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Yangon, Myanmar

Written on: Friday March 9th, 2007

A journal entry from: Southeast Asia

Myanmar - the politics, the people, the place ...  

Not much has been said by us about the politics, as there is always the fear of retribution while in this country.  Like the local people, there is a threat of reprisals speaking out against the government. So much is controlled by the military junta that e-mail is blocked, electricity is randomly turned on and off for long periods of time, people are monitored and tracked, tourists are only allowed without special permission into many areas. Passport numbers are recorded for everything: purchasing bus tickets, guest houses, train tickets, and even the trek. For locals, evening house guests or gatherings of friends can be suspect. The people can be called upon to do forced labour - build roads, government buildings, beautification projects. We witnessed soldiers guarding a long chain of men, women and children passing buckets of concrete onto a new bridge. Some have tried to refuse, but for most people the deaths of so many people after the 1988 demonstrations are too fresh in their minds.

Images of the people will be those of friendly greetings, singing on the sidewalks, men in longyis (Burmese sarongs), women in tanaca made-up faces, villagers riding ox-carts and horse wagons wearing bamboo hats or turbans, and monks in procession. The people are honest and hard-working, putting great value on family, friendship and play. 

Images of the place are those of gold-leafed stupas, landscape dotted with temples and whitewashed pagodas, dark teak wood monasteries - all beautifully contrasted by urban scenes of crumbling sidewalks buckled, broken and splattered with red betel spit, and the mingling scents of markets, sewers and cheroot smokers. We'll remember the choking fumes of cars, trucks and buses pieced together with spare parts from extinct models, so overloaded that bodies drape from doors and cling to roof tops, all driving precariously with right-hand steering (98 percent) on the right side of the roads (perhaps an anti-British decision).  

In a country where the people still labour manually, where raw products are being robbed by the Chinese, where government still takes no responsibility for education and health care in the minority states, should the western world continue with its trade sanctions and travel embargoes?  The people say, "Where you from?" and eagerly greet the outside world. Tourist dollars spent locally, and not put into the hands of the government, improve their lifestyle.

Having said all this, one can only hope that they don't hurry up too much to be like the west for it's the people and their conservative traditions that make this country a special place.

 

From avril on Mar 16th, 2007

Wow, what fantastic photos! Reading about your trip is so inspiring. I'm currently planning a trip to South East Asia, and now I think Myanmar is on my list of places to go too!