Mingalabar from Yangon,
Linda says visiting a country with a corrupt regime benefits the regime, in the same way that buying a product with stains in the supply chain endorses the company’s actions. It’s similar to visiting Fiji after the coup, or touring Russia during the soccer World Cup. It’s not hard to find flaws in the argument and the place to look is on the street.
We get the governments we deserve.
The argument is predicated on the assumption that governments are a true reflection of their populaces. Yes, it’s palpably true that we get the governments we deserve, but it’s not true that the actions of governments are always in sync with the wishes and sentiments of the people. I don’t want to punish the people for the actions of errant officials.
The people in Myanmar are quiet, unassuming, peaceful souls getting on with their lives. When the alleged atrocities in Rakhine State took place, most civilians were not a party to the acts, and not supportive of them. If we withdraw our sustenance by refraining from visiting, we’d be hurting the people, not the government. If we boycott the country, we are hurting the individuals who had no say in the matter.
Today is a national holiday so thousands are out and about in the massive city park, known as People’s Park. There are loads of rides and amusements in among the massive banyan trees and strangler figs, with lots of water in lots of picturesque lakes. Most people are wearing some version of an unofficial national costume.
The women look very fetching in bright sarongs, but not quite so fetching with the face clay. (This, I am told, is traditional makeup, which derives from the bark of a tree. They use the wood and a stone base and water to create the mixture before applying to their faces. It’s called tanakhar.) Most men wear the lungi, with smartphones tucked in at the waist. There are very few distressed jeans or emblazoned T-shirts. These are a people holding onto their culture rather than celebrating it once a year. (That would be a celebration of lost culture, wouldn’t it?)
Yangon is actually a very cosmopolitan city. There are many ethnicities represented here and there’s a sizeable China Town as well as India Town, both so named on the city map. Also featuring on the city map is a complex rejoicing under the name of the “Drug Eliminating Museum”. That’s not far from the museum of the former home of the (now) second-most famous Burmese. And, they’re not far from the perfectly manicured War Memorial Cemetery.
Yesterday evening I had dinner in Burma Bistro, a restaurant which encapsulates the fusion that is Myanmar. They have mathematics questions embedded in the floor tiling, races and religions mixing without any apparent demarcation, the menu reflecting a fusion of cultures and staff who are genuinely interested in your interests. That’s the kind of experience which says it is alright to visit Myanmar.
The multiplier effect helps individuals before it helps any governments. I’m happy to spend money in the local cafes and taxis if it means they spend it immediately in their own communities. It’s a safe bet that that’s what happens here.
Tada from Yangon