Monday, March 3, 2008


I arrived in Myanmar on Sunday morning without a clue what to expect. I must have had some vague notion in my head though because Myanmar is certainly not what I expected. The first things to say are that. 1.) The people are incredibly friendly, and many of them speak very good English. 2.) I am way out of the boundaries of normal travel right now. For one thing, aside from a few hotels, there is no tourism industry in the country. Now, this is fine as I don't usually buy many souvenirs or book tours or buses through these agencies, but it is a little freaky not seeing any of these available. I guess that goes hand in hand with the fact that there are not too many whities here. My plane had about twenty other travelers on it, but since reaching Myanmar I think I have met four or five in three days. Weird. Before this trip this is what I thought traveling was going to be like everywhere! I quickly learned that that was not the case, but now I feel like I have stepped back in time.

Another surprising thing is the poverty. Now I know that you are going to say "August! What the hell did you expect?" Well....not this. It isn't that the impoverished are any poorer here than the those of other developing nations like Laos or Vietnam, it's just that there are a whole lot more. Basically everyone. There does not seem to be any sort of thriving middle class at all. You are either sitting in the dirt with flies crawling all over you or you are rich. I say that because I assume there must be an incredibly small but wealthy upper class. I have yet to meet any of them. I have also yet to see a car newer than maybe 1990 on the road, and I would say the median age for vehicles is somewhere around 30-35 years.

The roads are in utter disrepair. I took a 16 hour night bus last night from Yangon to Mandalay following the countries only highway. If that was a highway I have no idea what to expect from the rest of the country's roads. The "highway" was not quite two lanes wide and was the roughest road I have ever been on. In many places it was no longer paved and the going was incredibly rough and slow. I think there may have been tears in my eyes as I finally exited that death trap at around 9:00 a.m.

Then there was the issue of the police checkpoint at 3:00 a.m. We suddenly stopped and everyone was ordered to disembark form the bus. The driver told me to stay put while the others went through a security screening, but my curiosity got the best of me and I hopped off to take a look at what was going on. This was fine until I got a bit closer to the screening post when a very surly police officer with an AK-47 hung across his chest ordered me to get back on the bus and wait there. OK. Not about to fuck around with that guy. I turned around, jumped on that bus, and waited patiently for everyone to return.

So. Some good things. The beer (Myanmar Beer) is delicious. The street food is very Indianesque. The people are great (Other than a monk who tried to rip me off and then ended up swearing at me when I refused to give him twenty dollars. Now that's something that doesn't happen everyday. Have you ever had a monk say "Fuck you." to you?).

Now the problem. I am so happy to be here and I think I might be leaving in 3 or 4 days. A far cry short of the 3-4 weeks that I had planned. The problem is money. I brought $900.00 with me which is more than enough for a month (there are not ATM's or banks in the country), but I did not know that bills would not be accepted if they were not in perfect condition. Apparently this is something I should have known because all the other travelers (the four or five) I have met seemed to have known this. Now there does not seem to be anything particularly wrong with my money, but it is not brand new and that is a problem. Out of $900.00 I think I have about $250.00 that I can spend. I am scrambling to find other options right now, but I am really freaking out. I do not want to be leaving after only one week. ARGH! I am so pissed off about this situation. If anyone has any advice I could sure use it right now.

1 comment:

Mark said...

iron your bills hommie... if you cant put them under your leg when you sit on a wooden chair and this will make all the folds go away, keep in mind i posted this at 3:31a.m. our time and im d-runkk, lol! Let me know if you got this via email/ not blog. ha ha. good luck and stay safe.

Peace and love,