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Burmese Odyssey: An Interview with Vincent Giordano

by Guillermo Xegarra

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The intensity in Yangon’s Thein Pyu Stadium is palpable. Two Lethwei fighters characteristically charge one another with hard fast volleys of stinging attacks. The arena, originally custom built to promote Lethwei, is comfortable, with tiered seating providing excellent views from all angles. The one startling difference today is that there are cameras everywhere covering the event. No more shoddy coverage or mismatched cameras and bad edits. The audience members join in the reverie enthusiastically, lifting high into the air their iPhones, Samsung Galaxys, iPads, or anything they can record the fights with. Within minutes, personal Facebook and YouTube pages are loaded with images and videos of the fights. Welcome to the new world of Lethwei. Once doomed for decades by a military dictatorship that forcibly cut off any contact to the outside world, Myanmar now revels in the freedom to share any element of society with all those within Myanmar and the world at large.

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Burma is now officially known as Myanmar. It was one of the countries least influenced by the West, virtually sealed off from the outside world, when a brutal military dictatorship took control of the government and economy in 1962 and never let go. Five decades later, the epic and often bloody struggle for democracy remains a constant uphill battle. Burma itself remains one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. While Burmese constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, comprising 68% of the population of 42 million, 8 other major ethnic groups and 135 subgroups form much of the rest.

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