Saturday, August 29, 2009

Myanmar: First Impressions

I felt some nervous anxiety leading up to my trip to Myanmar. I've never felt nervous before about traveling so feeling nervous made me extra nervous. There were a few factors that I think lead to this unusual feeling:

Factor 1: Huyen went to the Myanmar embassy the week before I arrived back in Hanoi. While she was there she asked about me getting my visa. She said that the Myanmar embassy worker said, "We don't like Americans." When Huyen told me this over Skype I thought it must have been a mistranslation. Huyen insisted that is what the woman said. Yeah, not such a warm fuzzy feeling.

Factor 2: When I arrived in Hanoi I went to the Myanmar agency to get my visa. The woman behind the desk gave me a very skeptical look and asked me a few questions with a very skeptical look on her face.

Factor 3: Aung Suu Kyi's verdict was pushed back to the day before I arrived. I wasn't sure if there would be protests and/or if I would get turned back at the border for some reason.

Huyen and I flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Two things immediately struck me as I walked down the steps of the airplane onto the tarmac. Firstly, the International Airport was a dump. Clearly not too many planes were coming in and out of Myanmar. It looked like half the airport was actually not in use since there was an old mold covered building attached to a newer looking building. The second thing that I noticed was a smiling/waving airport worker. I smiled back at the worker and it helped ease my nervousness. Like I've said before, a smile can be really disarming. Seeing his random worker made me think that people were happy to see tourists.

Huyen and I went through immigration without a problem (although I had to fill out more forms to get into the country then I've ever filled in my life). Our hotel in Yangon had arranged a free ride for us and we were greeted by a man wearing a longyi (AKA a long man skirt).

(PICTURE: Men wearing longyis.)

The man told us to wait a few minutes for another passenger. We ended up waiting about twenty minutes for a passenger who never showed up. A few strange things happened while we waited. First, I noticed that Myanmar people had to go through metal detectors just to walk into the airport. One woman came in with an old camera and the security person took out the batteries. I've never seen security just to walk into an airport to greet people coming off of flights.

The second strange thing that happened is that there was a power failure. All of a sudden the lights and metal detector turned off. After a few moments they turned back on...and then went off again. I couldn't help thinking, "Please tell me the control tower has its own generator."

The third weird thing is that Huyen went to the bathroom and came back a minute later saying there was no toilet paper. We then both glanced up at a security guard who happened to be walking by us with one roll of toilet paper. He was headed towards the bathroom. This struck me as strange that they'd only replenish one roll at a time.

Finally after giving up on the last passenger we went out to the parking lot. Waiting for us was an old gutted out van. On the window was this sticker:
(PICTURE: Smiles aren't the only disarming thing in Myanmar.)

That was the first picture I took in Myanmar. Talk about first impressions...


marcus said...

It's crazy!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I (or someone else) missed your irony, if not: the guard did not replenish the toilet paper, he keep it for himself, and the official supply is sold by someone from his family for a few extra quid.