Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unpleasant Reminders

The counter for the mobile phone repair center was manned by Burmese, all of them. It was a golden opportunity to ask why the locals we came across in a recent trip to Rangoon were decorated with a yellow paste, like the red dot our own Indians adorn for ceremonial purposes. But the ladies didn't care to explain, and we didn't want to be insensitive about cultural practices.

Google provided some clues, but the enlightenment came from Zoyan Phan, author of "Undaunted".The tha na kah is a traditional face cream made from the bark of the tha maw glay, the tamarind tree. Her mother  would rub a length of the bark over a smooth stone, adding water simultaneously to dissolve the bark into a yellow paste. Besides acting as a natural sunblock, tha na kah is also applied to cheeks, arms and legs to keep cool in the hot season.

Zoya's book isn't just about beauty treatments. Her story is about the Karen tribe displaced by "the most brutal dictatorship in the world". She spent her childhood dodging live bullets and bombs, and managed to escape the hovel of the refugee camps in Thailand to earn an MA at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Her father was assassinated in 2008 by agents of the Burmese regime, and Zoya was also on the hit list. After the world recoiled in the horror of the 2007 "Saffron Revolution", she actually spoke with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, asking him to introduce targeted economic sanctions that would stop money  from going to the generals. Money that was helping to pay for the bullets used against the monks on the streets of Rangoon. And the first class treatment of generals coming here as medical tourists to perpetuate the longevity of their dictatorship.

We don't know about the personal stories of the Burmese nationals fleeced by the "freelance recruiters", except that the first four months of their salaries are deducted for "recruitment fees", essentially making them slaves for the first period of their stay in Singapore. The practice is not unique to Burmese of course; Sri Lankans, Indonesians and Filipinos have also been exploited. It is easy to be inured to the unpleasantness of humanitarian rights abuses - until the day "our women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers". That's the outcome Lee Kuan Yew predicted for "a really a good dose of incompetent government." (LKY justifying million-dollar pay hike for Singapore ministers, Straits Times, 5 April 2007)


  1. " ... until the day "our women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers".

    Well. I'm so glad we are not slaves in our own country right now.

    1. remind of someone who about to step on shit, only to take a scope of it to taste if it is really shit, and happily proclaim
      "I'm so glad that I didn't step on shit"

      Moral - >
      does it make a difference whether you step on shit or taste the shit ?

      "I'm so glad we are not slaves in our own country right now"

      oh yeah, you just need to be economical slave and digit to certain ruling party, and the party will more be more than happy if you don't realize that.

  2. Who would imagine that our country is involved in the blatant exploitation of workers to the tune of millions if not billions of dollars ? It does not take a genius to conclude that the foreign workers levies & placement fees has to come from somewhere..... at the expense of the workers sweat and hardworking. But who are the ones benefitting from such exploitation? Maybe our Pap Ministers ?

  3. Every cent that is laundered into Sin is from exploitation or scam from where the money came from.