Saturday, May 5, 2018

Part 1. The Lost Army

Olive would spend endless, sunless afternoons in the stone courtyard with her father, an authoritarian in the Confucian tradition, receiving the complaints and petitions of the Shans, Lisus, Miao, Kachin and Wa tribes who lived in the mountains.

In Lashio the other children would say, 'Stay away from Olive, she has a revolver in her handbag.'

She was declared princess at 21 and exiled a year later. She threw a chamber pot at her husband on their wedding night, and rumours circulated about her affairs with women.

In the moonlight, villagers whispered about dead, bodiless women they saw around her house, floating through the jungle with beautiful luminescent faces and long black hair, leaving trails of blood along the forest floor.

In 1950, as the Communists moved south of the Yangtze, Chiang Kai Shek's Kuomingtang forces conceded defeat by retreating to Taiwan loaded with a millenniums worth of Chinese history. Under the command of General Li Mi, the last 93rd Division of the Nationalist army in Yunnan decided that rather than surrender they would slip quietly across the border into Northern Burma.

Appealing to her vanity rather than her politics, they invited Olive to lead an army of 300 men to continue their guerrilla war against the Communists in China. Dressed as a man with a Belgian pistol in each holster, she funded her military excursions by controlling the opium grown by the hilltribes living in the mountains of Kokang, managing its production, distribution and consumption.

Locals complained that since the Chinese came, they would find their drying clothes soiled with blood and excrement. An opium farmer saw the whole jungle lit up with the glowing faces of young women, moving like will-o-wisps through the darkness. He described the trachea, heart, stomach and lengths of intestine hanging below their necks dripping with liquid black opium.

When her opium caravans approached a village, all the women and children would run into the forest.

In Tachilek, the raw opium was traded at the markets for pure gold bars, where the Mekong meets the Ruak river and the intersections of the Burma, Thai and Laos states form a perfect triangle.

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