Toward the Union of a Divided Burma
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BARBER'S CHAIR

Toward the Union of a Divided Burma


By SHWE YOE Monday, January 19, 2009


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The barber stood at the door of his shop, waiting for customers. He didn’t have to wait long—a Tibetan-looking man in a traditional ethnic shirt, carrying a shoulder bag, stopped in front of him. “Good morning, sir,” he said in a strong ethnic accent.
 
"Good morning," the barber replied with a warm smile. “Please, come in and sit down.”

As he set to work on the man’s hair, the barber attempted to break the ice. "Unless I’m mistaken,” he said. “You’re from up north? Maybe from Kachin State?”

“Yes, I am,” replied the man.

“Your first time to the capital … I mean … to the ex-capital?” asked the barber.

“Oh, no, no, no,” the Kachin said. “I come here regularly.”

The barber nodded and continued cutting the man’s short black hair.

“This used to be such a beautiful city,” the Kachin said after a moment. “It seems so dirty and downtrodden now.”

The barber smiled and snipped lightly behind the man’s ears.

“No electricity, no sanitation. It seems that everything is broken in Yangon nowadays,” the Kachin whispered. “Not like the towns in China—they’re clean and well-organized.”

“Well, maybe things will change after the election in 2010 when we are demo-cratic,” replied the barber, purposely mispronouncing "democratic." He looked directly at the Kachin in the mirror and raised his eyebrow.

There was a minute’s silence. The Kachin man stared back at the barber in the mirror and then sighed. “I wouldn’t bet on it, my friend,” he said. “I’ve just come from a meeting at the offices of Myanmar Economic Holdings. They were asking about the jade and comparing the collateral from the mines to the budget just to run the election.”

“I see,” the barber said, innocently. “But what about all that money we’re supposed to be making by selling natural gas? I heard that the government had banked upward of US $3 billion in gas sales alone.”

The Kachin didn’t answer. He looked at the barber in the mirror again and shrugged. The barber nodded in response.

“Would you like it any shorter?” the barber asked.

“What?” the Kachin said with surprise.

“Your hair, sir,” said the barber with a smile, holding a hand-mirror behind the man’s head.

“Oh! Yes, of course. I mean, no. No. That’s fine. Very good, in fact,” the Kachin man said. “Just a shave, if you will.”

“Certainly, sir,” the barber said and went to fetch some water.

When he returned he asked: “Excuse me, my friend. Forgive me for asking. But are you, by any chance, a member of the Kachin Independence Organization?”

“Is it so obvious?” smiled the Kachin.

The barber chuckled. “I heard that the KIO had announced it wouldn’t contest the elections next year,” the barber said. “Apparently they changed their minds.”

He turned away casually, frothing up some foam in a cup with a shaving brush.

The Kachin looked around at the door and checked no one was there. Then he turned back to the barber and said, “The problem, old boy, is the pyidaungsu hluttaw [Union Parliament], the pyithu hluttaw [People's Parliament] and the amyotha hluttaw [National Parliament]. Every cabinet will be laced with 25 percent military officers. Nothing will ever change! There is too much centralized authority.”

“Not enough space for a federal government?” asked the barber.

“Indeed!” said the Kachin firmly.

The barber waited a minute and then asked: “And what about the disarmament? I heard that all the ceasefire groups would lay down their weapons. In fact, I read in the newspaper that the DKBA would act as a border patrol. Will the KIO do the same thing?”

“Well,” the customer said. “I don’t think we’ll settle for anything as pathetic as the DKBA did. Instead, I personally like the way the Wa are going about things.

“The UWSA are now issuing documents stamped ‘Government of Wa State, Special Autonomous Region, Union of Myanmar.’ That’s a pretty sure sign they’re getting ready to establish their own authority.”

“What is the junta saying about that?” the barber whispered.

“I don’t think the generals can say too much at present,” the Kachin muttered. “They need as many ethnic groups on board as they can get.



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