- Ambushed On Ledo Road
- Burma In Limbo
- Daw Moe Swe: Red matron
- Scourge of Burma
- Second Lt. Hnin Aung
- Rice Riots to Race Riots
- Song For Irrawaddy
- Aung Moe and Amy
- Midnight Searches
- 1978 Opium War
- Major Kyaw San?
- First Anglo-Burmese War
- Tha-din-gyut in Mawgyun
- Shans' 1962 Federal Mu
- Burma's Land Reform
- General Min Aung Hlaing
- Islamic Genocide of Buddhists
- Irrawaddy Waters and Ne Win's Gold Trees
- Chun Doo-Hwan Bombing
- Reliving 73 Xmas Eve in NYC
Friday, October 29, 2010
I hadn’t been back for more than seven years and the place was filthy and absolute hell for me after living so many years away in extra clean and fresh Sydney with the most beautiful harbour. People were scrawny and their cloths dirty and everywhere I looked piles of rubbish clogged the streets.
Rangoon CBD was full of cars and the never-ceasing horn-noises were unbearable as every driver seemed to be beeping all the time. I felt like I had made a serious mistake coming back to do business there. But I promised myself I would make this business a success so that I wouldn’t need to work for anyone ever again in my life.
|A typical Palletizing Robot.|
In 1992 a large engineering company had bought our little company out.
We were massively losing money in the recession and so our young owner had sold us out instead of going under. The other company was doing well and rather than paying tax on the profit they spent the profit on acquiring our operation.
Not only they bought us out they also shifted us to their huge compound in an Industrial park in Silverwater near the Remand Centre. I was promoted to Production Manager as they had a grand plan of expansion for our operation.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
|Sydney's White Cabs.|
After Jason’s death I left the workshop and managed to get a proper engineering job as the production supervisor for an engineering company in the suburb of Bankstown in Western Sydney.
The company built Cartesian Robots for mainly the palletizing operations of large-scale manufacturers in Australia. Here in Australia every items produced are packed in bulk and placed on the wooden or plastic pallets to be transported from the factories to the warehouses and then to the supermarkets or the retail shops. Palletized goods are perfect for the handling by the forklifts.
Job was interesting but the pay of 30K a year was not that good. That might be the reason I got the job. Aussie graduate engineers wouldn’t take that low a pay. And since I needed to save money for the substantial deposit for a house I started driving taxis on Sydney streets on the weekends.
One of the Lebanese servicemen back in the workshop also worked as a night cabbie and he showed me the way to get a cab authority from the New South Wales Ministry of Transport. I had to attend a taxi school and take a test for using the Sydney Street Directory and another driving test in a hired-cab.
For an old jungle soldier like me reading the street directory of the large concrete jungle called Sydney was just too easy. I do not even need a compass and no need to interpret the contours and the major landmarks are all over the place.
So within two years from landing on Sydney shores I managed to save 10,000 dollar deposit for a 120,000 dollar house and got myself a three-bedroom, brick-veneer home in the affordable suburb of Campbelltown about 50 km south west of Sydney.
Now the serious problem I had was with the heavy mortgage of over 100,000 dollars from the NSW government sponsored Home Fund. Since we were recent migrants we didn’t have a long history of regular savings. So all the banks refused to lend us and the Home Fund with a fixed interest rate of 17.5% and a short loan term of 13 years was the only option for us.
But the ballooning monthly interest payments of nearly 2,000 dollars was becoming a major pressure on me and I ended up driving cabs more just to pay the bills for our growing family. Driving more night shifts also meant I was taking more risks of physical danger as the night taxi driving is the most dangerous job in Sydney then and still probably so.
At least 5 Sydney cabbies are killed every year and the taxi drivers are the only profession in Australia with the impressive crime statistics of all 100% of them the victims of crime. Most cabbies are also the migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds and many became the victims of vicious race-hate attacks.
I wasn’t that concerned about my safety as I had seen worst violence back home in the jungles of Burma but I still carried a sharpened and blackened carbine bayonet under my seat.
Sometimes drunken men in my cab asked me if I was scared driving cabs at night, I replied to them that if they knew what I did back home they should be scared of me instead. Once I made a mistake of telling a priest, who’d been with the Karen refugees on the Thai border, I was an ex-soldier in Burmese army and he asked me to stop the cab and got out. The violent reputation of brute Burmese army was well known even before the last Rambo movie.
I thought I was brave and quiet scary till I picked up a group of Lebanese thugs at the darling harbour late one night.
It was a busy Saturday night. After dropping a fare at Pyrmont I hit the waterfront at the Darling Harbour expecting many people from the harbour cruises waiting for cabs. I was right and as I was easing my white cab near a crowd a young middle-eastern looking man ran up and opened the rear cab door.
Keep going mate, we’re picking 3 more. So I went and picked up three more young men down the road. I wasn’t happy at all as here in Sydney these guys are widely feared. Cabs don’t normally stop for them. According to the criminal profiling of attacks against cabbies in Sydney a group of three or more young men of middle-eastern or Pacific-islander descent are the typical offenders.
|Glock-17 Semi-automatic Pistol.|
But he noticed it. But he ignored it with a tense face on. Long trip mate, first to Belmore then Lakemba, then Punchbowl. I’m coming back to city too. Is it okay? He asked and I said yes and headed for the Parramatta Road. The threes behind me started speaking in Arabic or whatever their tongue was. The gunman beside me just sat quite.
Where the fuck you’re heading cabbie? Why are we on this fucking Parramatta Road? We should be on Canterbury. The guy directly behind me busted out. Are you going long way? We kill people ripping us off. He even fisted the back of my seat.
I’m heading for Crystal Street just down there, then we’ll be on New Canterbury, I tried to calm him down. Is he going right way Michael? He asked the guy at the front and Michael said he’s cool, just shut up Jamal.
