Astonishing to be here in Burma, in Rangoon/Yangon, let alone with access to the internet. The young tech guys here have figured out ways around the government's censorship and blocking of blogspot and yahoo and etc etc. Yahoo is still tricky though, so I'm asking people to write to me instead at firstname.lastname@example.org It's always great to get mail.
I don't plan to write much about my travels and encounters right now, just to touch base and to apologise for the gaps in this blog! I've been on the northwest coast, not far south of the Bangladesh border. I flew to a town called Sittwe, formerly Akhyub, which was the capital of Arakan when the British ran it (1826 or so until after the second war). But it replaced the early Arakan/Rakhine capital, a place of much renown in its day, called Mrauk U. Now Mrauk U feels like an extended village, with small dirt paths and lanes, traffic on foot and bicycle, with the occasional vehicle, two hours of electricity a day.... you get the picture.
But before it was a grand place, with rulers wealthy and powerful, helped by the fruitful huge rivers and rich fertile rice growing valleys of the region. They left behind temples and chedis and payas, buddhist monuments of various kinds. So as I cycled slowly around on a one-speed, watching out for bumps and chickens and children, I was pedalling through small hills topped with golden chedis, some small, some grand. It's a hard life for people there because everything is done by hand, with effort, but it's also done with grace, sustainably. I learned a lot, and also, I should say, ate some extraordinarily wonderful home-cooked food. More on that some other time.
The trip from Sittwe to Mrauk U involves seven hours or so of travel in an old wooden boat up a huge river and then up a side channel etc etc. The horizon is vast, the boat, and other small boats that we came on in our passage, paddled by one or two fishermen, say, were insignificant in the vastness. Yesterday I made the trip back down, for the same seven hours, through the same vastness, this time more hazy from the burning off of stubble in the fields. And after that came a prop plane flight from Sittwe to Rangoon.
Such a contrast this morning from that slow ease and lack of hi-tech, to see on the TV in the lobby of my guesthouse a broadcast of Obama addressing Congress, carried live on al-Jazeera. It's a new world, we hope. And even in places where the powers that be try to keep the doors closed, people now seem to have more access to the world... Let it continue!
I'm due to fly north tomorrow, to Myitkyina, for eight days. I'm assuming there will be no internet access, or not much, so that it's most likely I'll next be writing here on March 7 or so, just before I fly out from Rangoon to Thailand. Please keep wishing me luck!