Things I Have Learned In Burma (Myanmar)
“By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’eastward to the sea, There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me; For the wind is in the palm trees, an’the temple bells they say: ‘Come you back, you British soldier’; come you back to Mandalay!’ Rudyard Kipling ‘Mandalay’. (Bagan)
Things I Have Learned in Myanmar (Burma)
In 1989 the military government officially changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar. It is a contested issue. Many countries and opposition groups in Burma do not recognize the new name. The US, UK and Canada do not recognize it. The United Nations does.
In Burma the greeting is Mingalaba. It means may all auspicious luck fall to you.
Homosexuality is not allowed in Burma.
Air Bagan is the preferred airline of the Military Junta in Burma.
There are no federally regulated airlines in Burma.
Spending money in Burma is not easy. They don’t accept credit cards and only accept flat crisp money-mostly in one hundred-dollar bills. If you have that kind of money you can go to the official money exchange. If you don’t, you must go to the unofficial one. This entails going up a betel nut stained staircase to a fifth floor walk up dwelling. Your friends with the good money wait in the car. I ask the tour guide if he has been here before and he says no but the driver knows him.
The Military Junta was officially dissolved in 2011 following an election in 2010 and a nominally civilian government installed. They still keep enormous influence.
There is no ATM, 7-11 or cell phone service. ( or at least there wasn’t a year ago)
The economy is one of the least developed in the world, and is suffering the effects of decades of stagnation, mismanagement, and isolation. Key industries have long been controlled by the military, and corruption is rife. The military has also been accused of large-scale trafficking in heroin, of which Burma is a major exporter.
The iconic sight of Inle Lake is the leg rowing Intha fishermen. The traditional fisherman still use this technique. They stand at the stern and wrap one leg round an oar whilst gripping the hull of the boat with the other foot.
Hillary Clinton made a landmark visit to Burma in December 2011 – the first by a senior US official in 50 years – during which she met both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. President Obama followed suit in November 2012, signaling Burma’s return to the world.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma. She remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release on 13 November 2010. She now holds an elected seat in the Parliament. She would be unable to be elected president because of a new ruling about foreign-born children. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest and was unable to give her acceptance speech. Here is the beginning of her speech which was given in 2012. You can view the whole speech on youtube .
Burma ranks the lowest for health care.
If you are going to Burma, do something to help. There are many orphanages and schools. Teach English for a day or bring things to the orphanages or hospitals or schools. If you do some research, you will find many opportunities –or just wait till you get there and ask.
Burmese traditionally eat with their hands. Chopsticks and knives and forks are becoming more popular. The meal is served on a low table and the Burmese sit on mats on the floor.
The Burmese are snackers. ( and who isn’t?) There are many stalls selling snacks on the streets.
Burma is known for its legendary golden Buddhist pagodas. The Schwedegon Pagoda in Yangon is the most famous. The stupa sours 100m into the air and can be seen from far away. The seven tiered crown has 5000 diamonds and 2000 rubies.
In the poorer Shan and Chin states, insect larvae, ants and grasshoppers are added to the traditional rice and curries, cooked vegetables, lentils and spicy salad.
The Burmese women wear thanaka on their faces. It is a yellowish white paste and is used as a skin protection and sun screen and often applied with designs..
Try to stay in privately owned hotels and eat in privately owned restaurants. Do your shopping at personal businesses. This way you are helping the Burmese people and not the military junta.
When I was there, (almost year ago but I wasn’t a blogger) the Burmese were willing to talk about Aung San Su Kyi and point out the street where she was under house arrest. The consensus was then if she leaves that she wont be allowed back. (this was before she was elected –things have changed.)
Burmese spelling is easier than Thai spelling or even English spelling.
The Strand Hotel in Yangon Myanmar, home to Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling when it was Rangoon, Burma, looks exactly the way you picture it.
There is internet in the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Burma though we were told there wouldn’t be, it works better than the internet in the Penninsula Bangkok.
There is a half hour time difference from Thailand to Burma.
At some point in your trip to Burma, you will be followed.
There is no freedom of speech and press for residents and tourists in Burma.
You are not allowed to take any pictures of the military in Burma even if they are just guarding a monument.
Photographing monks is allowed if you ask first or you happen to be one.
In Burma they say that “anything that walks on the ground can be eaten” such as barbecued pig organs on a stick, fried crickets, ( take off the head peel off the wings and gulp), fried beetle (suck out the stomach and chew the head) and insect larvae ( best eaten raw because it is good for the stomach). (this would be chicken feet)
In Southeast Asia people chew on the betel nut ( still very prevalent in Yangon and sold on the streets) –mixed with the leaf and lime it acts as a mild stimulant. The ancient lacquer boxes show how socially acceptable having black teeth and red gums and stained floors from spitting is. You can see the dark red stains in stairwells and streets all over Yangon.
There are rules to wearing longyis ( sarongs worn by both men and women. There are rules for the placement of the knots and folds. They are different for men and for women. Sexual orientation is also shown by the placement of the knots.
Myanmar ( Burma) has the largest children’s army in the world. No, we didn’t see that. There are black zones that you are not allowed to cross into.
Burma is the second largest country in Southeast Asia.
A Burmese person asked me if I thought that the Burmese people had done bad things in another life to have such a difficult life now. I was thinking of my own karma at the time wondering the same about myself, having to leave trip of a lifetime and it brought me back to reality. I thought that individually they were good people but maybe there was a time when things were wrong with the world and it was a collective karma. I know karma is a very strong theme for these very Buddhist people so I felt I had to answer like that. It is so hard to understand so much cruelty and hardship in such a strong Buddhist culture. He thanked me for my answer and I thanked him for his question.
for more info go to http://havefunflysafe.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/how-to-leave-myanmar/