He wound down the window, yanked out the headrest of my seat and threw it out. He was big and strong and he did it so fast I didn’t noticed the headrest was gone. Only later I realized what just happened and I immediately knew I was in a mortal danger now.
First I was thinking of pressing the alarm button under the dashboard by my right knee. The alarm is directly connected to the network control room via radio and once it is activated the operator will immediately called the nearest cops with the exact location of the cab. But with four Lebanese gunmen in my cab I hesitated to press the button remembering what happened to an old Aussie woman cabbie just a month or two ago.
She was just sitting idle at the cab rank in a major suburb of Northern Beaches when a visibly agitated man hopped in and sat directly behind her and told her to just drive as he would direct her turn by turn. She started the engine. Then she saw the man took a handgun out of his briefcase. A large police station was just a block away on the same road and she straight away drove up there and turned into and rammed the thick glass door of the police station.
|Anti-Lebanese Riots on Sydney's Cronulla Beach.|
Now I had not one but four gunmen in my cab and I was not that eager to see a cop car with sirens screaming and lights flashing. If there were a gun battle I would be the very first one to get shot. Then the cool Michael started talking. Many of his Lebanese fellows drive cabs here in Sydney and he obviously knew exactly where the alarm button was.
But he seemed he really wanted to defuse the situation before it got totally out of control. He definitely had used his gun before but killing a cabbie for no reason was not his idea of doing a profitable business, I guessed.
Did you see the gun, he asked. I said yes and told him it was not a problem for me as back home I was in the army. Where is home? Burma. Wow, you were in Burmese army, cool mate. Killed any one before he asked. I said yes. How? All sorts, shoot, stab, bash. How many? Too many, I don’t even remember. At the beginning I marked by notching my rifle-butt. It made a mess so I stopped counting. I exaggerated my body count.
Who you fighting? The minority tribes. Why? They are Christians and we are Buddhist.
Believe it or not that conversation turned the dangerous situation around and I suddenly became their chum. Back at Taxi school they taught us how to relate to a difficult passenger. Find a common ground between you and the passenger and the rapport will follow, I still remember. And now I’d just found the common ground between me and them.
|Lakemba Mosque in Sydney.|
We dropped Ahmed first at Belmore, then Ibrahim at Lakemba, and finally Jamal at Punchbowl, all former blue collar white suburbs now mostly populated by the Muslim Immigrants from the middle-east and the Indian subcontinent. Before he got out now-sobered Jamal even apologized me.
So I daringly asked. You three are obviously Muslims and Mr. Michael here is a Christian. Aren’t you guys killing each other back home? Not here, we are united here, one Lebanese nation against Skips and Pigs. Michael here is our brain, we are his muscles, Jamal answered and Michael shushed him again.
I brought Michael back to the city and he got out at a famous nightclub in Potts Point next to the Cross. On our way back we even managed to find the spot Jamal threw out the headrest and picked it up from the median strip. The fare was almost 80 bucks but he gave me a 100 note and said no change mate.
I thought that was the last of him and his gang for me. There were more than 4,000 cabs and almost 50,000 cabbies in Sydney and to meet a same fare again was almost impossible. Especially for a weekend driver like me. I was wrong as I got him again in my cab just a couple of months later.
That day I was driving what we called a Semi. Instead of standard 12 hours 3 to 3 shift I was doing 24 hours 3am Sunday to 3 Am Monday shift as the Monday was a public holiday and our factory was closed.
|St. Vincents Hospital in Darlinghurst.|
As soon as she got out I saw a familiar face. It was Michael coming through the doorway. He swiftly got into my cab at the front. I greeted hi Michael and he said oh you again. You still remember me he said. How can I forget you and your gang, I joked.
He needed to go home in Rose Bay to sleep but wanted to stop at a night club on Oxford Street. He said bloody Jamal got stabbed last night at the Cross and fucking dying now in the hospital and he needed to find other two and was hoping they were at the club. He had no gun on him though. What he had on him shocked me later.
I drove him to the seedy club on the Oxford Street and stop right in front. Unlike others in that gay area the gay club opened till the middle of Sunday and still there was a line of gays and dykes trying to get in. Michael got out but he leaned back in again and pulled out a fat roll of green one hundred dollar notes from his jacket inside pocket and dropped it casually into the cup holders just behind the gear shifter.
About two inches thick the fat roll of cash must be nearly 50,000 dollars by the look of it. Don’t go away, keep your eyes on the dough, I’ll be back in a sec, he instructed and then turned around and walked past the door bitch and two giant-islander bouncers as if he knew them well and disappeared behind the black silk curtains.
I locked the doors, sat back, and trying to watch the pedestrian traffic on the kerb but I couldn’t as the fat roll of green cash beside was distracting me. I had never seen so much money so close in my life and I could not believe that guy trusted me with his money. Maybe this wasn’t too much money for him. If I had this much money now I could pay most off my little house and I didn’t need to work this hard no more. I daydreamed and then suddenly shit hit the fan.
|Taylor Square Oxford Street.|
I was in the shit now and I didn’t know what to do. I drove around the block and came back but the cops were still there and I had to do another round again. Maybe I should just go home and disappear with the cash; a thought came into my mind. Nope he would find me and kill me. No way he could, if I stop driving cabs. The bad thought kept on coming back but I decided I just had to find him back and return his cash.
Finally after more than two hours and on my 6th or 7th round I saw Michael standing on the kerb not far from the club waiting for me. I pulled over and unlocked the door. He hopped in and immediately said where the fuck you been, I’ve been waiting for hours. Jesus, I’ve been driving around with your fucking roll of cash for the whole bloody day. He took the roll back though.
He then laughed and said you’ve saved my life mate, if the pigs caught me with this roll in the club I’ll do five years in big house. They frisked me like hell inside, fuckwits. The dirty German Shepherds sniffing me all over, fucking dogs.
