There’s a cyclone, but it looks like I won’t get blown away, though I imagine I will get WET.
Apparently, it’s fizzling. Good.
I am kind of indecisive about many things. What exactly to bring. (How wet? How cold? It was 37 yesterday in Yangon and 27 today, because of that cyclone. Do I need a hoodie? Or are the wraps I have okay? Do I have too many? Why don’t I have the PERFECT one?). How much money, when I can’t get any more, or use credit, and have been fully warned of how all the bills have to be PRISTINE $100 US bills, and what if money changers won’t take mine? What if I make the mistake of drinking something on an overnight bus and I get robbed? (Not that I’m planning to take any overnight busses).
I have too much and too little information, and I guess that’s the sign of a good adventure. This straddle point is embodied in the fact that I still don’t know what to call the place I’m going to. Here’s what I know about nomenclature:
The generals of the military regime (junta?) changed the name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. Some people refuse to use the term because they think it legitimizes the regime. But it seems that the term Burma is kinda sorta the colonial name, though not really, and technically they are derived from the same word, though Myanmar is considered more “literary” or more “formal,” so maybe it’s highly politicized and maybe it isn’t, and it may be a bit like calling all of Canada “Upper Canada” or maybe like calling it Ontario, or maybe it’s more like using the terms United States or USA or America interchangeably, where some people have emotional or political weight behind one term or another, but they kind of all mean the same thing. Except when they don’t.
So I’ll keep saying Myanmar/Burma, I think, until I get there and hear what people say. There, to me, a tourist, in a pretty authoritarian, but less so than before, environment.
I don’t know what to expect, really, and a big part of it is not knowing how much voice I can reasonably expect to have while I’m there. I have been well warned (books, visitors, the media) that the internet is very controlled, and that I need to be careful about what I say or give to the people I come in contact with — I shouldn’t leave books, for example. I’m not much at risk but I could, theoretically, get the people I talk to in trouble. If I wanted to incite something.
I do know that when I was in Rwanda, someone posted a comment on one of my blog posts that could be perceived as mildly critical of the authorities, almost as soon as I posted it. That felt pretty creepy, to me alone on that hard little bed in the very safe little hotel in the middle of Kigali. I felt completely safe in Rwanda, but it was also a reminder about eyes I don’t expect, surveillance that is just not part of my own frame of reference. I honestly don’t know what to expect in Burma — whether I’ll have any internet access, whether it will be controlled the way my friend Shelley describes from her time a few years ago (they logged her in and out and print outed her emails), or whether open means open in ways I might recognize. It’s a question, and part of the adventure — and I do write to make meaning of what I’m experiencing. So I’ll try to capture something, knowing whatever it is will sound naive, and that I will have to feel my way. Pics, probably, only when I return.