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Let’s talk about Myanmar

Let’s talk about Myanmar, the most fashionable country in Southeast Asia in recent years. A sovereign state bordering India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, China, the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. With an area of ​​676,578 km² and a population of about 54 million inhabitants, almost 70% of its people live in rural areas. Its capital is Naipyidó and its most populous city and former capital Yangon boasts more than 2000 Buddhist temples.

Myanmar has recently emerged from a harsh military dictatorship that lasted from 1962 to 2011 – a country with a lot of bad blood. Known as Burma during the dictatorship, Myanmar is populated by a diversified people from many ethnic groups, most of which have been fleeing from the calamity of hunger, war and the dictatorial regime for years.

During the military regime’s reign, opponents were imprisoned for their opinions, for minor crimes or for singing protest songs. Punishments have included torture, slavery, and death. In recent years, the repression has increased. Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned the government of the former Burmese State.

Hsinbyume Pagoda | Mingun, Myanmar

In 1988, university students started a movement known as the 8888 uprising. Thousands of deaths were attributed to the military response to this uprising. Though the uprising only strengthened the military presence and control, it remains a pivotal event in the minds of the people. According to many, the failure of the uprising was a result of the world turning away from the people and allowing the oppression to continue. In 2008, 48 people were arrested for commemorating the event.

In 2011, Myanmar transitioned from it’s military dictatorship to a newly organized government aimed at fixing the issues that had plagued the Burmese people for decades. Many thought that the initial effect was beneficial, but others claim it is nothing more than a facade. Since this reorganization, we’ve witnessed the Myanmar government continue to oppress its people. A report from UN investigators in August 2018 accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out mass killings and rapes against the Rohingya ethnic group with “genocidal intent”. Amidst the recent Covid-19 pandemia, it is being reported that the military has become more emboldened and is taking advantage of the situation – resulting in what are being called war crimes.

It seems that despite ending the regime and changing the name of the country, real change has yet to take root in the country. I do not know if the money from tourism is going to dry up or if it is going to affect the welfare of the people. It is very common to see travel agencies hanging posters, offers or different advertising about Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, spectacular places, photos and videos of paradise. But if the people that live there are not happy, it is simply a false reality.

Kuthodaw Pagoda | Mandalay, Myanmar

What was your first impression upon arriving in Myanmar?

Well the first city we went to was Yangon. A city with a lot of noise, many people, 6 million inhabitants. When I entered my first temple, I was absolutely amazed. Myanmar is the paradise that I didn’t believe existed on earth.

Is there pollution like here?

Not a drop of pollution, the air is clean, everything is open, bright with the sky and the atmosphere. I’m sure it has it’s bad areas, but I did not see them.

What are the people like?

People are very helpful, very polite and friendly.


Fisherman in the Inle Lake

And the food, did you eat anything strange?

Lots of rice, lots of vegetables and very good quality food. Enough nutrients from plants to not eat any meat, in my opinion. Lots of fruit. There are fruit orchards everywhere.

Do you see poverty?

There is poverty, but with dignity. People are humble but very clean. I don’t know if it’s because of religion or what, but the people were super clean.

How do people live, what are houses like?

The houses are mostly stilt houses, especially in the Irawadi river and in the Inde lake. When the rains come, it’s tremendous, they have a hard time, but they don’t want to live anywhere else.


Small stilt house on the Irrawaddy River.

Do the people seem happy? Is it just appearance or real happiness?

The people appear happy. I think they are satisfied with what they have. The one with the most is not happier, rather the one who needs the least is the happiest. But it would take a long time living here to really find out. They are very religious, very Buddhist. They believe a lot, they are very spiritual, the temples or Pagodas are full of the faithful, of entire families. You have to go barefoot inside, they are huge and beautiful. The Buddhas are full of gold pasted as an offering.

A nice anecdote that you remember?

Well it was on the Irawadi river, which is huge. You travel by barge or catamaran, I don’t know what it’s called. From that river they get oil and gold nuggets, it is very rich. We were in a whole white temple and we rode cars, kind of like Andalusian buggies but in poor terms, it was a lot of fun. I saw shrimp pancakes for the first time.


Fried shrimp pancakes for sale in the street.

Are there signs of having suffered an oppressive regime?

They have always been in big political conflicts, but they don’t want to give it much importance because tourism has dropped a lot and they need that money.

Are there any symptoms of oppression?

We did not see anything that was out of the ordinary. They do not like the Chinese though, like at all.

And how about the weather?

The great weather for those who like it, 70º-80º in October. At night you can bathe outside without any problem. We were in natural thermal water pools. They get up at 4 in the morning to bathe, to purify themselves, before going to work. The hot springs are considered blessed for them.


Large stone said to be Buddhas butt | Mandalay, Myanmar.

Do you think that the people are very subdued by religion?

Not really. I think that in part yes, and in part they have been mistreated by the government and foreign countries like Japan that have always had interests here like minerals, good land, oil, gold, among others for example. It is an earthly paradise.

Something you didn’t like?

The health system is basically nonexistent. If you get sick and you don’t have money, bad news.

Wanna add anything else?

Thanks to you, well and to the magazine of course for the treatment. I leave you some photos of my trip that I hope you like and that whoever sees them can feel the strength of Myanmar that I take with me. Thanks again.


Myanmar girl with thanaka face paint

Dani is a contributor of El Cannabis Cactus, La Revista – our Spanish language edition. He focuses on urban art and culture. His hobbies are skateboarding, music, writing, and, of course, cannabis culture.



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