They Sein was different from other boys. First of all, he didnâ€™t like girls. Not even beautiful, young Burmese girls who wore silk skirts and frangipani flowers in their jet-black hair. They Sein liked watching other people, especially his enemies. And They Sein had a lot of enemies. In the land of pagodas, or golden temples, called Burma, They Sein was known as the Burmese Spy. He wore his favourite checked skirt, called a longyi, which looked a bit like an Indian sarong. And as he looked just like any other boy, he could travel around the city with no-one recognising him. Once, Burma had been a peaceful land, but They Sein had other ideas.
|The Burmese Spy Adventure Book|
However, They Sein loved secrets. He recorded the day-to-day activities of the people in his town in his spyâ€™s notebook, which he kept in the waistband of his longyi, so that it was always close to hand. When he had some secrets to tell, he talked to the thought and mind police. He enjoyed giving them information on the people who could have been his friends. They Sein didnâ€™t want the happy thoughts of traditional life in Burma and the games with a wicker Burmese football in the streets. His goal was to take away happy thoughts.
In his notebook he reported the daily activities of the people of Taungyi. He watched the merchants buying and selling the brilliant Burmese rubies and trading wood from skyscraper trees in the remote and dangerous jungles. But in the Golden Land, people also traded in secrets. And they were watched over by the mysterious thought and mind police.
They Sein sat outside his simple home on stilts sheltered from the beastly Burmese weather. His mother sat by the porch during the day time in her large straw hat which protected her from the sun and rain. They Seinâ€™s mother, May Su, who ran a not very successful restaurant in the village, thought her son could be something special. They Sein had dreams like any other boy and he dreamed most of all of joining the great Burmese army. He wanted to walk the streets of Taungyi with his gun in his hand, wearing the famous green uniform. Every evening he watched the army marching on the television in his motherâ€™s home and wished that could be him.
The rains howled and pounded against the wooden house on stilts. Meanwhile, They Sein passed away hours in the cafÃ© while the streets filled with muddy water. He tried catching the small Burmese snakes hiding in the garden and one day dreamed of catching a giant Burmese python. That day, walking down the street by They Seinâ€™s home was a man wearing a bright, crimson-red robe and carrying a papier mÃ¢chÃ© bowl to collect money from people in the street. His name was Saw Win. Immediately suspicious, They Sein offered him a drink of mango juice in the cafÃ© and the monk took shelter from the rain.
After he had finished his drink, the monk, Saw Win, bowed gracefully and humbly, said thank you and left. But wanting to find out more, They Sein followed him back to the monastery where he lived and prayed. There were about thirty monks of all ages, and the young boys sat on the floor of the monastery reading out loud from books. Their bright-red crimson robes were a sign of peace. The books were musty and damp from the monsoon, and They Sein could hear chanting echoing around the building. But instead of feeling at peace, They Sein was immediately suspicious. Who was this monk? This was a matter for the thought and mind police.
They Sein tiptoed home through the rain, his flip-flops flapping in the water as his feet squelched and made sucking noises. They Sein was over the moon with what he had seen. The monks were clearly teaching the children new and forbidden ways. This could not be allowed! He whipped out his notebook hidden in the waist band of his longyi and started to make notes. Maybe this would make him popular with the army generals. The soldiers often visited his motherâ€™s restaurant and he could whisper in the ear of an important general.
They Sein was happy and at peace with the world that night, thinking of how he would make his name as an army general. Arriving back at the restaurant, he spotted a man dressed in a purple and grey longyi, the Burmese skirt that men of the golden land wear. As he approached, he waved at the man who, although looking very ordinary, was a member of the thought and mind police. Tearing off a page from his note book, he handed it over. His job done, They Sein then disappeared into the back of the restaurant to feast on a bowl of his motherâ€™s disgusting fish soup.
Later that night a small boy in crimson robes waded through water deep enough to reach his knees. Arriving at the restaurant, he spotted They Sein. â€œDear friend, U Win sends this gift of peace to you so you too have happiness in your life.â€ He handed over a basket of durian fruit, famous for its stinking smell. They Sein accepted the gift and put away his notebook, soon forgetting all about U Win the monk and the rains still pounding on roof of their house on stilts. He turned over and fell fast asleep.
Like They Sein, Thiri wasnâ€™t like other girls. She was as bright as a sparkling Burmese ruby. A peasant girl from a remote village, she was in Taungyi to learn English at the convent school. And every day she passed by the restaurant on her way to school. While not used to girls, They Seinâ€™s heart pounded and his eyes widened. He followed her through the busy streets and markets of the town, his sandals flapping in the dusty streets. Curious, They Sein decided to catch her eye by offering her a taste of the delicious durian fruit. Its stinking smell might give her a reason to speak to him.
