A Rangoon Diary
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019


A Rangoon Diary

By Thierry Falise NOVEMBER, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.11


They were nine days that not only rocked Burma but shook the conscience of the free world. Just over one week of bloody suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Rangoon and other cities and in the country’s monasteries—a period that will go down in Burmese history as the Uprising of September 2007. Bangkok-based author and photojournalist Thierry Falise lived through the events in Rangoon and wrote a diary of the nine days of terror…

Saffron-robed monks chant the “Metta Sutta” in central Rangoon during a September demonstration [Photo: Myat Moe Maung/The Irrawaddy]
Friday, September 21—It has been raining nonstop for days. I rushed down from Mandalay yesterday when I heard about the first demonstrations by monks in the former capital. Around 3 p.m., while working in my hotel room, I hear some psalmody rising up from the street. From the window, I observe a couple of hundred monks walking in the rain. By the time I pack my photo equipment and rush down, they have reached the nearby Sule Pagoda. Most of the monks are under 30. A small crowd of civilians have joined them. Some applaud, others bow on the wet ground, a group of youths form a human chain as if to protect them against a still invisible enemy.

The monks leave the City Hall area and, under torrential rain, start to walk at a quick pace on streets transformed into rivers. They repeatedly chant the Buddha’s loving kindness incantations.  A smiling man offers to hold my umbrella while I am taking pictures. Two hours later, the procession ends at the Bohtataung Pagoda. I did not see any uniformed men during the whole afternoon, nobody has asked me any questions, but I am sure the crowd is infiltrated by plainclothes policemen and members of the government-back thuggish organization, Union Solidarity and Development Association. “See you tomorrow,” a man whispers.

Saturday, September 22—After vainly looking for them around the Shwedagon Pagoda, I finally meet the demonstrators on their way to the Sule Pagoda. There are more monks and civilians than yesterday. A nasty-looking guy with a “Press” badge is filming the whole scene, apparently only interested in people’s faces. At an almost racing pace, under an unrelenting rain, the cortege passes through Rangoon townships before dissolving around 6 p.m.

Some people tell me that several hundred monks marched through barricades on University Avenue, where detained Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi lives and chanted the “Metta Sutta” (the Buddha’s words on loving kindness) in front of her house.  Authorities made no effort to stop the monks. Suu Kyi came out of her home to pay her respects to the monks.

I start to feel that something serious is happening. It’s an odd, exciting, emotional feeling to be living history from within.

A Japanese photojournalist, who later died, lies wounded, shot by a soldier [Photo: Reuters]

Sunday, September 23—I meet the day’s protesters at the Sule Pagoda. Two monks hold a banner in English: “The loving kindness must win everything.” In a strong sign of protest, a monk raises his turned-up alms bowl.

About 2,000 monks, joined for the first time by white-clad nuns, march from the Shwedagon Pagoda towards the city center. The monks and nuns, together with hundreds of accompanying young people and students, shout demands for lower commodity prices, a start to meaningful political dialogue and the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Monday, September 24—The sun is back today. I go to watch thousands of monks gathering at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda. A maroon and purple wave cuts through a compact crowd, sweeps through the sacred pagoda and then flows down to the city center. I feel enveloped by a sweet cyclone of fervor and hope. A huge crowd is now gathering all along the streets. Hundred of thousands of Rangoon dwellers applaud from sidewalks, balconies, apartment windows, the roofs of department stores, businesses, from every corner of the city.

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