I had to drive him to his flat in Rose Bay. I’ve never seen that much money before, on the way I tried to start conversation as I was curious. All from drugs mate, you know heroin, come from your country, Golden Triangle. He was so open I was surprised. How did you get it here? Easy we get it from Singapore. Do you have to go get heroin from Singapore? Not really, I have mules, sexy blonde variety. He was quite talkative for some reason.
|Double UOGlobe 100% Heroin Brand.|
He was quite open and friendly, so I told him about what I saw back home in the army and how easy it was to buy that brand of pure shit in our neighbourhood. He seemed very interested. If I have a direct connection in Burma I will make more money, fucking Chinese are asking more and more for their shit, he remarked.
He directed me to an expensive-looking water-front apartment block and got out after giving me 5 notes from his 100 dollar roll. He then leaned back in and said we could do business mate, if you’re interested. Not really, I don’t do illegal things. My answer really upset him. He got back in and gave me a long lecture about why his criminal acts were justified.
Do you drive cab all the time? Not really. I have a day job. So you work weekdays and weekends. Sort of. Why, heavy mortgage and young family? Yes. What’s the interest rate? 17.5%. Fucking Jesus and Mary!
You see that’s what’s so wrong with you people. You work your arse off so that you can pay high interest to the banks hoping you will one day own that little house of your in some shitty western suburb. My dad did it too. My uncles did it too. You all do. There is a name for people like you in the bad old days. A slave, a serf, chained to the landlord, or to a bank nowadays.
Houses are so expensive because of fucking banks and the fucking government. Do you know why? Dearer the houses people like you have to borrow more and pay more interest and banks make more shit load of money. And the fucking government keeps on raising interest rates. They will squeeze you dry and force you to work 24 hours a day 7 days a week for most of your fucking adult life for that fucking little house.
I borrow no money from no fucking banks. I run my own life. Laws are made by the governments for the banks and the rich to keep us as slaves. Not for me. I am free and I am strong. No society will tell me what I can and what I can’t do. I do what I want. Especially not this fucking Anglo society!
How about all the overdoses and broken families and the miserable lives because of your heroin?
Fuck them. They are weak and in this concrete jungle the strong survive and the weaklings get eaten. The law of the jungle. That’s the only law I obey. The survival of the strongest.
Okay, I don’t want to keep you any longer. If you’re not interested that’s fine. But if you are, here is the card for my bar. Just call me or visit me one day if you change your mind. I could use someone like you.
He chucked his card onto the dashboard, got out and disappeared behind the steel gate. The card basically advertised a seedy bar on the Kellet Lane in the Cross. His talks made me think of what was happening in my life here in Sydney though. I was then truly sick of working two jobs days and nights and seriously thinking of looking for a job with higher pay.
But for better or worse a couple of months later a large engineering company had bought our company out and changed my life forever.
The Scourge of Burma - Part 1
The Scourge of Burma - Part 5
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
|Ava is right across the Irrawaddy from Sagaing.|
In the Burmese lunar year 774, the Christian year 1411, Shans from Mawtone Mawkel invaded the town of Myedu in upper Burma. King Mingaung of Ava sent an army of eleven corps led by the Crown Price Minyekyawzwa to repel the Shans. The huge army consisted of three hundred war elephants, four thousand strong cavalry, and eighty thousand strong infantry. Once Minyekywzwa reached Myedu he immediately attacked and destroyed the smaller army of Mawtone Mawkel brothers. As the brothers fled on horseback to China, Minyekyawzwa brought their families, elephants, horses, and many prisoners of war back to Ava.
A few months after Myedu war Minyekyawzwa marched down into Lower Burma and attacked Pegu. Riding the Pegu King Yarzardayit's own war elephant called Bagamat, Thameinbayan, a son-in-law of Mon king, came out of Pegu and had a duel with Minyekyawzwa. But he was defeated and taken prisoner together with his elephant Bagamat. Minyekyawzwa then marched farther to Bassein and laid siege to the town. But Bassein was too strong to be taken. So the Burmese army marched to nearby Myaungmya and laid siege to the town. During the long siege, Minyekyawzwa took Thameinbayan and more than twenty high-ranking Mon prisoners of war back to Ava in eight fast boats along the River Irrawaddy. The upstream trip took eleven days. Minyekyawzwa stayed for only seven days in Ava and came back down to Lower Burma. The return trip downstream to the town of Dala across the river from Dagon (Rangoon) took only four nights and five days. His army then laid siege to the towns of Dagon and nearby Syriam.
Meanwhile, the fleeing Mawtone Mawkel brothers had reached China, where they begged the Chinese Emperor Uteebwa to help them to rescue their captured families now in Burmese hands. Chinese sent their General Erawaka with an army of two hundred war elephants, two thousand strong cavalry, and forty thousand strong infantry into Burma and reached Ava, then the royal capital of Burma. The Burmese army led by Minyekyawzwa then was waging a protracted war of attrition against Yarzardayit led Mons near Pegu in Lower Burma and couldn't come back to relieve the capital Ava. The invading Chinese surrounded Ava and sent in an ultimatum demanding that Burmese either release the captured families of Mawtone Mawkel brothers or come out and fight them outside. Burmese had refused and the Chinese laid siege to Ava, and after a month the Chinese army had run out of food and so they sent another ultimatum into the besieged city.
|Ancient Burmese warriors.|
This time the Chinese had challenged the Burmese to a duel on horseback and if their man was defeated they would end the siege and withdraw, but if their man won Burmese had to release the families of Mawtone Mawkel brothers. In a court gathering King Mingaung asked for anyone who dared to take the Chinese challenge, but none there dared as all the Burmese warriors and most of the Burmese lords were with Minyekyawzwa in Lower Burma. Then the lord of Paungde told the King about the Mon prisoner Thameinbayan, and advised him to ask Thameinbayan to take the challenge as he was the bravest Mon warrior who even dared to fight Minyekyawzwa in an elephant duel. So King Mingaung ordered and Thameinbayan in leg Irons was brought to him.
