Friday, November 6, 2009

Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar

Title -Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar

I am sorry I haven't been able to blog for the last week or so. I am in Myanmar and I could not access the blog, but now I have figured out I can email my posts to blogger! The government has blogged various web sites here including gmail and blogspot. All of the internet cafes know how to get around the gmail block, and they all have gmail themselves. This is the first place I have seen gmail used so often. I wonder if it's because it is the one blocked. I asked someone, they said google gives good news, so the government blocked it. I wonder if people here just want the connection to the outside world they figure....use the engine that the government doesn't want them to.

(FYI ... since Phnom Penh I have gone to Angkor Wat and seen the ruins in Cambodia, then onto Bangkok, and now here. I have almost finished the article, just waiting on a few more tweaks, and then I am going to try and send it off to some newspapers. I will update on that as it unravels.)

Myanmar is the most beautiful and kindest place I have ever been to. It is teeming with people who are so curious and so interested and respectful of visitors. Especially since I am along, I am constantly approached at tea shops and on the street.."where are you from? are you alone? why? where are you going!" It's the typical way of greeting someone, to be that interested in their whereabouts. My favorite thing to do so far, since I am so astounded by the sweet people around me, is just sit at tea shops in these tiny little plastic charis on sidewalks and people watch. Within an hour I might have 3 or 4 different people come up to me and sit with me, practice their English and hear my story.

Myanmar is the local name, Britain renamed Myanma Burma after the Bamar people who were the majority, and then the junta restored the name in 1989).

I flew into Yangon from Bangkok a few days ago and immediately noticed differences from the other parts of SE asia. There are no motorbikes in Yagon cause the goverment outlawed them and I don't really know why. There are lots of book binding shops and book shops in general, some mandarin and just burmese books. No one has phones so there are these little tables every block or so with 2 or 3 phones on them for people to come pay by the minute. I stayed next to China town where many Indian descendants also live (their greats came over when Britian was colonizing both countries) so there were tons of Indian and Nepali chypati stands and curry stands. The food is amazing. Lots of fried little veggie balls, chicken cooked so slowly it falls off the bone, tons of little bowls of potato curries, chilis. There are tons of Indian guys sitting around tea shops playing checkers with bottle caps and chewing on betel leafs with areca nuts in them, which is this nut that is addictive and gives you a high, and it turns your mouth blood red. You spit out the remains after you are done so there are big splats of red juice that looks like blood everywhere. Pretty gross but it's always great to get a big smile from somebody with lots of red goop in their teeth! Let's see.... there are very few backpackers around, but there are lots of tour groups. Big beautiful gold pagodas that are 2500 years old sprinkled throughout the country.

Now I am in Mandalay which is about 10 hours north by bus. It's a new city surrounded by ancient cities (first century time period) and it's much smaller than Yangon, almost a million versus 5 million.

I had breakfast this morning with a man who was a retired army captain. I had met him last night at dinner and we decided to have breakfast before he had to go back to his village today. He was about 75 and the nicest, most peaceful man. He wanted to tell me all about Buddhism, about the simple life that brings little suffering, about how he was happy to know English from attending St. Pauls School in Yangoon when the British were here. He was so confused that I, a girl, could go to a St. Paul's also. I tried to explain to him that it wasn't always this way, but I don't think he got it. When I told him I was from Tennessee, he said "Oh tennessee williams! very good!" haha!
We talked and talked. Eventually I got up the courage to ask him about his being in the army and what that was like. He said that it was a small job and he took it because he didn't want to work on the farm at home. Now he has been retired for 25 years and receiving small pensions from the government. When he needs money he buys teak wood from the government and then sells it back to someone. When I asked him about what he thought of the government (very carefully and after a few hours), he said it was good, the country is so poor that it needs the discipline of the militray. I asked him how this could can taking people's resources away and keeping them in poverty be a good thing.... and he didn't really address it but he just said that he thought the government was what the people needed, and the American sanctions are only hurting the country's poverty problem.
So I walked away so confused from this man. He was so peaceful and sweet and had so much reverence for a humble life and for imitating Buddha. He was so understanding of giving, of generosity, and then he was also guilty of being part of the machine. How does this work?

This is the safest place I have been to yet. I am so glad I am alone, I am meeting so many people. People are constantly giving me directions and asking me questions or just giving me the biggest beaming smiles. The Buddhist way of life permeates all corners of life here, people are so generous, kind, humble, and peaceful.

I can't attach any pictures to the blog - access denied - so I will try and update when I can without pictures.

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