American Travel to BurmaUS Trips to Burma
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Shall I ask foreigners to come back to Burma? traveling
What were we in Burma for? Myanmar has never been a favourite target, and after the bloodshed of the monks' protest in September 2007 and the government's postponement to help tens of millions who died the following May in Cyclone Nargis, tourism almost withered. There were only 47,161 European citizens last year, mainly from France and Germany, making Burma the least frequented Asian nation (with the exclusion of North Korea).
This is not the case if you consider the number of men who came close to us to practice their English and after a timid beginning wanted to say what they thought of their masters. "They' re crazy," one rider said to us as he drove his creaky firecracker past a swarm of China bikes and motorcycles, the most common means of transportation on Burma's rugged road.
When asked if it was our first visit to Burma, I said yes and then added: "I see you call it Burma. "Burma good name, Myanmar new name," he answered saucy. Myanmar is multi-ethnic and was cosmopolitan until the 1962 war. He' s an élite who has spoken English well for centuries and even today most Rangoon and Mandalay residents are lucky.
During the hours before sundown, when visitors routine up a thousand or more stairs to Mandalay Hill, young friars show up to chat, especially pleased to see someone who can speak "real English". You have a boring schedule of ministers visiting new hydropower plants, with the one advantage of remembering that Burma is the last nation in the hemisphere to be governed by a army junta: the Information Secretary is a brigade general; the Building Secretary is a Maj. General.
A copy of the government-owned New Light of Myanmar I took with me was presented to the cultural affairs minister of Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam at a meeting. The Burmese secretary was dressed in full army uniform and decorated with a medal, and next to his three conventional dressed colleagues he was looking excentric. Whilst the readiness of the public to give their opinion to foreign nationals was the greatest astonishment of our journey, the number of those who had the opportunity to have divergent points of view also contradicted our preconceptions.
The exiled Oslo-based television channel, the Burma Voice can be received from easy-access satellite stations. It has some 2,100 prisoners of conscience, many of them among the friars who spearheaded the 2007 road protest at Rangoon's stately Shwedagon Pagoda. The memorial is a useful memento for UK vividly depicting the long invasion of Burma by Britain in George Orwell's Burmese Days, a fictionalised remembrance of the heinous co-workers he worked with as an imperial police officer in North Burma in the 1920s.
Amitav Ghosh's poem, The Glass Palace, which encompasses three generation of two Burmese and an Indian family, is certainly an important text to understanding the racial ism, brutal, and violent aspects of the British Empire, and another pivotal text for any Burmese tourist. This is the centenary of the murder of Aung San, then Burma's premier, by a Burmese leader on the brink of liberation.
There are weak indications of hopes for Burma in the area of relief. Burma is receiving less help than any other nation in the hemisphere thanks to an unprecedented global outbreak. However, in recent months in Burma, the West has begun to think again as refusal of help only affects the very poor.
External contributors are increasing development assistance in addition to emergency assistance following Cyclone Nargis, which is thought to have caused 140,000 deaths or wasted. However, under governmental pressures from the Association of South-Eastern Asiatic Nations (ASEAN), the junta is changing its line, and international humanitarian agencies now say that the government has worked well with the UN and ASEAN to agree programs, priority and assistance programs and enable individuals to receive funding from contributors.
Large West African NGOs such as Oxfam and Safe the Childrens are well-positioned in Burma and have a strong community of people. We spent a tourist time in Twante, an area affected by the hurricane about 20 leagues outside Rangoon. It was the temple that provided a vital part of the collection of clothing, meals and funds for the hurricane survivors.
In the aftermath of the catastrophe, Myanmar refugees and other youngsters flocked to the area to help. According to a West helper who visits Burma on a regular basis, Cyclone Nargis has led to an expansion of the country's autonomous civic activities. But the fact that, for the first in more than a century, Burma will have legislation at either country and locally gives room for a broader debate.
It proposes that western regimes lift their travel ban on members of the UNJC, reestablish regular contacts and spread the word that there is a need to release detainees and that electoral campaigns can take place. While the Obama government has also signalled a move in US policies towards commitment rather than seclusion.
China's business has been spared the effects of the West's ban on investments. "Respecting the Chineses - they think they are smarter than the Burmese," said a young man who briefly went to study in another ASEAN state. Back to the grumbling question: should we have visited a land with such a poor system and so little chance of amelioration?
"Take along visitors who can get the news from the outside and tell about Burma to those in their own countries," he said. The Burma Campaign in the UK has criticised UK tourist and investments and published a "dirty list" of businesses doing trade with Burma. These include travel agencies as well as the Lonely Planet travel guides.
Aung San Suu Kyi quoted on the campaign's website in December 2002: "We are not yet ready to motivate Burmese citizens to come to Burma as visitors. "Two other exiled advocates, Voice for Burma and Free Burma Coalition, who used to back a tourist boobytop.
Aung San Suu Kyi is also recruited by votes for Burma, although procurement is weak. The website says: "According to a friend who has not yet been ID'd, but was allegedly cited by her National League of Democracy as saying Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that travel to her own land can now be promoted, provided precautions are taken by in-premises.
It now thinks that if the outcome of the mission draws our public's eye to the repression of the population by the army jungle, it could be useful. "Voices for Burma and the Free Burma Coalition call on visitors to do as much as possible to help local residents and not to put funds in the government's pockets, and in fact it is now possible to do so as visitors.
Instead of booking a travel packages or hiring a UK or Bangkok-based travel agency that invariably has contact with the Myanmar authorities, travelers can travel independently by choosing one of Burma's many family-owned travel agencies that work in Rangoon's miniscule offices. Nobody should think that Burma's tourist industry will make it a better place.
However, can anyone credible argument that the tourist ban has also made it better?