Bagan and Yangon

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Posted by Giom | Posted in Myanmar, On the road, South East Asia | Posted on 05-02-2014

I head for Bagan, THEE touristic site of Myanmar.
From my bike, I can see the countryside is very poor, only a handful of lucky people take advantage of the dollars spent a few kilometers away.

Once at Myngian, midway between Mandalay and Bagan, I must find somewhere to sleep, except that I refuse to pay 20$ a night for an ordinary hotel in the middle of nowhere. 20$ is the least expensive of the two hotels available to foreigners. So I decide to carry on, even if I have to camp somewhere…Illegally, but much cheaper !
I end up stopping at the first monastery on my way and ask if it wouldn’t be possible to spend the night there. I know it’s also forbidden by the government, but some dissenting monks might agree to offer me accomodation… My heart is beating faster. Foolish ! I slept in the temples of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos dozens of nights ! But here it’s different. I know the police can come and tell me to sleep at the nearest hotel. Then, it would be back to start.

The answer is YES ! I jump with joy -in my mind- with tears nearly coming to my eyes. Stupid me !
But I am so happy not to fall into the trap of the military junta’s laws !

To crown it all, I am offered to eat the remainings of the midday meal after a thorough visit of the monastery.
The next morning before leaving, I am invited again to eat breakfast with them. What a luxury !

Then I head for Bagan, at last ! I find a hotel where I can sleep in a dormitory for 10$, probably the least expensive at this period. I put down my bags and off I am on my way to visit the famous plain full of temples, monasteries, stupas… I must admit the view is breathtaking. All these shapes pointing to the sky, most of them containing images and statues of the Buddha, situated in a silted forest, on the banks of the Irrawady river.

One can already feel the damage caused by tourism. Some children speaking in French : « Bonjour monsieur, pas cher (cheap) » are selling all sorts of things, and look very young to be out of school !
A 17 year-old girl tells me in English that she left school at the age of 12 to work in the restaurant where I am eating, in order to escape work in the fields, where her parents are sweating away.

So I cycle through this sacred forest of temples, going round them one by one. Awed by the madness of men !
Still, I din’t pay the 16$ owed by the tourists arriving by bus, boat or plane. That’s the advantage of a bike :)
It’s beautiful but crazy. A sunset admired from the temple of Su La Mani. It’s a sight that many tourists come to celebrate, to the glory of our common God, the Sun !…

Then, in the race of my 28-day visa, here I am on a night bus to Yangoon !
Striking contrast between nature and city. I find myself in the ex-capital of the country.
The new capital is Nay Pi taw, entirely built from scratch, between Mandalay and Yangoon.
To cut it short, here I am in this hotchpotch city :
* Love and Hate
* Beautiful and dirty
* Impressive and obsolete
* Full of life but so traditional
* Bright and shiny but filthy
* Fascinating, hilarious
* Curious, disinterested
* Delightful, repulsive
* European, Asiatic : Chinese, Indian, South-East Asia
* Puzzling but reassuring
* Basic and complex at the same time
* Obsequious but so sensual
* Beware, it’s going to burst !

So… How can I explain ? Did you get the clutter this city created in my mind ? I don’t know how to put it through to you. Maybe the kind of ambiguous relation « Je t’aime, moi non plus » « I love you, me neither »
A repulsive fascination. An impression of an omni-present paradox.

A leap in time. Sometimes, the impression of being in George Orwell’s « Burmeses days » during the English colonization. I really feel in a different world. But one guesses things are moving, or want to move, they have mountains of ideas ; it’s near to explode, however, it’s still dormant.

The people are eager for modernity, in a country oppressed by the military junta who doesn’t give its people a chance to study, to have a decent salary, to live with dignity… And here I am in trhe middle of all this looking for a night costing less than 10$.

And yet, they are all radiant with this Asiatic smile on their faces, so difficult for me to decrypt as an Occidental.

This country is beautiful and sad at the same time.
It probably finds some of its beauty within its sadness.

Translated by: Marie Louise DAVIES

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