Travel Stories

Myanmar 1

myanmar is the most authentically non western country/culture i have ever seen or been in.  fields with over 1000 buddha statues 4 or 5 times life size.  reclining buddha statues the size of ocean liners that you can walk in like the statue of liberty, only MUCH BIGGER.  monks everywhere.  children everywhere.  pagodas in caves, stupas on seemingly unreachable pinnacles, mountaintop villages that can be accessed only by foot and that must be what Shangri La was intended to depict.  85% of the people are engaged in agriculture, ox carts, 1940 chevy trucks, women with yellow caked faces, men wearing longyis.  even in the cities people cook with wood and charcoal.  refrigeration is rare and mostly styrofoam and ice.  even on the moving train they cook with wood.  the sense of government oppression is nowhere visible or apparent to me other than in whispered fears and resentments, and some crazy checkpoints between states.  non-burmese minorities do not have equal access to government positions.  the people are immensely fascinating and somewhat alien; their “innocence,” grace, kindness, effusiveness, generosity, ease of laughter, delight, warmth, and wish to be of help are a stunning contrast to american impatience, reserve, distrust, and paranoia.  there is also wretched and immense poverty, and direly unsanitary conditions, but no homelessness or starvation.  a family of four can live “adequately” on 5$/day.  i got my head shaved for 50 cents.  i bought a dozen kids ice cream cones that were individually sculpted by the vendor artist - baboons, flowers, turtles - for a dime each.  i keep giving things away, bracelets, necklaces, trinkets, and the next thing i know they are being returned in some other form from some other source.  loren was openly revered as if a movie star. women touching his blond arm hairs, men squeezing his biceps.  one cute waitress told him openly, “i love your body.”  it was not a come on, just a statement of positive feeling.  you cannot believe the number of people who seem to think it is okay to pat my belly.  and forget opening my laptop in public because it draws a crowd of avid onlookers and commentators: monks, kids, cabbies, women with babies.  i’m really enjoying this place … and i absolutely love the city of mandalay with its immense palace grounds, markets, lovely people, and quiet lanes.