Myanmar Reflections

I am in a contemplative mood.

Myanmar was a wonderful country to visit. The people there, especially the older generation, have clearly lived through tremendous upheaval, and have lived under military rule for most of their lives. The country has dropped from one of Asia’s wealthiest to a nation of mainly poor people; from a nation with 90% or more literacy to a nation of perhaps under 20% literacy. Many children are clearly not in school, and are working in various ways. The country has only recently opened to large numbers of foreign visitors and after a long period of isolation, it now faces an onslaught of travellers from all over the world.

I have to admit it: being a tourist there created conflicting emotions in me. On the one hand, tourism is bringing money, service jobs, and hopefully an increased quality of life (at least for some). On the other, tourism is very rapidly changing what appears (to an outsider like me) a slow-paced, simple way of life. Pagodas, which are both community and religious centres, are overrun with tourists. Those with the best sunset views are covered in tourists as we climb walls and jockey for position. Traffic is increased, as tour buses and tourists on various bikes and mopeds add strain to a largely decrepit transportation infrastructure. Myanmar, like other nations before it, will not survive tourism unscathed or unchanged. But for local people, perhaps that is a welcome change. Or perhaps not…

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