Myanmar has long been on my shortlist of countries to visit – “long” being ever since the travel ban was lifted in 2010 by Aung San Suu Kyi. I have traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, one of my favorite parts of the world. I love that every day and every moment is an adventure, even just crossing the street! Nothing goes exactly as planned, forcing you to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.
The region has also often made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. As a young American woman living in Delhi, I was constantly stared at as I walked down the street, despite wearing modest clothing. I had to haggle every rickshaw ride to avoid being aggressively ripped off. One might expect the same in Myanmar, but I believe it will be different in a distinct way: 90% of the Burmese are Buddhist and have a reputation of being extremely respectful, honest people. The country is considered the safest in Southeast Asia. I look forward to meeting and engaging with the Burmese people and learning more about the history and practices of their religion.
I’m interested to see what a country so recently opened to foreign investment and tourism is like on the ground. While the region overall has seen rapid growth in the past decade, Myanmar has lagged behind its neighbors. An estimated 20 elite families from the former military rule have taken the majority of the profits that the opening of the country has offered. Does that translate into more extreme, visible poverty amongst the local population? How are those effects being felt, both in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay as well as for rural people? I am unsure what to expect in that regard and hope that our business meetings will provide deeper perspective on the situation.
And I can’t wait for the food! Shan noodles and Burmese street food are high on my list to try this trip. Apparently several local wineries have recently developed – could be fun to try, but I’ll likely stick with a beer at a street stall with the locals.
See you in Myanmar!
Kate Canfield ’17