Our heroes admired in Myanmar
Myanmar has just begun its journey to democratization. When asked if the Burmese people have antagonism towards the ruling class enjoying its luxurious lifestyle, a Burmese man responded, “They must have lived virtuously in the previous life.” He claimed that those who commit bad deeds in this life would reincarnate as animals in the next life. People in Myanmar are laid-back and deeply religious. Not just the people, but even the dogs on the streets seem peaceful and gentle.
So it came as a surprise that the most famous Korean in Myanmar is former president Park Chung Hee. Kim Hae-yong, the Korean ambassador to Myanmar, said that famous Koreans in the country are late President Park, Admiral Yi Sun-shin, Jumong (founder of the Goguryeo Kingdom), Wang Geon (founder of the Goryeo Kingdom) and Dae Jo Yeong (founder of the Balhae Kingdom). The historical figures became household names when television drama series based on their lives aired in Myanmar.
When actors Choi Soo-jong, who played Wang Geon, and Song Il-guk, the star of Jumong, visited Myanmar, fans welcomed them passionately. Of course, young viewers liked trendy dramas such as “Boys Over Flowers,” but leaders are attracted to patriotic historical figures. Park Chung Hee is highlighted as a hero with a military background who saved the country from poverty. All five figures, including Park, were military commanders. As the military influence is very powerful in Myanmar, they seem to find hope and familiarity from Korea’s military heroes.
Former Blue House secretary Oh Won-chol published “The Korea Story” in 2009, and the book has become a must-read for politicians and government officials in Myanmar. Oh was often considered the “economic field commander” during the Park administration, and he wrote that a leader who could accomplish economic development should have a pioneering spirit, lead by example and have a clear national vision, strong drive and personal charm. Korea has exported more than Park Chung Hee’s spirit to Myanmar. Koica, or the Korea International Cooperation Agency, is teaching how to catch fish in Myanmar. Koica invested $2.3 million to build an industrial training center in Thagaya. Young Burmese people are getting vocational training in electronic and mechanical engineering. The program includes theory classes and hands-on training.
Only 50 years ago, Myanmar had provided rice assistance to Korea. Now it’s Korea’s turn to help Myanmar. I am thankful to the older generation for making growth possible.
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun