A tale of two teens, as Panglong awakens at last
“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.”
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.