A tale of two teens, as Pan­g­long awak­ens at last

The Myanmar Times - - News - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­times.com

“I RE­GRET it now!”

The Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence was a piv­otal mo­ment in Myan­mar his­tory and its sig­nif­i­cance res­onates through­out the coun­try even 70 years later, but at the time 19-yearold U Tun Shwe just wasn’t that in­ter­ested.

And so as Bo­gyoke Aung San and other eth­nic lead­ers inked the cru­cial agree­ment that promised to bring peace and fed­er­al­ism to Burma, U Tun Shwe was do­ing noth­ing ex­cept loi­ter­ing on a Pan­g­long street cor­ner.

“The saopha told the head of the vil­lage, ‘We’ll have a meet­ing here.’ So just a few peo­ple went to watch. Most peo­ple just got on with farm­ing. They weren’t so in­ter­ested or didn’t un­der­stand.”

“I was a teenager. I knew I just wanted to walk around the streets. My big brother saw them, but he wasn’t that in­ter­ested ei­ther. We never talked about it at the time,” said U Tun Shwe, now a spritely 88-yearold.

At the time, he re­calls, the town was a frac­tion of its cur­rent size and sur­rounded by jun­gle.

It was only when he be­came a teacher a cou­ple of years later that U Tun Shwe be­gan to get the un­easy feel­ing he might have missed some­thing im­por­tant.

“That’s when I first un­der­stood a bit, but it wasn’t till later when a univer­sity re­searcher came to ask me about it that I fully re­alised the sig­nif­i­cance.”

U Tun Shwe’s in­ter­est in eth­nic af­fairs flour­ished be­lat­edly and he went on to be­come a se­nior fig­ure in the Pan­g­long Shan Lit­er­a­ture and Cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion

His granddaughter Ma Aun Shang is now al­most the same age he was when the orig­i­nal Pan­g­long agree­ment was made, but would never re­peat her older rel­a­tive’s ado­les­cent ap­a­thy.

Com­ing from the site of such an im­por­tant event has in­spired her.

“I’m proud to be from here and I’m happy to be liv­ing in a his­toric place,” the 18-year-old chem­istry stu­dent said.

She is in­volved in eth­nic youth ac­tivism and at­tended the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence held in the town to dis­cuss youth in­ter­ests in talks about fed­er­al­ism. She, like other young del­e­gates there, is keen to play a part in shap­ing what has been dubbed the “21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long” peace con­fer­ence set to take place later this month.

“I felt I just had to do this,” she said, adding she will pay close at­ten­tion to what hap­pens at the much her­alded meet­ing be­tween Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the mil­i­tary and the eth­nic armed groups, de­spite the fact she will be sit­ting ex­ams at the time.

“I’m so proud of her,” U Tun Shwe said.

“It’s like a wak­ing-up for Pan­g­long and we’re proud of it.”

Photo: Fiona MacGre­gor

U Tun Shwe, 88, and his grandaugh­ter Ma Aun Shang, 18, stand in the door­way of his house in Pan­g­long, Shan State, on July 28.

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