Get close to Burma

In front of the blow tank

The period from October to November of 2007 is worthy of memory in my life time, especially after I became a translator/interpreter. During these days, I got along with some people from Burma, which has been renamed by its dictator into Myanmar. Thanks to a training program to a team of 48 Burma technicians at a paper factory in a mountainous city which is hundreds kilometers away from Xiamen, couples of interpreters were needed, so I was assigned to the factory by my company. I would have been expected there for 2 months, but actually I only stayed there just 1 month.

In Oct. 9, I arrived at the factory, starting the journey as an interpreter. The Burmese arrived in Oct. 11. I met them in the parking yard and led them to their dormitory. They accompanied by three Chinese to Burmese interpreters who have Chinese origin, two of them whose fathers are from Fujian province. Frankly to say, I have never met with some foreigners from a country which is poorer and more despotic than China, resulting in a sense of superiority complex in my mind at first. Later I found this complex isn't healthy. I don't deny that I have sense of inferior complex when I get along with the people from western countries. On the contrary to the common feeling, the sense is not come from my economic situation, but the political - the distinction of being slaves and free people. They are also from a calamitous country; endless wars, dictatorship have almost ruined this country, making it a poorest country in the world. In Chinese, there is a saying, "难兄难弟", which means brotherhood of different persons even if no blood relation in adverse circumstance, indicating the same circumstance that the Burmese and Chinese encounter. I thought Chinese are the same with those people, encounter the same problems of economy and politics; both of the people should fight against with poverty and dictators. On the extent, we shouldn't look upon down the Burmese; the Burmese in China likes a general Chinese in the street of New York.

The paper factory has previous experience in training Burmese technicians, so it could win the bid for this newly program. Burma is a mysterious country to me, the military government, religion and their customs, not until the day I saw them had the mystery been revealed. In this factory, I heard of that there was once a batch of training team which is led by a military leader. It was the basic impression of mine to the people from Burma and their country. A length of two months is not long in one's life, but when you get along with foreigners in such length of time, it seems that you can learn much from them and their country.

I was frustrated

Not until I met Burmese had I felt interpretation is such a tough job. Though I didn't major in English in university, I never lose the self-confidence for my speaking English, and also listening. However, when I hear they are talking, I feel myself so naive. My colleague was asked if there was a "delephone", only after the other side made a gesture of making a phone call, he knew what he wanted was telephone. We learned that they pronounce t as d; days later I learned that they pronounced p as b, such as "power station" was pronounced "['bauə] station". It seemed not an easy beginning.

Political Problem

Nothing can always go on smoothly. The training courses began at the second week after their arrival and all the conditions ran into normal. But suddenly, we were faced with a critical problem, which touched someone's sensitive nerve of politics. The deputy manager who has been to Burma found that all places relate to the country's name was translated into Burma. But the most important is that the training materials are translated by our company and the Burma party will dispatch two generals to here to watch the conditions of this training that we res. So they argued with my boss why we had translated in that way. As you know, the military dictators changed the country name from Burma into Myanmar. But it has been seldom recognized in worldwide. Now even on the most famous newspapers in the world, Burma is frequently used. So we used the word too without considering the significance it will bring. Actually, we shouldn't bear the total responsibility, in the materials our customer gave us the country's name was also pre-translated as Burma. We tried great efforts to make up this issue. We always are confuses by these two words: Burma/Myanmar, like a post written by a Hong Kong blogger.

1: 6

It is the ratio of adult males and females in Burma, but some other said it was 1: 3. When I heard of this, I wondered that why sexual imbalance will occur in this country though there is no baby control policy in Burma. Later I was told that due to years of wars in Burma, the adult males are forced to be recruited as soldiers and died in the battles. The damn wars had ruined many families and people's life. Furthermore, many Burmese don't like to be soldiers, although to be a soldier somedays can earn a post in the government; the adult males exile from this country to the countries around like India, Thailand, even China so that the sexual ratio is extraordinary imbalanced in this country. 40 years ago, a family has an average of 9 children, but 2 to 3 children currently.

