Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reaction of Burmese Living in Bangkok to Events at Home

I held today's Herald Tribune in my hand as I walked through a Bangkok market. When I stopped at a store, a young woman, named Aun, approached me. "May I look at your newspaper please?" She had noticed the front page color photo depicting the march of Burmese monks through Rangoon during yesterday's protests -- the largest in 20 years against the junta.

Aun introduced me to her sister and a friend. The three girls were from Burma. They said there were 200 other Burmese working in this particular Bangkok market. The economic hardships of Burmese life had driven them across the border. They work without documentation; they hold no passport even. Most of the money they earn gets sent to their families back in Burma; some more is paid to get them over the border -- they don't go home very often.

But their excitement about the protests in Burma was palatable. "I want to go to university. I want to own a business, like people in Thailand. There are no opportunities in Burma. Yes, I want democracy!"

Aun said the marches had begun not as a movement for democracy, but as a protest over economic hardships. She was in touch with Burmese friends who were keeping up to date on what the Burmese news websites were reporting.

They were excited. They were also terribly apprehensive about what the generals would do next.

I asked Aun if she thought the soldiers would fire their guns at the monks.

"If they are told to, yes. Just as I will sell something I don't want to sell, if my boss tells me to sell it. I would have no choice, neither would they," said Aun. "But they don't want to. They will go way down if they do that -- not up. Wrong direction." As she said this she lowered her hand toward the tile floor of the market. That would be very bad karma.

"If you were in Burma now, what would you do?" I asked Aun.

She pointed to the photo: "I would be out there with the monks on the street."