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FROM THIS EPISODE

Bridget Burnquist was backpacking around Southeast Asia. After weeks of drinking cheap liquor on beautiful beaches, she was beginning to feel as though her experiences were merely superficial. She heard rumors that the nearby country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) was home to beautiful mountain villages that have hardly changed for centuries, accessible only by hiking for days in the Burmese jungles. So she headed west into Myanmar, despite (or perhaps, because of) warnings from the U.S. State Department that essentially said, “If you get into trouble, you're on your own. Travel at your own risk.

It was spring of 2014, just a few short years after Myanmar had emerged from decades of isolation imposed by its shuttered military rulers. Hundreds of unique ethnic groups within the borders of Myanmar have since been fighting for political representation. Unbeknownst to Bridget, a civil war still waged within its borders.

Bridget soon arrived in the Shan State. This region of Myanmar is home to mountainous terrain and diverse ethnic communities, accessible only by foot. She soon joined up with a local guide and a fellow Western traveler. The three decide to backpack through the Palaung tea country and up into the higher, wilder areas of Myanmar. One night in the mountains, Bridget and her travel companions had an unexpected encounter with Palaung rebel soldiers that left her questioning her perception of violence and proximity.

Since Myanmar gained independence in 1948, an estimated 130,000 civilians and soldiers have been killed in civil conflict; over 700 people have been killed this year. Recent peace talks between the Burmese government and rebel groups ended in a stalemate in August 2015. An election is slated for November 2015.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese advocate for democracy, is attempting to run for president against militant incumbent Thein Sein. Her candidacy has recently been disqualified by lawmakers, but Aung San Suu Kyi continues to advocate for constitutional change to allow her presidential campaign.

Bridget Burnquist produced this episode with editing help from Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton. Our editor at KCRW is Nick White.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Serocell ||| Nym ||| Lucky Dragons

WARNING: The videos below contain images of warfare that may be disturbing to some viewers. These war videos were uploaded a group claiming to be the TNLA, a Palaung rebel army. We sampled sounds from these videos for the episode. Jeff examined the first video, and believes that the sounds of gunshots were added in post-production.

William and Marty
William and Marty

HBM 044-03

HBM 044-04

Clearcut Farmland
Clearcut farmland

Water buffalo wallowing on road
Water buffalo wallowing on road

William takes a nap after lunch
William takes a nap after lunch

William picks tea leaves
William picks tea leaves

Valley where William heard the RPGs
Valley where William heard the RPGs

HBM 044-11

HBM 044-14

HBM 044-15

William stops to talk with a woman working in a field
William stops to talk with a woman working in a field

HBM 044-17

Bridget in the jungle
Bridget in the jungle

William displays quail eggs
William displays quail eggs

Steep climbing through clearcut forest
Steep climbing through clearcut forest

Traditional mountain meal
Traditional mountain meal

HBM 044-22

A passing mule train
A passing mule train

Returning to the large city
Returning to the large city

Producers:
Jeff Emtman
Bethany Denton

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