“It’s very sad for all of Kokang,” said a former soldier of her death. “We have come to say farewell to our leader.”
On July 13, 2017, in the hills of Burma, “Uncle Olive” passed away peacefully in her sleep. She had retired years earlier to the beautiful countryside, guarded in her secluded compound by a militia of loyal fighters. She was the world’s most fiercesome warlord you’ve never heard about before.
She didn’t set out to rewrite history books. She just knew that she was different. Instead of trying to be what other people told her that she should be, she lived life on her terms.
And that changed everything.
Olive Yang was born in British Colonial Burma in the late 1920’s. Her family was considered royalty in the region, so expectations were high, but Olive was not the type of “princess” her family expected her to be.
Quite the opposite. She had no desire to become a princess. Or even act like a little lady. She rejected the idea of motherhood or getting married.
Instead, she chased after her brother’s girlfriends and dressed like a boy.
Her people expected her to have her feet bound and marry a prince. Instead, she became a warlord and a drug smuggler. She ruled an entire corner of the world.
But it wasn’t easy.
Her parents, and the rest of the royal family weren’t willing to tolerate her nonsense for long. As soon as they could, they forced her to get married. To her cousin.
Where she was forced into sex until she became pregnant. She didn’t want or need a child. She was a child herself. Overwhelmed after giving birth to her son, Jipu, she left him with a wet nurse and made a mad dash for the hills of Burma’s remote Kokang region. Never to return.
Over the next fifty years, she would turn those hills into her empire. Ruling with power and genius opportunism. She provided a unique service — guarding caravans of raw opium through the hills to the Thai border.
It was a man’s business. But she decided it was her business.
Soon “Olives Boys” — as her militia of hundreds of pistol-toting warriors were known — controlled a worldwide operation. At home, she ruled over a region the size of Luxembourg.
Her shipping routes in the Golden Triangle grew to be the second largest source of illicit opium in the world. Her secret? She was the first person to use trucks, not mules, to ferry opium through the Burmese highlands. She built a financial empire as big as Pablo Escobar in his prime.
And how did she use that wealth?
Besides wooing famous Burmese movie actresses, she plotted the demise of communist leaders.
A woman fighting against dictators.
She was cunning and ruthlessly efficient in her craft. Using the opium trade to fund her anti-communist crusade.
She was good at it. So good, the CIA decided to get behind her, secretly giving her weapons to keep her militia in full force on the ground.
She bucked conventional wisdom at every turn. Wearing men’s clothes instead of dainty dresses. Cutting her hair short instead of letting it grow out. She was openly gay in a world that punished such behavior by death.
Weirdly enough, her nickname for much of her life was “Miss Hairy Legs”.
A name given out of humor and respect by her loyal fighters.
She spent years in prison where she endured horrendous torture and sexual abuse. She faced death threats from her government and power struggles from leaders within her organization.
She was Olive Yang. No one else. She did things her own way. Not asking permission or waiting to be told what to do. It was truly living on her own terms.
And then, at the peak of her power, she stepped down. Retired from being a warlord. She gave the entire operation over to one of her lieutenants, Lo Hsing Han, whose job was to carry a jar of cigarettes for Ms. Yang.
Wealthy beyond measure. More powerful than the military of the country she lived in. Wise. Capable. And witty.
She was all done fighting.
So she gave it away and settled into a simpler life — further earning the respect and adoration of the rebels in her country.
In her late 60’s she was called out of retirement to help her people negotiate a peace treaty between the Burmese government and the Burmese rebels. That treaty unbelievably lasted twenty years, until 2009, when fighting again broke out.
By that time, Olive Yang was wheelchair bound and living safely in a compound full of militiamen who called her “Uncle Olive.”
She wasn’t supposed to be any of that. Or do any of that. She was supposed to look pretty and marry smart — living out her life in luxury and wealth.
But she wasn’t about to let that happen.
She was determined to live life on her own terms. To direct the course of her destiny.
She was accountable for her behavior and took ownership of her choices. But through it all, she offered no excuses. No explanations. No equivocation.
She was the warlord of her destiny. She fought for the right to live life her own way.
Whether you agree with her choices or not, you have to admire someone so committed to success. Someone so dedicated to getting to where they want to be that they stop at nothing in pursuit of that dream.
So what’s your excuse?
What is stopping you from standing up and standing out? You automatically start the game in a better position than Olive.
You probably won’t face torture, rape, or sexual abuse. You might face some mockery and skepticism.
Stop crying about it. Grow up. Take ownership of your dreams.
Be the warlord of your destiny.