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Valar Qringaomis

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

On being Swindled in Burma

Pris Yeo - It's easy to lose yourself in Bagan, along dusty roads...

"It's easy to lose yourself in Bagan, along dusty roads where thousands of pagodas along the huge river stretch as far as the eye can conceive. There's practically no Internet, no connection with the outside world, no politics and no one who seems to care or know what's going on beyond the bubble of the city. Slowly though, you begin to realize how artificial it all is, that every outwardly friendly person only wants something from you, as tourist dollars feeds the beast.

You're ever the outsider, so they stiff you on prices, or give you inferior products, and send the children begging you to buy their goods so they can go to school. Everyone attempts to speak the same few words in French after finding out where you come from, with identical accents, only to badger you to buy a painting or souvenir. Canned answers and speeches attempt to garner your trust and sympathy, only so you pay exorbitant amounts for what amounts to garbage, or end up overcharged after the fact, insisting that they offered you more than what was originally agreed. You are offered the history of the place, only to be guilt-tripped into buying afterward. People pretending to wipe the same spot over and over, just so they can ask for a cleaning donation as you pass. Shameless, shameless pandering, and ever a sense of falseness. In the land full of dusty sand and ancient stupas, garbage covers the streets and fields, plastic and styrofoam are indiscriminately thrown out of windows and blown along the streets. Unsustainable tourism at its worst, and I can't imagine how it'll turn out in 5 years with no intervention.

My iPhone was stolen in a moment of distraction, and the greatest annoyance are the lost photos and inability to communicate with friends. Then I tore my ligament again, coming over a particular bumpy road where the bike heaved and threw me off in protest. A few new scars to show, and no longer guided but the trusty google maps or a clock, we lost sense of time and place. We meandered away from the tourist populated areas, to quiet pagodas, some left to mounds of dust and it's own ruin.

The sunrises and sunsets were amazing, and perhaps the saving grace was a night spent on top of an unguarded pagoda, the Milky Way slowly blinking into view as we made new friends and drank and smoked and laughed about all kinds of weird adventures along the way. Our guesthouse was another bright spot, manned by the most lovely genuine ladies that we'd met, so different from all the artificial smiles and manufactured sad faces.

Naturally, the night we leave was the one where the sky decided to paint a show, and we had to miss it to catch our transport. Perhaps we should have miss edit anyway. The bus ride back to Yangon was a new kind of horrifying, ear splitting pop-techno songs played at full volume, only interspersed by screeching soap dramas. The road was so bumpy, three locals even sicked up, one unfortunately just right next to us. All I felt when the plane left and touched down in Bangkok is relief.

Myanmar, I'm glad to be out in one piece, but if I ever see you again, it'll probably be too soon."
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