimate sacrifice given by Allied soldiers in World War II, “We gave our todays for your tomorrow.” He notes, “The people of Myanmar are sacrificing their life for the future of tomorrow. So that is the reason why we have hope… And our unity is our strength.”
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