“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death in Myanmar

What an emotionally draining day! What a lot of customs I learned
about today! What a new perspective I have on life and my students. I
am feeling my foreignness when I hear some of them. I'm also taken
back to an equally ostracizing yet enveloping experience in Manila
when something similar happened.

On Friday night, one of my former students, Myo Thet Paing, a senior
at our school, passed away after a car accident on his way home from a
birthday party. The circumstances of the crash are, from what I
gather, unknown (whether he was hit or not or why he went off the
road), but he ended up trapped in his suped up car, which exploded due
to the high octane fuel. Another tragic element is that another group
of students were driving behind him, and watched as the car exploded
and saw him burning inside. Any help, fire engine or ambulance,
arrived too late.

Our school was in mourning today, with the students organizing for
everyone to wear black. One student wasn't allowed to, because
apparently, for Chinese, wearing black brings harm to your parents. We
will bring in monks to bless our school and release MTP's spirit from
school. Buddhists believe that he doesn't know that he is dead, and
that we need to tell him and release his spirit/soul from each place
that he lived and/or died. Saying it aloud is sufficient, so tomorrow
at the funeral, we are probably going to read a letter from YIEC to
him. Students are also releasing him from debts (i.e. basketball
sponsorship), and calling out to him, grieving in a strong way. He was
a quiet student, and what I remembered him most for was when he jumped
the turnstiles in the Singapore MRT because he didn't want to tell us
that he lost his card!

The students are telling me many superstitions: They believe that the
ghosts of women were around the crash site, perhaps even causing the
crash. Bystanders reported hearing women screaming and thinking that
MTP was not alone in his car. Others talk about seeing him in the
mirror earlier that day and his reflection not matching his image. The
students consulted the fortune teller, who agreed that his cards and
fate showed his time/luck was up. Some students do not want to be
alone for fear his burnt ghost will return to them. Others confess
that they would love the opportunity to talk with the MTP they miss.
Many are afraid his ghost will haunt the school if the monks do not
bless it.

When I was in 11th grade, a student at my school in Manila, whose
brother was in my class, was killed in a car accident, and there was a
similar outpouring of grief as his family was a big part of the
school. It was a very memorable experience of grief--after all, how
many deaths do we experience of our peers at that age? I am
remembering that time now, and hoping that my students and our faculty
is as supportive of these students as Brent was for all of us.

Needless to say, we didn't accomplish much work today! While I did not
know MTP very well, I know that he will be sorely missed by all his
peers at YIEC, ISY, and abroad, and that this will impact our school
for a long while to come.

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