In the north of Myanmar the Kachin people have been struggling for autonomy for generations.
The path of the pen or the path of the sword? Young Kachin in northern Burma are preparing and learning on both fronts.
The question dates back to antiquity, but recently it has come to life here in Kachin State where the Kachin have struggled for autonomy for generations.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fought an armed insurgency for more than 30 years. Despite being out-numbered and out-armed, the KIA was never fully defeated, but they were not able to win full autonomy for the Kachin people.
"My generation thinks there will be a war," says a 22-year-old cadet in the Kachin Independence Army, one of several armed groups that struggle for political autonomy on the frontiers of Myanmar.
His AK-47 slung loosely over his shoulder, the cadet qualifies his prediction, perhaps in deference to the officers who listen as he speaks.
"We don´t know what the leadership will decide," he says. "We will follow their orders."
A band of rebels has spent five decades struggling against the oppressive military regime.
In a rare outing from the Rangoon home in which she is imprisoned, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with U.N. special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari on Monday to discuss the possibility of political reform in her country.
Loud voices jolt me awake. It's past midnight and I'm here in the Himalayan foothills of northern Myanmar illegally. Adrenaline pumping, I roll under the bed as shouts shake my hut's thin bamboo walls:
"Happy Christmas! Merry Christmas! Jesus Christ is born!"
I check my clock. 12:10 am on December 1st. Here in Kachin, the Christmas season has begun.
"Myanmar politics are the most complicated in the world," said Daw Kong, director of the Kachin research and information network, as we settled down for tea and conversation on a hilltop near the Chinese border.
After three weeks in the small pocket of northern Myanmar held by the Kachin Independence Organization, I still struggled to make sense of the tangled history and delicate balance of power that defines the political landscape of Kachin state.
It's midmorning, and Thein Soe is hard at work on a new canvas. A leader of Burma's underground art movement, he has been an artist for more than four decades.
Soe, 61, who asked that his real name not be used for fear of arrest, is bone-thin with a face that resembles Edvard Munch's expressionist painting, "The Scream." Over the years, he has weathered the junta's 46-year rule, watching the military run one of the wealthiest Southeast Asian economies into the ground, crush pro-democracy demonstrations and ban most freedom of expression.
My search for truth in Burma began in a sleepy embassy in Vientiane, Laos, where I sat sweating on a patent leather sofa in a crumpled silk shirt and tie, pulling phony business cards from my wallet and lying through my teeth. It was two months after the monk-led anti-government uprisings of last September, and I had already been rejected a tourist visa twice in Hong Kong and Bangkok. I decided to hit the diplomatic backwaters with a different tack.