One of the things I quickly discovered about Myanmar was how beautifully amazing the Burmese people are. After decades of isolation and control from successive, oppressive military dictatorships the Burmese people are starting to see glimmers of hope and glimpses of freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, who was released from years of house arrest in 2010, is openly supported and there is wide support to amend Myanmar’s constitution so she can run for president. The oppressive military presence that previous visitors have reported is not as obvious. At least in areas we visited. I don’t pretend to be a reporter and I am certainly not a historian but there seems to be real, albeit cautious, optimism about change and the future.
There is also a curiosity about western things and western people. We were almost like celebrities in some neighbourhoods. When I said I was from America some people would only half-jokingly ask, “Do you know Barack Obama?” Monks would approach us wanting to have their pictures taken with them. Some people would hand me their children so they could have their picture taken with me. Others would approach me and ask me to take their picture with my camera so I would remember them. Many, many people would approach us on the streets just to practice their English skills and to be seen by their friends talking to westerners. In Sittwe, a group of small children followed us through alleys and back streets shouting the only English they knew, “I love you.” In Kalaw, several children picked flowers cherry blossoms and wildflowers and to give to Sarah while we were walking in town. It was beautiful. There was a charming innocence to it all.
In short, things do appear to be changing for the better. The people of Myanmar are beginning to learn about fundamental rights that you and I have taken for granted our whole lives. Their hope and innocence is infectious. I just hope that is rewarded and not cruelly exploited by neocolonialists wishing to take advantage of their inexperience with worldly affairs. Another risk is the pervasive globetrotting do-gooders on a mission greedily trying to impose their will and personal belief systems upon a people that have been doing just fine in this area for millennia, thank you. Maybe, hopefully, they will as a people, without blinders, move forward into the future and retain their substantial charms. I have a soft place in my heart for the people I met. I hope to visit again soon and find that their hopes are being realized.