Magnificent, Troubled Myanmar (Burma)
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a beautiful, tragic, natural, and chaotic place. One of the poorest countries in the world, Myanmar's situation had been made steadily worse over the past forty years by political corruption and ineptitude. In 1962 a military dictatorship took control of the government and the economy. The government came under international scrutiny after public uprisings in 1988 and their refusal to relinquish power after elected out of office in 1990. Myanmar's struggle for democracy continues to this day. Recent talks with the UN have yielded less than optimistic results.
Worries at the Airport
I expected a search of my baggage at customs; I had all my explanations prepared. I am a student. I am definitely not a journalist. The big video camera is for shooting scenery. The laptop is just a device to store pictures. Suu Kyi's book? A gift from a friend. Don't send me back to Thailand; don't confiscate my stuff.
But there was no check at the airport; the indifferent guards waved me through. "Just change your dollars into government-controlled 'Foreign Exchange Certificates', give us a bribe, and be quiet," their eyes seemed to say.
Black Market Exchange
Men in Skirts
"Hello, My Friend!"
And I Thought Thailand Was Inexpensive
Anything Really Wrong?
Fear, Poverty, Corruption
Everyone lives in fear of the government. Consorting openly with foreigners is a sure way to get questioned by officials. Speaking out against the government or campaigning for democracy is a sure ticket to prison.
Wages in Myanmar are criminally low less than $.50 a day for many people. At the same time, the price of everyday goods like rice has recently doubled. Most people just barely scrape by.
Corruption among civil servants and government officials is an unfortunate fact of daily life for Myanmar people. Ordinary tasks such as having a phone hooked up or keeping your power supply consistent can seldom be accomplished without greasing the wheels. You can't really blame the corrupt workers either: criminally low salaries force them to become "resourceful".
and Optimism in Spite of it All
I keep picturing all the smiles returning to me, the tea and cakes I was treated to, games of ball and badminton in the street, industrious fishermen with traditional wooden nets, magnificent stupas and holy sites, quiet religious devotion, spicy and flavorful meals, riotous markets, women and children in traditional face paint, sturdy trishaws pedaled over atrocious roads, water buffalos wandering city streets, betel nut splotches in the dirt, the safety I perceived when wandering at any hour But mostly, as I think about it now, it's the smiles that return to me.
Posted on November 21, 2002 09:46 AM