King Mingaung asked Thameinbayan if he was brave enough and willing to face the Chinese warrior, and the Mon lord Thameinbayan answered that he wasn't afraid of anyone on this surface of the earth, face to face, sword to sword, shield to shield, either on an elephant, or on a horse. So the Burmese king released him and let the princesses wash his hair and give him a feast good enough for a king. After that King Mingaung promised him a reward better than from his own Mon king if he defeated the Chinese warrior, Garmani. Thameinbayan bowed to the king and guaranteed the favourable outcome for the Burmese, his captors.
King Mingaung then showed Thameinbayan every single horse in Ava to choose, but he didn't find the horse of his liking. Only later Thameinbayan saw and liked a mare in the colour of tamarind seed grazing by the moat and took it as his horse. He then told Burmese he needed seven days to know the horse well, and he would then face the China's Garmani on the seventh day from then. Once Burmese told the Chinese the date for the duel their hero Garmani spent that seven days drinking and eating and boasting to kill Thameinbayan horribly on the day they meet.
|Mae-Nu Oat Kyaung (Queen's Brick Monastery).|
On the appointed day King Mingaung looked at Thameinbayan and liked what saw and said that the Mon lord was strong and brave and calm as his name had preceded him. He then gave Thameinbayan his own ruby crusted royal sword and said, “My son, do not to lose my sword!”, and Thameinbayan replied, “We will win, Leave it to me.” He then asked, “I have a basket with me tied to the saddle. Once Garmani is speared, I will cut his head and put it in the basket to bring back. I need a hook to pick his head up from the ground. Please give me a hook?”
So King Mingaung gave him a goading hook used in plodding an elephant behind its ear, but many Burmese lords laughed at Thameinbayan and said that our Mon hero was already looking for a lemon to cook the rabbit even before he had a rabbit in hand. Thameinbayan just bowed to the King and rode out of the besieged city towards the Chinese army. He was followed by a few people who could speak Chinese. All the people of Ava including the Buddhist monks climbed up the city wall to watch the duel ground from above as Garmani also rode out from Chinese army's camp to meet Thameinbayan once he saw him coming out.
In a full body armour with a ruby crusted enormous sword in his huge right hand, seven foot tall Garmani rode a giant red horse with a gold saddle. His face was painted black and he also carried a gold-plated long spear. Under a helmet of seven steps, he looked like a Chinese demon straight out of their folklore. He met Thameinbayan near the water-filled moat. Through the interpreters Thameinbayan said to him that they both were the lords and warriors, and so they should show the people watching from both sides what they were capable of on the horseback. Garmani agreed.
Thameinbayan leaned forward and made himself as small as possible on the horse and then rode real fast. Garmani copied him masterly and rode even faster. Thameinbayan then stood up on the saddle and rode away from him. Garmani copied him again and rode faster again. Then Thamenibayan stretched both hands and rode again while still standing on the horseback. Garmani copied him again and rode faster again. While he rode past him on his left Thameinbayan saw the thread tying the two armour plates covering his right underarm was cut and loose.
Immediately Thameinbayan yelled out to Garmani that they had ridden three times and now was the time to fight. Holding the short spear in right hand behind his back and stretching the left hand by his side, he rode away from Garmani. Garmani chased him immediately. As Garmani reached near him, Thameinbayan wheeled his horse around to the right and faced him. After stopping in his track Garmani immediately raised his enormous sword and tried to strike down Thameinbayan with a mighty stroke.
In the process the thread holding his underarm plates broke exposing his flesh through a gap of at least four fingers width, and Thameinbayan, expecting that perfect opportunity, swiftly sent his spear thrust through the gap. The spear went in at Garmani's right underarm, through the body, and came out at left underarm, killing Garmani on the spot. He then cut his head with a single stroke of his sword and picked the still rolling head up from the ground with the goading hook and placed it in the basket tied to his saddle. He then rode back and entered Ava while the mass of people on the wall cheered. Even the Chinese were amazed by the short and decisive fight and they said that Thameinbayan was not a man but a demon from hell.
Hugely satisfied King Mingaung gave him rewards and married him to his youngest daughter Talokeyarzathu. The Burmese king also gave Thameinbayan the town of Legai. The people of Ava also gave him many rewards. As promised the Chinese army folded their camp and withdrew back to China.
(Translated from U Kala's Maha-yarzawin-dawgyi)
|A Burmese horse-cart among the ancient ruins of Pagan.|
|Sydney's notorious Kings Cross.|
December 1989 and it was last Saturday before Christmas when they found Jason’s body in the bathtub inside a cheap motel room in Sydney.
According to the local tabloid he checked into the motel on Parramatta Road the night before, injected himself all the bought-heroin, filled the tub to the rim, got in, and cut both wrists with a disposable razor blade. When the motel people found him the water was all blood red and he was stone cold dead.
Jason was a 22 year old Australian of English descent originally from a small country town of Waga Waga about 700 kilometres south-west of Sydney. He was my former workmate and my only dear friend in the whole wide Australia. He was not that tall, but broad, pale, and skinny built with slight curls of blonde hair on his head.
With a dimple on his left cheek he had an almost innocent look when he smiled but he frequently showed his disturbed-side when he was annoyed or angry. He came from a broken family and sometimes he jokingly claimed he was abused both physically and sexually.
We were working together as lowly servicemen for the service centre of a major European car-dealership in a posh north-shore suburb of Sydney. Every weekday from 8 to 4 we put the expensive cars up the hydraulic-hoists, change the oils and replace the filters, re-inflate and re-balance the wheels, rotate the tyres, replace the worn brake-pads, and wash and polish the cars as the final touch after other mechanics have done the tune-ups and other jobs on the cars. Easy job and money was not that bad. At least three hundred bucks a week in the pocket with regular overtimes. A bit more than the minimum wage then.
