Burma, India, and Bangkok 2000

For this trip, I had the pleasure of traveling with my girlfriend Lisa.  Lisa and I began this trip by meeting our friend Paula in Yangon (Rangoon), the capital of Myanmar (Burma). We traveled with Paula through just about all of Myanmar.   After Myanmar, Lisa and I continued our travels, flying to Calcutta, India.   From there, we traveled mostly by train, stopping at Bodh Gaya, Varanasi (Benaras), New Delhi, and Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The situation in Myanmar is quite complex, involving the opium trade, rebellion among ethnic groups, and governmental corruption. But here’s the essence:

The military has ruled Burma since 1962. Although Aung San Suu Kyi, founder of the National League for Democracy, was democratically elected as the leader of Burma, the military has refused to allow her take office. in one of its more flagrant examples of disregard for human rights, the military killed nearly 3,000 students, monks and others who revolted against the government in 1988. Thousands more fled to the border areas near Thailand, where some 100,000 refugees now live. The current military regime officially changed the name of Burma to Myanmar to further remove the country from its British colonial past, but the Burmese people and the country’s supporters still use the term Burma. The term Burma is derived from "Bamar," which refers to the country’s largest ethnic group and its language.

Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon – a beautiful, winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. "There’s the old Shwedagon," said my companion. The golden dome said, "This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about." __Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)

Regardless of the ugliness of the government, Myanmar itself is a beautiful country with wonderful people.

Despite being a British colony until 1947, many Burmese people do not speak English, especially those in rural areas. This language barrier, created by the various governments following Burmese independence, is perpetuated today by the current military regime. Additionally, only about 27 percent of the population completes primary school – education is not free, and many people cannot afford it.

However, even with the language barrier, the Burmese people were quite friendly and were delighted with our garbled attempts to speak Burmese. Those who did speak English talked openly about the tragedies of the current Myanmar regime, although none wanted to invite foreigners into their house for fear of later repercussions from the government.

Almost all the people who voiced opinions questioned the worth of ongoing political sanctions imposed against Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the democratically elected leader of Burma, implored foreign investors to stay away from Myanmar and told foreign governments to withhold aid. Most countries, with the exception of China and Japan, have complied. However, the opinions we heard uniformly indicated that the sanctions had harmed only the people of Myanmar, and not the repressive government, which receives a great deal of support from China.

To learn more about Myanmar or to find out how you can support the Burmese democracy movement, check out some of these websites:

Burma Forum L.A.
Free Burma Coalition

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Page 1 - Burma
Page 2 - India and Bangkok