From: "Angie Eng"
Merry Xmas to all...
India is infamous
for her 4 P's: Poverty, Politics, Poop, and Pus. Add Pagoda and you have
Myanmar, formerly Burma. We just flew into Bangkok via Yangon to spend
a merry hot and humid Christmas before we head toward Calcutta. A summary
of our first month's travels...
for 10 hours on a 1970's hand-me-down Japanese bus packed with locals
and their year supply of rice, fermented veggies and dried fish on a bumpy
dusty road. Then jumping in the back of an open pickup with 30 Burmese,
racing up a steep mountain to witness the sunset and a big golden rock
supposedly "floating" atop a cliff1. Exchange the rock for a
72 foot tall Buddha multiply this by 1 million and divide the dimensions
in every possible fraction and you have Burma. The kitsch of their Vegas-like
temples adorned with more eye candy than Disney on acid is a stark contrast
with the tans and browns of the bamboo huts; yellow thanaka2 painted faces
and dried rice patty fields.
Under control by a
military dictatorship, SLORC3, Myanmar remains an isolated country with
the Western world smuggled in by opium and gem trading. Myanmar has an
abundance of natural resources and at one time considered the richest
nation in all of South East Asia. However, the military junta rules Myanmar
with an iron fist, preventing any Western influences and involvement in
politics and daily life. All Western contemporary literature and pop culture
is prohibited in the country. Nonetheless, a Shan hill tribe bag with
the words and logo "Nike" embroidered across it sums up the
global pervasiveness of Western powers that be.
By the side of the
road they sing while they break rocks with a sledge hammer. It is time
to serve corve4, a forced labor which existed in all of Southeast Asia
and enforced in Burma today. Don’t let the singing fool you. They
are not having fun out there in the sun. They would rather be inside singing
karaoke, chewing betelnut5 and drinking tea. If I had a choice to serve
an army active in war (as required in many other countries) for a year
or break rocks, I'd have to choose the sledgehammer over the gun. Virilio6
had said, in the age of technology, we are constantly in war. This was
the case for many countries in Asia.
In a country the size
of Texas, there are over 50 insurgency groups in Myanmar. As a tourist
you witness the peace of the locals selling goods in the markets, farming
with oxen, riding horse carriages, fishing in dug outs, praying in temples,
cooking noodle soup on the street, singing American cover songs in Burmese.
At home you read novels of drug warlords, hill tribes battling it out
with governments and themselves, military torturing locals, spies, CIA,
but rarely do you catch a glimpse of these incidents. Instead you seek
out the exotic; transvestites dancing traditional Burmese and going into
trance (Nats7), a trek with a maimed local (shot by a drunk army man)
to the tattoo parlor, singing karaoke with your jeep driver and the prostitutes
in a Hmong village or attending the night festival with teens drunk on
rice wine shooting rubber bands and Chinese origami owls.
Like a giggling islander and a Buddhist student combined, all experiences even out to a continuous series of daily bliss.