Tag Archives: Chinese

Myanmar – Conflict Within – Exploitation from Outside

UNICEF poster of child soldier.
UNICEF poster of child soldier.

This is what is happening in Myanmar – children are fighting a war rather than attending school. There is a struggle between the government, who wants to claim the land and the people, who want to harvest the gold, jade, teak, and opium as they have forever.

First class sleeper on train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.
First class sleeper on train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.

I bought a ticket for a first class sleeper on the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina knowing the Kachin and Shan guerrillas were fighting in the area and it was possible the military may block my travel.

Stupas in village from train.
Stupas in village from train.

Along the way I saw reminders of the power of the Buddhists, who openly challenged the Muslims.

Fields from train.
Fields from train.

From the train, the countryside looked quiet and it appeared as though everyone lived in peace with each other.

Myitkyina train station.
Myitkyina train station.

But once I arrived Myitkyina I hit the barriers.  Note that travelers must register with Immigration at the train station or airport.

Site of historic WWII battle.
Site of historic WWII battle.

     The Myitkyina railroad station was the site of a decisive battle in World War II. Winning Myitkyina with its airstrip and rail station gave the Allies control of Northern Burma and a chance to reconnect India with China via the Burma Road.

Suprabum Road
Suprabum Road

I hoped to travel up the Suprabum Road to the Hukwang Valley but was stopped by Immigration.

Myitkyina market
Myitkyina market

So I visited the local market and tried to regroup.

Unusual fruits
Unusual fruits

The fruits are unlike anything I’ve seen in the western world.

Medicine vendor
Medicine vendor

This woman kindly refused to accept payment for cold medicine I received from her – I had gotten very sick from the train ride.

Natural rememdies
Natural rememdies

They don’t have pharmacies in Myitkyina  but a wide assortment of natural remedies are sold at market.

Chinese in Myanmar
Chinese in Myanmar

I was struck by the presence of so many Chinese in the area.         Later I would find out why.

Tuktuk and motor bikes
Tuktuk and motor bikes

I paid for a driver and motorbike to take me to the Mogaung Valley. I had a map from the main Immigration office in Myitkyina  showing where I was allowed to travel.

Road to Mogaung
Road to Mogaung

     The road to Mogaung, or where the Chindits defeated the Japanese in World War II to secure the Allies position in Myitkyina, was dull… at first. Later I was interrogated by Immigration guards on my return to town. The poor boy driving the motor bike practically peed in his pants, understandably, when the gun toting military questioned us. So many are being killed in the battle between the government and the tribes over land rights.

Road will last only a couple of years.
Road will last only a couple of years.

     On the way to Mogaung we were subject to delays on the new road the Chinese were building. Note the meager layers of bedding, gravel, and asphalt slurry. This road will last only a couple years.

Hauling slurry seal in bucket
Hauling slurry seal in bucket

Chinese and the locals worked side by side carrying boiling asphalt tar buckets – something the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the US would faint at.

Men women children road workers

Men, women and children worked to build a road to the wilderness.  Why?

Mining in Myanmar
Mining in Myanmar

Access to the jade and gold mines and transport teak logs.

Mining in Myanmar people and equip2

Ko Zaw Pharkant, a photographer who lives in Myitkyina, took the photos of the mines.

Another mine

It’s easy to scorn the devastation of land from mining.

Mining in Myanmar land

But how many of us wear gold or jade jewelry or have purchased teak furniture, boxes, or trinkets?

Mining in Mynamar equipment

It’s not so much that there is mining in Myanmar. They should use the country’s natural wealth to improve the standard of living.

Mining Myanmar land and lodging

Yet the mining in Myanmar is excessive and the wealth is not going to the people of Myanmar but to their trusted neighbor-the Chinese.

Roof tops in Myitkyina
Roof tops in Myitkyina

     Myitkyina is one of the cities benefiting from this exploitation of resources. Not only are the Chinese building roads to harvest Myanmar’s wealth but there is an agreement between the two countries to build dams that would change life for those downstream on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers, forever.

