A story from Burma not from Rakhine. Have a look at the curious artificial capital of Naipiydaw.
In a story in Foreign Policy headlined Facebook Can’t Cope With the World It’s Created, Christine Larson makes her point this way:
“When you buy a smartphone from a sidewalk vendor in Yangon, the seller will activate a Facebook account for novice users on the spot. Many people don’t bother with email if they have Facebook — and many people in Myanmar have multiple Facebook accounts.”
And speaking of Burma, if you've read a little about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, you can't help but be happy for her personally to see this news.
Opening up Burma will be constrained by the lack of tourism infrastructure. There aren't many flights, or many hotels to sleep people who find their way in. Bangkok and Singapore are the main gateways. You can fly international carriers from Kolkata and KL. Vietnam Airlines has flights now, there are flights from China and Taiwan, and Doha via Qatar Airways is coming in October. All these flights, though, are to Rangoon.
Once you're in the country it's all day on the roads or rails (or the overnight train) to Mandalay or Bagan – or a domestic flight – and some people avoid domestic flights in places like Burma. But wait: China Eastern has a daily flight from Kunming. Takes about an hour.
Building out Burma will take some time, but not necessarily too much. Think of Luang Prabang, Laos, where scarcely more than a decade ago a room with a loud, lumbering wall air conditioning unit was luxury. Or its sister Siem Reap, which didn't use to claim all the world's most pretentious hotels. Honest.
In fact, if Burma makes good choices on building out all the things it needs, which is everything – road and rail and cell phone towers, to start – it has a shot at being the shiniest new jewel in the region. I found this look at the state of tourism in Burma to be interesting.
Here is Chapter Six of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book. We'll publish each chapter over the course of the summer (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book direct from EarthPhotos Publishing, or at Amazon.com. Photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Burma Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Aye Chan Zin, a 22 year old competitive bicycle racer, once raced from Rangoon to Mandalay and back. He fell and lost both incisors to gold teeth.
"Road very bad out there," he grinned, goldly.
Aye Chan ("EEE-Chan,") was a kid of relative privilege, a third-year vet school student with parents with government jobs. His dad was Chinese, a doctor working in Burma on a leprosy project. His mom was a philosophy teacher at Yangon University. A family album he kept in the car was chock full of smiling brothers and sisters.
He had his Dad’s tan Toyota with tinted windows. We hired him as our driver, and on Tuesday the seventh of February or, as The New Light of Myanmar newspaper called it, the eighth waxing of Tabodwe, 1356 ME, we set out for a drive into the country.
First on Chan’s tour of Rangoon hotspots, “That's military headquarters.”
Did the leadership live there?
"Not live just work."
There was the parliament building far across a lawn. It was not possible to visit the parliament building. You can tour the White House, the Kremlin, the Great Hall of the People, but not the Myanmar parliament. Up next came Myanmar Television and Radio, and then, "ice factory."
Guides have their peculiarities. A man we once hired in Beijing forever wanted to try out his English.
"That is tree. Tree?" Zhong from Beijing would ask.
Here in Burma, Chan was factory infatuated. Before the end of the day we saw: ice factory, milk factory, brick factory ("you want to take picture?"), rice factory and garment factory.
Fifteen years ago, on our trip to Burma:
"First thing, I took a walk to the waterfront. It's just across Strand Road. I determined the ferry that just goes back and forth across the River Yangon and climbed on. Dark was creeping up.
The boat, "Autobus 1," had three bare bulbs overhead and a hundred eight-inch tall by six-inch wide wood seats that you grabbed and sat down low on, so I did. Pretty soon I was surrounded by three boys, maybe 17, 15 and eight. We didn't speak a common language, so we just sat and smoked. What the hell.
Maybe 150 people on board for an eight minute trip to the village across the way. When we chugged up to the far side Mr. Eight Year Old and a buddy gathered the little stools in a big pile for use by the next batch of passengers.
My other friends hopped off the boat and negotiated beers from a vendor who sat by the light of two candles on the dock. Directly across the river, line of sight from the downtown of the capital city of this country, there was no electricity. Just candles."
Howard French has been to Rangoon recently and from his reporting, it sounds like fifteen years later it's pretty much the same.
Go now, while you can, to at least temporarily free(er) Burma.
From our Burma story:
When we turned down University Avenue toward Aung San Suu Kyi's house, at number 54,
Chan pointed out there was no military outside.
"Inside the gate," he said.
That was fifteen years ago. The lady was under house arrest and has been in and out of it since. During the confinement of their chosen keader, the resilience and just general spunk of the Burmese has never wavered. A heartwarming, really fun example – with play-by-play explanation here:
Burma's election is this weekend, and right on cue, here come the predictable headlines like "Internet service slowed across Burma." It's attributed to a "faulty connection."
Here's an election overview.
There are exile and dissident web sites, like Burma Election 2010, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and the best known, The Irrawaddy, and they make for pretty depressing reading. About the best you can hope for is that not a lot of people get hurt.
From our most recent trip abroad, we brought home scorpion vodka and Thai green curry crickets. I don't imagine they'll ever come out of their packages, though. Just interesting items for the kitchen counter.
I've just seen a discussion on Flyertalk about the strangest things people have ever eaten. Among them: dog and slugs and durian, of course, and live octopus and insect pupa. (We watched a man buy and enjoy a caterpillar in Burma. Said it tasted like butter.) In comparison, I guess my list is fairly conservative: fried scorpion in Beijing and crocodile tail in Cape Town. Scorpion was fine. Had a little problem with the croc.
The picture is from a visit to a big farmers market in Hanoi. The ladies we talked to were disdainful. Only men ate dog. Usually when drinking beer.