Since the day I landed in Sydney I knew things were going to be tough as the whole country was in a severe recession. For nearly three months I tried to find a proper engineering job through the newspapers’ job advertisements.
I had no money and I was basically surviving on the fortnightly dole of 240 dollars and it was only just enough to pay the rent. So I decided to take any job and one day I went to the local CES(Commonwealth Employment Services) office and asked for an interview. It turned out to be my lucky day.
The middle-aged female government official quickly read my resume and simply said my mechanical engineering degree from Burma was not acknowledged here as a degree after referring her thick handbook of Educational Qualifications for Migrants.
According to the Australian government my 6 years degree was only equivalent to a 2 years technical high school diploma here. I was bloody lucky the same bloody government issued me a permanent resident visa as a skilled-migrant based on the same bloody degree from Burma.
She then looked into her computer and said there were some jobs for a mechanical-minded person and asked if I could work on cars as I claimed to be a mechanical engineer. I said yes and she then called the company and then wrote down the address for me to go for an interview and wished me good luck.
I went there and the workshop manger liked me and gave me the serviceman job straight away. But here in overly-regulated Australia, where even the disgruntled taxi drivers are forced to wear a uniform by a draconian law, anyone working on cars in any capacity needs an appropriate license.
So the manager sent me to the MVRIC (Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council) office and they issued me the Provisional Mechanic Licence for a year with an attached condition that I must pass a certain mechanic test to gain a real mechanic license. That’s how I got my first grand job in Australia. A provisional mechanic cum serviceman.
Sydney then was very different from the Sydney now. Immigration was not that high and there were not that many Asians or middle-eastern people in Sydney like now. The inner western suburb of Ashfield where I lived then was still a white suburb, not yet the second Chinatown of Sydney.
I was the only Asian in our big workshop and there were a couple of Lebanese servicemen who were always derogatorily called camel drivers. Most people could not pronounce my first name and whenever they saw me eating rice they accused me of eating maggots and pretended to spew all over me in the lunch room.
From the beginning Jason was always nice to me and he explained me things or two about Australians and taught me the useful slangs like Fair-Dinkum and Fagget and Fuck-Off. I helped him to write the service sheets as he was basically illiterate and didn’t even know how to spell mechanic-related words like Diesel Engine and Reciprocating.
Whenever I wrote some words down for him he always cheerfully said I was a good speller. But I could still sense the basic disbelieve in his pale blue eyes that I an Asian immigrant could write better English than him a true blue Aussie. But he always came to me instead of others as if he didn’t want the Aussie mob to know he had difficulties in the writing department.
He drove a beat-up Datsun 120 Y and regularly gave me a lift to the Town Hall Station in the city on his way to Kings Cross, the notorious red light district of Sydney. I had no car in Sydney for almost six months as I needed to get a driver license first.
At first I didn’t know the purpose of his frequent trips to the Cross. Sometimes once or twice a week especially on our pay-day, Thursdays. Then one afternoon after work he asked me to come along to the Cross as he wanted me to buy 10 dollars worth of gas for his car after his business there as he was short of cash then. I agreed and we drove to the Cross first.
|Kings Cross in Sydney.|
On the way to the Servo by the Woolloomooloo Wharf he suddenly asked me if I’ve ever been to the notorious Golden Triangle. He knew I was from Burma but he never said anything even remote about heroin before. But that afternoon he confessed his stupid addiction and all the problems he was having then. He even showed me the small foiled-packet of dirty heroin he’d just bought from the Cross.
Two hundred dollars worth of shit but just enough for only four hits he said. It was so dirty looking it rather looked like a little lump of brown palm-sugar powder than a fluffy white powder I heard about so many times back home. They cut the heroin with some powders and made it look so dirty he said. You spend all your pay on this shit, what you live on for the rest of the week I asked. I don’t eat that much and I live in a tiny hostel room he answered and it depressed me. That’s why he was so skinny and always dreamy I guessed.
Once I knew his desperate situation I tried to avoid him in the workshop and stop accepting the rides as I really hated the addicts. And he immediately noticed my disgust. But he still came to me often as if he badly needed a friend. Then one day he got into a real shitty trouble at the workshop.
Five Dollar Theft
|Kings Cross Subway Station.|
The two were plain-cloth policemen as I could see the guns on their belts as they ran. They started searching the pockets of Jason’s overall and appeared to find something. The two detectives then led Jason back into the office and later they put him into the back of a police paddy-wagon and took him away. We were shocked but I simply assumed it might be a drug-related arrest. It was not. I found out later in the lunch-room.
The workshop-manager came in and told us the whole pathetic story. Small money and some valuables like expensive sunglasses from the serviced vehicles had been reported missing far too many times and finally the management had decided to call the police. Cops then did a thorough job planting a five-dollar-note a few times in the cars and checking the notes after a mechanic or serviceman had done a job on the car. And they found the notes always missing after Jason but no one else.
So today they planted a marked fiver in the glove-box of that sedan and watched and checked as the car had progressed through various mechanics and servicemen including me. After Jason the manager checked it again and found the note missing. So he signalled the waiting detectives and they searched Jason’s overall pockets and found the marked five-dollar note.
They charged him with petty-theft and put him in the Silverwater remand jail. He had no one and also no money to post the bail. After more than six months his case came to a court and the sympathetic magistrate sentenced him six months exact for stealing a fiver from a car, and he was immediately released as he had been inside that long.
While he was languishing in the Silverwater jail I tried to look for him in the Cross once as I didn’t know he was still in jail and I was missing my only friend here. There I ran into another addict, a pretty young girl with curly blonde hair and pale blue eyes, just like Jason.
