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Burma Chronicles s/c

Burma Chronicles s/c

Burma Chronicles s/c back

Guy Delisle


Page 45 Review by Stephen

An even more entertaining eye-opener than PYONG YANG and SHENZHEN, this sees animator Delisle once more take up residence in one of the world's most isolationist dictatorship nations where the winner with 80% of the vote of its 1990 elections (and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize), Aung San Suu Kyi, has been living under house arrest largely ever since.

This time, however, it's his wife Nadège who's been sent abroad for she works for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), so Guy has plenty of time during the year to draw, explore and go for leisurely strolls with his baby son round the capital Rangoon. Well, I say capital but, while he was there, they were in the process of moving the capital from coastal Rangoon to the middle of absolutely nowhere! Who moves capitals and why? To avoid bombing from ocean-based US aircraft carriers? Hmm, possibly, but no one knows for sure because anything coming out of the mouth of the Junta is pure propaganda.

The absurdities of censorship are amongst the numerous things Guy discovers here, although past practices of post-publication censorship were even more bonkers, with editors required to take scissors or paint to every single copy already printed. Some of the editions would look like paper doilies. Think of the ramifications - what if you'd advertised on the other side of the offending excised article? As for the internet and email screening, you won't be able to receive this foul-mouthed fiasco, the Page 45 Mailshot. In all likelihood in fact, you'd have your whole system twatted just as MSF's was. Here's "The People's Desires" as posted absolutely everywhere - books, DVDS, and even at the entrance to parks - written of the people, for the people, by the peo -- oh, no, wait...

"Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views
Oppose those trying to jeopardise stability of the state and progress of the nation
Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the state
Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy"

It's a wonder MSF or any other aid workers are allowed to even operate, although the barmy restrictions which mount during Nadège's time there do scupper most of the work they're attempting - work which is so vitally needed. Eye-openers: Guy's experience of one of three HIV/AIDS clinics in Rangoon alone (beautifully situated on a lake, but harrowing to visit); the clinics trying to treat drug addiction in outlying villages because the jade mine workers are paid in shots of heroin; and Delisle's close shave with malaria (the medical benefits of travelling with doctors!). In absurd contrast to all this poverty is the gem museum packed full of very precious stones, but whose wiring is covered by strips taped across the floor. Why not sell the gems?

Absurdity as always is what Delisle does best - that and the social customs we may find somewhat peculiar. Like the nation's obsession with betelnut whose betel juice turns your smile bright black, and having an even more marked impact on the streets than our spat-out slabs of chewing gum. Or a currency issued out of superstition in denominations of 15 (i.e. 15 Kyat, 45 Kyat, 90 Kyat notes; you do the maths - if you can!). Building houses with no air flow in a country whose weather ranges from scorchio! to volcanico! Rebellious teenagers wearing army combats in a country where there are probably enough army uniforms already, I'd have thought. Alternatively there are things we take for granted here that blow Guy's mind, like walking into a bank and seeing not computers, but everything recorded on ledger. You'll enjoy the traffic system as well!

This and so much more you can discover alongside Delisle in yet another priceless but far more expansive book (250 pages). The man's cartooning is always a joy and this time comes with more tone. His landscapes are immediately recognisable according to seasoned traveller Jonathan, and there are temples to visit, downpours to shelter from and even monks with performing cats, jumping through hoops. Oh yes, and several handy-dandy maps for those of us who can spend a fortnight abroad and still not know quite where we've been.