Thursday, January 9, 2014

Travels in South East Asia and Myanmar

Spent the Holiday Season in South East Asia. I visited Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. More photos are available at my website

Singapore was busy, brisk and efficient. Three stops in  Malaysia: Langkawi was all green and lush, Penang was an eclectic mix of the colonial and postcolonial while Kuala Lumpur was a modern metropolis. Phuket bordered between the sleazy and the romantic that is Thailand and Medan in Sumatra had the urban feel of the global South. The highlight of the trip was three-day visit to Myanmar. The country formerly known as Burma is just emerging from decades of economic mismanagement and political repression. There are new political freedoms and a more open economy and society. Three random thoughts. The saddest part of the trip for me was to see trucks filled with teak trunks being loaded onto ships. In a nation of wonderful craftsmen a rare resource was being shipped out of the country without any value added work being done. The forest was being depleted for primary production export- an obvious way to remain poor and underdeveloped. In the surge of economic globalization the usual tale of crony capitalism and elite enrichment is unfolding. 
Teak loaded onto ships for export (© John Rennie Short)
Visiting an island temple  (© John Rennie Short)
Stupa in Bago  (© John Rennie Short)
Nuns in Yangon  (© John Rennie Short)
Second, the deep Buddhist religiosity of the country is evidenced with thousands of monks and nuns, lots of pagodas (stupas) and temples visited frequently by the faithful. The air smells of incense and the landscape is filled with the sacred architecture of the past and the present merging into one as the oldest edifices, some thousands of years old,  look brand new in their shining gold gilt. Finally, the country is opening up to the outside world but still has an innocence as when the locals, especially in the rural areas, look at outsiders with friendly wonder at what for them is the Other, but the Other who represents a more connected and more democratic society in the making.

Young and curious in Myanmar  (© John Rennie Short)