It was about 9 in the Saturday evening and the Cross was getting busier and rowdier as the night got older. All the loud touts in ill-fitting black suits right in front of the bright-neon-lit strip clubs were working at their aggressive best to lure the wandering blokes like me into their overly-priced strip-joints.
I was just sauntering aimless on the kerbs of the Darlinghurst Road vaguely hoping to see Jason among the crowd when I saw the cops trying to subdue a couple of young disorderly drunks near the Subway Station.
As I stood there holding a Foster stubby in one hand and watching the cops and the drunks, the aggressive copper woman with extendable truncheon in one hand rudely ordered me to move on. Instead of moving on I just backed away a couple of steps just to please her. And there I stepped on the feet of a young woman. Sorry, I turned round and apologized and there she was. A pretty Aussie girl smiling at me.
She might be only 19 or even 18, with her short blonde curls and pale blue eyes she immediately reminded me of Jason. No worries, she said. What she whispered after surprised me though. Are you looking for good time, big boy? Not really, why do you ask?
It will cost you 70 bucks, I have a place nearby she said. She astounded me. She was pretty and tall and curvy but too skinny for my liking and I wasn’t really after the paid-sex. But I was slightly drunk and I was suddenly horny and I never had had sex with a white woman before.
She had a tight jean and a white T-shirt with no bra underneath. And I could see her nipples through at close-up and they made me excited. I have only 50 bucks, I tried to haggle. Fine, just follow me, she said and turned round and walked towards the Station entrance.
Reluctantly, I followed her into the Station. She didn’t go down to the trains but took the way-out to the rear exit and headed for the same laneway where Jason once bought his heroin packet. She then walked up to the same black door and pushed open the door. I was alarmed but I still followed her onto the dimly lit stairs.
She stopped at the landing and asked me to give 20 bucks to the old man standing guard in dark there. For the room, mate, she said. I doled out a twenty note and she continued upstairs. She turned left into the corridor and pushed open the first door. The tiny windowless room was well lit and a double bed nearly filled the room and the linen was dirty.
She took off the T-shirt and asked me the fifty. I handed her the note and she immediately left the room topless with her perky round breasts exposed. Take off your clothes, she said on the way out. I took off sneakers and my jeans and underpants but kept the flannel on. It took her more than half an hour to come back in and the long wait made me anxious and worry.
She smiled wearily at me and immediately laid her back down on the dirty bed dangling her legs from the edge. Her eyes were well closed when she told me to take off her jeans and do whatever I like. I almost undid the top buttons of her jeans. But then I saw the needle marks on the inside of her left forearm. There were so many and the last and most recent one still had a drop of blood oozing. It disgusted me.
Here I with my dick hanging out and she was almost asleep with a dreamy look on her pale young face. She just had a hit of heroin and my fifty dollars was just enough for the shit. She was now drifting on the heroin-induced clouds and letting a complete stranger do whatever he wants on her. She was selling her young body dirt cheap to any John or Jamal or Jiang on the streets of dangerous Cross so that she could just inject that 50 bucks worth of dirty shit originated from the jungles of my Burma into her veins every single day.
Disgusted, I put my jeans and sneakers back on and left the room.
A week later on Friday just-released Jason showed up at the workshop to pick up his last pay-envelope. He came into the lunchroom and chatted to us for a while before the Manager came in and asked him to leave and never to come back here. On his way out he jokingly yelled back to our good-byes. Me a fag now with HIV, I got raped inside! And we laughed.
That night he checked into the motel on Parramatta Road and next day he was found dead.
The Scourge of Burma - Part 1
The Scourge of Burma - Part 4
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
|75mm Recoilless Gun.|
We were on a long range patrol down south following the tracks of a Communist Lisu unit that just shelled our hill with a 75mm recoilless-gun killing our brand new second-lieutenant and his young batman. And finally we lost track of them after two days on the range, so we decided to camp on a low hill for the night and turn back next day.
As we were preparing a fire to cook a hot meal our Kachin scout who had just gone down into the valley below to hunt came back up and told us that he had just seen the trampled tracks of at least a hundred loaded-mules on the valley floor. A hundred packed-mules did mean to us that over two hundred armed-guards and handlers were there too. We immediately killed the fire and just chewed the strips of boar-jerky as our dinner that night. By nightfall we could see the flickering lights of their many fireflies-like fires on the jungle-clad valley floor.
The mule train was one of the regular KIA opium caravans heading towards their labs by the border where the raw opium would be processed with lime in boiling water to get the white morphine base. Smokable in a pipe but not yet injectable, the base is now ready for further processing into fluffy-white heroin No. 4.
But the process requires a lot of chemicals like chloroform and acetic reagents smuggled across the border from Thailand and also a number of expert chemists, KIA has to mule it farther down south to the more-advanced labs run by the BCP(Burmese Communist Party)-controlled Wa rebels.
The indescribable horror of political violence in Burma reached its ugliest peak in 1988. Newspaper pictures of disgusting rows of decapitated heads being displayed on a crude table on the streets of one of Rangoon’s poorest townships shocked the world. But for an average Burmese the atrocities committed by all the parties involved weren’t that shocking at all. We were well accustomed or rather climatised to the extreme violence most people in highly civilised societies would cringe just by thinking of it.
One well-documented case happened not far from where our house was. It was a chaotic time and people just took over their neighbourhoods, as there was absolutely no law and order. The army was safely hidden in their barracks and the police just simply disappeared.
Monday, October 11, 2010
|Crowded Chinatown in Rangoon (2008).|
When Burma was in a serious turmoil in 1967 I was only eleven years old. But I still vividly remember the day I witnessed the brutal atrocities committed by the Burmese mob against the innocent Chinese in Rangoon.
