Experience #30 - Myanmar or Burma



The country is called Myanmar and before used to be Burma… It’s a presidential republic with a weird democracy, as the current government was responsible for the coup d’état. It’s not permitted to get into a few areas of the country, for unknown reasons. The equanimity of its Buddhist majority apparently is not valid for the differences between ethnics, as the country has serious problems with human rights violations still today. Tourism is minimum and unexplainably expensive…


I think you can feel a bit of what we learned in Myanmar, but the most important point is that the people are so lovely and we’re very well treated as foreigners, even being just a few there…

The first curiosity is that the name was modified to Myanmar due to a hurt price, as the previous, Burma, was given by the British colonizers. As this change was made by the military government in 1989, who doesn’t recognize its legitimacy still doesn’t accept the new name. That’s why it’s common to be treated as “Myanmar (Burma)”, just like that, with one of the names in parenthesis always. Curious…



The country has passed by many civil wars and coup d’états. There’s still a sad conflict among ethnics that’s hidden by the militaries in power. This oppressor violence goes from public genocides of thousands of protestants in the 80’s to the murder of monks in 2007 (what according to the religion is a very serious act), besides armed conflicts with Chinese rebels in 2015. Part of these atrocities are in the media nowadays, like the thousand of Rohingya Muslims asking for refugee in other countries as they are an Islamic ethnic with no right in Myanmar, considered to be a invader group from Bangladesh.


The confusion doesn’t end there. In a military attempt to democratize, elections were made in 1990 and then in 2010, but both were officially condemned to be a fraud by the UN and many countries. Even though, for personal interests, financial obviously, countries like the USA were there in official visits in 2014. But wait, isn’t the government in power a scam? Someone wants to win from someone…



There is an opposition for a more real democracy, but so far with no success. One of its main leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi, was in house arrest for more than a decade and won the Nobel Prize of Peace in 1991. Another well known political figure, the Burmese diplomat U Thant, was the general secretary of UN for ten years until 1971. I didn’t know them, but I mentioned as it’s worth reading more about them.


Due to the fact that they still are a more reserved and less modernized country, we couldn’t find social organizations, but we tried to go as deep as possible in their reality. In order to do that we agreed to explore the surroundings of a city with a very nice and restless guide, Mr. Oo Oo Myat Khaing. – I’d love to be called “Ô Ô”, practical, kind and you can start singing the chorus it anytime… – He is Buddhist and with his more than seventy years I could learn and reflect about the power of information.



We did a long walk through the district of Dala, in the other side of the river from the city of Yangon. In the city you can see hawkers anytime, selling everything and that’s why we wanted to see where they live. As predicted, the conditions were quite precarious with open air dumpsites and many shacks over mangroves. Buddhists, Muslims and Catholics live there all together and it looked to be in peace.


The talk I usually start with who I meet along the travel is in the path to understand how is his and others’ life going, what works, what doesn’t work, if things have improved and what are his dreams. As it’s not always possible to build a profound friendship in just a few days, in order to reach the intimacy of facts I try to filter the answers according to the wisdom the person transmits.


For the experiences I’ve had so far, personally, I never feel that I can go really deep in certain subjects with guides. That’s because they already have a ready speech and don’t tolerate a foreigner making questions out of the itinerary or because they really are not aware of his country’s reality. In Brazil I know many unawares like this, but they don’t work with tourism…



Knowing this delicate subject about the disharmony between ethnics in the country, I wanted to understand his opinion. For my disappointment (sorry Oo Oo) he showed to be very harsh in believing that the Rohingya people are not from Myanmar and that’s not their problem to see human beings without a homeland. He actually mentioned that the News today just talks about lies and he feels prejudiced by what the international media says about this situation.


Independently of the truth whether these people are originally from there or not, it’s a fact that a very strong stigma was raised by the government against them, that the ones who even don’t really know just support it… It reminds me our compatriots demanding Dilma’s impeachment without any idea about what the problems are and even less about what the solution would be…



In these conversations with our guide, I kept thinking about how information is manipulated nowadays for the personal interest of the emitter. I’m not sure it’s too drastic, but unfortunately due to the obsession for the ego I feel that even in banal discussions some people put all the effort to win with their argument and that’s it, without really knowing it and not even giving a chance for them to listen. The proud yells louder.


The big problem of it, in my opinion, is that a legion of convicted starts to get together and become stronger for an ideology that blinds and inhibits the free thinking. This happens by believing in what a few say without even asking why. If we think about this logic, how many sick genocides have happened due to a hate speech followed by a magic psychological formula to make millions of minds believe in something just self-saying “yes, that’s it, because it is”.



The sad thing about it is that today all of us need to have a lot of precaution when receiving any information, to be certain about its impartiality and honesty. We all know those magazines that have a political affinity with only a few parties and the endless ways that advertising tries to convince us that buying something is like becoming a superhero…


The truth is that today the majority suffers the consequence of this conflict of interests without even knowing why and not even having access to the real information. Internet changed it profoundly. In the positive side it created a network where it’s possible to know information that was really hard to find before. In the negative side it multiplied the reach of these messages with no good intention and the society’s defects, like gossip and futilities.


According to several sources without a precise number, today it’s estimated that internet gets to more than 30% of the world’s population… Is it really?


In this era of communication, what bothers me the most is what people intentionally choose to look for. It’s quite complicate to take conclusions when education is so unequal, but a situation in the central city of Mandalay touched me.


As we are different in skin colour and physiognomy, sometimes people ask to take picture with us. Especially there, where it was rarer to see tourists. There are a few that actually go too far and demand us to take the hat and glasses of. – Maybe to valorise our hair style, but I deny… – There, a couple of our same age asked us for a picture and when they joyfully smiled we noticed they had only a few teeth and the mouth was quite black.



Unfortunately this is the reality that we have usually seen, but especially there it call out my attention due to the fact that they were wearing new clothes, using fancy accessories and the guy took a new modern mobile phone from his pocket. In the way out of where we were they passed by us driving a car.


What I want to say is that this experience was a proof that the messages and desires we are spreading in society are simply for the interest of the ones who create them and not for the interest of the ones who follow them. Indifferently from education this couple had access to, they managed to conquer money to have the power to choose and even though they prioritize those possessions before health. Aware that today they have access to internet and can easily find information about oral health.


The cruellest of it is that they still haven’t noticed it and they are living apparently happy, (I’m glad for them) without even knowing they could have a serious avoidable health problem anytime, for example. I was so impacted with so many external factors and thoughts that we didn’t take a picture with them. Seriously, I’m sorry! But this other can illustrate a bit what I mean.



What stays is one more learning about differences, villains and heroes. It’s a lesson that we need to be more conscious about what we do, why we do and what motivates us. I know it seems even boring to have to think so much to live, but besides our endless qualities we have our defects. I’m steady in the party that believes that the villains are the ego and the power, while the heroes are the consciousness and wisdom. Vote in whoever you want!


Felipe.