Myanmar* – there is such a country!


Sitting down to write a few lines in order to share with the reader my experiences during my trip to Burma, I was in two minds as to the direction the narration could take. One would be the story of a country with an oppressive political system, closed within itself and lacking the debatable information conveniences of the modern world. A country in which the telephone is a luxury, and the students – enemies.

The other option was the attempt to describe the deep faith, devoid of artificial encumbrances, visible and tangible everywhere, as if having permeated the very essence of this wonderful country and its people, the embodiment of pure goodness.

I did not need long for the good to prevail. For those who want to know why, although rarely, here you can come across slogans, politely translated into English – such as “Let’s destroy the enemies of the Burma Union and give them what they deserve”, “Without discipline there is no progress” or “Let’s rebuff the destructive elements and the agents of imperialism” – there is more than enough information on the global net. The young George Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in the period 1922-1927 and the experience left its mark on his novel 1984. Not only the good sides of British colonialism in its pure form are ubiquitous.

My story will be nostalgic for the time of equality in poverty, for the refreshing curiosity of the outside world and its mouthpieces, albeit in the shape of tourists, as well as for the many natural and everyday beauties of a society, seemingly frozen in the early 1960s.



To my question as to why in its time Burma did not shelter beneath the withered wing of the socialist camp, a wise old man, with whom I spent long hours chewing the fat and an invigorating pap of sorts (something like tobacco, blood red in colour), he answered simply: Buddhism and Marxism-Leninism are incompatible.

Buddha is present in everyday life to the extent of the feeling of somebody just having left the room. His teaching conquered these lands in the lifetime of the God himself, who is believed to personally have sat for the Mahamuni gold statue in Mandalay, to which he imparted his aura. The Burmese have always felt that building a pagoda is much more important than the earthly concerns of existence. This helped them to erect several million temples during the centuries. Even the poorest manage to set aside money for the pieces of gold leaf which lavishly embellish domes and statues alike. There are also countless monasteries, woven into the fabric of everyday life, having turned into a life blessing and alternative. At some stage in their life all Burmese spend some time in them – engrossed in study, meditation or simply because the food there is free. At dawn the monks tour the nearby villages, collecting sacrificial food (usually from selected families, who fill their bowls with rice and products). In the afternoon eating is prohibited. This is the time for meditation, for the control of consciousness – by observing the inner processes of the body, breathing and feelings. The young discuss these processes with their teachers and among themselves with faces bespeaking the seriousness of what is happening.




Inle Lake

It is claimed that the pile dwellings, gently enveloped by man-made floating gardens abounding in the tastiest of vegetables, are inhabited by a hundred thousand people. The fierce roar of the outboard motors slices through the idyllic everyday life in the innumerable canals of human adaptability. Here people are born and die in a rhythm comparable only to infinity. You have to see it to believe it.


Mighty Irrawaddy

This is how Rudyard Kipling called the Irrawaddy river in the heyday of the British Empire. That’s what it is like today, too. Stretching along 2,000 km like as a powerful vein, the majestic river cuts the country in half and, like the Ganges and the Nile, is a boon and a livelihood for the population dotting its banks. From the northern mountains the current carries the barges heavily laden with old teak logs, which will end up as furniture in our immaculate “civilised” gardens.





Thousands of small to huge pagodas, also known as stupas, made of red stone, are scattered in the eerie dead Bagan. If your prayers are sincere, here your wishes will come true in the mystic atmosphere of meditation and sacred relics. The visitors from our own world are still few and far between – in contrast to Angkor (in Cambodia) and Borobudur (in Indonesia),  to which this place could be likened. This alone is worth the trouble of this distant trip.



And although your chance to land in one the biggest countries in Southeast Asia is close to zero, try and preserve the urge, albeit only in your dreams, to take a glimpse into the good-natured, genial life of Myanmar, untainted by the dubious merits of the breathless market-oriented world.



* Myanmar – since 1989 the new name of Burma, although some (i.e. the USA) do not recognise it.