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Archive for March, 2010

Through a good friend of mine, we recently had the privilege of spending some time with the Free Burma Rangers. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with this spirited and inspiring group of individuals, who work in a unique way to counter the Myanmar army and its influence throughout Burma. The team leaders challenged us to a game of soccer/football and proved their work keeps them in better shape than we are. The food was delicious, conversation enlightening and the new baby monkey, recently rescued from Burma, just too adorable.

To find out more about who they are and what they do, please take a look at these video links. The videos are narrated eloquently by the daughter of the primary architect of the organization. (more…)

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This was written in mid-January, when I first arrived in Bangkok from Kolkata, before flying to Burma.

Preparing myself mentally for Bangkok, I thought: I am not ready for the hyper-modern critique that this place will demand. To go from India and Bangladesh to Bangkok is too big a leap, too many eons of wealth, technologies, too big of a shift of position vis a vis Western culture.

Now I am here, and I am overwhelmingly preoccupied with the food. New flavors lurk everywhere, and so far they enthrall me. Noodle and lemongrass soups with fish sauce, chillies and sugar, squid on a stick with spicy and tangy sauces, fruit with sugar and chillies on top, Thai coffee, condensed milk in a good way, seafood a delight. Here is an adventure of unfamiliarity. (more…)

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A friend tells me it’s like the ‘wild west’ – the Thai outpost of Mae Sot, a small city situated along the border with Burma’s Karen state. In 2008 the General Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) was assassinated here while perched upon the balcony of his residence. Burmese spies, representatives from various ethnic factions, illegal immigrants, and a wealth of western NGO workers and Human Rights activists populate this town. A simple desire to view this ‘NGO’ town (and more) takes us here. NGO workers were drawn to Mae Sot over 25 years ago following an influx of Burmese refugees as a result of Myanmar military offensives against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). There is certainly an NGO industry here.

Mae Sot

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A sign at the entrance to a pagoda complex in Yangon. Entrance fees would be fine if they were paid to the monastery and not directly into the government's pocket. Myanmar. Burma. This land is two separate places. Myanmar is the place where the government has fixed an unrealistic exchange rate, so we must purchase bundles of 1000 kyat notes on the street, counting each stack and griping over every tear or hole. We are forced to travel on expensive buses with obnoxious music videos on continuous loop, no other transportation allowed for foreigners. Government checkpoints at the entrances to touristic zones demand our US dollars for passage; faded or folded bills are rejected firmly. We are forbidden from straying from these areas; our bus windows look out on empty, dry scrublands as we are shuttled to the next town with guest houses licensed to admit foreigners. (more…)

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The Buddha teaches us to be kind to one another and to help each other,” explains Mr. Thint Lwyn Tu Tu, our tour guide at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon. “Good for the other person, it also helps us become less selfish!”

Before we leave for Myanmar, we are told that the Burmese are the friendliest people on earth. A high reputation to live up to, and, I must admit, I am skeptical – until I meet the lollipop boy, Mr. Thint Lwyn Tu Tu, Mrs. Sivakami and countless other people. They teach me a little about the concept of Nirvana and allow me to experience a bit of this heaven on earth. (more…)

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Negotiable exchange rate

Caleb found this internet cafe. His theory is that some westerner said "you should name your internet cafe Virus Free," and this is what came out. It certainly represents the many contradictions evident in Burma.

As a traveler in Myanmar it is easy to have one’s expectations confirmed. Abysmal infrastructure, propaganda and censorship tells me people are oppressed. Nourishment, internet cafes, shining pagodas and endless smiles makes life not seem so bad. Indeed, a traveler cannot explain what life is like for the diverse people of Burma — so in any observation I must consider what I can and cannot see as a visitor. (more…)

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Marvelous Myanmar BBQ


So I struggle a little through Myanmar. The food is…well, how to explain?

In giant bowls, mystery meats float all day in deep, bronze-colored pools of oil. These bowls sit out in front of restaurants to entice customers. Oil purportedly preserves these staples in a country with no refrigeration. There is more oil than anything else, but there is not much choice, so we sit down to eat. Ladles full of this cold, oily curry are poured over mostly-cold rice that was prepared hours ago. Delightful: Cuisine Myanmar. (more…)

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