Friday Reads: Myanmar, Cambodia, the Ozarks and the South

I'm sad to say I missed Nicholas Kristof's May reporting in Myanmar in the New York Times detailing Muslim peoples there being detained by the current Buddhist regime without much aid in what's been described as concentration camps. From my research and reading into the ethnic conflicts in Myanmar as part of my own reporting, as I covered in yesterday's post, in the country once known as Burma, home to over 130 ethnicities of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim faiths, the political climate has long been a series of open, short, peaceful inhales followed by torturous, murderous exhales. Myanmar refugees have been one of the largest groups resettling in the U.S. for some time.

Myanmar offered a lesson in contradiction. The country is making lots of progress, including in its advance from dictatorship to democracy — with presidential elections expected next year. A surge of foreign investment has sparked a much needed economic boom. The domestic press has been largely liberalized, and our 12 days of unrestricted reporting in Myanmar would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The authorities flaunt this new openness by granting access to reporters, while at the same time they engage in brutal policies against the Muslim minority. Usually regimes that are so repressive don’t give journalists visas to roam around freely.

It is difficult to put into words what's happening to the Muslim Rohingya people, but link through here to watch an un-embeddable video produced by Kristof's crew.

In other Myanmar news, the Times also had a story about thanakha, a organic paste used by people in the region to protect their skin from the sun and prevent wrinkles. It's not an invisible balm, as you'll note in the picture below. The story, and the burst of reporting we are finally able to have about the country, isn't so much an odd counterpoint to stories like Kristof's, but us Westerner's getting a better glimpse at the culture, which is fascinating. 


In other Asian news, Cambodia is seeing a boom in its rice production thanks to a neighboring rice producing country's shaky political climate:

For as long as Cambodian rice farmers can remember, their product has had an unsavory reputation. Tough, dirty and unmilled, it was impossible to cook evenly, and even farmers traded it as pig feed in exchange for cash or better-quality rice from Vietnam or Thailand.

Even while Cambodia recovered from decades of war and other areas of agriculture flourished, rice production languished, a national embarrassment in a country where 80 percent of the population works in paddies. In 2009, Cambodia exported just 12,613 tons of milled rice, putting it at the bottom of the global heap.

But as Thailand, one of the world’s largest rice exporters, struggles with political instability, Cambodian exports have improved along with their quality; the rice can now be found in high-end grocery markets in the West. Last year, Cambodia was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of rice and the second-biggest exporter of premium jasmine rice. Sales of milled rice abroad reached 378,856 tons.


Click through on the Cambodian story; the photos are better than the words.

In the Ozarks, in Lake Truman in Missouri, there's a paddlefish referred to locally as a spoonbill, an ugly looking reptile of a fish, that's related to sturgeon, the fish prized for its eggs. Caviar.  Medium, an exceptional place for longform journalism and smart blogging, for all you old school types (myself included), has a killer story up about how as Russian sturgeon has crashed, roe poachers have come stateside looking to take eggs from paddlefish and pass them off as caviar. One fish, the story notes, can net $40,000. 

In the 1980s, when Farr was new at his post, a Missouri fisheries biologist named Kim Graham warned him that sturgeon were crashing worldwide, and that before long, the paddlefish in the Osage River were going to attract the interest of caviar smugglers. “He told me, ‘Look, there’s a market for this stuff, and there are way too many fish here for guys not to show up soon, so keep your eyes out,’” Farr remembers.

A few years later, paddlefish carcasses started appearing around Warsaw. Some had been tossed into the woods. Others had been tied to rocks and sunk into the reservoirs, only to float free and wash up on shore. All had been knifed open, their eggs gone. Caviar poachers had already decimated paddlefish populations in some rivers in Tennessee and Kentucky. On the Warsaw docks, snaggers had begun reeling in smaller and smaller fish.

Here's a little more about the fish:

Adults have large, toothless mouths and little interest in bait. The best way to catch one is to drag a hefty hook along the bottom of a river, pulling it back and forth—sometimes for hours—until hook snags fish and a silvery monster can be hauled to the surface. It is not, to put it politely, a game of skill, but aficionados say it’s addictive. “It’s like playing a one-armed bandit,” says Bryan Heinen, a popular local paddlefish guide who travels to Warsaw from his home in Nebraska each spring.


Make sure you read to the end. It gets really criminal, and involves Russian immigrants.

To end things on a lighter note, my friend and, well, kind of a hero, Brett Anderson interviewed Alton Brown in this month's Garden and Gun. If you are into the South, and being Southern, you're going to like it.