Thursday, 3 April 2014

Myanmar means love of life

It's very difficult to write about Myanmar. I feel overwhelmed by visual impressions but they can't turn into words like I have no tool to chisel shapeless mass of experience and I can only stare hopelessly at this beautiful piece of marble that I have just uncovered.

Colors, sounds and smell attack your senses when you leave Yangon airport like mad herd of buffaloes running amok. It seems you unconsciously crossed a space-time portal and landed in parallel universe... 50 years ago. It's a heritage park 3D. Bizarre mixture of history and modernity, heartbreaking poverty and ostentatious luxury (as a social fire-wall), explosion of chaotic energy with a unquenched hunger for living and economic harness that stop dreams of personal freedom half way, hellish scorching heat and coldest social rules that makes you angry that some people need to break their sweat and give entire life to get to the point where you start for free and take it for granted all your non-deserved leisure life.

Myanmar is a sizzling pot of Laos, Cambodia and India served with extra spicy Thai sauce although third variable in this equation is still only based on stereotype and blind guess to me. 60 million people cramped under slowly but inevitably melting military regime where 80% live off unforgiving piece of land with no support from mysteriously distant but feared government. Land that is littered with pagodas or its sad corpses like mushroom after rain(or plastic bottles on the side of the road in every village. Environmental consciousness is an oxymoron here).They look like a sacred sign posts implanted to measure distance with its golden towering stupas. All seem to be occupied-no other buildings are better looked after and polished. Every kyat is best spent on pleasing Buddha. Religious obsession has its extreme form here. Pagodas are cultural,social and even political centres, they grant loans or organize events with music and dance.Political penetration is proportionate to internet coverage (or rather it's lack - matrix has a long way before claiming this land)  and resembles vaguely centralized medieval feudalism where ruler is only nominal - religious and ethnic identity is much more important and firm. Monks are the local spiritual sheriffs-bolts sealing this fragile structure.Burmese are majority but there is officially 135 ethnic groups including British heritage of Indian, Bengali, Chinese, Chan, Wa and others almost each occupying distinct region.

Yangon is like a small but equally loud and chaotic and even more rough version of Saigon. Constant buzz of beeps and horns is like an anthem of progress and civilization. People are mostly nice and gentle but their souls are corrupted by harsh environment-you just want to hug them and apologize for inequality in the world but you know they can see through your pitiful eyes. They're not hyenas like Vietnamese or wolfs patiently circling its pray like Thai but curiosity has a deeper dimension. Sometimes it looks like farmers jumped on a seat of Time Machine to the future-they're still not familiar enough with technology to keep comfortable distance and counter-balance its corrupting effects. Ultra modern buses drive on a Cambodian-quality roads( with on board entertainment of Burmo-disco or full volume dance remakes of American pop-culture. Exactly what you dream about on a 10h night bus ride when your party mood is in its peak!),beetle-nut spitting farmers expose red gums in joy playing video games on newly acquired tablets or fones (spelling errors are common just like in Thailand only more ridiculous, making this wanna-be modern pose even more surreal and absurd), young Burmese couples go to the cinema to watch Hollywood movies without subtitles not understanding more than few words or hang around in Western cafe-bars paying for hamburgers more than for quality local dinner.Is it inevitable price for success for every developing country?Do they need to repeat the same pattern as other decolonized Asian nations that forgot history?What kind of devil drug this technology is that makes entire societies sacrifice their lifestyle to pursue wealth and progress? If you consider though that in 2005 to get an ordinary sim card you would have to pay 1600$ (it's available for 20$ now) - more than average annual salary in Myanmar you start understanding this universal drive to life standard you can see everyday in TV. American and Chinese movies and soap operas are widespread so virus is already seeded and can't be hidden behind iron curtain like in North Korea.

Women in Myanmar is a separate chapter.Most of them look like models dressed up for night out even if they only drive their motorbike to the shop next door to buy groceries. Men with their blood stained teeth and silly long sarongs look like their savage bodyguards from stone-age construction site. Myanmar is a country of difficult to grasp contrasts that changes with light-speed in front of you. Venus on Botticelli's painting emerges here from a side-road sewage, with curious dark eyes, sincere smile and body of Beyonce. Hotels and resorts are built quicker than you can book them.World around is changing too fast for Burmese to keep up so many of them still function in a noble stasis,beautiful and unspoiled fossilized dream of J.J.Rousseau but "civilization" lures behind their backs like a hungry wolf destroying weak characters forever. Shiny, modern cafes and bars look ridiculous surrounded by ditches filled with all possible waste like fortresses of progress guarded by moat of past or promises of better life.

I met many people with symptoms of Myanmar addiction. It's unspoiled, romantic beauty combined with natural curiosity and kindness of Burmese people triggers some deep rooted longing for authentic humanity in our corroded Western souls. One can only hope that modern lifestyle won't wipe out their natural beauty and mysticism and  that they can withstand invasion of technology. Life have so many more dimensions when it's not wrapped up in the same package and sold in exchange for your soul at the nearest shopping mall.