A Keyhole into Burma – The current regime sucks, obviously, but that’s beside the point

Bringing up travel in Burma (Myanmar) in certain social circles has ruined many perfectly good cocktail parties. I’m talking raised voices, spilled drinks, mangled Twister mats, and even fisticuffs with multiple players. (At what stage can you call it a ‘melee’? Cuz I live to use that word in casual conversation. Melee. Heh.)

The recent uprising, the strongest anti-government demonstrations since 1988, briefly sparked new hope that Burma’s hateful leaders would finally be bounced out of power. After a stirring week of unthinkable marches and defiance, the government finally broke its silence and retorted with beatings, arrests and killings.

At the time of writing, the protests were stamped out, reducing the nation to its usual simmering discontent. The ensuing political condemnation from around the world has forced the military junta to concede to ‘conditional talks’ with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, though this agreement is widely thought to be a delaying tactic that will be annulled as soon as the international microscope moves its focus elsewhere.

The go/don’t go to Burma debate, of course, is raging once again. This BBC article cleanly sums up the interminable dilemma. I brought myself up to speed on the issues several years ago. Following the matter closely ever since, I haven’t heard anyone make any groundbreaking progress on what is a compelling argument on both sides. I have nothing to add to the debate, but I will say this: people on the fence that have actually visited Burma inevitably come home on the ‘go’ side.

For starters, it’s a beautiful, unspoiled country with amazing people and unforgettable sights. That the government marginally profits from tourist money is indisputable, though visitors can control how much money is pocketed by the government to a moderate degree. Equally, however, large numbers of private citizens also profit from foreign visitors and, arguably, the entire country benefits from having their story reported to the outside world, whether it be at an intimate dinner party or on a popular, international travel blog.

I visited Burma for 10 frenzied, sleep-deprived days in 2005. Every weekday for the next three weeks, I’ll be posting short vignettes and pictures from my journey.

Read the next post in this series: Burmese currency (I don’t give a FEC)


Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed three stories to the upcoming anthology “To Myanmar (Burma) With Love: A Connoisseur’s Guide” published by Things Asian Press. His personal blog, Killing Batteries, and his staggeringly vast travelogue could fill a lifetime of unauthorized work breaks, if one were so inclined.