Thursday, 25 October 2007

New York Times: Burma, Uneasy Days

Image Copyright © The New York Times-All Rights Reserved

A recent article by Choe Sang-Hun in the New York Times reports that as the lunch gong chimed through the tree-shaded Mahagandhayon Monastery in Mandalay , several hundred monks in burgundy robes lined up on a mid-October day, all holding alms bowls, returning after seeking donations. It is a common scene in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where one out of every 100 people, many of them children, are monks. But the lunch line at the Mahagandhayon Monastery, the country’s largest, used to be much longer.

A senior monk told the NY Times reporter: “We usually have 1,400 monks here,” said a senior monk. “Because of the situation, parents took 1,000 of them home.”

The article ends with this: "In mid-October at Mahagandhayon, the monks were going about their daily routine. The senior monk said he hoped that the rest of the students would return in a month or so. One young monk who had remained said, “Please go out and tell the world exactly what really has happened in this country.” He added, “I am scared just talking to you about this.”

I've been asked by many TTP's readers if I would travel to Burma under the present circumstances. A difficult question to answer...on one hand, traveling to Burma invariably channels some funds to the military junta, and gives it a veneer of legitimacy...but on the other hand, not traveling threatens the livelihood of many Burmese who rely on tourism for their very survival. Naturally, the foreign travel agencies -because of commercial justifications- use the latter as a reason not to cancel their tours.

Personally, I would wait to see whether the international mediation efforts between the junta and the opposition result in an improved political climate. For those who are still going, I think you'll find less populated monasteries, and certainly desperate vendors. Please donate generously to the monasteries and monks, and be expansive in your tangible and moral support to the common people you'll meet. The gentle people of Burma need help.

Uneasy Days for Monks in Myanmar