Friday, November 13, 2009

Burmese Days

I just finished George Orwell's book, what a terrible one! I liked the
British humor for the majority of the book, but as common with
Orwell.. things went awry. He is a great writer though, and his
depictions of Burmese jungle and Burmese people in their small daily
nuances were really spot on. Describing an old woman who was paddling
him along the river, she smoking a cigar and sitting peacefully and
slowly pulling the boat along. He asked her how far they were from the
end point, she put her paddle down to think for a few seconds in
silence, then looked up, took the cigar in her hand, and replied.."a
man's call away."

I am leaving Myanmar today, sadly. I could stay here for another few
months! I had a great time at Inle Lake. Inle Lake is the second
biggest lake in Myanmar and its in the northeastern hills of the
country in the Shan state. It's about 2,900 ft high so it's hot in the
day but cold at night, such a treat after this humid southeast asian

I will be excited to get back to unrestricted internet, but other than
that, seeing Carrie before I take off to India, a haircut hopefully,
and maybe some more shopping, Bangkok does not sound exciting. I will
only be there a night and then I fly to Delhi.

Inle Lake was really beautiful and there are about 70,000 people who
live in villages around or on the lake. There are virtually small
towns on the lake with electricity lines, small canals that make up a
road system, and a huge complex of floating gardens where tomatoes
grow really well. The life here is like stepping back in time, with
this ancient leg rowing that people do with one paddle, weaving and
looming by hand, making thread out of the fiber in a lotus stem, and
making paper from pounding and straining pulp. There is a lot of
tourism, and a lot of farming.

I visited an orphanage where 40 girls lived and practiced weaving and
singing after school. It was on a hill overlooking Inle Lake, and the
girls were very excited to practice English with us. They want to be
tour guides and they study geography. They sang in unison, Country
Roads by John Denver, to my great surprise! I love that song. I
visited Red Mountain Winery also, which was such a treat! All the
equipment down to the bottles are imported from France and Italy.

I had the best interactions with local people in this country. I
didn't really see much of the underlying problems that people have
with their government. I know that they must report when foreigners
come to their restaurants or guest houses, and they record passport
information really thoroughly. Internet is unreliable. The main
problem is the lack of electricity. The people are only given a few
hours of electricity a night in the smaller towns. Power goes out all
the time. People are mainly self sufficient and sell their produce or
fish in local markets, I didn't see any infrastructure or industry
except the logging of teak. I saw barges on the river with huge logs
of teak and I am told this is all sold to India and China, benefitting
only generals and people related to the generals. These were the main
things I noticed that hinted to the military junta.

I was able to buy most things locally so I didn't support the
government as much as I could (except for some entrance fees to cities
and plane tickets). There are parts of the country that are restricted
to foreigners... the northern parts of the country where the tribal
fighting and drug lording are happening. I talked to a lot tour guides
and guest house owners and they all seemed really happy and excited
that I was visiting their country, that I cared about their country.
They seem deprived of outside contact and attention and I think they
really like to see white people here. I never felt unsafe, in fact I
felt safest here. I hope that the people of Burma have a chance to
progress sooner rather than later, they are very smart and very
interested people. It's a really tough situation with the economic
sanctions here, barring them from any progress. I don't disagree with
the sanctions though, because behind closed doors I know that life
isn't fair for the people here.

One piece of exciting news is President Barack Obama is planning to
meet with the Myanmar head of state, Senior General Than Shwe, and
Prime Minister Thein Sein in Singapore, this Sunday to begin talking.
Here is one article about it from the Asia Sentinel -

Hillary Clinton returned from Burma earlier this fall and reported
mainly that US sanctions were not working here.

1 comment:

  1. Myanmar really does sound amazing, especially the way you describe it. It really makes me sad that you are leaving already. And that's coming from me who likes to talk to you when i get a chance. But really, i would have never even considered going to Myanmar until now and now i really want to go and experience this amazing place. Like i just said now because of you i really hope i can have a chance to visit such a cool place. (maybe you could be my guide some day) actually i may have figured out the perfect job for you! you should be a tour guide giving a local feeling tour. And or you could also write books about places you go and write about the best ways to get the most out of each place to help people get the real feel for places and not just the normal touristy things. I think you'd be very good at it especially judging by your posts, emails, and conversations with me.
    Keep up the good work!