Beware of the Burmese Dream!
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BARBER'S CHAIR

Beware of the Burmese Dream!


By SHWE YOE Thursday, January 29, 2009


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“A skinhead?” said the barber with his eyebrow raised. He looked skeptically at his young customer.

"Yes, just like Obama!" replied the young man confidently, his innocent face looking back at the barber in the mirror.

The barber plugged in the shaver and began unwrapping No 4 clippers from a packet. This was the fourth time in a week that he had been asked to cut a youngster’s hair so short.

“So, you’re an Obama fan?” the barber smiled.

The boy in the barber's chair smiled back. "I'm not alone,” he said. “My grandfather is also impressed with him after watching his inauguration live on TV. We are now addicted to watching Obama on the news. Did you watch it?”

"Of course. It was a historic movement,” the barber said softly. "This was the day in Martin Luther King’s dream.”

The teenager looked puzzled. He obviously had no idea who Martin Luther King was.

The barber continued: “Many years ago, Dr King spoke about the day when a man would be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. Obama's rise is the stuff of the Great American Dream."

"I would like to be like him!" the boy exclaimed.

"What?" the barber asked. "Do you want to be the president of the United States? You are not American, my boy."

"I know. I am Burmese. But if any poor American kid can grow up to be president, why can't we?" the boy asked.

"Slow down, my boy," said the barber. "The Burmese dream is much riskier than the American dream. Sometimes, young Burmese dreamers end up behind bars. Their dreams turn into nightmares.”

The young man was silent as the barber began shaving the back of his head. He looked troubled.

"I think you know about the 88 Generation Students group?” said the barber quietly. “They were handed down 65-year prison sentences. Then there was Bo Min Yu Ko. That young man was given 104 years in the can. See where his dreams took him?”

“My uncle wants to be president,” the boy muttered. “He’s planning to run in the 2010 election. He said it would be his first step toward becoming the Burmese Obama.”

“Ah!” nodded the barber. “Your uncle is indeed a dreamer too. As for me, I also have a dream. I just dream that the election takes place.”

They were both silent.

“But I wouldn’t bet on it,” the barber sighed.

The teenager watched the barber shaving his head. Now his ears were sticking out. It didn’t feel such a good idea any longer.

“So, you don’t really recommend that I follow this Obama dream, do you, sir?” he asked sullenly.

“Well," said the barber. "What I want you to know is that the reality of the Burmese dream is notoriously tough. But I do know that since Barack Obama has become president, more kids around the world will make up their minds about what they want to do with their lives and stop trying to be gangsters and thugs.

“What I suggest is that you keep the fire burning until the sun rises,” concluded the barber poetically as he whipped the white bib off the teenager’s shoulders, scattering his black locks of hair all over the floor.

The young man looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. The barber thought he looked more like a new recruit for the army than Barack Obama.

But the lad looked happy anyway. “So?” he asked the barber. “Do you think I look presidential?”

“Keep dreaming, my boy!” laughed the barber. “Keep dreaming.”

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