The Gorkhalis of Myitkyina
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, September 25, 2017

The Gorkhalis of Myitkyina

By SUSHMA JOSHI Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gurkha soldiers seen in Rangoon in 1945 after the British troops reoccupied Burma from the Japanese army.

My flight to Rangoon on June 18 is canceled. Thai Airways announces that heavy rain has closed Yangon airport. In the restless gloom of the waiting area, rumors start to spread. The Burmese army has taken over the airport, people whisper. Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday is a day away. Has some event occurred while they have been away? Young fathers sit staring into space, wondering whether they can ever return home.

We get bussed to the Amaranth Hotel, a fancy five-star hotel in the outskirts of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. Using my wireless thumb drive, I e-mail my friend in Washington, DC, and request her to check Twitter. Within a few minutes, I get my answer: a plane has skidded off the tracks at Yangon Airport. Flights supposed to land there are being rerouted to Singapore.

We fly to Rangoon the next morning. In the excited conversations I start up with my fellow travelers, I refer repeatedly to my visit to “Burma,” to which they politely remind me it is now “Myanmar.” At a crowded traffic junction, a young newspaper boy flashes me illicit news printed in The Nation, a Thai newspaper. The front flap is folded over to hide the headlines inside: “Kachin Rebels Resume Fighting at Border, Threats of Civil War.” only 3,000 kyats (US $4.70), he says. I get a Hollywood thrill seeing the news, hidden so discreetly and flashed briefly before my eyes.

In a nearby restaurant, the kindly owner starts to discuss the Kachin rebels with me. The people are protesting, she says, because the benefits of the new hydroelectricity dam currently being built will
all go to China. The Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River will dry up and the Kachin will get nothing in return. She is surprised I do not know all this already. “I think you are journalist and you come to report about this,” she confides. I deny this, but she hardly believes me: how could I not be a journalist? Obviously I was not a tourist—clearly I had come for some specific purpose.

Four months earlier, in February, I had ridden a pickup truck to Lashio, in the northern Shan state. A government official had looked at me and asked, “Are you a writer?” Do I have “I am a writer” written on my forehead, I had wondered at the time. In hindsight, this was disingenuous: which tourist in her right mind would be riding a pickup truck to Lashio, sitting squashed alongside 30 laborers in the back with a giant pile of goods, and only a plastic mat as cushioning?

I had admitted I was a writer, of sorts, but I need not have worried—the official went on to tell me that Myanmar was now introducing democratic norms and would soon become like other democracies. He also told me that he never took the state-owned Myanma Airlines, and that
he felt that his country would slowly but surely adopt the political freedom of other countries. He admired writers, and wanted to learn to write in English.

Of course, he was a government official whose children studied at the best schools. His three rosy-cheeked children went to one of the best boarding schools in the country, in Pyin U Lwin (formerly Maymyo), where he was picking them up to take them for a short vacation. Ordinary people had told me that only government officials get to send their children to good schools, or to buy property or start businesses. We can’t do anything, they said. It might have been true in this case but the official was so pleasant, polite and charming, and so clearly on the side of a democratic system, that it was hard to fault him.

Despite all this, I was unsure how much I should reveal—would saying that I was writing a book about the Nepali/ Gorkhali community in Myanmar bring unwelcome attention? Did I want to invite the possibility of more government officials asking me more questions?

I was unsure, and in the confusing absence of information it seemed better not to say anything.

Back in the Rangoon restaurant on a steaming and oppressive June evening, I shook my head and said: “No, I’m not here to report on the Kachin rebellion.” The owner was surprised by this. Then she resumed telling me the story of what was happening in Myitkyina, almost as if it did not matter why I had come in the first place, as long as I got a chance to witness what was going on there. I was educated, it was clear. I could speak and write in English. And this was enough credentials to be a witness.

Reading the New Light of Myanmar, the government-run newspaper, I saw that indeed the Kachin rebels have resumed fighting in Myitkyina, where I was headed. As the restaurant owner had earlier indicated, the news also told me that the Kachin were protesting the building of a dam by China; they had already blown up 22 bridges.

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Dan BW Wrote:
@Jinghpaw; For your info as I know it. Sitapur means "May Tidar" in Burmese or "Nangma Sita" in Kachin. Nangma mean descendant of royal family or Duwa. Before Sitapur there was another name which I forgot but it was a Shan (Sam) name. Then Napali populated and changed it to Sitapur. Then Kachin migrated to it and change it from Sitapur to Shatapru. I grew up there and when I was a kid, it was known as "Gala Kahtawng" or Indian village in English as we normally mistaken Napali with Indian. I hope this will help my fellow Jinghpaw understand a little bit of history. Wow... I already felt like a historian!

tocharian Wrote:
Maybe this a bit off topic, but when I was a young boy growing up in Burma (trying hard to be a football player), one of my heroes was the captain of the Burmese National Football team, a Gurkha named Bahadur.

Jinghpaw Wrote:
I have to admit that I never knew a village name Sitapur (meaning in Nepali please) was in Nepali. My entire life I thought it was in Jinghpaw "Shatapru", shata = star, pru = twinkle.

Aside from her good memories, I am most disturbed by her remarks (1)"other people’s wars". The consequences of war will affect everyone who live in the area. As citizens we will struggle together and benefit together. Otherwise, Gorkhalis in Burma have a choice to go back to Nepal and live a good life over there. (2)"the economic stability afforded by the freedom to run businesses". What kind of businesses are you talking about? Selling shoes or milk on the street? Take a look back. Of course we can survive. Burma is not a huger place yet. We are just not live up to anywhere near our potentials.
Last but not the least,in my opion, Gorkhalis who live in Myitkyina are peace loving people, loyal to their friends but they are definitely not fighting each other in other people's wars.

MAI Wrote:
since myanman's on the track to openess,the writer should be able to travel to kachin capital by overland via india, then she could report more to the adventurer seeking readers cross the globe.on tibet issue and human rights,red Nepalese gorvernment in all level're more in bed with evil red commie cina, refusing naturelizing tibetan refugee as naplaese passport and force rapatriation tibetan refugee back to evil cina police tortures still daily routine for shameless nepalese officers

samphe lhalunga Wrote:
In the mid 80s when the then Burma was a very closed place, I was one of very few foreigners allowed to visit Myitkina and its environs, as part of a UNICEF-GOB Goitre Control Progamme. We travelled there with a Public Health Specialist from Nepal, a Norwegian Health Communication Specialist and myself.

In Myitkina, once people heard that were as a group from Nepal, many Gorkhalis came to see us at the Govt Guest House, much to the discomfort of our Govt minders.

Somewhere I have the picture of a prayer flg over the small gomba...distinctly Mahayana. On a personal note, my mother's folks are bhutias from darjeeling with earlier roots in Bhutan. During WW11 two maternal uncles joined up and one of them was with the British Forces in Burma, first in the disastrous retreat caused by imperial hubris and then later in the war with the allied thrust, he took part in the battle for Mandalay...

Looking forward to the book..good luck

Reader Wrote:
And the point of this article is??

... Wrote:
flight to myitkyina is around 130-150 Dollar and not 308 dollar...weird that the author doesnt know that if he was there...

author must have a great imagination ... reading this first part about a canceled flight to yangon allegedly making people scared of never being able to get home makes me laugh... just a bit ridiculous

chindits Wrote:
One of the most fierce, and well disciplined warriors that ever emerged out of World War II. And citizens of Burma owe them many thanks for helping drive Japanese out of Burma.

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