the juicy tourist

April 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment


Sometimes Yangon feels a bit too touristy despite the miniscule number of tourists (compared to the numbers in all the other countries i’ve visited – although unfortunately i’m unable to find any documentation online to confirm this) Although its common to charge tourists more than locals for certain sites (in Cambodia, for example, access to the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap cost foreigners $20 per day while locals and children were exempt from any fee). However, in Yangon the number of sites that charge foreigners but not locals is simply gruesome. Shwedagon Paya charges foreigners $5 and locals nothing, Sule Paya charges $2 and locals nothing, and a stroll around Kandawgyi lake costs $3 per foreigner and nothing for locals. In a country where the average income per capita income $200 and where foreigners like me come to see life from a Burmese point of view (and this includes minimizing spending to live more like a local) these fees are outrageous. Even the sign is insulting. We come to your country as friends and guests, why exploit us?

One of the refreshing things about Burmese people is how often they talk to you simply for the sake of talking. Usually the chat is a general introduction (what is your name? where are you from?) but sometimes the interlocutor surprises you, like tonight when the Burmese man spoke Hebrew to my Israeli friend.

The Burmese may be the most friendliest group I’ve met traveling in Southeast Asia, despite their country being the most restrictive for travelers (restrictions on where you can go, hitchhiking not possible because no driver would risk being suspected of working against the junta by trafficking foreigners, permission required before staying overnight at a local’s…)

A man approached me yesterday and wanted to tell me about the junta. He looked very tired and sad, his eyes were wet and he didn’t want to let me go. “How can I help you” I asked. “Don’t forget us,” he said.

A country whose citizens look so content from the outside and yet suffer so much discontent? During my trip I met several individuals who voiced their discontent with the government and enthusiasm (albeit weak) for the 2010 elections.

How do you judge a country? One man I spoke with analyzed that the junta is not completely bad and that about 30% of what they’ve done has improved the country. “But they don’t give us any freedom.” Is life without freedom worth the benefits of economic security? (I am not suggesting that Burmese have economic security) I recall Voltaire’s saying, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This principle has been one of the founding ideas behind my own values… In a world where people think (that is, they have the fortune or misfortune to have access to news and others ideas) is it not cruelty to limit communication among individuals? Or is it my American “brainwashing” as Dmitry used to say that has made me so desirous for individual freedom?

On the flight back i sat next to a Burmese man who left Burma when he was a child. When i asked him about his country of birth he said it was not safe to talk. Only when the flight took off did he turn to me and say “now we can talk about the government!” He mentioned that he has to pretend not to speak Burmese every time he deals with government officials because otherwise they demand “tea money” and that when he rides in a taxi he avoids discussing anything political with the drivers who usually lament about the Burmese situation.. “You don’t know who’s a spy… it’s very hard…”

I’m going to China. I’m going to Hong Kong. And I’m going to have a nice time on my own and meet people with zing who will inspire and teach me and with whom I can share……

A brief summary of Burmese history and current situation.


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , .

back to Yangon Bangkok xxx

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