Sunday, October 30, 2005

Summers in Rangoon, Luge Lessons

There was one question I was dreading more than any other when I returned home: what was your favorite country? Is it possible to pick, and Jason put it, between riding an elephant, being made leader of a tribe that has never seen a camera before, swimming with whales and learning their language? Can a father choose between his children? This blog, in essence, was a defensive mechanism against that question, so I didn’t have to sum up 100 days of experiences into a simple, “SAS is cool” response.

Then we arrrived in Myanmar.

Perhaps it was the fact that the our ATM and credit cards were useless thanks to the international economic sanctions imposed on that country. Perhaps it was the fear of the totalitarian state – is this what living in Germany in the 1930s was like? Or maybe it was the fact that I had to morally justify a visit to this country when the object of my heterosexual man-lust, Desmond Tutu, is the world’s most ardent opponent of the Myanmar government and told us he would not have joined us had he known we were traveling there (Danno – I would love to talk to Anna Eshoo at some point about why I think sanctions are the wrong approach to dealing with this country….)

But perhaps it was the fact that the white paste that the women and children use on their face elicited more surprise and culture shock to me than the sight of a burning funeral pyre. Or the fact that there are monks all over the place. Or the fact that huge and ancient city ruins - without a lot of tourists - still exist in the world.

Perhaps it was the fact that we just didn’t know what to expect.

All in all, my experience was the utopian ideal of Semester at Sea’s mission. Clearly not everyone had a similar experience. But I imagine that the early Semester at Sea trips into Communist China, Vietnam, Cuba, and apartheid South Africa must have been like. I’ve been waiting to write about it all week – I hope I can convey why I enjoyed this trip so much.

By the way, when researching what I should do in Myanmar before leaving on the ship, I had the hardest time finding people who had been there (I eventually found Brent Schulkin’s uncle who gave me some great suggestions). But turns out my sister Lilian has been here and I had no idea. Who knew?

I’ll finish the India report, then write about Myanmar. In the meantime, enjoy this picture – the meterological phenomenon that created a full halo around the Shwedagon Pagoda was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen (the halo was a lot brighter in person).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rico, I had seen Sony's blog and comments on this phenomena and was looking forward to your comments and photo, it is even more impressive and spectacular than I imagined in addition to the chanting and everything else around that we cannot imagine. So that means many blessings for you this year, Good Luck and keep up your blogs,we enjoy them Clara (SAS parent) Bon viaggio

s.i.a.m. said...

Having read your other entries on SAS's trip to Burma, I should rescind my critical response to 'The Burma Identity.'

I happened to be setting up my blog when I decided to search "Burma" and found you! I work for an organization called the US Campaign for Burma and am deeply disturbed by SAS's decision to repeatedly travel to Burma. I've spent 5 years studying and working with the democracy movement in Burma, and have spent significant time on the Thailand-Burma border working with Burmese exile organizations. I understand the educational motives behind such a trip but the bare facts of how much money must have been contributed to the state-military apparatus is staggering. SAS will increase the number of tourists in Burma in 2005 by 10%.

I'm really interested to know about the experiences of other students on the trip - you suggested some of them had a bad time. I'm curious to know why.

Sorry to intrude on what seems to be a blog meant for friends and family alone. I do appreciate it, however.

cristina@uscampaignforburma.org