Yangon and Dela - fascinating and confronting
Sunset over the yangon skyline, Myanmar
Arriving in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city and commercial centre, the first thing which strikes me is the ease of immigration procedures. True, its necessary to obtain a Visa before travelling here, in embassies located in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, or other Asia hubs, however, the airport is more modern and better organised than many I have visited in South East Asia. Once leaving the terminal however, the chaos quickly becomes evident. Speaking with local Burmese friends, and expats who've moved here, stories of horrific accidents and subsequent deaths emerge, and the roads will leave even the most experienced traveller on the edge of their seats.
After checking into our friendly hostel, washing some of the dust and sweat away in the standard asian combo shower, we went out for walk. Mum and I share a passion for street food, her from a cuisine perspective, me from a budget perspective. Her street food cart draws many inspirations from our travels. We decided on a stall for dinner, and as we sat down, began to take in our surroundings. The flimsy frame was positioned over mud, our chef wore decidedly filthy clothes, dogs shared our table, hands were the utensils, and we had the confronting background noise of men continuously spitting their beetle nut remains. To add to the culinary delights, we scored possibly the oldest chook in Myanmar. Having both suffered from extreme food poisoning before, we considered purging our stomachs. We continued our wander but became acutely aware of the one hundred eyes watching us, and being our first night, we were unsure what to expect from this country, so opted to pick our way home along the dark, muddy, potholed streets.
Myanmar's ancient history is rich and majestic, at one time being the largest mainland state in South East Asia. Its golden age brought about the construction of elaborate and beautiful religious sites.
Myanmar's high-quality educational history was one of widespread literacy. It saw no discrimination between male and females, and even families in remote areas had access to schooling. In the 1940's and 50's, Burmese people held one of the highest literacy rates in all of Asia and expectations were that it would become one of the fastest developing nations in the region. Presently, however, the education system is in disarray, and according to data compiled by the UN, the governments financial investment into education ranks 164th, out of 168 countries. Those who's families can afford the fee's for secondary school and university are not granted the right to choose their area of study.
Women traditionally held a high measure of independence and social, political and financial privilege. In contrast to contemporary nations, Burmese women had and still have the right to marry for love. They also retain their own name, not adopting that of their husband. This equality is evident as we wander through the streets, women here carry themselves with dignity, despite often impoverished conditions. They are beautiful, humble and always have a smile, adorned in the colourful longyi, faces brushed with thanaka powder. Thanaka is a paste produced by adding water to powder harvested from the bark of a native Burmese tree. The centuries old Burmese beauty staple acts as a sunscreen, a moisturiser and a mineral wonder.
Woman works on fishing net, Dela
Displacement and poverty are growing issues, with internal conflict, international exploitation and natural disasters contributing to the 1.5 million people left without substantial or permanent homes.
This young girl was sitting in the dust in the hot midday sun. When I offered her some water, she drank over 500ml. She lives with a group of other young children under a tin roof next to the port. Food and water are not part of her daily routine, she sleeps on concrete and the prospect of education doesn't exist. Yangon is one of the most confronting, fascinating and hectic cities I've experienced and I can safely say I've never been anywhere else quite like it. It threw my own fortunate condition in my face, and the resilience, strength and humility of the people touched me a great deal. Its a place I will no doubt repeatedly return to.