Saturday, January 9, 2010

Myanmar - Finale

Leaving Inle Lake was difficult. Not only because we wanted more time to explore, but because we knew that the next stop was Yangon; a place in which we had already fruitlessly turned almost every stone in search of inspiration. There was just one more thing to see in Yangon, the Shwe Dagon temple. The main attraction. The ‘dessert’ that our tour organizer had saved for last.
Out front, we were treated to an impromptu hooligan caneball match, which was an exciting distraction.
Indeed, the temple was interesting, even to a non-Buddhist. The sheer goldness of it was hard to ignore. But, after Bagan and Inle Lake, it was hard to really appreciate its glory. I felt for our guide, who tried hard to make our tour exciting, knowing full well that we had just come from a grand tour of the inland. And just when we thought the sightseeing was finished, we were invited to check out the Burmese nightlife. As you might expect, things are done a little differently here. We went to a place called Power Light, which fits somewhere along the spectrum between karaoke bar and strip club. Hired women come out and sing, sometimes also dancing (conservatively, of course…often in that grade 7 style). Men show their approval by buying things to decorate the ladies with – mostly garlands. Sometimes the garlands pile so high that it becomes awkward for the girl to sing or dance. It is possible to tell how popular a girl is by the quantity and quality of the garlands she is strutting by the end of her song. Not surprisingly, it turns out, many of the girls that become well endowed end up ‘working overtime’.
It was an interesting end to this crazy trip. This is a place of contradictions. Gold everywhere, and people living with nothing. Rule takers and rule breakers. Peace loving buddhists and an aggressive militant regime.
Apparently there are promises of an election sometime this year, though nobody seems to know when or if they will happen. This is a country ready for change. It seems that Aung San Suu Kyi’s virtual endorsement of travel in the region has begun to open things up. Elections might be a window for full fledged tourism in the near future, in which case, this place is about to undergo tremendous change. There are certainly signs that this could be positive for the people living here; however, I’m not sure they are ready for rapid change on that scale.


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