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Burma Bound
Rating: ( 4.9 ) ( 34 votes )

Burma Bound
Tachilek, Myanmar
Mar 25, 2004 21:08

Pros: Friendly people
Cons: poor country

We have to admit is was scary once again to leave our passports with the Burmese authorities...then again, there is no arguing with someone who can jail you indefinitely for no reason!

We have heard and read much about the release of Aung San Siu Kyi. There is even talk that Great Britain and others will make her release a stipulation of Myanmar's attendance at the ASEAN conference in Hanoi in April. But they have been saying she'll be freed for years.

Our guide Jamal, who is a political dissident (working for the National League for Democracy) thinks she will never be set free because too many people have too much to lose financially.

We witnessed both fascinating and disturbing things in Burma. For example, a ceremony where novice monks were being shaven in preparation for Songkran (New Year), and a mother charging admission to see their paralyzed and deathly ill infants.

Our guide even took us to his home...a very small apartment with just one main room, a bedroom, a galley kitchen and outdoor latrine. They have electricity only from 6:30 - 10:30 p.m. (and his family is middle class!) His political activism is dangerous. He has been blacklisted in Yangoon and his wife (obviously a very strong woman) has already lived on her own for many years while he was in "exile". He has only recently returned to Tachilek with a new identity card...where they have an Indian food cart across the

border in Thailand. His wife says she understands that his dissidence may cause him to go to jail at any time. They must register for every move and paperwork can be checked at any point with no reason at all.

The cultivation of opium both as a crop and in meth labs is evident. We are not sure what to think about the internal oppression that Jamal and his fellow Burmese experience. His position is that our visiting helps to stop Myanmar from being sealed off from the rest of the outside world, which is why the evil government restricts tourism in the first place.

The people were exceptionally friendly despite their lot in life. If there is any good news it is that it appears that Aung San Siu Kyi's stature is as great as ever and wecan only hope that Jamal and the NLD make a difference.