Then was the time when all that massive disruption and mismanagement of the economy by the military and Ne Win’s large scale nationalization were severely affecting the trade and movement of essential goods throughout the whole country. According to the only radio, Voice of Burma, and all the newspapers now nationalized and run by the army the selfish farmers had refused to sell their crops to the government and the greedy foreigners, an implied name for the Chinese traders who controlled the wholesale trade of rice and other commodities in major cities were hoarding the huge quantity of rice in their warehouses.
The situation was so bad that by the beginning of year 1967, Burma, formerly the rice-bowl of the vast British Empire where once sun never set and the biggest rice exporter in the world had finally run out of rice even for her own people. Many in Rangoon were starving and the poor people were now looting the warehouses and shops all over the town. Even in our army boarding school we had to eat only rice porridges boiled from the low quality broken rice as the supply chain of rice was almost completely shut down.
To make the problems much worse one other major crisis was also happening in parallel to the critical rice shortage. The Cultural Revolution, started in the early 1966 in Communist China, had now reached Rangoon. The red faction of local Chinese were making trouble in the previously privately-owned Chinese Schools but now nationalized and run by the government’s Basic Education Department. Already disturbingly agitated many thousands of young Chinese students were the easy recruits for the Communist plotters and by the middle of 1967 these students started forcefully taking over their own schools as the young Red Guards in China did.
|Rangoon's Indian Town.|
April 1972 and it was last Sunday before Thin-Gyan water festivals when I found the dead boy.
He was slumping lifeless in the dark staircase to the upper floors of the apartment building next door from our shop house. He was a bad boy from our neighbourhood and I was the first one to notice the body.
The blood-filled plastic syringe he used to inject heroin was still horribly stuck in his left forearm. Bubbly froth was slowly dripping from the corner of his gaping mouth but the twisted face still bore the last agonizing minutes just before his death. Heroin overdoses were common in our neighbourhood but I had never seen one before. It was ugly.
After the coup, as a part of large-scale nationalisation, the army took over all the business properties owned by the Indians and distributed the loot free among the officers and some soldiers. That’s how a large number of Burmese families like ours came to own the prime real estate in the Rangoon CBD. Courtesy of General Ne Win and his nationalist army.
Burmanization had just started from the very middle of Rangoon. It still had a very long way to go yet.
My father and his father were former army officers and we both ended up in same neighbourhood by the intersection of Dalhousie Road and Mogul Street, the gold and gem trading area in Rangoon. They had a large family and his father sort of abandoned them after taking a much younger woman as second wife. He dropped out of high school, became an addict and a small time dealer, and now he was dead at 15.
|Double UO Globe 100% Heroin|
As an obvious result so many boys my age quickly became addicts. The damages to their families were alarmingly visible the socialist government started jailing the dealers, hanging the traffickers, and sending the young addicts to hard labour camps in the rural areas.
I have a built-in aversion to the drugs and I don’t even inhale a single cigarette smoke in my life. But one of my younger brothers became addicted to heroin and my parents had to send him back to our delta town and kept him there for years away from the drugs till he was weaned.
I passed Matriculation that year and got into the Rangoon Institute of Technology. But I grew up in an army boarding school and the Defence Services Academy (DSA) was my dream as most my classmates. But my father was against me joining the army. Too many army officers were killed on the front and he didn’t want to lose his eldest boy. But I was mad and I was so unhappy at the RIT, I finally ran away and tried to join the army in Mandalay as a private.
Burmese army always has the specialized Recruitment Battalions (Su-Zaung-Yays) stationed in the cities and major towns in proper Burma. From there the recruits are sent to the specialized Training Battalions (Lay-Kyint-Yays). But they are very strict against under-aged boys like me. Eighteen was their minimum age requirement and I was only 16 on my identity card.
But at the heights of civil war the same army also needed soldiers so bad that they had devised a legal way of getting child soldiers into the army. Especially where the army needed them most. On the faraway borderlands where the deadly civil war was raging for many years like wild fire.
|Kachin State in Burma|
That was how I ended up with a group of boys and young men as willing recruits in one of three infantry battalions stationed then in Myitkyina . Our battalion was fighting the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) on Ledo Road and later the Communists on the border with China. After the three-month boot camp in Myitkyina I was armed with a German G3 rifle and assigned to one of the field companies as a brand new boy soldier.
The commander of our 90-strong company was almost 60 years old Kachin captain, who was illiterate and an English army relic from the Second World War, and my platoon commander was a 20 years young Burmese lieutenant just out of DSA.
Within 6 months the lieutenant and a section of ten men were killed by KIA in a single ambush. Our section leader, a Burmese corporal, stepped on a Chinese-made all-plastic anti-personnel mine and lost most of his right foot. Later he died of excessive bleeding in the hammock as we carried him back to the base and I became the section leader.
I was the youngest of the nine men section but I was a former uni student, I could read the maps and interpret the contours and use a compass and find my way around in a thick jungle, and most important I could kill a man.
Our old captain once said there were only two types of man, one who could kill and one who could not. He put me in the first but himself in the second. He added that shooting a man in the heat of a battle is not killing.
He was right though as I had never seen him kill not even a chicken during my nearly two years in his company. But he once saw me shooting a wounded prisoner after a successful ambush, and I had to cut the throats of so many chickens for our meals as other Buddhist soldiers had refused to do that horrible job. I was not religious at all and I didn’t care about heaven or hell.
Most Kachin farmers on the remote hills grow opium and KIA collects a good part of their crop as taxes. Most poppy fields were in the region called The Triangle between the May-Kha and May-Li-Kha rivers. Two small rivers converge near Myitkyina forming the Irrawaddy. Our territory east of the May-Kha was too mountainous and cold for the poppy growing. But we could still find many a hidden poppy fields if we ventured far enough from our fortified bases on the Htaw Gaw hills.
And one day I found myself and my section in the middle of a beautifully flowering poppy-field during a long-range patrol over the range.
