Country

Myanmar (Burma)

With Business Cards to Burma

Jacob Baynham, for the Pulitzer Center
Vientiane, Laos

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.

Voices from Burma

"In your country, you work two days and you have food for a week," says Maung Lwin, a welder taking a break for tea after lunch. "Here, you work for one day and you eat for one day." Lwin supports his family on an average daily wage of $2.30, the same salary the government pays a specialized doctor. Money is so tight that even sitting down for a 15 cent cup of tea takes careful consideration.

"You are human, I am also human," he tells me. "But my luck is not the same as your luck."

Back in Time in Burma

During its 46-year rule, Burma's military government has turned one of the wealthiest countries of Southeast Asia into one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world.

The damages are evident everywhere; pre-WWII commuter buses growl through the cities and grinding poverty forces beggars and prostitutes to ply the streets beneath Orwellian billboards.

Burma's Largest Rebel Army Battles Increase in Opium Production

The frontline of Burma's largest rebel army is a lonely hilltop ringed by a land mine-littered jungle, mountains controlled by the Burmese military and a patchwork of poppy fields visible through a rusting pair of Soviet binoculars.

"It's opium," said Nan Daw, a captain in the Shan State Army South. "I know because I have patrolled there."

Burmese Rebels Celebrate a Shan New Year

Lung Lawn walked for 17 nights to get here, through heavily mined forests, past Burmese military battalions and over the mountainous battlefields where rebel guerillas ambush them.

The new moon of December is approaching, and he's come to celebrate the New Year of his people; the Shan, Burma's largest ethnic minority. He's 46 years old — as old as the military government's iron-fisted rule over Burma, and as old as his people's armed resistance against it.