1: 185

It indicates the exchange rate between Chinese RMB and Burmese KYAT. So you can use a bank paper of 10 Yuan to exchange that of 1,850 Kyats [pronounced cha]. The maximum nominal value of the Burmese bank paper is 1,000 Kyats. In order to keep something in memory, some of my fellows exchanged the Burmese bank note according to the rate of 1: 100, which is a bank note of 10 Yuan exchanges that of 1,000 Kyats. So far as I know, the average salary of the workers is just equal to RMB 200 Yuan per month, and hundreds of thousands of people now live in desperate poverty. One day when I led them to the supermarket to buy something themselves, I felt a great responsibility; I was afraid of being cheated by the sellers, moreover I was afraid of the relative high price. You can image that, how a Burmese who only earns 200 Yuan a month could afford to buy a digital camera which costs at least 1,400 Yuan. For these reasons, I led them to the stores where sold cheap things for shopping in every weekend. So poor a country, but life in Burma is expensive. I was told by some Burmese that in Burma a GSM card costs about 3.1 million Kyats, equal to 17,000 Yuan, if some one wants to own a cell phone, he/she will be charged above 18,000 Yuan. If you don't have any concept to RMB, exchange rate between RMB and US $ is 7.6: 1, so from here you can image how expensive it is! You know the telecommunication, controlled by the military government like China Telecom controlled by the state owned capitals, is monopolized. In Burma, the dictators rate so high telecommunication fee so as to blind and deafen the people, because the general people are poor and can't afford to use telecommunication and Internet to learn what happen in the world and what is freedom and democracy.

Burma has not been invaded by Japan

It seems that all dandy guys share a common ground, that is, ignorant of knowledge, no matter where are they from, US or China, even if Burma. There was a guy supposed to be with limited knowledge, when he was asked with the question of "Has Myanmar been invaded by Japan?" , unexpectedly this guy shrugged and said no. It caused us to laugh at him, even his fellow. This guy couldn't even know the meaning of invade, so we repeated and explained again and again. Until we said "Had the Japanese army ever been to land of Myanmar?", we knew we were defeated, because he couldn't give the answer but just shrug.

Something relates to the job

I was responsible for the training of pulping section where is the most dangerous and smelly place in the paper factory. In this section, there are many pressure containers and pipes which are the risks of safety. Moreover, some chemicals which have uncomfortable smell, such as Na2S, Cl2 and ClO2 for pulp washing and bleaching exist. During the days if there is strong wind, the smell spreads to every corner of this factory. The most difficult thing is that the Burma trainees can't understand what I said - someone told me that he couldn't follow my pronunciation; moreover, so many complicated paper-making related terms that need me to remember. Considering that they couldn't follow my pronunciation and the difference of mastery in English of the trainees, later I found a most primary method: I wrote every word especially that contains "b", "p", "t" and "d" that they couldn't get instantly and draw the picture of the mechanical elements. Though it would slow down the progress of class, it was effective, during the interval I wrote the words, they had enough time to reflect what I said, so the study efficiency was promoted.

The relations between Chinese government-CPC with Burma government

When talk about the relationship between Chinese government, I must discuss the politics situations of Burma first. Burma is of military regime. The majority of ministry and cabinet posts are held by military officers, with the exceptions being the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, posts which are held by civilians. Evenmore, the local administrators are from the army. Burma can be divided into 7 States and 7 Divisions, wherein almost all of the local administrators have . The only reason that Burmese military junta can exist under the international pressure is that there is a black hand supported behind it. It is the Chinese government, but I would rather to say it is exactly done by the CPC. The day after I arrived at the paper factory, a bomb attacked the Chinese consulate in Mandalay, the second largest city of Burma.


One month later, I had to leave the factory and went back to Xiamen. In that evening before I left that city, some Burma trainees drank beers with me. The said a lot of blessing to me and I was indeed moved.

Note: The picture in the left is taken near the blow tank which stores pulp in the paper factory and the person with me is U Tung, the leader of cooking section of pulping plant in the mill of Yeni.

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