Today we pulled up to the bank in Ava, a small town just south of Mandalay. We boarded horse carts and visited a large teak monastery that is kept open just for tourists. Some of the poles supporting the roof are teak logs 90 feet long. From there we rode to a large old temple and walked around the outside. Then it was back to the ship for a large three course lunch, and at 2:30 we left to board a bus to drive up a large hill where we visited a large temple overlooking the Irrawaddy River. Of course there are huge statues of Buddha with lots of gold and neon lights radiating from his head to symbolize his enlightenment. From there we visited a silversmith and a factory that specialized in weaving beautiful embroidered fabrics. Then we were driven to the river to view the longest teak bridge in the world, and where we hung around in the boats to watch the sunset. There were thousands of others doing the same thing.
Now I want to talk about some of the things I’ve learned about Burma. The constitution that was written about twenty years ago gives enormous power to the military. First, the parliament has 25% of the seats filled by military. Second, the military is given complete control of border security and internal security. That means that Aung Sung Shu Chi is powerless to do anything about conflicts along the border. To change the constitution takes a vote of MORE than 75% of parliament. Effectively, that means the military can never be given less power except through an armed struggle.
The Rohingya were brought into Burma as Migrant farm workers in the mid 1800’s by the British because the British had a hard time controlling the Burmese. They never really got along with the Burmese in the area. More recently, the people from Bangladesh have been coming over the border because there is more land in Burma. The Rohingya took up arms to form an independent country in the border area where they live. In addition to the Rohingya, there are 134 other minority groups fighting with the Burmese government. Some of these groups have formed substantial armies and are actively at war with the Burmese. Most of the fights are because the locals want complete control of the natural resources where they live. The military generals personally own the mining and timber companies. They have made sweet deals with the Chinese, so guess who the Chinese favor? All of these areas are along the borders in the Northern third of the country. Other parts of Burma are very peaceful. The minority groups have not resorted to terrorism.
We have all been surprised by the education of Burmese in low paying jobs. Our guide has a degree in chemical engineering, but he couldn’t find a job in that field. Yesterday, our bus driver had a degree in physics. The woman who made clay pots had a degree in economics. Whenever we leave the ship we are pounced on by at least a dozen people trying to sell us something. Yesterday a couple stuck up a conversation with one of the young women trying to sell us stuff. She was fourteen, and had dropped out of school. She claimed to speak English, Spanish, and French. Harvey, who is one of the passengers, grew up in France, and now lives in Canada. He tested her in all three languages, and he said she was really good. She learned the languages by just talking to customers. The young lady who was weaving intricate patterns in cloth makes $40 a month! The extended family that makes clay pots earns about $500 a month, and they had the best house in town. Clearly Burma has serious problems that are not easily solved.
Because of the bad publicity in the international media, tourism in Myanmar is way down. We have felt very safe everywhere, and have seen no signs of conflict in the places we've been. I would encourage all of our readers to travel here, not only to view another culture, but to meet friendly people and see a gorgeous country.