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  • Writer's pictureKara San

Ah shit, here we go again.

My February started with news of the coup in Myanmar. It was a Monday morning, and I was supposed to be working from home that day. It started out like the usual Monday morning, with my writing-reading-Duolingo routine before logging on to work. At around 8.30am, I saw one of my friends retweet something about Aung San Suu Kyi being detained by the military in what was referred to as a raid, and then I saw that same friend quote another tweet about communication networks being down in Naypyitaw, saying she had relatives there. And that was when I panicked, because my dad was there too.

Other things that didn't help: I tried calling him on Whatsapp, Viber, through a normal phone call. None of them went through. I kept trying to call him every half-hour, to no avail. The news continued to remain bleak, communication channels were getting more spotty before blacking out completely, and my dad was still out of reach. I felt helpless, hopeless, frustrated. It brought me back to 2007, when I was in Cambodia and following all the news reports on the Saffron Revolution. At least back then, I was assured that the people I knew personally were safe. Those were strangers on the screen. It was different this time. Earlier this week, my cousin's friend, who'd been protesting in Naypyitaw, took a bullet to the shoulder.

The morning the coup started, I couldn't do work. At all. I kept refreshing all the news sites on my laptop, refreshing Twitter, seeing if my friend would update me if she managed to get in touch with her relatives again. And even after hearing from my dad, I was still worried. I still had the 2007 Saffron Revolution and the 1988 protests in mind. What if we were headed in that direction yet again? What if there was more needless bloodshed while the international community watched with cold indifference? What were the odds the military started breaking into homes and attacking people? It didn't help that the Twitter trends were dominated by "hot takes" from the international community talking about "karma" and condemning the entire country to dictatorship yet again, as if the the Rohingya would be any better off under military rule when it was the military that initiated their ostracisation? But I guess some people love jumping to conclusions without taking into consideration the tangle of factors that lead a mess of people into the situation they're in. Whatever the case, I knew social media was bad for me, but I stayed on anyway, waiting for updates, bracing myself for the worst.

Then came the social media posts, the Instagram infographics and Twitter threads, the banners on Facebook profiles, the attempts to raise awareness and reach out to the international community, to little effect. Hardly anyone seemed to care. My sister told me about the way it was so difficult to share this on subtle asian traits because the mods just wouldn't approve of the posts (yet they had no trouble sharing 9 posts about boba). Then came the anecdotes by Burmese Facebook friends, perhaps hoping that if their online friends could put a face to experiences they would otherwise be disinterested in, they'd start to care.

Reading people my age share their experiences of growing up under the regime made me properly realise just how sheltered I'd been; growing up in an Anglophone circle in Cambodia and then moving to Singapore—going back to Myanmar for only a total of a month (at most) each year—had spared me the full reality of everyday life in Myanmar before Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest. I remember the power cuts, I remember that being found with US currency could land you in jail (we used US currency in Cambodia), I remember the way so much as mentioning The Lady's name could get you in trouble (which was why I didn't know who she was until I was a little older), I remember my heart hammering whenever I saw police officers on the street, and I remember the propangandist speech that blared from the TV at the start of every movie or right as I started playing a bootlegged CD. I'd never even heard of Aung San Suu Kyi until I was 10, when my teacher—a man from Sri Lanka—told me about how much he admired her. I brought this up to my dad, and that was when he told us as much of the truth about our country as he thought we could take. I learned then that my country was a far cry from what others would see as an ideal holiday destination.

When my youngest sister was born in 2004, some of my dad's old university friends came to visit our house in Yangon for the first time in ages; my 6-year-old sister and I were told that these friends of his had just got out of jail. I knew it had to do with politics, but I didn't understand beyond that. When international news channels started reporting and broadcasting the Saffron Revolution of 2007, the reporters alluded to "8888" (8 August 1988). Over the years, I gradually connected the dots: my dad's university friends, the ones who met our family after they'd got out of jail, had been involved in the 1988 protests, and they were the lucky ones. The others had died. My dad escaped both fates because he was called to the countryside to look after his parents just as the protests were gaining traction. Just before the shooting started.

I am currently the same age my dad was when 8888 took place. So, quite literally as the title of this post goes, Ah shit, here we go again. Another generation, another dictator, and now, another time of protests. Will things be any different? It's been nearly two weeks, and I can't tell. Sure, it's garnering international attention, and I have to commend the creative ways the younger generations are using the power of the internet and the virality of memes. Maybe this time, things will be different. Maybe this time, Myanmar as a whole can break out of this cycle of being passed through the hands of one dictator to the next—and hopefully the minorities, in particular the Rohingya, will get treated a lot better.

I only wish I could do something more than share footage of these protests, of the creative ways these people are carrying out their protests by appealing to global humour. I wish I could march along with them, holding up a sign with some quirky slogan (I'm thinking "I don't need dictatorship, I need my student loans cancelled", because nothing says relatable like a 20-something-year-old crushed under student loans). I wish I could join my cousins as they march to stand up against yet another dictator, knowing that they are risking their futures either way.

This is the most emotionally invested and the closest to patriotic I've been in my life, the most interested I've been in Myanmar's politics, because what's at stake for me personally is my regular refuge, my countryside retreat from 24/7 connectivity and the pace of life in Singapore. What's at stake is my parents' dream of returning to Myanmar when they retire, living in a house with a yard, away from this jungle of skyscrapers. The general population experienced a taster of that life in the recent years, as Aung San Suu Kyi's party started making changes and tried to lead the country out of the decades of dictatorship, and I think I speak for a significant majority when I say, we want that back. That promise, that potential for a more liveable country that we'd just been denied yet again.

If you've read to the end of this longer-than-my-usual post, thank you. Here are some of my favourite photos from the protests:

A bonus (text from my sister):

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