Capital | Yangon
Population | 42,510,504
Area | 678,500 SQ KM
Official Language | Burmese
Currency | Kyat (MMK)
Time Zone | UTC +6.5
Best Time to Visit | November to February (the cool season)
Connecting with the Culture | Taking a trip to Bagan, where thousands of ancient temples rise spectacularly out of a vast, treeless plain. Joining the pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo, a shining golden boulder stupa perched on a mountain cliff. Drifting on pristine Inle Lake, home to floating villages, water gardens and monasteries. Browsing the rollicking night market (and dodging the fruit bats) in riverside Pathein.
Read | Freedom from Fear & Other Writings- essays by and about Aung San Suu Kyi; George Orwell’s Burmese DaysI- the classic novel of British colonialism; Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway bazaar- a funny account of the author’s train trip through 1970s Burma
Listen | to traditional rhythmic Burmese music or original composition by Burmese rocker Zaw Win Htut.
Watch | John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, which dramatized the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and its brutal suppression; Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp, a beautiful 1950’s black & white film.
Eat | thouq (spicy salad with lime juice) or peh-hin-ye (lentil soup)
Drink | Mandalay Beer or htan ye (fermented palm juice).
In a Word | Bama hsan-jin i(‘Burmese-ness’, a quiet, modest and cultured quality)
Characteristics | Golden buddhas; jade; opium; Aung San Suu Kyi; ethnic embroidery; the military regime; the road to Mandalay.
Surprises | Myanmar’s other famous dissidents (with jail time to prove it) are side-splitting comedians The Moustache Brothers; Myanmar’s opium crop is rivaled only by Afghanistan’s.
NEWS ABOUT MYANMAR/BURMA:
In Myanmar, ‘Electricity first; democracy second.’
(Video Burma VJ Media)
(HN, 5/24/12) - In protests that began Sunday in Burma's largest cities of Rangoon & Mandalay, hundreds of people have been holding candlelit protests to protest against chronic electricity shortages; the largest since the 2007 monk-led “Saffron Revolution,” which was brutally crushed by the then-military regime who outlawed public gatherings of more than 5 people. Until now, unsure of how a new law which allows `peaceful, authorized protests' would be applied in practice, Burmese citizens have only held small, tentative rallies; the candlelit movement against power blackouts is the law’s 1st major test. So far, police have let most demonstrations unfold without intervening, except in the central town of Pyi Thursday. On Wednesday, officials said that due to a recent drought, Burma’s hydro-electric plants have been pumping out less power than usual, while consumption has been higher. Many protesters have expressed anger that Burma exports a majority of its energy to foreign countries, notably China & Thailand, despite chronic shortages at home. In Mandalay, people get about 4 or 5 hours of electricity per day; in Yangon, only slightly better. But the biggest side effect of the electricity shortage is water shortages as many people rely on motorized pumps to get water from the ground. (Read more at France 24)
Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar polls won't be fair; she'll stay in
(HN, 3/31/12) - Myanmar (aka, Burma) opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that Myanmar’s landmark weekend elections will be `neither free nor fair' because of widespread irregularities, but vowed to continue her candidacy for the sake of the long-repressed nation. Indeed last week the head of the Union Election Commission said journalists will be forbidden from taking photographs or conducting interviews within 500 metres of a polling station. Suu Kyi said opposition candidates of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had been targeted in stone-throwing incidents, campaign posters vandalized & members intimidated during the run-up to Sunday’s closely watched parliamentary by-elections. During a news conference on the lawn of her lakeside house inYangon, the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said government officials were involved in some of the irregularities & that they go “beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.”
(Video via Guardian.com)
“Still,” she said, “we are determined to go forward because we think this is what our people want.” The vote to fill several dozen vacant legislative seats comes months after surprising reforms carried out by Myanmar’s nominally civilian, post-junta government, including the release of political prisoners & truces with rebel groups; & is likely to mark a symbolic turning point by bringing Suu Kyi into parliament for the 1st time since emerging in 1988 to lead the nation’s struggle for democracy. She spent most of that time under house arrest, during which the results of the 1990 election were voided - in which the (NLD), won 59% of the national vote & a resounding majority of the seats in parliament. It could also set the stage for her to run for president during the next national poll in 2015. According to some estimates, nearly 35% of the Burmese population is between 15 & 24 years old. (Read more at the Daily Star)
Burma clears way for international observers for elections
(HN, 3/21/12) - Myanmar's invitation was welcomed by Western officials & leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy who voiced hope that their presence may guarantee a free & fair election. Both William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, & Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state have identified free & fair elections as a key requirement for sanctions against Burma to be lifted. Since last August when democratic reforms in the country were announced by the ruling junta government, 651 political prisoners have been released, successful talks have been held with several armed minority groups, & campaigning is well under way in by-election contests for 48 constituencies. (Read more at The Telegraph)