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Published: September 27th 2013
It's no surprise that Aung San Suu Kyi is treated with great reverence here, but I have been surprised by how openly she is idolised. Her portrait - almost always alongside that of her father, Aung San - appears on walls in shops, cafes, houses, tourist offices. Her image is for sale everywhere (I saw her likeness embroidered in sparkly thread on a black velvet wall hanging yesterday, for sale at a temple), as are DVDs of her life and speeches, and everyone speaks openly of how wonderful she is. Really it amounts to a personality cult, but it means a lot to the Myanmese to have someone on an international stage who they feel they can be proud of, and, I guess, a symbol of hope for the future. I am sure that Aung San Suu Kyi would win a free and fair election by a landslide, but whether she will ever have the chance is another matter.
The Lonely Planet for Myanmar has a long section agonising about the ethics of tourism in Myanmar, as it is difficult to travel here without financially supporting the government, through entry fees to tourist sites, and government-owned hotels and transport. You can argue the pros of contact with outsiders outweigh this, but of course the opening up of the country has its own pros and cons too: one hot topic of discussion here is the growing influence of the Chinese in Myanmar. The Chinese have just completed a massive pipeline linking Myanmar to China, through which they will export both natural gas and oil for the next 30 years, and they also built the highway linking Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw. Some Myanmese claim that the poor of the country can no longer afford to buy farmland as the Chinese have bought large swathes of the country, driving up prices - the Chinese buyers aren't doing anything with the land, just planning to re-sell it to higher bidders, who may be either Myanmese or other Asian (usually meaning Indian, Japanese or South Korean) businessmen wanting to expand their interests in the future as the economy continues to develop. Although overall standards of living are rising, it would certainly be fair to say that the Myanmese have mixed feelings about the Chinese presence in their country.
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