Mention of Myanmar, and I think of her opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the crackdown on anti-government protests led by monks, the recent catastrophe inflicted by cyclone Nargis that left an estimated 100,000 dead or missing. Bloated bodies and carcasses in rivers and flooded padi fields. Generals that sold rice to other countries in the wake of the catastrophe and fed her people with rice rotted by the floods. A country that cuts her people off from the rest of the world to insulate them from economic 'imperialism' and cultural pollution particularly that of the West. A forgotten people.
Until last night, when I went to the Dragon Food Court where two Myanmarese work in the day time and serve as guards at night, sleeping in the restaurant under mosquito nets.
There we were sitting and talking in the empty restaurant when one of them, wearing his sarung put on a vcd on Myanmar popular music. Was I surprised. They are not as insulated as we would like to think. They are like youth the world over, modern, fun loving, vibrant, and how they love the rappers. It came as a surprise that the military government allows large-scale concerts to be held in enclosed premises as well as in the open. On second thought however, it would seem politically astute on its part to provide a safety valve for young people to let off steam. Not only were rapping popular; Chinese songs sung in the Myanmar language seem to be popular too, for instance "Xing Tai Luan" and "Wang Le Wo Si Shui", an indication of the influence China has long exerted on the country. English songs were sung too, in the Myanmar language. I heard one "When You Say Nothing At All" by Ronan Keating.
Truly, music is the universal language that they can relate to; it is the salve of the soul, a temporary respite, for a people that have lived a life of poverty, deprivation and isolation.