As the plane landed in Bangkok amid a haze of pollution, I could not help but think that I had to get back to Burma before it turns into a sort of Thailand; before the tourism levies are broken and thousands upon thousands of people flock to the deserted beaches and populate the paradise of Inle Lake and the mystical city of Bagan.
Selfish as it seems, I just wanted this place to stay as it was. It is strange to see the effects of mass tourism on a place. For example, take Bangkok – a crowded city where smiles are few and the pace is beyond hectic; where everyone wears masks to keep out the smog and everyone seems to be more or less on the make. But I should be careful what I wish for. I really want people to go to Burma and experience the culture and see the extraordinary sights, the pagodas, the homes on stilts which hover over the lake, the meandering Mississippi-like Ayeyarwady river, and above all the people.
Imagine this: there has been a dictatorship in Burma for more than 40 years! A 10-year surge of democracy after independence and before that it was British colonialism. These people need a break and with their extraordinarily iconic figurehead for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, maybe the dreams of this incredible country will be realized during the election of 2015.
I will miss, on a very personal level, my daily breakfast of mohinga which is a type of fish broth with noodles, hard boiled eggs, cilantro, and chili peppers. It just sort of seemed perfect every single day. I will miss the smiles of the kids that permitted me to take lots of pictures. I will miss walking through the crowded markets looking at the vendors’ goods and watching the woman who had their cheeks covered by the liquid from the thanaka tree.
But above all, I will miss the serenity of this place, ironically given that it is still held by a dictatorship. There is a genuine peace and calmness that cascades into every person that engages with it. I want to learn more about Buddhism and it reaffirmed my mission of being better as a person and practicing my yoga more frequently.
A mere 30 hours of travel time later, I arrived back in the cold of Boston. The journey seemed absolutely worth every hour spent on the airplane. Suggested reading, and I read it while I was there, George Orwell’s Burmese Days.
Thanaka Tree liquid on a local woman’s cheek
Aung San Suu Kyi