Times they are a changing

This is a rant but from the heart

I ‘m not pretending I’m a travel expert. I knew nowt about Asia before I got here and I’m not much the wiser now

Got a lot of things wrong on this trip.
But of this I am certain:
If you are one of those people who profess a love for South East Asia or are thinking of visiting Burma….
Get here now

Not in two years. Not as a long term project.
Now
Because- to expand on an earlier theme – it is changing
Hotel prices doubled almost overnight in Rangoon/Yangon when the NLD ended its tourist boycott.
I think it’s cheap here but other travellers in the region say its relatively expensive
But it’s not the prices that worry me
The culture is bound to change.
In how many major cities do strangers stop you to say hello and shake your hand. And welcome you to their country ?
Where pick up trucks are rammed with passengers who cling to the roof and wave at you as they pass?
Where a gun toting Shan soldier offers you a lift on his bike?
Where strangers invite you to sit with them on a street corner cafe and buy your drinks all night?
Where villagers marvel at the fact you’ve made the effort to get there and invite you to their home..feed you and refuse all payment?
Where farmers still plough with oxen and 50 year old buses make lonely journeys down empty highways?

This – without any shadow of doubt – is the Land of Smiles.

But you can see the cracks

I spent the day at the Aung Sang market. Overwhelming in its size.
But I was getting hassle from street sellers to buy tat…and at Bagan and parts of Inle it’s worse

On my second trip to Bagan I had to rescue my friends from a guy who was doing a hard sell on horse drawn tours.
I knew he was over charging and he wouldn’t let them go until I stepped in

In the three weeks since I’d been there the “tourist charge” to visit the Bagan plain had risen from 10 dollars to 15. (And maddeningly that goes straight to Government coffers)

The money changers on the streets rip people off. Don’t EVER go to the black market here,despite what Lonely Planet says.

But I’ve felt safer here than any other place I’ve visited Not once did I feel threatened. Even when dazed and confused and lost in the slum quarter.

However in two years I reckon this place will have changed out of sight

The Chinese are buying Up land. Speculators are moving in. Big foreign 4 by 4s are on the roads. Posh 5 star hotels are being built. Big tour groups get priority …probably cos their money goes straight to the Govnt unlike independent travellers who can channel (most) of their cash to locals

A vignette: a group of us went to a club in Mandalay billed as a local karaoke bar.
There was a stage filled with beautiful Burmese girls (modestly dressed thank Christ) Essentially they just walked aimlessly around the stage with the minimum of choreography. They didnt have a clue. Eyes on the ground. Bored. Embarrassed
But they sung beautifully
But here’s the thing: In a few years time I reckon they’ll be swinging round poles, half clothed.
Or worse
And tourists will come and gawp because “it’s part of the Burmese culture”. Which it bloody well isn’t.

And the road leading to the ancient Tharabar gate in Bagan will be lined with English and Irish theme pubs selling Guinness.
Full of fat fucking Englishmen with their arms around a beautiful Burmese girl. And they are very beautiful

There will be a McDonAlds at the bottom of the Shwezigon Pagoda so you can have a burger after watching the sunset

You think I’m exaggerating ?

On the top of the Shwezigon I got talking to an American business woman

She started to enthuse about the “development opportunities” in this country.

She’d seen a girl working in the fields in the heat and told me in all seriousness how much better it would be if she worked – for example – in Coca Cola bottling plant

“Yeah great,” I replied
“So all the kids leave the village to work in tourism or making fat profits for Western companies. Soon there are no kids in the villages..just like rural Turkey ”

Then she told me how great it would be to have a a chain of enchilada food shops here. Or juice bars.

So goes the world

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3 thoughts on “Times they are a changing

  1. Gary Hudson

    Very fine writing, Bob. Heartfelt and heartwarming, but chilling at the same time. It reads like From Our Own Correspondent without the usual sanctimonious overtones. Sounds like a fantastic trip. Talking of not being sanctimonious, and given that they’re developing the place anyway, do they have any golf courses …?

  2. If I could have stayed any longer, I would have loved to tag along and see the local culture before it’s relocated to a 20,000 sq ft. museum no one goes to like it seems has become the way of the East.

    See you in a year or so once I get everything taken care of here.

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