In Wisdom We Follow

Pandeik Tun spent a total of 12 years in prison in Burma, arrested twice since 1998, as a political prisoner. He was released recently on January 2012 after five years being imprisoned the second time round. He is named after the title Pandit given to Jawaharlal Nehru, which means wisdom, and in the Pali language, the word is spelt as his name. "I am ashamed to tell people what it means because I am not wise." I like him instantly.

Today he drives a cab to earn money.

Hopefully a more liberating "enclosed" space - Pandeik in his cab

In the first detention, he spent 5 years and like all the other political prisoners, in solitary confinement. "It was a 12 by 7 feet cell, with a small ventilation. For 25 minutes a day, we could get out of the cell for our bath. The rest of the 23 hours and 35 minutes, we were in our cells. Sometimes we would shout out to talk to the other prisoners. Then the prison guard would come and break it up and shift us further away from each other."

But things had improved in the prisons by the time he was arrested for the second time in 2007, due to international pressure as well as the actions by prisoners themselves to fight the bad conditions and treatment in prisons. By then political prisoners were allowed to read, exercise, speak to each other.

"The government knew then they couldn't continue to treat us in the old way."

"I watched a lot of movies. You know the one with Angelina Jolie and her journalist husband?"
The one about Daniel Pearle? I asked.
"Yes! That is a good movie. Then the other one is about the journalist in Bosnia…"
"Where he goes missing and the wife goes to find him?" I prompted.
"Yes! That is also a good movie. There is another one, about 2 journalists in Bosnia I think, about the war criminals… the point of the story is that even if governments acknowledge war criminals, they are free and safe. The people are still not free," he adds. (note: A Might Heart and Harrison's Flowers. I don't know the third)
He has a thing for journalists, and now they are about to be his main clientele.

"Oh and I like Invictus!"
"You watched that in the prison?"
"Yes, actually we cannot watch Hollywood movies because it is illegal. But money can buy anything. We don't use money for heroin or drugs. We buy journals, movies, radio," he said.

But Pandeik, or Pan Pan as he states in his card, caused a bit of stir when the prison guard found him with a DVD of Prison Break. "They said to me I couldn't watch this. I told them I didn't know what it was about and I hadn't watched it and that I wouldn't if they prohibited it. But I had watched the full series by then, I just lied to them!"

I asked him if he did think about escaping. He said yes, but it was not their ethics to do so. "We would never run away. If we were meant to spend all our life in prison, we would do it. Anyhow Michael Scofield (of the series) was our hero - he could break out from any situation!"

He said that he felt much smarter when he was imprisoned than he is now.
"In prison, we had so much time. I had time to meditate, I exercised and I read a lot. Now I think I am destroying myself," he said jokingly.

(He is the second political prisoner I have interviewed who said they learnt languages and improved themselves while in detention. Pandeik picked up Korean from watching all those soap dramas. The other person is Pak Chong who runs Gerakbudaya bookstore in Petaling Jaya, who said he learnt Bahasa during his detention under the Internal Security Act from 1968-1976 in Malaysia.)


Sunset by the Yangon river, the other side which is marked by poverty

But that parting note is also the question on everyone's lips. What was the struggle for if only to be disappointed by the happenings of the day, be it with the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi or the government.


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