11 January 2015

Yangon - or the speed of change

Beautiful temples (part of Shwe Dagon pagoda)
Who would have thought that Lisa and I would go to Myanmar? This country wasn't really on our radar until short before we booked a flight there in early October. Even when boarding our flight in Bangkok, we didn't have the slightest idea what to expect.

While the plane descended into Yangon airport we gazed at miles upon miles of rice fields, with no city in sight. Immigration went far smoother than the visa application process let us imagine. In the arrivals hall, we experienced another positive surprise: the ATM gave us 300'000 MMK (kyatt/250 EUR) without any problem. No need to change money any more. We took a taxi to the Indonesian International School (IISY) as that's where our friend Ei May Zin told us to meet her.
Teaching English in IISY
Even though we never met her before (we only had online contact through a common friend), she welcomed us warmly and showed us around her school, introduced us to her colleagues and the principal and took us to her nearby home. The principal of Ei's school, an older Indonesian gentleman from Central Java, surprised to see two bule in his school speaking some Bahasa Indonesia, immediately invited us all out for dinner with his wife. Welcome to Indonesia, sorry, Myanmar!

As a quid pro quo, we joined one of his lessons the next day and talked with the students in English about Indonesia. The kids were a bit shy in the beginning, but eager to practice their English and many of them now occasionally chat with us on facebook.

Light festival in Yangon
The rest of our stay we wandered around the streets of downtown Yangon, Chinatown and Ahlone, where our friend Ei lives. We didn't visit that many sights except the notorious – and beautiful – Shwe Dagon Pagoda. But we soaked up Myanmar's street life to the fullest. We drank beer in local beer stations, ate delicious food at street stalls and in the evening Ei took us to restaurants with amazing varieties of food from every corner of Myanmar.

Dinner in a Shan restaurant with our friend Ei
Lisa and I were both amazed and positively surprised how fast change takes place in Myanmar. While internet is still pretty slow, it is accessible for everyone (at least in the cities). Unlike three years ago, SIM cards don't cost 500 US$ any more and loads of people have a smartphone already. Private media are mushrooming everywhere. Until five years ago, our friend wouldn't even have been allowed to host us. Of course the transition to democracy is not completed yet and the military leaders and their friends still fill mainly their own pockets. But positive change is visible and, most importantly in my eyes, most people we spoke to believe in a peaceful and prosperous future. Of a Myanmar connected to the rest of the world and part of the international community. We both dream of going to Myanmar again, once all parts of the country (the islands in the deep South, the mountains in the North and the border regions to China, India and Bangladesh) are open to visitors.

More pictures from Yangon

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