Saturday, April 23, 2016

Myanmar: deep thoughts

Ok so i didn't write much during my trip to Myanmar, as it turns out i was quite busy at the office and often working late, and by the time i would walk home trying not to get eaten alive by mosquitos, hiding out in a noodle shop until they passed, getting home, taking the second of three daily showers, i usually couldn't muster much beyond watching HBO when we had power and cable, or reading some books by candlelight (i finished 5!).
But here are some thoughts: go now before it's too late! Myanmar/Burma is still wild, dirty, gritty, but at the point where in a lot of places white people are a complete novelty, though the asian obsession of white skin and whitening skin products is creeping in. I prefer the thanaka - wood paste stuff they put on their cheeks. But anyway, it's this totally innocent charm, where they think you are a hollywood star and want their picture with you, share tea or food and are eager to know where are you from, why on earth are you here and have you heard about aung san syu ki! At the same time it's getting a bit overrun by the hairy hoards of backpacker dreadlock tourists who expect it to be something like thailand. They wear pants with elephants on them, complain that everything closes at 10pm and then you find them drinking beer on top of a 2000 year old pagoda, which they somehow rationalize because the pagoda is super duper old, dude! Even though it has a well cared for buddha in it, and it's probably the most sacred site on earth for Burmese, and it's written that it's forbidden on little posters all over their hippie hostel and if they ever get caught i hope they'll consider that from a nice filthy burmese jail with a hefty fine on top. On the other side you also have this expensive upscale resort tourism which might be full of chinese? And just doesn't really jive with the whole place.
But there's hope! If there is one thing i noticed, it's the overwhelming optimism. and ok, at first i thought, yeah, we had our obama optimism too, it kinda faded. but what people expect of ASSK (aung san...can't spell it out) is more on par with the new canadian prime minister, their world is going to change...and what's crazier are the higher ups from my NGO are brimming with enthusiasm for how things will change for their environment and that really hit me. I work in a business where pretty much every day is a let down you need a full on miracle to give someone a smile - but here they were saying the positiveness of the new government and already the existing projects  that go beyond anywhere else- a power sector vision, new collaborations with local governments and communities, and an eagerness to embrace change and a positive direction that will make myanmar like it's neighbors in a way (economic development, openness, standard of living) but also not like them (decreasing deforestation, enabling sustainable forestry and other commodities, supporting land tenure) so as not to end up like drought suffering Thailand, replacing forests by plantations Vietnam, closed communist Laos, or runaway deforestation like Cambodia or the overarching chinese influence *cough illegal ivory and wildlife trade. It will take a bit of time to replace the brain drain and lack of infrastructure and capacity but they are moving and they are moving fast. So keep it on your watch list and don't ignore what is happening, or come see it for yourself. 

Oh, and the men wear skirts! Now beat yourself up for not visiting me!