Myanmar – Burmese Days

Km 9757 – Ranong, Thailand
Author: Alex

„It was only half past eight, but it was the month of April and there was a mugginess in the air, a threat of the long, stuffy hours around noon. Now and then a weak wind gust, which felt rather cool, moved the orchids hanging down from the roof edge.“ These are the first lines from George Orwell’s novel „Burmese Days“. The heat in April did not change. We are cycling in the hottest month of the year. When the tachometers stand in the sun, they measure easliy 45 to 55 degrees Celsius. This is why we only cycle early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

In Burma – the name was changed to Myanmar by the military regime in 1989 – around 60% of the population are Buddhist Burmese, but there are many minorities, different religions and languages. Since the independence from British colonial rule the groups are quarrelling. The chaos lead to a military dictatorship (since 1962), which brutally supressed many minority groups as well as critical Burmese. In 1990 national elections were hold, which have been won clearly by the National League for Democracy around the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The voting was declared as invalid by the military mafia and the opposition leader sentenced with house arrest for many years. Two elections in the younger history (2010 und 2012) have been complimented by the international community. But the real democratic developement is quite small until now. One quarter of the parliament’s seats are reserved for military soldiers, for example. Most of the other parliamentarians are ex-military officals as well. In the last months we could speak with refugees and refugee helpers (in Thailand) and people in Burma, who do not trust the change and – at the same time – do not stop to hope.
At least some land borders to Thailand are open now and some ceasefires have been achieved with the minority groups. Thus some regions which had been closed for foreigners for many years are accesible now. We take this chance and cycle towards the South.

Hpa An

Hpa An

MYAWADDI – MOULMEIN

  • Mysterious Burma: early in the morning a row of monks, who walk barefoot in their red robes through the village to ask for food donations. Totally overcharged vehicels role over the bad streets. Double story pickups are standard, like people on the roofs of trucks. Noises of vomitting in a totally overpriced, dirty hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning. Golden stupas rise into the sky. In front of it a group of smiling people, the faces painted with yellow colour (Thanaka, protects from sun and heat). Some men sit in their long skirts (Longyi) in a teahouse, their teeth are red from the betel they chew. A monk on a motorcycle drives by. It is dusty, loud and colourful – just wonderful.
  • By boat to Moulmein and check-in at the Breeze guesthouse. The overpriced rooms are waiting with mice (us), cockroaches and bedbugs (other guests). Like in China we inform the staff and again we get a big smile: „You killed it, very good!“ Accidently, I broke the neck of a mouse, when I wanted to catch it in the dustbin.
Thingyan, das burmesische Wasserfest zu Neujahr; Thingyan, the Burmese water festival for their New Year's celebration

Thingyan, das burmesische Wasserfest zu Neujahr; Thingyan, the Burmese water festival for their New Year’s celebration

MOULMEIN – YE

  • Again and again we experience new year celebrations: Yi-New Year in November in China, European New Year in Hanoi, Chinese New Year in January in Chiang Mai und now Thingyan, the five days of New Year’s celebration in Burma. It is basically a country wide water battle, in which travellers on a bicycle are an attractive target. Countless times we are totally soaked.
  • In the Pa-Auk monastery, one of the biggest monasteries in Burma, a small, older woman called Setti talks to us. That she is speaking to us is astonishing, because she breaks the rule of noble silence, a vow of silence. When she saw the bikes and especially the Ortlieb panniers she could not resist. She was a long distance cyclist as well, but she left behind everything a short while ago. Appartment in Amsterdam centre, furniture, she gave away every material belonging – she made it, she could release from attachment. But she didn’t cope with the seperation of her Ortlieb panniers until now – that’s why she broke her vow of silence.
  • The small woman talks to us enthusiastically. It is not a coincidence, but our good karma, that brought us to the monastery today, she says. Besides: Through meditation it is possible to perceive the world in a total different manner. First you look into your body, you see it from the inside. Later you can look in trees and even in atoms. She had these kind of experiences through meditation and came to deepen her skills. It is also possible to look into your past, into your former lifes and finally ot look into the future (under the unchanged conditions of the present). This is a lot to understand for somebody like me, who does not know much about this stuff. What seems to be more clear to me: your brain is more like a screen, on which the perception takes place. Mind and consciousness are not located in the head, but in the heart.
  • The next day we are on the road again, again totally soaked. The water comes down on us in big buckets – sometimes every 50 meters, sometimes we can rest until we reach the next village. Especially young men disguise, stand on the back of a truck and ride from village to village to throw water on the people. Others are standing in the middle of the street, nobody can escape the water. Either on the trucks or in the center of the villages far too loud pop music is played.
  • One evening, while it is getting dark, we find a camping spot in a rubber plantation. The air cools down and we just putup our inner tent (against mosquitos). In Burma it is not possible to ask the local people for a possibility to sleep. There is a law of the military mafia – which is still ruling the country, covered by a civil government – that persecutes „too much contact to foreigners“. This is sneaky, because it remains unclear and humanly absurd. (Later a family dares to invite us – we assume they have good relations to the local police station).
  • Contrary temples are mostly a save alternative. After an hour of rain we cross the wet street to a small monastery and are welcomed by many people, who just finished the meditation/sermon. The abbot speaks English and one of his first sentences is: „Take it easy.“ He is a cool monk.
  • We are surrounded by approximatly 50 curious people, the world map lying in the middle of us, as we explain our trip. When we are about to sleep a 79 years old grandma comes, touches Jana and me on the back, the butt and the legs and declares (with the abbot as translator) she never saw (western?) foreigners in her whole life and as she heard of us, she could not sleep and had to come here.
  • While falling asleep I have to think of a small, old and bony monk with glasses. He approached us in Thailand, passed the bicycles, stopped and said with a smile: „Aaah, cycling world trip?“ and after a moment of concentration: „This is the real life!“ He then turned around and walked away without any other comment.

Here you find recent PICTURES and the ROUTE we took (just click on the respective word)!

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