Obama is coming tomorrow. I will be spending the day chasing him around and hopefully mooning around Yangon University in the hope of being let in to hear his speech. The US Embassy nicely said they’d inform me if there were any “public” events, and as I’ve heard nothing, I’m presuming I am not included in this equation. (Shocking!).
My friends say Phnom Penh is a security zoo right now. I can’t say I’ve been near the airport today, but Yangon appears to be more sedate. There are probably a few reasons for this.
1. Merely the Leader of the Free World is arriving in Burma tomorrow, sans the entire ASEAN kit-and-caboodle. This might make things less tense. No one has waved a Uzi in my face, at any rate. I almost wish they had, it’d make for a great opener to a story.
2. The Burmese police and military have an awful lot of practice in the arena of covert operations. Perhaps they are better at not being seen.
Meanwhile, as another friend pointed out on Facebook, the Cambodian authorities tend to take any possible opportunity to remind their people, neighbors, and the world in general that they do have some muscle to throw around, and aren’t afraid to use it. Not to say the Burmese junta isn’t grandiose, but I wonder.
Anywho. I leave Burma on Tuesday morning for Kuala Lumpur. I feel embarrassed that I did not manage to leave Yangon on this first jaunt, but on the other hand, I met a lot of people, got to know Yangon rather well, and now know how to navigate in this occasionally challenging country.
Hoping to return sometime in the spring. I do really want to make it out to Bagan and the hill stations. And to try more Burmese food, which really is quite interesting—truly a crossroads between Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Some random Burma observations:
1. You take your life in your hands when crossing the street, even more so than in Cambodia, not known for its friendliness to pedestrians. Burmese drivers, so I’ve heard, are experiencing a bit of a weird cultural shake-up at the moment, which means I cannot detect any discernible traffic rules. Also, everyone has cars, and I’d really rather by smooshed by a puttering old motobike then by a Honda Civic any day. No notion of giving way to the foot-bound here at the moment. Be careful.
2. Getting online is not hard and not even that slow, at least in Yangon. The West shall probably have to retire the “Oh lord, I’m going to Yangon and I’ll never get on Facebook again!” hysterics.
3. The malls here are bigger, shinier, and more used than those in Cambodia. The supermarkets are larger and much nicer as well—and the primary clientele is Burmese people, not expats. This is very interesting—obviously, there IS some money in Burma, and quite a bit of it. But who is making it?
4. Asking Burmese people for directions is a pleasant endeavor, which will usually include passerby and an exchange about your well-being and nationality, and a lot of frenzied gesticulations and longyi-readjustment. Roll with it.
5. Never turn down free tea-cakes.