I confess: as a graduate of the Southeast Asian Studies department at the National University of Singapore, Myanmar has never been on my radar. I was more enamoured with the Philippines and Indonesia.
My curiosity about the country was only triggered after I read The Lady and the Peacock last year. I enjoyed the book tremendously and my interest developed into a “why not go and see the place” thing. After some prodding and a sale on Malaysian Airlines, I bought the tickets to Yangon.
When I was in Yangon, I marvelled at how well the Indian and Chinese cultures blended. The traditional Burmese longyi looks like it could have been derived from the Indian dhoti and the sari. An unlimited flow of Chinese tea is offered to patrons of eating establishments and they are also able to order the Indian variation of the tea – strong with milk. After some thought, I arrived at the conclusion that the British brought the Indian influence into Burma, and therefore it is this way…?
It wasn’t until I read Thant Myint-U’s Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia that I understood what was going on. In short, India is a significant part of Burma’s past (and also trying to be a big part of Burma’s future as well) and China is trying to be Burma’s future. Both countries are trying to get Burmese attention because it is a very undeveloped market, has tons of natural resources and a lot of untapped potential.
Reading the book was like reading an extended travel blog, which is something I enjoy doing very much. Thant Myint-U starts his book in Yangon, travels up to Mandalay, Hsipaw and Lashio. From Lashio, he goes into Yunnan and Kunming. He sneaks the history and political stuff into his writing when he has me hooked. Very sneaky, Dr Thant. He employs the same tactic for India.
Now I wish I bought his other book, The River of Lost Footsteps when the well-meaning shopkeeper offered it to me.
Northeast India, Northern Burma and Southeast China are regions which are heavily disputed. Before the colonials came over to Asia, that region had tons of small independent kingdoms like the Shans, the Karens and the Bodos. After the departure of the colonials, these kingdoms had to go live under the rule of either India, China or Burma. No, they couldn’t live on their own like they did before.
India has launched a new advertising campaign, and one of the advertisements in the series is this:
I guess it’s the way of central governments to use minorities and the natural resources for the betterment of the whole country (resources from the region of Northeast India is used to improve other parts of India) but the region remains backward. Manipur (in Northeast India) was once a developed transport hub under the rule of the British (they had autonomy under British rule) but it is now a small town in the middle of nowhere with hardly any recent development.
How does this relate to Burma? Well, after reading Dr Thant’s book, India and China now need more resources to develop their countries further. Since Burma has many untapped natural resources, India, China, Thailand and the rest of the world are trying to get there first so they get first dibs on the resources. Thailand is already trying to move some of its production to Myanmar because labour is cheaper in the latter country, and (according to Dr Thant) the processes the Thais are moving to Burma are harmful to the labourers. China is in the process of making the border between Lashio and Ruili more porous so trade between the two countries will go as smoothly as possible.
Will Burma open up and be eaten alive by the countries around it? Only 50 years will tell.
Meanwhile, visit the country before the other countries take over the place!
On a sidenote, Dr Thant has inspired me to plan a little for these trips:
- Singapore –> Yangon –> Bagan –> Mandalay –> Hsipaw –> Maymyo –> Lashio –> Ruili (Yunnan, China) –> Kunming –> Singapore (I love it that I don’t need a visa to enter China!) OR
- Singapore –> Yangon –> Bagan –> Mandalay –> Hsipaw –> Maymyo –> Lashio –> Mandalay –> Chiangmai –> Singapore
BUT this will have to wait after I go to Taiwan to see A the cousin next March.
I wish I can print money. Then I don’t have to work any more.