I know Tu Aung (not his real name) because he works for an organisation in KL. I’ve seen him numerous times, poked fun at him, said the “hello how are yous” and “good bye take cares”. But this is the first time I’ve actually sat down with him and asked him to tell me his story.
Tu Aung is soft spoken, and together with his small stature and rimless glasses, give him a totally approachable demeanour. Its only when you look closely at his eyes do you see the fierce determination that hides just beneath the surface.
It is with this determination that he explains, in this way and then that, how the small community of Kachins in Malaysia need protection above all else. How him and his organisation are focusing on this issue. And to drive his point home, he shows pictures of a Kachin woman who was victim of an attempted rape by her employer. The woman was three months pregnant at that time, explains Tu Aung, and we find ourselves laughing nervously at the apparent incongruity of it all. I wonder what would be an appropriate response, but I don’t know myself. I think I am laughing partly to save myself from feeling too much. Better to laugh at the videos of car and bike crashes than to sit down and consider what it must have felt like.
I have never known Tu Aung apart from what he does here in Malaysia, being a community leader of sorts. So I am surprised when he tells of his degree in electrical engineering. Majoring in process and control systems, and microwave systems, he says, and then adds, laughingly, but I think god wants me to be a process engineer.
You can see him light up when he talks about engineering, about what he learnt and the few years he worked at an engineering firm in the capital city of Rangoon. About logic controllers and control boards and the machines that needed them – CNC machines and steel rolling machines. About how they always had to repair circuit boards rather than replace them due to lack of money. About how the boards would be 4 deep and they would still have to try and figure out how to repair them. He spoke about the time when they designed, from scratch, a control board for airport landing lights, and for a moment you could see him being transported back in time, talking animatedly about currents and voltage and controllers.
Its all Greek to me, but I could both see and feel his passion.
So why run to Malaysia? Why throw it all away?
“The (Myanmar) police took my friends away. It was after a youth meeting on a Sunday morning. We all went back to to our flat, which was on the fifth floor, but I stopped to make a phone call to my mom on the ground floor. You see, it was very difficult to get your own phone line in Rangoon, so people usually use public phones.”
“I saw my two friends being arrested by two policemen uniform with another three plain clothes policemen.”
Tu Aung ran back to his Church, and the people there told him not to go back. So he went to stay at a friends place across the river. For two days he waited, but his two friends never came back.
I don’t know what happened to them.
“Until today?” I asked.
“Until today“, he said.
That was when Tu Aung made the decision to run. His original intention was just to hide for a while in Thailand and then go back again. But when he arrived at the bordertown of Mae Son, traffickers told him that Thailand was in turmoil at that moment and that Malaysia was much safer.
So Tu Aung made the decision to head to Malaysia. On a September morning, 4am to be exact, he arrived in a car and was introduced to some community contacts in Kuala Lumpur, and by nightfall, he was sleeping under a roof in very crowded conditions. But safe nevertheless.