Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Burma's Protesting Pooches

Forget Benji, the Littlest Hobo, or ever-so loyal Lassie. While these iconic mutts have earnt respectable footnotes in the annuls of fictional TV history, a few wretched pooches in Burma have just trounced them, not by rescuing small children from burning houses or anything, but by heading straight for the bone-afide history books.

Dissident doggies, politicized pooches, the hounds of Burmaville, call them what you will - a small pack of street dogs in Burma are protesting against the despicable regime by prowling the streets with pictures of the four tyrannical generals around their necks. This at a time when, after the armies brutal crackdown, people daren’t or can’t voice their disgust.

Piss off home Lassie – humanity has found a new best friend.

Protesting Dogs Are Now on the Regime’s Wanted List, by Saw Yan Naing writing
for Irrawaddy, October 12, 2007

The Burmese authorities have a new enemy to hunt down—dogs which are roaming Rangoon with pictures of Than Shwe and other regime leaders around their necks.

A resident of Shwegondine, Bahan Township, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that she saw a group of four dogs with pictures of the regime’s top generals around their necks.

Sightings were also reported in four other Rangoon townships — Tharkayta, Dawbon, Hlaing Tharyar and South Okkalapa.

Some sources said the canine protest had started at least a week ago, and was keeping the authorities busy trying to catch the offending dogs. “They seem quite good at avoiding arrest,” laughed one resident.

Associating anybody with a dog is a very serious insult in Burma. Spray-painters are also at work, daubing trains with the words “Killer Than Shwe” and other slogans.

Irrawaddy Homepage: http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=8998

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Silom's Breaks Bar

Clubbing in Silom is hard to get enthused about. It's a torpid scene at best. There’s the wishy-washy house of Silom Soi 4’s Moroccan grotto-like Tapas, or the vapid hip-hop of Luminous (a joyous den that’s seemingly ignorant to the joys of Grandmaster Flash or Pharoahe Monch or any other hip-hop luminary). Delve into the sweaty armpit of neon sin, Patpong, there’s Soi 1’s Twilo – louche haunt of the 1am temptress, sleazy merry-go-round of shouty hip-pop covers – or the minimal techno beats of the diminutive Funky Dojo’s which straddles it. None inspire me, most agitate.

However, in Silom's less than flourishing foothills, up a rarely beaten path known as Soi 2/1, hides an untamed beast which refuses to be cowed into commercial submission, and which registers narely a blip on the radar of Patpong’s predatory off-duty hookers and their grievous prey. Its name is Breaks Bar. And while diminutive in club size and status, it’s a fucking giant judging by the pleasing rumbling sound we found emanating from its dimly lit belly on Saturday night.

The night was called Light Low Down – a 'Britpop, rock, punk, alter and breakbeat' affair the flyer informed, helmed by DJs with anonymous names like Oaky, Mix, and the slightly better EroticBoy. With a dearth of light and an excess of kids in trendy shirts it felt like a dinghy London house party. But in a good way - minus the inane chattering pillheads and people snorting lines of K off every available horizontal surface. When not waving their hands or hugging friends, everyone was jumping around like bad-tempered two-year olds during a dizzy spell.

The DJ – don't know his name but he new his music, how to cut records and wore a yellow cap – was verging on sublime, throwing at us an assured, hyperactive, and above all fun set that touched on every just about contemporary music reference point worth referring to: electro, hip-hop, breakbeat, garage rock, slices of 90s pop. Ok, so 45 seconds of Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m too Sexy’ was just plain wrong, but so many gems (Chemical Brothers 'Salmon Song', Simian, Daft Punk, Justice, many more) meant all was more than forgiven. My friend succinctly summed up the concensus: “I’d go back every weekend if I knew he was playing”.

With rows of lopsided 12” covers hanging off the walls, Breaks Bar is clearly a space crafted by aficionados, for aficionados. Good for them. The problem with most clubs in Bangkok is their mentality. They pander to the sonic simplicity of the masses - no, they pander to their idea of what they think is the sonic simplicity of the masses (even the tastes of the musical philistine are more sophisticated than clubs give them credit for). They drop the element of surprise, reducing DJs to posturing human jukeboxes who rather than deserving of our respect and applause deserve only repeated short sharp jabs to the eyes with blunt chopsticks. For those sick with this musical malaise, who fancy cocking a proverbial finger at Bangkok’s insipid clubbing establishment, or who just plain and simple like good filthy dance music:

Breaks Bar

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma!

Free Burma!

A month ago, after a small-scale revolt in Burma ostensibly over hikes in oil prices, I wrote an upbeat piece about the rise of citizen journalism in the country.

This was before the Burmese monkhood decided to take up the role of political agitator after the first wave of protests was quickly snuffed out, before government troops started barricading roads, before the major upsurge in press coverage that resulted in surreal levels of press and public interest, before the crackdown, the shooting of innocents and disappearance of thousands.

For those of us who have long supported the democracy movement in Burma, and long followed this story of ever more depressing circles, what materialised in subsequent weeks was akin to a dream – the people of Burma were standing up against tyranny, and governments, heads of state, NGOs and the public were all watching. On CNN and BBC World it was the lead story all week. Commentary from exiles, experts and brave people in Rangoon accompanied an endless litany of images of burgundy protestors padding barefoot thorough city streets.

The usual international “whimpers of dismay” that accompany most news from Burma - and that I bemoaned in my blog post - had become a deafening shriek. Front pages the world over - Time Magazine, The Economist, The Times, The New York Post. Daily protests of solidarity and lobbying of governments. “The age of impunity is over”. The revolutionary crescendo was palpable. Perhaps the interest was rooted partly in the lyricism of the powerful imagery, for some dare I say even in the drama, but there was a tangible sense that this domestic and world uprising was coalescing into a tidy conclusion: the imminent downfall of this loathsome regime.

But the world isn't tidy. One week later, and Burma is all blackout. The junta has regained its grip. Yes, UN enboy Ibrahim Gambari has met with the Generals and Aung San Suu Kyi but only after being used as propaganda tool, being sent on a sightseeing tour of remote Northern Burma. We await his report later this week, but after past visits yielded announcements that the junta was ready to “turn a new page”, I am prepared only for more false hope. On networks like the BBC, commentators in Bangkok clutch at revolutionary straws, saying the fact that Gambari met with Aung San twice - the second time after seeing the generals - is reason to be cheerful. I would laugh if this wasn’t so wrong, so depressing.

As for the protests? I am awe-inspired. It means the thirst for change is strong. However, neither religious zeal, nor the will of the people are a match for an army bloated with weaponry, all thanks to a state policy of spending more on arming itself than on public health and education combined – this despite having no external enemies. China, Thailand, Russia and India hold some sway over the generals - but why would they when lucrative energy deals and gas pipelines are either up and running or in the offing. No diplomatic disgust, no UN scolding, no ASEAN chastising, no public displays of distaste, will turn back tanks, or alter the general’s course. They will continue to act with impunity, until, I believe, death.

And, so far in the red is their karmic balancesheet, I think someone needs to bring it about. That's right, good old fashioned assassination. While inspired by the valor of Burma’s monks, the stark truth is that the saffron revolution needs to be accompanied by an army green one. Defection like that of the 42-year-old chief of military intelligence in Rangoon’s northern region (story here), provide some succor – there is dissent in the ranks, and hope of soldiers turning on the generals. That said, footage I saw this morning on BBC World, of troops encircling and kicking protestors as if a pack of rabid dogs, suggest this is unlikely.

The monks and people of Burma are emboldened to fight but need help. Now we need the soldiers to look in the mirror and ask who they are: soldiers loyal only to despicable despots? Burmese? Buddhists? Human beings?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Thai Truck Art

Like a warrior truck straight out of Mad Max, this dystopic lorry sped into my life on the road back from Ko Chang. This was one vehicle we were more than happy to defer too. Industrial Bad-Ass. There I was happily entertaining fantasies about the inhabitants being a violent gang of outlaws who prowl the highways looking for innocent people to terrorize (like the film), when they waved at me! Bah! Anyway, you gotta love the lurid auto-art that adorns lorries, trucks and coaches here. It's also common in India - another subcontinental hand-me down?