(Was able to upload an image by screengrabbling it, reducing it to 4.5MB. Below all just my opinion)
1) I was there for 25 days, not a lot, but because of the mileage we had exposure to a lot of people. They’re kind and generous. They’re not always quick to smile first, similar to the very shy Laos, but if you smile, they smile beamingly back. The less shy Indonesians smile regardless of your expression. With the exception of a couple of countries in SE Asia, it’s all smiles. Very nice.
2) It’s really easy. Like Laos. And like Laos, the majority of tourists you meet are French. However there are no intense tourist hot-spots like (awesome) Luang Prabang or (horrible) Vang Vieng. Bagan would be the closest thing. So there’s a sense of unavoidable cultural immersion that’s it’s possible to miss in Laos fly in/fly out.
3) Yangon has 5 million people, Mandalay 1, the Capital 1, yet the country a whopping 53 million. It’s a country of agricultural villages: 63,000 according to wiki. Agriculture is 70% of the economy. It’s a land of plenty. Despite the death penalty still being available for drug trafficking, Myanmar is the world’s second biggest producer of opium (after Afghanistan) because thousands of families depend on it agriculturally. So the cities are not what it’s about. It’s about getting out into the country.
4) It’s in a two year economic slump and the outlook is entirely political.
5) The food is simple. They consider cows their friends, so beef is rare. They like pork and chicken most, fish second, and countless vegetables. But virtually no potatoes or dairy products. Oddly, the only time I’ve seen this, nearly all street food is prepared while you wait, even in the smallest of villages. It takes about 15 minutes. You point at stuff in the glass case up front, if they have one, and they make your lunch. They make too much of it and it’s discouraging leaving food behind.
6) Facebook is ubiquitous. It’s even brought reading skills to millions who were illiterate before its arrival. Soe’s mother learned to read over a two year period because of it.
7) The political thing.
As we know, this is a less developed country with only recent intensive western exposure. The beliefs and values are domestic and traditional. So when something happens it’s viewed as if it was happening to a large extended family. In fact they refer to Aung San Suu Kyi as ‘mother’ and to each other as either brother and sister, or aunt and uncle, depending on age. So the impression I got was that any challenge from inside or outside was taken as an affront or attack on not only direct family but also on traditional (family) values which include their religious beliefs. These are easily defined things without a lot of nuance or diversity of opinion. Accordingly they get outraged quickly. I saw it in response to events on the daily news.
Soe insisted that a society with no traditional values has no values. MKK and Mr Prince nod their heads. This basic idea is as far from a western liberal position as you can get. To me this clarified the political positions I heard from these surprisingly close new friends.
But that’s just chat.
Here’s a great piece that ran yesterday in The Sunday Times, NYT and Singapore Times
myanmar is not a simple morality tale
8) It’s impossible to travel in SE Asia without the Chinese being part of the changes around them, and conversation, and Myanmar is no exception. For a serious mess, read something about the pipeline that crosses Myanmar.
9) Here’s my name in Burmese. I think. Soe could be jerking me around, he’s a funny guy.