Travel Journal - 16-05-06 - Impressions, Myanmar (Burma)

It’s with some fear that you enter a place like Myanmar. You know that any activity deemed dissident or activist in any way by the ruling junta could see you in prison, deported or simply vanquished.

Through the discussions we had with many locals about the situation there was always a shake in their voices, a hushed angry tone that conveyed of having suffered first hand at the governments atrocities. And suffered long and hard. People wanted change, taxi drivers hit their fists into the steering wheel at their frustrations with the local police, who demand bribes to escape fabricated fines. People who, with hushed voices explained their displacement, as the government nationalized their businesses and liquidated their assets. I have in my possession some of the currency that was abolished by the ruling junta soon after their take-over. Notations that were deemed astrological suspicious were eliminated overnight by radio broadcast deeming them void. People who held wads of cash under their mattresses (majority of people) suddenly found themselves a hell of a lot poorer.
The guest houses who have to pay ‘contributions’ to visiting government officials or to ceremonies held at local pagodas for military guests.

The .04% of national budget that’s contributed to health care, the phoney medicines that steadily worsen the patients condition. And zero tolerance for objection. The population must simply accept it, or deal with it in a labor camp. The national press has articles that are sourced simply ‘From Internet’ and messages of astrological prophecy and subliminal boxes that simply state ’Don’t Smoke’. By some degree, BBC is broadcast to cable networks in the country, but to what scrutiny I’m not sure as the audio track is always out of time with the video.

While we were in the country a typhoon lashed the west coast and there’s continual fighting in the Kayin State where it’s alleged the Burmese army to this day is conducting raids on villages in attempts to suppress uprising. It could be attributed to the naivety of British colonial rule that promised autonomy to the tribal groups of the country. It could be attributed to the Burmese Army who now refuse it to some groups. This sort of information, however is inaccessible to the Burmese people. They’re told what they need to know. In March 2006, the government concluded its move to Pyinmana, a town 300 kilometers north of the capital Yangon. On advise from astrologers, the government assembled all staff and officials, packed them onto trucks and departed at 6:32am in the morning exactly, numerically predicted as the ideal time to leave.

Everyone wants change. People we spoke to had a gleam in their eye as they imagined liberation under Aung San Suu Kyi, they said people would be in the streets, rejoicing, but even she doesn’t want people to travel to Myanmar yet, saying the country isn’t ready.

Well that’s not entirely true, but it’s impossible to travel in the country without contributing in some way to the regime. Even before you’ve set foot in the country the money for a visa goes into the pockets of government officials. The buses you take around the country, traverse roads built by slave labor chain gangs. In some ways, as you walk the streets it seems life goes on for these people, and in some ways it’s because of their isolation that their culture has become so rich, their attitudes toward foreigners so warm. I can only encourage people to go, see the country while you can. While it’s doors are open and you can still witness one of the last remaining rich traditional cultures on earth. Perhaps in a way it shows the local people that the open doors to tourism are a chance for the outside world to hear their stories and see whats really happening behind the sanitized world press. To look beyond the government packaged tours and have a cup of tea with some of the locals and just let them talk.

Travel Journal - 16-05-06 - Impressions, Myanmar (Burma)

Murray Newham

Joined April 2007

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