Thursday, September 17, 2009

Behind Burma's closed doors

Sophy Roberts (, 9/12/09)
Young Burmese novices at Pin Luang monastery (Sophy Roberts/

I am the only woman in a covered stadium on the outskirts of Rangoon watching a kickboxing fight – aside, that is, from the girl who announces each round in a figure-hugging turquoise longyi ["sarong"]. The crowd is lively – at a guess, 2,000 Burmese – who, like me, are sweating under the stadium lights.

Inle Lake, Burma's second largest; Padaung "long neck" women with famous brass coils (Sophy Roberts/

I have come to the stadium thanks to Max Horsley, a British travel specialist who has been living in Rangoon since 2005. We are accompanied by Horsley’s kickboxing instructor, a young champion.

To one side is a section marked VVIP. Behind the guard sits a single man surrounded by empty seats. I am told he is an official associated with Burma’s ruling military junta, who have had pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest since May 2003. The official looks my way. I try my luck and motion to take a photograph. He nods, smiles, and leans back in his seat; for all the world he looks like any other man out on a Sunday afternoon to watch his favorite sport. More>>