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Peter Olsze - Land of a Thousand Eyes

Peter Olsze - Land of a Thousand Eyes

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Published by tekglay

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Published by: tekglay on Jan 17, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/25/2012

 
F
lying astounds me. I have never lost the sci-fi sense of  wonder associated with it because flying is so odd. One day  you are here in this culture. You step into an aluminiumcanister with massive engines, you blast into the sky, and thenext day you are there, in that culture.Last night I had dinner in Brisbane, Australia, and soon, inseveral hours, I will be having lunch in Yangon.I’m on the midnight flight to Singapore en route to Yangon, Myanmar, my home-to-be for the immediate future. The jetslices through the night sky as I watch the in-flight newsservice. It is January 2003 and war is in the air, thrummingthrough the space-age criss-cross of electric communicationcircuitry encircling our planet and increasingly binding us tothe one common fate. America is preparing to bomb Baghdad, and Washingtonspin doctors are at work, prepping the world for what is tocome by broadcasting demonic images of Saddam Hussein’sinherent evilness, broadcasting satellite images of buildings saidto house terrible weapons of mass destruction, broadcastingimages of dead Kurds littering the streets.I’m restless so I read a little of the history of the country I’llsoon be calling home, a country of river plains historically cut off from world view by a curtain of misty, mysterious mountains.I read how the late nineteenth-century British press preppedthe public for the coming final invasion of Burma. The Britishoccupied Rangoon and lower Burma in 1824 and, fearing analliance between the new Burmese king, Thibaw, and theFrench, they invaded upper Burma in 1885. The British press had a ready-made horror story guaranteed
LAND OF A THOUSAND EYES
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to appal British readers, making them bay for Burmese blood. When new Burmese kings were installed, an obligatory purgingof the realm occurred. Members of the royal families were massa-cred by whichever family member ascended to the throne. WhenKing Mindon died in 1878, royal intrigue pushed an insignificantson, Thibaw, who had lived most of his life in a monastery, intothe limelight. Thibaw’s first task was to carry out the requisitepurging, and over a two-day period his Royal Guard engaged inthe ritual slaughter of 83 royal family members. As the sheddingof royal blood was taboo, the princesses were strangled, accordingto custom. The princes were sewn into red velvet sacks and beatento death with paddles. The account I’mreading claims the princes were ‘gently beaten to death’, although I’m not sure how a gentlebut fatal beating is effectively administered. The bodies were interred in a mass grave in the Mandalay palace courtyard, but afterwards the ground erupted with thepressure of escaping gases. Elephants were brought in to tampdown the mess, and news of both the killing and the sordiddetail of behemoths stamping on distended guts incensed theBritish public when it was reported in their press. But there wasmore to come. When Thibaw ascended to the throne he also buried jars of oil in the palace foundations. The oil turned sour, a bad omen,and soothsayers said the situation could only be put right if afew hundred people, including some Europeans, were put todeath. Thousands fled Mandalay, including the entire popula-tion of Europeans, and the British had the pretext they neededto invade. A blitzkrieg armada sailed up the Irrawaddy River fromRangoon, and Thibaw was captured before he fully realised he hadbeen invaded. He was exiled to India, his great palace became aBritish officers’ club, and the Burmese monarchy was finished. After the Singapore changeover, I drift off to sleep until thebreakfast clatter and cabin announcements waken me. Landing
PETER OLSZEWSKI
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