This would prove to be Eid’s last birthday breakfast. She was still eating perfectly normally at this stage, and still enjoying all the great food that Chiang Mai had to offer. However, within six months, she had lost about 20 percent of her body weight (almost all of it within the space of a month) because she could no longer keep anything down.
There was also this birthday greeting on Eid’s FB page, from our good friend Joe. I made a screenshot of it at the time because I found the automatic translation from Thai quite amusing, and more than a little bizarre. (A more recent version is still far from perfect, but makes a lot more sense.)
Finally, here are two posts from Eid herself. The last was actually posted first, before we went out for breakfast that morning. Eid followed Ajahn Jayasaro on FB and often reposted his handwritten “Dhamma memes”, especially the ones in English. Although it seems like a dark way to mark the start of your birthday, it actually serves as a reminder of the need to appreciate the value of the things that don’t last (i.e., everything). As hard as her life often was, Eid was always grateful for everything she had and took nothing in life for granted, including her health.
After writing about the Rohingya cartoon, I decided to continue my criticism of Aung Zaw with another post. This time I went after something I knew he was even more sensitive about than his crude racism — his image as a selfless crusader for press freedom and democracy in Burma.
This was the post that finally got him to unfriend me, which he didn’t do until then because he wanted to monitor my online communication with others at the office who I was still in contact with. (I also occasionally used FB Messenger to contact him directly, although he ignored my attempts to remind him of why I wanted him to apologize to Eid.) I also received an email from my boss the following day, telling me to remove the post because he didn’t want to have trouble with Aung Zaw (who I presume informed him about it). Instead, I simply hid it from my timeline. I also started monitoring Aung Zaw’s Facebook posts (most of which were public), although I didn’t resume criticizing him until a year later, after I had quit my job and Eid had passed away.
Aung Zaw demonstrating his mastery of false modesty, saying his “commitment and sacrifice are nothing compared to those who spent years in prison”. He claims that the only thing that has kept him going all these years is the thought of his “heroes” behind bars. No mention of the big house in Chiang Mai or the generous salary just for showing up to work two or three times a week to offer useless editorial guidance (or to drink wine from the bar fridge in his office).
They say you shouldn’t compare apples and oranges, but this is more like comparing horses and unicorns — while many activists have made real sacrifices, Aung Zaw’s are mostly imaginary.
Not as sickening as yesterday’s blatantly racist cartoon, but it really makes you feel sorry for the people of Burma, without whose suffering Aung Zaw would probably have to get a real job.
I know you think it’s your job to tell others to do some soul-searching, Aung Zaw, but I think it’s time you finally took your own advice.
This was the first post I wrote on Facebook directly criticizing Aung Zaw. It’s about this cartoon, which I saw shared by a former colleague from The Irrawaddy. There was a strongly negative reaction to it from other media, beginning with this piece and culminating nearly two years later with this in-depth story from The Financial Times (a screenshot of which appears below, in case the story is behind a paywall).
When I worked with the Irrawaddy, the editor would sometimes come up with an idea for an editorial cartoon and commission an artist to draw it. The cartoon would then go to the copy editors, who were expected to provide a caption in English. The problem was that the original idea was often so poorly thought out or so badly communicated to the artist that we were at a loss to understand the cartoon ourselves, much less make sense of it for our readers.
I don’t know if Aung Zaw, the editor, is directly responsible for this gem, but it certainly has the hallmarks of something he would come up with. It depicts a dark-skinned “boat person” jumping a queue ahead of several members of Burma’s “national races” (i.e., ethnic groups officially recognized by the Burmese government). The dark-skinned man belongs to the ethnic group that dare not speak its name — the Rohingya, a Muslim minority living mostly along Burma’s border with Bangladesh. (These days, they live mostly in internment camps, since a series of pogroms that began in 2012 left tens of thousands homeless.)
What makes me think this was Aung Zaw’s idea is the fact that I’ve heard him on several occasions describe the Rohingya as “opportunists” — suggesting, I suppose, that he believes they are playing on international sympathy to gain some unspecified advantage at the expense of others. The other reason this looks to me like one of his weak attempts at political commentary through visual humor is that it doesn’t really make any sense. What does the queue represent? Are the Rohingya trying to win official recognition ahead of the other ethnic groups depicted here? That’s an unlikely interpretation, since the other groups are already recognized. So are the “boat people” just trying to get more than their fair share of handouts from international donors? Also a ridiculous suggestion, since they have been treated like pariahs almost everywhere they’ve gone, and inside Burma, there has been a concerted effort by the authorities to ensure that most foreign aid does not reach the Rohingya camps.
Earlier this week, the NY Times ran an editorial condemning Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s “democracy icon”, for her cowardly stance on the Rohingya, following reports that she had asked the US embassy not to use the dreaded “R-word” lest it upset some rabidly racist “nationalists”. A day or two earlier, I actually wrote a comment somewhere defending Suu Kyi’s silence, since it seems to me that her enemies (the people who used racial enmity to hold on to power for decades, and who would be more than happy to do the same again now just to increase their influence) are trying to lure her into a political minefield, with potentially disastrous consequences for the whole country. I may be wrong in thinking that silence is the right response, but I don’t believe that she is motivated by racism herself (as many have suggested) and I don’t think caution should be confused with cowardice.
In any case, whether you regard Suu Kyi’s stance as cowardly or not, there is only one way to describe this attempt by the Irrawaddy to pander to Burmese prejudice with a cheap joke at the expense of Rohingya boat people, who die at sea by the hundreds every year trying to get the hell away from Burma: utterly contemptible.
Took a lot of random shots this day, for some reason. Original comments (if any) are in the captions or just below the photos.
It takes very little to go into business in Thailand, and even less to grow some of your own food.