Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Burma trip

The flight attendant announced that the plane would land at the Yangon International Airport in a few minutes. I gathered all my documents (passport, arrival card, etc.), got my backpacks and got ready. I was excited. I hadn't been home for about three years.

The flight attendant then announced that the time difference between Bangkok and Yangon was 30 minutes. She gently reminded us to change our watches to local time which was 30 minutes behind Bangkok. One western expat living in Bangkok joked that it was more like 30 years difference instead of 30 minutes.

Yangon indeed was almost like 30 years behind Bangkok. Crumbling taxis, polluted air, pot-holed road, no electricity and noisy generator's sounds downtown all reminded us of the current situation in Burma.

Yangon International Airport was renovated and since had become modern. I heard that the electricity went out occasionally, though. We didn't need airport shuttles like in the old days. We could walk directly through the boarding tube into the airport. It was great.

After coming down with the elevator (which actually worked by the way), I went past the immigration. While waiting in the immigration line, I overheard immigration officers cursing to each other. I ignored them and went on to the counter. An immigration officer stamped my passport with an entry stamp.

Passing immigration counters, picking up luggage was easy enough since ours was the only flight and there were not many passengers on board.

Coming out of the airport, my friend, Saw Aye Min, and I had to find a taxi. We got one with Kyats 4,000 to go to Insein, which was not too far from the airport. It was about 20 minute-drive.

There were boys trying to offer their services to carry our luggage to the taxi. They were so pervasive. It was a turn-off for many foreigners. But it was a normal scene for us. An American friend of mine once said, "Don't be put off by this. After passing this experience, Burma is such a wonderful place full of wonderful people."

I said above that Yangon was like 30 years behind Bangkok. Yet, I had to admit that Burma was probably ahead of Thailand in some aspects. One thing I had to acknowledge was there were many cheap tuitions in Burma for everything from English speaking to LCCI exams (for those of you who are not familiar with LCCI, it stands for London Chamber of Commerce and Industry certificates). These standardized exams were popular with Burmese kids because they could help them find jobs outside of Burma. They could become exam guides if they scored very high. A few years ago, one of the Burmese kids got the highest score in the world.

The following morning, I went to the highway bus terminal to buy a ticket to go back to Mudon. In Bangkok, I would go to the bus terminal a few hours in advance on the night I would travel and the ticket would still be available.  Here I was not sure of that. So I had to go in the morning to book my ticket to leave the following day.

yangon bus
Bus in Rangoon (Image by woowoowoo via Flickr)
Mudon, by the way, was a small town in Southern Burma near Mawlamyine (Moulmein). I grew up there and went to school there. My family still lived there.
Limestone landscape, Mon State, Burma.
Mon State (Image via Wikipedia)

Mudon trip was nice. I was able to see beautiful sceneries along the way since I took day-bus instead of the night one. Burma's villages were still beautiful.

Highways were definitely better than before. But it was nothing compared to highway systems even in our neighboring countries such as Thailand or Malaysia. We definitely needed to upgrade our infrastructure.

That reminded me to talk about electricity. There was electricity only one day during the whole week I was there and it was from midnight till five in the morning. People got up to pump water and recharge their batteries.

Batteries and inverters (to convert direct current from batteries to alternating current) were ubiquitous. And so were generators. If alternative energies were to be tested, Burma would be a great field for the experiments. One of the doctors in my hometown used solar panels for her house's energy needs.

In general, the trip was fun because I got to meet my family. I went back to Bangkok after spending a week in Burma.
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