Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | December 30, 2013

Myanmar: Ayeyarwady revisited, part two

Katha on the Ayeyarwady: There's no need to worry about being stabbed in northern Myanmar, or indeed any other part of this country

Katha on the Ayeyarwady: George Orwell was stationed here in 1926-27. Tourists don’t need to worry about being stabbed in northern Myanmar

Walking back from taking photographs for a piece on the Hungry Ghost festival in George Town, Penang, this youth I’d been chatting to earlier started running behind me. It was 1am, no one was around and I had a bad feeling. Stopping to say hello to the kiosk man, the youth disappeared. Turning the corner into the deserted part of the street next to the basketball court and a few businesses before I reached my shophouse, the youth appeared again, or rather I could hear him running behind me calling, “Where you from? Where you from?”

I’d already told him where I was from. And now I had a really bad feeling.

At least my instincts were right. The youth kept calling, then ran up beside me, got too close, then grabbed me, while yelling, “Give me money!” and pulling a knife. Having no money on me, I told him this, while retaining a tight grip on the Nikon camera concealed in my bag. Later I berated myself for not doing more to fend him off, but one hand was holding the camera, one hand was trying to push him away, there was not falling over to take into consideration, and there was that knife to watch.

The camera cost a $1,000 and I was not giving it to some kid who wouldn’t even know what to do with it. Besides, why should I reward him for being a little shit? I guess it has something to do with what I have survived in this life, but when someone attacks me like this, I don’t get scared. Well maybe a little. Mostly I get angry.

Many thoughts were running through my head while I was in the grip of this belligerent young Indian, including appraising the length of the knife blade (I suspect it was from his mother’s kitchen) and how far it could penetrate my abdomen, whether I should try and hit him with the camera, and could I count on my reflexes to grab his wrist if he went to stab me. Luckily I was larger than him, and he seemed fairly unfamiliar with stabbing technique so these things worked in my favor. We tussled, he pulled my hair, tried to throw me into a fence and grabbed at my breast. Obviously frustrated on several levels, he eventually ran off.

Later I reported the attack to the police, because I had a feeling this youth – he was maybe 15? – would try this again. And probably practice until he got really good at it. Not that the police were very interested, especially when they learned nothing was actually stolen. I consider the kid not getting anything a good result, as just maybe it would make him think a life of crime was harder than it looked. As nothing was stolen I didn’t have to fill out one of those crime report sheets in Malaysia with all its questions about race and religion.

Following this incident I was not in a good mood. However, I did not lose any sleep over it – it wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to me that week. Trying organize this work trip to Myanmar: Now that was stressful.

Cheeky: Burmese children with thanaka on their faces

Cheeky: Burmese children with thanaka on their faces

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