Burma 1985

I needed to practice my skill. It was early evening on the first day of the journey from Mandalay to Rangoon. The boat had stopped at Pakokku and the salesgirls had floated back to shore after selling their food, tableclothes and other goods to the hundreds of passengers on the Irrawaddy steamer. The cabin was full of twenty Italians on rubber beds, the deck was crowded with different groups, their sleeping gear marking their space and their baggage, or in one family’s case bricks of sesame,  laid out as barricades.  


My nephew said ‘no way’ when I offered to practice on him, so I looked around. The two young priests dressed in pink: no. The handsome old woman that the foreigners had taken so many photos of was now hiding her face behind a towel: no, she’d crack. The man who looked like a ruby trader from up in Mogok: no, not to be trusted. My eyes settled on the bearded stranger: yes him. He was lying face down on his blanket. I grabbed his left thigh and started kneading it. I knelt on his buttock and twisted the leg around to stretch the muscles. I got him to keep his head flat, I knelt on his coccyx and had him lift his chest. The children were asking about pressure points so I demonstrated some of those.  I angled his leg and ground my elbow into the sole of his foot – hard. My nephew passed on the message in English that I felt he was in good shape, but the groans and surprised ‘ohs’ and ‘oofs’ told me he was unused to massage like this.

One of my jobs as a Master Sergeant in the Burmese National Army is to keep my officers nimble through massage. The stranger told my nephew he felt I was practicing how to torture enemies of our state.