Thiri tried to speak in English to him, sharing a few words. â€œBrother, what is your Burmese name in English? Thiri only knew English and the language of her village high up in the hills. They Sein didnâ€™t know he had a name in English and smiled a toothy grin back at her. But They Sein was not used to smiling and his smile soon turned into a scowl. Like They Sein, Thiri had a plan to escape Taungyi for Rangoon, the old British capital city of Burma. Its famous golden pagodas, fast roads and luxury shops were said to shine with a golden light. Surely they would meet good fortune in such a place.
Walking down Kanna Lan street that day, They Sein spotted a yellow notice glued to the wall by the church. â€˜Study in Rangoon. English scholarships available now! Competition starts 10 November. Entry test free. Ask inside.â€™
Meanwhile, his clever mind was trying to work out what terrible things he could do in Rangoon, the great capital city. So as his mother May Su cooked him especially disgusting dishes, he studied hard in order to pass the test which would put him on a bus to Rangoon. He feasted on noodles or khauk hswe and ngan bya yay, a salty fish sauce which They Seinâ€™s mother used to flavour her dishes.
Thiri was beside herself. The English competition was her big chance to escape her life in Taungyi. Thiri dreamed of becoming a teacher and working with English-speaking people. Little did she know that They Sein was making careful notes on her and watching her every mood. In Burma, her eagerness to meet foreign people put her under suspicion. Completely unaware, however, Thiri passed away the days studying in preparation for the competition.
And while they studied all day and way into the night, the Chinese were coming into town. They were different and strange to the people of Taungyi. Some people feared the thought and mind police if they even talked to the strangers. They Sein, using his special skills, uncovered the day-to-day activities of the foreigners. This led They Sein into a new web of spying. His ears to the ground, a whispering campaign could ruin the business of any person meeting with the Chinese.
It was a sparkling day by the pagoda, which is a Burmese temple, as the bright sunshine of summer spread its heat and warmth around the town. This created dust where there had been precious water. They Sein offered some flowers and sounded the bell of the great pagoda as he reflected on what would become of him in Rangoon. Would he make his fortune?
Some of these foreigners began to visit the restaurant of May Su, They Seinâ€™s mother. Unsure of them at first, she prepared them her quite disgusting Myanmar fish soup. She also served plates of rice with prawn crackers dripping with oil to share between them. Meanwhile, They Sein listened to their chatter. Hard to understand, he watched them wave their hands in the air as they talked in funny foreign voices. One night he thought he overheard them talking of Sein Wei, a local merchant.
Sein Wei was a rich man who bought and sold rubies and emeralds from the north of the country. He was well known to the Chinese. As it happens, he had been exchanging his emeralds for American dollars and people were saying he had a giant Burmese ruby. Whipping out his spyâ€™s notebook, They Sein began to make notes. They Sein knew that the generals would be keen to hear this information.
And so They Sein began to make a plan. First he would get some money out of Sein Wei, next he would tell the thought and mind police about his activities. Then a quiet word in the ear of a friendly general would finish him off for good. Any thoughts of regret passed him by. A wicked smile crossed his cruel lips as he planned the downfall of yet another innocent (or not so innocent) man. They Sein tucked his notebook back into the waistband of his checked longyi and set out to the home of Sein Wei. The locals wondered where he was heading that night, worried that they too might receive a tap on the door from the Burmese spy.
â€œMy dear friend what can I do for you this evening?â€ asked Sein Wei as he opened the door. And so They Sein read out the list of crimes he had noted down and extracted a payment of 10,000 kyat in Burmese money from the merchant. He made his way home through the dusty streets day, dreaming of a greater fortune and a famous Burmese ruby he would buy for himself. In the meantime, Sein Wei picked up his phone.
As They Sein strode through the streets, he was surprised to hear the sound of a roaring engine approaching fast behind him. He dived just in time as a hand reached out from the motorbike which swerved inwards into his path and pushed him roughly to the dusty ground. â€œTha Nat,â€ he cried out loud â€œgunâ€ as he feared for his life. The motorbike sped off, a man with a long, thin moustache waving his pistol in the air as he disappeared into the distance.
Satisfied that this time was merely a scare, They Sein was once more on his way watching out for snakes and other persons who might be out to get him. After all, he would soon be out of town. Besides, with his generous donations to the pagoda, he was sure that he had enough good luck on his side. And so like the Burmese snakes he liked to taunt in his free time, They Sein would wait for his chance to come out of hiding and take his revenge.
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