In a poppy field
The well-hidden field was in a narrow valley between a hilly ridge and a high cliff. A shallow stream was flowing slowly at the base of the cliff. Poppy plants nearly filled the whole valley. Mostly single upright-stem plants with a single flower right on the top end of the greenish tubular stems. The red flowers with dark purple bases still had the papery petals and the small pods were not really visible. The only Kachin soldier of our section told me the plants were just over a couple of months old as it takes about 3 months for the fruits or pods to be ready for milking.
We also found a cluster of ramshackle lean-tos by the stream. The opium farmers were nowhere to be seen. They might have seen us approaching and fled into the jungle. Hungry and searching for food we ransacked the huts. The farmers there grew black sticky rice, steamed it and made thick round cakes, dried them under the sun, and stored for later use. Sweet flavour and nice aroma when steamed back, these rice cakes were our favourite staple. We found plenty of them and also many strips of boar-jerky but took only half of the stores as we didn’t want the subsistence farmers to get starved.
|Soldiers destroying poppy plants|
Then the hell broke loose as we were walking back to the stream near the huts to drink and re-fill our canteens. A bullet whizzed past my head and abruptly dropped the guy walking behind me just seconds after I heard the first gunshot. I hit the wet ground and sunk my face into the watery mud on the stream shore. Soon bullets were flying all over my head and when I looked up I could see the enemy on the top of the cliff.
The only way out of the valley was the narrow track on that side of the stream and we were now trapped. When I looked behind two were lying dead on the ground and other were all disappearing behind the nearby huts. I managed to crawl back under the cover of their fire and joined them.
The poppy farmers did run from us but they knew where the KIA regulars were and came back with them to slaughter us for destroying their livelihood. We had a long fire-fight there but eventually they withdrew by the nightfall and let us flee as they were also just a few. Two of ours dead and we couldn’t even get their bodies back for a proper burial.
|Mandalay-Myitkyinar Rail Line.|
Daily diesel train left Myitkyina early morning and the sister train left Mandalay in the evening. They met somewhere in between and swapped the escorting army units and continued the journeys. If nothing went wrong both would reach their destinations roughly 24 hours later. KIA was frequently attacking the trains, and so the long rail line and the train itself had to be heavily guarded.
I reckoned that blue train might be the longest passenger train in the whole wide world. It needed two diesel locomotives at the front and another two at the rear end to pull and push all 60 or 70 odd carriages over the mountainous terrain. A flatbed-car loaded with tons of heavy steel I-beams was attached to the first locomotive as a heavy pilot car to detonate the possible KIA mines on the tracks and also to withstand the explosion and prevent the derailment. The train moved so slow, at some difficult uphill bends one can walk past it.
|Crowded Mandalay-Myitkyinar Train.|
And to our surprise the biggest smuggler of Myitkyina had his carrier girls and their illegal goods in our armoured escort car well secured all the way to Mandalay and then back to Myitkyina. The obvious reason was that no police or custom dares to search a car occupied by a battle-hardened army unit.
The escort car was shielded both sides and bottom with thick steel plates. The side plates had gun-slits for our MG3 medium machine guns and inside were two long benches by the walls for the gunners and the open middle was a space for the rest of us. But a good part of that space was always occupied by at least four or five young Kachin girls and their tons of goods. Our Company-Sergeant-Major didn’t say much to us except that we were paid 5,000 kyats for every trip and the cargo probably was only the raw jade stones and some gold bars.
Many of us, especially the Kachin soldiers, knew the heroin bricks were there but didn’t dare to say anything as the NCOs in our army have a life or death authority over their charges. And also the money when divided was very good as my monthly salary as a lance-corporal was only a little over 200 kyats. Sometimes during the long trips I idly sat beside their goods and wondered what a kilo-brick of that famous Double UOGlobe Brand heroin looks like. But I never dared to ask our well-feared CSM or even the girls.
So, one week we were riding the trains and next week we were drinking expensive Johnny Walker whiskies at the Chinese restaurants in the town while watching hungrily the girls walking past and some days having many wild brawls with the local mob. We used to drink extremely bitter army-rum, heavily laced with quinine to prevent malaria, issued weekly to us as part of our ration. We were now awash with cash and spending like hell before going back to the hellish jungles. We thought we were having an easy time till the day KIA took pot shots at our slow-moving train.
It was our last day on the train and most were not really looking forward to going back into the jungles as we hadn’t had any casualty last two months. We used to have at least one death almost every fortnight. The worst was a Shan corporal from our platoon. He had fallen for the prettiest one of the heroin carrier-girls. She also fell for him and the romance blossomed and for the last few trips the two lovebirds always sat together by the door away from us.
|German MG3 GPMG.|
None got hurt in our car but I immediately knew that the insides of the cars behind ours would be like a slaughterhouse as these timber carriages have no protection against the high velocity bullets. As a usual procedure the train didn’t stop till it reached a large station where an army unit and a civilian medical team from the local hospital were waiting.
They evacuated the wounded first and later the dead and then placed the bodies onto the concrete platform. There were more than 100 mutilated bodies. I didn’t even know why I counted. Mostly Kachins, Burmese, Shans, many Chinese, and some Indians, all races and colours and creeds. Their lives snuffed out on their merry ways to Mandalay.
Then I heard the loud screams of one girl from the other end of our car. The two lovers were now lying dead on the floor. The doors of our guard car had no plate covers and a couple of bullets had pierced through the timber door and terminated the young lives. I almost wept as the girls started screaming and crying. We had no other choices but to leave their lifeless bodies among the others on the platform as the train had to resume the journey after the soldiers hosed down the blood and guts off the shot-out carriages.
Two days later we were back on the tragically scenic Htaw Gaw Hills between the May-Kha and the Chinese border. Soon the Monsoon ended and the enemy was active again as the dry season approached.
And my section had a scary encounter with a very large mule train carrying tons of KIA opium from The Triangle to their heroin labs by the Chinese border.
The Scourge of Burma - Part 2