Myanmar – a country full of stories

Km 10000 – Krabi, Thailand
Author: Alex

YE – DAWEI

  • 20 kilometer before Dawei we ask in a monastery again if we can stay for the night. The abbot doesn’t speak any English, so another monk is translating. As the essential question comes up (if we can sleep here), the translator has to leave suddenly – strange. We leave as well and accept this indirect no. But when we reach our bikes which were parked downstairs, we see the translator again and he says, we can stay.

  • Jans is already about to sleep in the tent when the „immigration police“ arrives surprisingly. Several men (only two or three in uniform) stand around me. A translator notifies us that we are not allowed to sleep here and that we should sleep in Dawei. Despite of several friendly attempts to ask for an exception just for this night, the cops – those ugly blackheads in the face of the dictatorship – organise a small truck that brings us to Dawei.

  • This is annoying, although we were definitely lucky: it was still early, the next city and the next hotel were close and the officials were friendly. Nevertheless: they were probably totally scared that something could happen to us and that they would be responsible for it and receive draconic punishment. So far our first contact with the police state – a typical element: it is more annoying than useful.

  • Still the same evening we meet Martin (who also arrived earlier than planned in Dawei). He studied together with Jana and we had already met him in Chiang Mai. Martin will acccompany us for the next 10 days. After the escort dropped us in front of the hotel, the three of us go for a drink.

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20th April 14: on our way to Dawei we watch kids with their self-made toys that they draw behind them

 DAWEI – MYEIK

  • Breakfast in a teahouse. On our way to the market a man follows us and prevents us from buying yellow deliciously-looking mangos. At home he has far better ones. Organic, fresh and not so overripe like these. We should come to his place. Why not? After the fruity meal (plus visiting the garden with mangos, bananas and orchids), we receive a guided tour through the city including a coffee break.

  • Maung Saw Tin (name changed) tells us about poverty, the low salary for teachers (in comparison to soldiers) and the many years of isolation. That no foreigners were allowed to visit. That his parents had never been to the next bigger city (Myeik), only 90 km away. Freedom also means to move without restrictions – no matter if you are local or foreigner. During a long period there were no streets. Additionally, a civil war was going on. I see tears in his eyes. Two hours before as he was inviting us into his wooden house, the same man said the fabulous sentence: „my home, your home; my country, your country.“

  • One the one hand, there is this human openness and generosity. On the other hand, we know about the (historic) background and the rigorous isolation and oppression by the corrupt military. This is a contrast that is difficult to process. It seems somehow surreal. Maybe it is especially the happiness that the country is slowly opening up a bit, finally allowing a little bit of freedom? It is supporting this idea of more freedom that we can also discover many offices of the oppostion party NLD (National League for Democracy) whose leader is Aung San Suu Kyi. We hear her name very often. She is the folk hero and therefore the major danger for the military. The military had established a constitutional law that no leader can be married to a foreigner – Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband (who already died) was a UK-citizen. This way the opposition leader has been withdrawn all chances to lead the country.

  • We walk through the little alleys of Palaw. An incident along the way: a guy dressed in longyi and undershirt drives next to us on his motorbike in walking pace. He shortly talks to Maung Saw Tin. „Who was this?“, I ask. „A civil police man who wanted to know when you (finally) leave again.“ If he could get into trouble because of us, I ask further. No, no, this police man has been his student for a long time – they know each other. Calming Burma: Contacts and money solve problems. But those who don’t have neither, are unlucky.

  • In Myeik, where Martin already leaves Myanmar to meet his brother in Thailand, I wander through the streets. In a tiny shop an old man offers me a chair. The 73-year old has finger thick tear sacs and stutters through his yellow teeth, which are partly framed with silver. In his broken English he tells me about his Chinese parents. And that he knows Angela Merkel from satellite TV. That’s where he also saw a report about long distance cyclists. Besides, he informs that this is the hottest summer since ’95 and ’85 with over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (= 38 degrees Celsius) at an average. This is the second time in his life that he speaks to a foreigner. As he talks about „that little bit of democracy“ and the allmighty military who spreads suffering and takes all the money, I can see tears in the eyes of a Burmese once again.

in the train from Ye to Kaleinaung

in the train from Ye to Kaleinaung

  • Nevertheless, we will not remember a sad, but a wholehearted and bright Burma. Such as our train ride, for example, to shorten a bit of the way: shortly before the departure of the well-known „death railway“ (because so many war forced labourers and prisoners of war died during the construction), the train fills up with people, until it is jam-packed and people sit on the floor. With more than 1,5 hours delay („Myanmar-time“) the heavy train starts rolling. All the windows and doors are open. People are eating, smoking, sweating, sleeping, talking, watching, laughing…. Time passes by, we look out of the window and get off the train once in a while when we stop for a little bit longer.

  • It is dark as we arrive in Kaleinaung. As we unload out stuff, a man approaches us, smiles and says: „I waited for you!“ Question marks in our faces. He is neither from the secret service nor someone who wants to kidnap tourists. Although the situation seems quite bizarre, it is way easier than that. His brother works for the local train station and received a sms from his colleague one station ahead. Two foreigners will be getting off, if they could organize someone to help them. Theada had lived in Malaysia for 11 years and his English is excellent. The good soul shows us the next restaurant and even finds a sleeping place for us – in a church (we are in a village of Christian Karen). Louis and his sister Regina (both the Christian names) take care of us and open a room in the church for us. In Burma these moments happen often, these magic moments, where everything is open and everything turns out to be wonderfully fine.

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

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