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Published: February 11th 2009
Stepping into Myanmar was like stepping into the distant past. In many ways it reminded us of China in 1983. Yangon has many crumbling images of its colonial past. Houses, sidewalks, and roads show little signs of maintenance. Buddhist pagodas dot the landscape and in many cases are the tallest visible structures. The two lakes within the central city provide some scenic beauty to the dilapidated and dismal apartment buildings. The roof of Aung San Suu Kyi's house on Lake Inya was pointed out to us, but we were not allowed to go down the street. It's hard to believe that she, "The Lady", has been held there, in house arrest, for the past 20 years.
The ancient city of Bagan was dusty and desert-like with over 3000 Buddhist pagodas within a 25 square mile area. We walked barefoot over many rocky, dirty streets to visit the major pagodas in the complex. These temples are not the showy gold gild stupas of Yangon or Bangkok. They are built of basic mud brick and have a much more rustic character. One was only accessible by horse cart, which was a bumpy ride down a very dusty path.
Mandalay, with its
The most revered of all the Burmese pagodas.
bikes and motorcycles, was a crazy mix of crazy drivers and traffic congestion. Only cars are allowed in Yangon and the difference was striking. The highlights of Mandalay were the 18th century Palace and Mandalay Hill with its 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding plains of Mandalay.
All these sights were interesting, although we toured more pagodas than necessary. But most interesting was what we learned about life in this police state run by the generals. Yes, there is Internet, but access is denied to most sites. Yes, they have cell phones, but a SIM card costs $1500. Yes, they have cable TV, but it costs over $300 a month. (The average salary is about $180 per month.) The people are very hesitant to say anything about the generals or the government unless it is in a private setting. The infra-structure is crumbling and the people receive little assistance from the government. The newspaper is like a page out of "Brave New World" or "1984". (The photo titled, "People's Desire" will give you an idea of what the paper is like.) The people refer to the government officials as VIPPs (Very Important Problem People). There is
Shwedagon Pagoda floor sweepers
Neighborhood communities form volunteer groups to clean the grounds of the pagoda.
a constant feeling of "us" the people, against "them" the government. They do all business with tourists in US$. The official government exchange rate is 6 Chat to the dollar, while the black market rate in 1200 Chat to the dollar.
Still, the repression and dismal living conditions haven't broken the spirits of the people. They are warm, friendly, and quick to smile. They so want tourists to visit and see their country. Many are eager to share their views regarding the government and the state of the country, but only in private. The children we met were delightful and spoke excellent English. It is a required subject starting in Kindergarten. We were treated with great kindness and sincerity. It was a great experience and an amazing example of the strength of the human spirit.
We are now in the Seychelle Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Computer access is limited and slow. However, we are aware of the problems occurring in Madagascar and have removed that from our list of stops. The beauty of Madagascar, the lemurs and the chameleons will have to wait for another time. Kenya is our replacement country and we are
Sule Pagoda in the center of Yangon
This 2000 year old temple is in the center of a round-about and is now surrounded by various shops.
busy researching available safaris. More to come................. RPM
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