April 7, 2009 at 7:33 pm 1 comment

I’m going to Burma tomorrow. Our flight is at 8 o’clock in the morning. We’re flying there because it is close to impossible to enter the country by land. There are two possibilities (from Thailand): Ranong and Mae Sai, but the areas after these cities are closed off to foreigners therefore we’d have to fly to see the rest of Burma anyway.

I decided I’m going to call the country Burma in my writing as a way of expressing my disapproval of the government of the country. Burma was renamed Myanmar in 1989 as a way to distance the country from its colonial past. The British conquered Burma in 1885 and ruled it as an adjacent empire until 1947. Since independence Burma has been ruled by an army, which began as a force against the English and was at first welcomed by the people. When dissatisfaction became more prevalent the army’s rule became harsher and tactics to control opposition (via imprisonment and murder) became more prevalent. When Burma gained its independence its economy was one of the strongest in Southeastern Asia; currently it has the 60th lowest GDP in the world.

I read an interesting book, “Finding George Orwell in Burma.” Orwell was a civil servant in Burma in his early 20s and although both Animal Farm and 1984 were written before Burma’s current government came to power, the totalitarianism depicted in both books is considered by many Burmese to be analogous to their current state. In this book the young author travels through Burma visiting places Orwell lived in or visited during his years there and describes what she sees now (in contrast to Orwell’s descriptions and those of his contemporaries) and meets various people – from boys who wait tables in tea shops and strangers who follow her to friends of friends who she must visit clandestinely in order to avoid endangering them. With these friends she discusses Orwell and his novels and Burma’s political situation.

According to my lonely planet on Burma there is some contrast of opinions about whether or not it is “ethical” to visit Burma. The argument against traveling to Burma is based on the fact that the army government benefits by profits and impression of legitimacy tourists bring. The argument for it is that tourists give people an opportunity to see something beyond tightness of their lives.

Burma does not grant visas to journalists and writers. When I applied for the visa I was worried that I’d be denied because if they googled my name they’d see a horde of articles written, not by me but by my sister – also a Jew from Ukraine. She’s 2 years younger, a brunette like me, attending Columbia university and studying comparative lit. After a very hot half hour of waiting our passports were finally returned to us with the Burmese visa inside.

Me and Dmitry are going to be joined by another couple from Latvia. We met two weeks ago when we applied for the visas and met again in Ton Sai.



Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , .

Notes from a Russian super-duper Yangon, Burma’s old capital

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dina  |  April 19, 2009 at 5:22 am

    How are you now?


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