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.
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.
Along the way I saw reminders of the power of the Buddhists, who openly challenged the Muslims.
From the train, the countryside looked quiet and it appeared as though everyone lived in peace with each other.
But once I arrived Myitkyina I hit the barriers. Note that travelers must register with Immigration at the train station or airport.
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.
I hoped to travel up the Suprabum Road to the Hukwang Valley but was stopped by Immigration.
So I visited the local market and tried to regroup.
The fruits are unlike anything I’ve seen in the western world.
This woman kindly refused to accept payment for cold medicine I received from her – I had gotten very sick from the train ride.
They don’t have pharmacies in Myitkyina but a wide assortment of natural remedies are sold at market.
I was struck by the presence of so many Chinese in the area. Later I would find out why.
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.
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.
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.
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 and children worked to build a road to the wilderness. Why?
Access to the jade and gold mines and transport teak logs.
Ko Zaw Pharkant, a photographer who lives in Myitkyina, took the photos of the mines.
It’s easy to scorn the devastation of land from mining.
But how many of us wear gold or jade jewelry or have purchased teak furniture, boxes, or trinkets?
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.
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.
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.
The Myitkyina Airport looks prosperous.
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 Chinese are quickly harvesting the wealth of Myanmar but not sharing the spoils with the locals. Who will stop them?
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.
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.
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?