I spent about 3 weeks in Burma recently, traveling roughly 2,000 km in Burma by trains, buses, cars, trucks and bikes. I began in Rangoon, went up north to Mandalay, west to Bagan, east to Inle and then back to Rangoon for the new year’s eve celebration. I love Burma. The people there are nice. You can just feel it all around you.
There are so many things to write, but I will just leave this picture here for now. It was somewhere north of Rangoon and far south from Naypyidaw, Burma’s own Putrajaya. It was about 2 or 3 hours into the journey to Mandalay.
Or maybe, I should share this as well: Burma does not appear to be a poor country. Neither does it appear to be a country under economic sanction or under military dictatorship. There is poverty and I saw it in many places, but it does appear Burma is farther along the development curve than, say, Cambodia. I had expected Burma to be as poor as Cambodia but I was wrong. To me, Rangoon specifically, felt modern. There were many new cars on the roads and the streets were paved and smooth. Not as modern as Kuala Lumpur but Rangoon is not a capital of a too poor a country. Upon landing in Rangoon and leaving the airport behind, those facts immediately struck me. My expectation of Rangoon was quite simply off-target.
Maybe what I saw was only the superficial stuff. After all, a foreigner, maybe, would be impressed with Malaysia but if you peeled the onion layers one by one, something would not feel right. The same with Burma I’d suppose. One has to live there, and more importantly, study the Burmese society to know its nuance. And as a foreigner, I may have had certain freedom that the locals may not have.
But maybe, all the modern looks are the liberalization dividend. Several years ago, I was told, things were very different. And there was definitely fewer tourists.
And Aung San Suu Kyi is popular there. No doubt about that. I bought a book from one of the sidewalks in Rangoon and the shopkeeper pointed his finger to a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi on the wall of his makeshift store. He said, “that is our leader.”
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