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Today's quote:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Have you heard the one about the dentist?


There was once a Burmese man who travelled many hard miles in order to visit a dentist in a neighbouring country. When he arrived at the dentist's office, the dentist was surprised to learn how far the man had travelled.

'Are there no dentists in your country?' he asked the man with concern. 'Yes, yes, we have dentists', the man replied. 'The problem is we are not allowed to open our mouths'.

There is another Burmese joke that George Orwell - who spent five years as a policeman in Burma in the 1920s and is referred to by some Burmese as "the prophet" - wrote three books about Burma: "Burmese Days", "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-Four". The first chronicles the country's history under the British; the second, about a group of pigs who overthrow the farmer and run the farm into ruin, parallels the rise of dictator Ne Win; and the final is a chillingly accurate picture of today's totalitarian Burma.

The Burmese love to tell jokes. The language is full of wordplays and puns, and laughter is heard in every teashop - which is strange in a country where giving voice to thoughts can lead to imprisonment, torture and death. But then, laughter may be all that is left. As George Orwell wrote: 'Every joke is a little revolution.'

Of all the countries I have lived and worked in, it is Burma that has probably left the biggest and most lasting impact on me, in both a personal and intellectual sense, even though at the time I was too young to know it.

My heart goes out to a beautiful and wonderful people who are cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its vast network of spies and informers that has turned this country into a earthly hell for over half a century.

Visiting Burma will make you feel ashamed. In our own country we have so much, and then we go to Burma and see those people who have nothing, and they just make so much out of what little they have and who have found ways to somehow resist the soul-crushing effects of life in this most cruel "Orwellian" police state. There are lessons to be learned from that tenacity and drive.

Finding George Orwell in Burma is a wonderful book that should be read by anyone thinking of going to Burma - just don't take it with you!