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Archive for the ‘Burma’ Category

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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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. The only travel for us is 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 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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Ye Khin’s poem

Ye Khin* is a gentle and shy man. He is in his early thirties and ethnic Karen. Ryan and I meet him on our journey through Eastern Burma where our paths cross for a few days.  The last time we see Ye Khin, he waits with us for the bus and we end up talking about the internet. Out of the blue he asks us: “How can I say something so the whole world will hear it?”

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A prayer for the long-term traveler: Let me always remember that this world rewards my attention handsomely. Beware the whirlpool of meaninglessness that lurks when I lose sight of the horizon, when the world’s endless mosaic before me seems daunting and impossibly demanding. There is a hazard to travel over the long term: that it become a chronicling or mere tracking of the “galvanic twitches of the eternal pointless present,” as Wallace Stegner memorably puts it. Too many people and sights that become interesting in the same way, too little agency to act beyond my prescribed role as a stranger in these contexts. But I have faith that, as I keep learning about my surroundings and keep my eyes open to new kinds of surprises, this experience can be endlessly engaging. (more…)

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In Burma, it’s all a little magical. Everyday life is so bizarre, so full of contradictions, that it feels as if the very idea of reality were coming loose. And that may well be the case in Burma. More than once during our travels, I think of Alice in Wonderland. I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole, clearly, I continue to fall, and there is no telling how deep this hole is. (more…)

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Michele’s lips are moving, but frankly, I can’t understand a word she is saying. After filling out reams of paper work at immigration, it took us 45 minutes by taxi from the Yangon airport to the city center, where we are now standing on a sidewalk trying to decide on a hotel. A somewhat tedious task at the best of times, it is near impossible to communicate our preferences today because of  the staggering background noise. Alas, we realize – we are standing right in front of a generator! I scan the street for a safe haven from the noise, but as far as my eyes can see, rumbling generators fill the streets with their sputtering roar.

Generator powered neon bulb gives light to the street vendor cooking 'smoked' chicken.

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