Why Myanmar? (Burma?)

People keep asking me, “why myanmar?” And I really don’t have an answer. This is more of an impulsive/gut jaunt than any before, I think, notwithstanding the complexities of booking the trip, getting a visa, etc.

I leave 10 days from now, by myself. I have a plane ticket, and a visa, and a wad of US cash ($100 new bills only, pristine condition, post 2006, no serial numbers of CA or BA). An itinerary with nothing apparently confirmed in a way I would recognize it — a (recommended) local travel agent who suggested I send the payment for my hotels and internal flights to her brother at Ohio State, because transferring money is so complicated. Trust, and the willingness to perhaps be wrong, to have to find my way.

Why. I saw an image in a film of the fields of golden temples at Bagan, and it struck me. “I want to go to there!”, but I didn’t even know where “there” was.

I figured out where it was, and that it’s open to tourists more, right now, and that maybe that means it’s a small window of time, or it might mean that in 3 years it will be simpler and well-visited.

In that sense it’s the right time, but in seasons, it’s the wrong time — it’s the shoulder into the summer, and it’s rainy in the mountains (no birding), and some of the things I want to do, like a river trip between Bagan and Mandalay, aren’t happening. It looks like even the hot air balloons over Bagan at sunrise may not be happening. But it’s the right time for me to go on an adventure by myself, for purposeful, contemplative space, just me and my camera and my pen in a place as unfamiliar as possible.

I’ve always been intrigued by the region — the cluster of Tibet/Bhutan/Myanmar — where there is an incredible rich ripeness of stories and complex logic of history that is both so visible and so opaque to me. The land I could never understand from the inside, as I’ve come to learn from my time in Uganda, but that I might be able to taste, just a little, if I listen and look hard.

I’m trying to cram a bit before I go, tasting novels and surface history, but it’s such a skim of the top. I don’t even really understand the politics of the name change. I have the sense that for me, it might be like that planet they visited on Star Trek the Next Generation where the people spoke only in metaphor — where the enterprise members could understand the words but not the meaning of a statement like “darmok and jilad at tinagra.” Meaning “where two enemies achieved peace.” Wanting to immerse myself in those metaphors, try just a little bit to feel a place whose history and culture is so full, so long, so seasoned, future hopes so open. Feeling human scale of life in completely different space.

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One response to “Why Myanmar? (Burma?)

  1. Love this. Especially the Star Trek reference. (fess up, now- did you have to look up “jarmok and jilad at tinagra?” Cause I remember the episode and the concept very well, but would have been scratching my head to remember the phrase).

    Also, you should read The Lizard Cage.

    Also also, please blog from Myanmar, if you are at all able to 😉

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