|Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon|
Tourists are already coming like a plague of locusts - one million in the last year. Ten times the years during the military suppression. And they are anticipating three million by the end of next year. Our itinerary was adjusted to avoid the crowds after visiting a monastery, home of a thousand monks, only to be confronted with 2-3 thousand tourists lining the walkways 5-6 deep to watch the monks make the walk to their 11am meal with their black rice bowls.
|Fisherman on Lake Inlet|
The photographs you see most often from Myanmar are of these places, and of monks, and also the fishermen of Lake Inle who have unusual fishing nets and a unique way of paddling with their feet. Assuredly, I took these photos as they were quite seductive, as was the scenic sunsets and sunrises from the tops of pagodas in Bagan. But I focused most on the people. There must be several thousand photos taken from the platform built for that purpose, looking from the feet of the giant reclining Buddha. But every time I took a picture of a person I knew it was a one-of-a-kind image.
Actually, the best travel experiences we had were off the official itinerary: visiting the boat driver's home and family; ethnic markets that sold fish, bamboo, betel-nut and wholesale jade before it is cut and polished. We also visited workers on the farms, a peanut oil factory where peanuts are ground powered by oxen and in another place by water wheel. The inglorious "sand production" center, where people shoveled sand into trucks to be later used for cement, was a place full of very animated and lively folks who were anxious to interact with us. Then there was the stone carvers who were trashing their lungs on marble dust without the benefit of respirators.
|Sand Production workers shoveling sand atop a truck. Workers include these boys, men and women.|
Although not industrialized in our high tech, first world way, they have adopted cell phones (although a SIM card costs $250), Angry Birds, and email. We had an Internet connection in every hotel, however by government policy it ran slowly; and most of the time I was unable to send email. We also encountered college kids who purposely congregated at one temple to practice their language skills on foreign visitors. The country is poised for great change within the next few years.
The infrastructure of the country will need to be upgraded. Three out of four households don't have electricity. The oxen and water buffalo remain the plow and cart in the countryside. The most common mechanization was what they called the "Chinese Buffalo," which is an oil belching, loud, imported tractor-truck.
|Chinese Buffalo used as a farmer's bus|
On the famously long teak bridge we saw two different cages of young owls panting in the hot sun. People could buy an owl with the purpose of setting it free, and thereby increasing their karma through the execution of a good deed. Our guide said, however, that the one time he did that the crows killed the owl before it could get away. And what does it say about the karma of those who trapped the owls in the first place? Can we view this as a metaphor for the people of Myanmar, and their future fate?
To see 50 more photos of our trip with commentary go to our Myanmar Blog: