02 November, 2006

Burma’s $50 million Wedding
…and a secret liason with a neighbour

Burma's wedding of the year took place last July, the marriage of Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe's daughter with an army major in a ceremony that has angered many Burmese on account of its excessive opulence, according to the Chiangmai-based 'Irawaddy' magazine.

The couple was showered with expensive gifts, including luxury cars, houses and jewelry. The total value of the wedding gifts was said to be a staggering US$50 million. The occasion was also criticized for its crass lack of good taste. In this 10-minute amateur video of the wedding, check out the generally joyless faces... they're a metaphor for the morose mood in Myanmar. It's suspected that a family insider leaked the video in order to rouse resentment against the military Junta. There's hope yet, maybe.

I had to laugh (grimly) at the “it-could-only-happen-in-Burma” musical dismemberment of the Wedding March
(which, oddly, was played during the cake-cutting...). Then there was the icily passionless pose of the ‘happy’ couple sitting on the foot of the opulent 4-poster bed in an elaborate wedding suite. If you’ve observed the grimy and dismal standard-of-living in Rangoon, you could well imagine the Burmese people’s boiling but silent fury.

Enough of this frothy little account of the wedding day. BUT... there’s a dark flip-side to this fairytale: (gradually fade to black font to create a
more menacing mood and read in a low voice:

In April 2006, 3 months before the wedding, a deputation of Burmese Air Force personnel visited China to purchase some jet engine spare parts, unavailable elsewhere as a result of the UN sanctions. Afterwards, they went shopping for some of the wedding gifts mentioned above. Harmless enough? So where’s the dark side?

It’s the symbolism, the gesture. The significance of forays like that are lost on the West. The UN [read: USA] oafishly imagines that by slapping sanctions on Burma, the "problem" of Aung San Suu Kyi will magically go away. Yeah, sure… “Mission Accomplished” etc.

Sanctions by the West merely drive the Burmese military to seek solace in the arms of anyone else who will listen. From China's point of view, a sweetheart deal or two involving a few jet engine parts or piffling wedding presents is of little concern in the bigger picture. After all, Burma is a small and very very poor country. So what’s in it for China?

China wants to colonise Burma. It wants Burma for its own, principally as a ‘strategic window’ onto the Indian Ocean. There are two reasons: (1) in order to better keep tabs on its competitor India, and (2) in order to have a convenient conduit to the oil of the Arabian Gulf without the need for terrorist-vulnerable overland pipelines. Burma is vital to China's Grand Plan.

Why else would a Sino-Italian conglomerate build a massive international-standard airport just outside Mandalay – oh-so convenient to China. Ooh, nice touch. As we mini-bussed in, we noticed that the magnificent palm-lined 4-lane highway from the town was still being constructed by local forced labourers – under military guard. No camera allow, mistah. The afternoon we were there, the vast airport terminal was empty and echoic… ours appeared to be the only flight of the day, to Rangoon in a small, half-empty turbo-prop with loose seats.

Why else has the property market in Mandalay boomed? As you stroll around the streets, witness the new stainless steel fences and tall ostentatious gates sprouting around the newly-purchased houses. Locals are now virtually locked out of this two-tier market. Some locals who speak English complained to us (quietly, because they're terrified of the Junta) that they could no longer afford to buy their family’s cooking oil – it was up to 1500 kyat per litre, forced up by the Chinese settlers who can produce ready cash.

China colonised Tibet by force. Now it is colonizing Burma by stealth, with the consent of the illegal Burmese Junta. The Junta are getting fat (er, see top photo), while the Burmese People are not. Suu Kyi remains imprisoned. Hey, this is no shotgun wedding - the Bride & Groom have already eloped.

Woo-hoo… UN sanctions score yet another ‘own goal’.

Fish market and taxi rank at Inle Lake, near Mandalay.

Also see our blog about a protest in Chiangmai (from our first volume of FunkyPix) upon the occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 60th birthday. (Scroll down the page to the fifth photo when you get there).

(Cartoon by Nicholson, in 'The Australian')

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