Wednesday, April 23, 2014

a nation, unchanged.

From everything we envisioned Myanmar to be, we hadn't expected it to be so industrial, so built up. There was surprise in seeing the British colonial buildings of Yangon, the first class buses transporting people across the country, the many booming businesses stretched across the major metropolises of Mandalay and Yangon, and the thriving expat community partying the nights away at (the rare) hip clubs.

Now in effort to not paint a false picture, the country is third world. It's just hard to recognize in the moment, when your senses are being pulled in different directions, attracted to the new, the unique, the beautiful. Not until you finally leave the land of gold do you realize how undeveloped the country actually is.

The (quite possibly only) benefit of having been shut off from all other countries for years on end is the preservation of culture. Especially as it neighbors a few countries who's cultures have started to blend together in efforts to become "more Western".

Technology is only starting to take flight.  Internet, although widely available, is excruciatingly slow at best.* International ATM's have just been installed within the last two years. There are no franchises.** Generic, pirated, Coca-Cola has only recently been replaced with the real thing. And Coke, alone, is the only sign of infiltration from the Western World.

With the ever increasing influx of tourists, locals are taking notice of modern technology. Namely, the iPhone. And they are anything but shy; requesting to barter goods of exchange in order to have one of their own.

It's a world unlike any other. Rich in color. From teeth stained red from chewed beetle nut, to the juice of which has been spit and splattered on the ground. The faces painted white with thanaka (the paste of ground tree bark or root) to the sarong-like longyi covering men and women alike. The vibrant, varying shades of green landscapes to the blindingly shiny gold temples.

Burma is today exactly what Rudyard Kipling wrote nearly a century ago, "Quite unlike any place you know about."

* We were in Kalaw, a tiny town in the center of the country. Internet speed at our minimalist guesthouse was the best it had been in weeks. I craved a dose of false reality that only comes in the form of television shows. In efforts to stream an episode of New Girl, I sat glued to my laptop at 5 second incremental spurts - dispersed between 30-40 minutes of buffering and uploading. Esther, unable to comprehend why I was doing so, asked "Why don't you just wait until we get into Thailand?" But my innate need for "false reality" clouded my judgement in spite of being the cause of another's annoyance. So I continued at it... over the course of two days... until the entire 20 minute episode was watched. 

** KFC recently received a license to build franchises within the next 5 years. Sadly, that means the country will never be the same from that point on. 

No comments: