The Situation in Burma/Myanmar

Since Jeff and I first decided to take this round the world trip–it’s been years in the making now…hurry up with the PhD already–we’ve been makings lists of places we want to go. We get a zillion travel magazines and we’ve read through books like “1001 Places to See Before You Die” and “Lonely Planet’s A Year of Adventure,” searching for locations that seem interesting to us. So far, we haven’t settled on anything certain, but we have a pretty good idea.

One of the places on our list was Burma, although it had a faint little question mark next to it. It’s a place we’d both like to discover but that we had uncertainties about. As a country led by an oppressive and illegal regime, we wondered what was the right thing to do. For political reasons, should we boycott this country, refusing to contribute money to a corrupt and cruel government? Or should we go in spite of the government, to meet the people, to better understand the situation, to try to put money into the hands of people who need it? We hadn’t really formulated an answer.

Recent events have made it such that the decision is not so difficult. Clearly Burma is a troubled and dangerous place–at the moment for travelers, probably always for citizens. And even if it calms down, I am not sure we’d go. I think before, when violence wasn’t so blatant, it was somewhat easier to justify a trip there. Now, with my political sensibilities more strongly awakened, it seems that it would be wrong to go against the wishes of democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Ky, under house arrest since 1990, who asked that people boycott the country until the military regime is deposed and civil liberties are restored. I hope that happens soon, that these protests are not futile, that democracy is indeed on the brink of a comeback. And I hope that not just for my own petty interests, but for the welfare of a people.

What do you think? How much should issues such as these play in to decisions about travel? I’m not exactly sure if I can draw a line in the sand, establish a base criteria. I’m not going to go to somewhere that is clearly dangerous—Iraq for example. But I don’t want to not go somewhere because of sensationalized danger that is in fact, not truly there. A fair amount of people thought we were crazy to go to Egypt in 2004, but if I hadn’t had gone, I would have missed one of the most amazing and friendly places I have ever been. And what about when a place might not exactly be dangerous but is very strongly anti-American? Although I hear wonderful things about Iran, I’m not planning to go there. However, I think we will go to Venezuela, which is led by a man nearly (or just) as crazy and anti-American as Ahmadinejad. I can’t articulate my reasoning, and I can’t say that it won’t change. Often making decisions about travel has to do a lot more with your gut than your head. It’s a rapidly changing world, and sometimes even a line in the sand is a little too permanent.

12 thoughts on “The Situation in Burma/Myanmar”

  1. Clearly Myanmar is not the place to go this time around. Hopefully Venezuela will be okay even though recent news stories about their leader have been somewhat scary. Where do these type of people come from anyway?
    I hope you get lots of comments. i like to know what other people are thinking.
    I agree with the part about gut decisions. I know that you two will make wise decisions about where you go.

  2. I think your stay in Norwalk, CT was the best preparation you could have ever had for your trip. Although the struggles were great, you made it… Go with your gut.

  3. It’s a shame that there are so many beautiful places and cultures in the world that we may never get to experience because of their current political situations. I would love to spend time in the middle east, but I think there are only a handful of places there where I’d feel safe going. I just turned down an all-expenses-paid six month vacation to Iraq complete with my own weapons and body armor. I’m sure it was the right decision, but it may have been my once in a life time opportunity to see the place.

  4. I have another question 🙂 Are you planning all your exact travel dates for the whole trip in advance or is it somewhat flexible? I mean, if a couple months into your trip a civil war breaks out in a country you were planning to visit for example, will it be difficult for you to change your plans? Or what if you just love a place so much that you decide you want to stay there an extra week?

  5. Laura, I’m so glad you passed up the Iraq vacation! I hope that one day Iraq is a place people could travel to, but it sure doesn’t look good.

    As for travel dates, no, we’re not planning everything out in advance. Right now we’re kind of thinking on a continent basis. We’ll probably buy have the big intercontinental flights arranged so we know how long in general we have to spend in Asia or Africa of South America, but no specific dates for specific countries/cities. We want the flexibility of being able to stay longer/leave earlier and of adding on places that we may not have thought of or dumping places that we find out aren’t so good. We’ll probably go overland most of the time too, so that gives us more flexibility. A few things we’ll probably have to arrange a little bit in advance, and of course, if anyone wants to come meet us along the way, we’ll nail down dates for that place so they can make travel arrangements.

    I’m so excited to talk about this. For so long, it’s just been in my and Jeff’s heads. It feels so much more real now!

  6. Theresa and I were talking about this the other day and its kinda been in my head since. It is a very gut reaction, and really, thats the thing that matters. Likely, anywhere you went (outside of an active war zone) you would leave without issue. But the way you feel being there affects how you appreciate it. It really comes down to what you’re comfortable with, for better or worse.

  7. I am so excited for you two and totally jealous! Zack is sharing a home with a Bajan couple and a student from Venezula. All I can say it both the Bajans and Venezula yound lady really hate Chavez, even more than they hate George W. they advised Zack not to trael there for his own safety. but that is this year hopefully next year will be a different story

  8. Yeah, my mom and I were very mad when those dictator-communist loving genocidal psychos killed the Buddhist monk. They pissed me off when I see images of monks getting killed. I wonder why UN didn’t order a invasion. We went to Bosnia to stop a genocide, and so in Guatemala when Noreiga killed a lot of people. Oh, Theresa, if Jeff is not reading this tell him I think the next Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six video should take place in Burma, I want to kill me some of those Junta soldiers who killed the Monks.

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