Disclaimer: This is intended to be unbiased and completely nonpolitical. I encourage readers to do their own research on this interesting subject.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this place. There’s a long, rich, and geopolitical history that makes up what this country is today. I don’t have the liberty to discuss certain topics but I encourage the reader to do their homework. Life is complicated and humans have a propensity to group and logically sort to make sense of the world. You’ve probably heard of Myanmar/Burma. You probably need to know more about it. Let’s walk this road together.
Burma, or as it is officially known: Myanmar, is a Southeast Asian country that borders Bangladesh, Southern China, and Thailand. It has a majority population of ethnic Burmese and numerous ethnic minorities. People have been on the land that makes up Myanmar for millennia. There are incredible archeological sites that encapsulate the longevity of the civilization that has been here. Various kingdoms came and went; borders expanded and withdrew in the same manner.
European contact started with the Portuguese in the 17th century and forever changed the country. The Portuguese never held or ruled in any significant way. The British, however, entered the picture in the mid 1800’s and remained around for nearly a century. Three Anglo-Burmese wars were fought with the British emerging as the victors despite suffering major losses. British India, which includes modern day Bangladesh, was directly adjacent to Burma. Holding Burma offered a port between Calcutta and Singapore (these things are important when you’re an empire) and could be governed by resources already present in British India. These factors were the impetus behind Brittan’s colonization of Burma.
If you’ve followed the blog then you’re familiar with the Japanese conquest of Singapore. Burma met a similar fate but was never fully conquered. That’s in no way an understatement of the atrocities that happened during the invasion as there were many. Post WW2, the seeds of doubt that had been sown began flourishing. Burma wanted independence and eventually gained it. Britain’s empire had been dealt so many blows that it would never be the same and withdrew from its centuries of global domination to attend to urgent matters at home. Burma had the daunting task of governance and running a country in a power vacuum; a difficulty that is all too often overlooked. In an effort to take control of their identity they de-anglicized many of their city’s names (Rangoon to Yangon – r’s aren’t in the Burmese language) and, indeed, their country’s name too (Burma to Myanmar).
Present day Myanmar: times are changing and tourism is on the rise. Foreign investment is coming from various places with a majority stakeholder being China. Cities like Mandalay are developing into modern metropolises. The growing pains are evident and inevitable to some degree. The Burmese are happy people that smile and wave at foreigners. There’s a genuineness about them that’s seldom found traveling in the 21st century. Monks can be seen wandering the streets and will never waste an opportunity to practice their English. The younger generation have fully accepted advancing technology (this can pretty much be said about the monks too) and are as glued to their phones as any teenager in the West. Their embrace of the selfie is no less; we’ve been asked on multiple occasions to be in photos or just pose. One night we stumbled upon a bar called “Las Vegas” which was packed with locals almost all of whom were men. Never shying away from an experience we gestured the hostess for two seats. Entering the establishment was an experience by itself. Dim lighting, walls of a lime green colour with years of grime build up, dusty fans suspended from the ceiling, and foldable furniture holding piles of empty beer glasses. Alayna loves the places I take her to. Within moments of sitting we were asked to take a selfie with a patron. We obliged and then enjoyed the rest of our beers with a side of sneaky stares. One thing we will never get used to is the way they call a waiter: puckering your lips and making a smooching sound similar to calling an animal.
Myanmar has made a lasting impression on us already. It’s authentic and unique. It’s rapidly changing and in many ways becoming more western. We’re thrilled to be experiencing it at its modernization infancy.