Myitkyina airport terminal

The Myitkyina Airport looks prosperous.

Expanding Myitkyina airport strip
Expanding Myitkyina airport strip

     But at what cost?  Note the woman on the right in the above photo is carrying a pan of scalding asphalt to cover the thin layer of gravel on the airport runway the Chinese are expanding.

The airstrip improvements will last only a few years.
The airstrip improvements will last only a few years.

     The Chinese are quickly harvesting the wealth of Myanmar but not sharing the spoils with the locals.     Who will stop them?

train ride shack in field

On November 8, 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi’s party gained control of parliament (Hluttaw) who is in the position to elect the next president of Myanmar.  Suu Kyi proactively reached out to the over 135 tribes and 55 parties in Myanmar before elections, including those in the Kachin and Shan states, where the civil war continues.

Myitkyina passenger airport
Beautification of Myitkyina Airport

Suu Kyi cannot become president because Burmese law states anyone with “legitimate children” who owe an allegiance to foreign powers is ineligible.  She has two sons with British passports. It is thought she will rule a puppet president from a parliament seat.

Myitkyina WWII Airfield in background Where Historic Battle was fought
Myitkyina WWII airfield in background. Site of Merrill’s Marauders historic battle.

     Will Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy (NLD) be the harbinger of change that will lead Myanmar out of religious conflict (Buddhist against Muslim), find an economic solution (sign a truce with all tribes), and protect the natural resources of Myanmar from exploitation by their world neighbors?

Chindwin River Part II: Sometimes a Great Notion: Bamboo/Teak/Gold

There are plans to construct a dam upriver from Homalin to serve the Chinese. It will impact life along the Chindwin in the future.

Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.
Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.

Many houses on the river were made of teak. But in other parts of the country, where teak was not just outside the back door, homes or bashas were made of bamboo.  As in India, bamboo is used for everything, from paper to particle board to knit hats.

Commercial bamboo boat
Commercial bamboo boat

With all the teak logging on the Chindwin, one would think teak grew like weeds…well perhaps it did in the past but it is quickly being depleted. Some old practices still exist but modern equipment is being introduced.

Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders
Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders

To germinate teak seeds, they must be placed in a fire, then soaked in water. It takes 45 days for the seeds to germinate.

Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.
Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, Myanmar has implemented British Forestry practices, with a 60 year rotation for teak wood. But given the number of logs being harvested, the regeneration quantity will not meet the harvesting volumes.

Ready to be loaded.
Ready to be loaded.

Logs are milled within the country rather than exported abroad to foreign mills where the finished product fetches a higher price.

Ready to be put into rafts
Ready to be put into rafts

Due to a lack of roads in this region, most of the logs are tied together as a raft to be transported to the mill.  While watching the log rafts move down river, the novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey came to my mind.

Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014
Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014

The teak industry is labor intensive. It requires a mobile infrastructure that moves from one log camp to the next, once a site has been harvested.  Barrels of oil are shipped to the roving logging camps to power portable generators.

Oil barrels transported to logging camps.
Oil barrels transported to logging camps.

Men are needed to cut, load, grade and track the trees. Wayward teak rafts are known to disappear before reaching their final mill destination.

Government permit tracker and log grader
Government permit tracker and log grader

Accounting records held by one government official showed 100 logs that ranged in size from 12ft diameter x 25ft long to 7ft diameter x 22 ft long weighing 287,000 tonnes within one log raft. Logs that size are most likely from virgin forests, soon to be extinct. But what are the alternatives to teak production? Gold, jade, and opium.

Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?
Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?

Gold and jade mines provide get-rich-quick job opportunities, but since this work is far from home, the men become bored. Enterprising dealers find ways to help them spend their free time and money on other forms of entertainment, such as opium.  It’s not unusual for men to become trapped by the good money and drugs.

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