Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Myanmar Part I

The past month has been a whirlwind of flights, trains, bus rides, broken computers and perhaps most discombobulating; a sudden and unexpected change in continents.

I left Thailand for Myanmar (Burma) on Aug. 25 after spending a week preparing for what would be a 17 day venture into the rapidly changing country. Things were looking up; my visa application went through with no hitches, my Thai Baht had been successfully converted into perfectly crisp U.S. Dollars-- only brand new unblemished bills are excepted in exchange for the local currency, Kyat, in Burma-- and despite monsoon season, the weather report wasn't even looking too bad.

Then, because of a lengthy list of details that I'll spare you from having to read involving my partial citizenship, I realized that I needed to move to Denmark. Like, soon. Like, I probably-shouldn't-be-galavanting-around-Asia-right-now soon. Like, immediately-after-I-get-back-from-Burma-is-the-only-way-this-will-possibly-work soon.

So I did.

And now, after getting settled into an apartment in Copenhagen-- courtesy of a good friend-- I am now finding the time to sit down and really take a close at my take from Burma.

My trip was essentially divided into two parts: Number one being the sightseeing and touristy beginning of my time in the country and two being the last five days, in which, I traveled to the town of Sittwe in the northwest Rakhine State where conflict between Buddhists and Muslims (frequently referred to as the "Rohingya" people) has been simmering since June when, in one single week, thousands on both sides were displaced from their homes after a violent string of murders and arsons took place.

But, before I post images and experiences from Sittwe, I think it would be better to start with something more broad-- something that shows something more subtle going on in Burma. At the core of it, the country is undergoing rapid changes. Just last week, oppositional party leader and National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, met with President Obama on his own soil-- a political appearance that would have been unthinkable a few years ago when Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was being held under house arrest in Yangon. Then, earlier this year, she was elected to parliament in yet another move that seems to hint at a more democratic future for Myanmar.

The future I heard locals speaking of varied from place to place. On a night bus somewhere outside of Inle Lake, a business man spoke of the plethora of possibilities as he flipped through files on his iPad-- his legs crossed underneath the traditional checkered longyi he wore together with a pair of weathered sandals.

In Kalaw, a small mountain town in Shan State known as a popular starting point for treks, I drank tea with a Punjabi guesthouse owner on a cloudy afternoon. His prognosis for the country he grew up in was much more grim.

"We cannot get passports, it would take years," he said, speaking for himself and other non-ethnic minority groups that inhabit the country. "But for someone with a connection to the government-- who knew the right people-- it would take just a few days."

Such division is apparent in Burma where the what-is-new clashes with the what-used-to-be-old each and every day.

Wearing a traditional Burmese "longyi", a man walks through the grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. The pagoda is believed to have been built some 2,500 years ago.

A young couple check their smartphones as a monk reads a newspaper at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

A goat herder tends to his animals near the Nann Myint viewing tower in Bagan, Myanmar. The 60 meter tower officially opened to the public in 2005 to provide a higher vantage point to see the over 2,000 ancient stupas and pagodas that dot the horizon of the surrounding area. Despite ample qualifications, Bagan has not been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site which some believe is due to the modern restorations some temples have undergone as well as the construction of new buildings such as the Nann Myint Tower. 

A woman walks past a Daw Aung San Suu Kyi t-shirt for sale at the Bogyoke Market in Yangon, Myanmar.

Crowds gather near the the Yangon central bus station in the late evening.

A young boy sits in his home outside of Kalaw, Myanmar. "It his our dream to live in a home like this," said his parents of the picture displayed on the wall behind him.

A boy holds a BB Gun to the head of a young Buddhist Monk at a festival in Bagan, Myanmar.

Wearing the white cream derived from tree bark as traditional make up, a girl sits along side a dirt road outside of Kalaw, Myanmar. 

A young couple share a roadside kiss after the night bus they were riding on broke down in the early morning on its way to Bagan, Myanmar.

No comments:

Post a Comment