My Myanmar, Formerly Known as Burma

January 4, 2006

Bizarre news from Myanmar last week, very bizarre.

As I read the story in the newspaper, I shook my head, baffled.

The military junta that runs the country mysteriously and suddenly moved the capital from Yangon to a malaria-infested region 200 miles north where there is no existing town and very little infrastructure. Civil service workers are miserable, despairing.

Strange, I thought, as I sipped my morning coffee.

I followed the story with interest and tried to fend off a quiet, sneering voice in my head: “You don’t really know where Myanmar is, do you, Bob?” Ignoring the voice – surely, I thought, the place will come back to me as the caffeine kicks in – I read on.

Several reasons were given for the move. One was that the secretive dictator Gen. Than Shwe feared social unrest, as well he should, having imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who won the last popular election in a landslide.

Another is that he fears UN or U.S. military action against his undemocratic regime.

Yet another, and best of all, is that he’s following the advice of astrologers. The new capital – located in desolate and rocky terrain, barely accessible by roads – could isolate the government from danger while aligning it with the stars.

What a fool Gen. Than Shwe is, I thought. To move the capital from Yangon of all places!

Ahem! You’ve never heard of Yangon, have you, Bob?

No need for the general to hide the capital from you! And you think of yourself as an informed American.

Then it hit me. This must be a new, more authentic name for a former colony. That’s it! So I consulted my huge, tattered dictionary, copyright 1985. But no Myanmar.

So I Googled and there it was, Myanmar, the former Burma, and Yangon, the former Rangoon.

Ah, yes, the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi. I knew that. But the voice said, No you didn’t, Bob. Stop kidding yourself.

I suppose everybody has gaps in their knowledge like this; at least I hope they do.

So I made a resolution, a sort of news resolution: Read and absorb what you can but don’t get cocky. Mental infrastructure is no more solid than a nation’s capital.