Wednesday, February 18, 2015

aaaand we're back!

It's good to be back home. I hope my long long hiatus falls into the hearts grow fonder category!  I flew out of Myanmar on Sunday and arrived in Madison on Monday two or three days later... Crossing the international date line always makes my head hurt.

I spent almost 3 weeks in China being an "Important Business Man", or at least hanging out with some ;). This entails lots of fancy banquets, fancy Chinese liquor, and nice hotel bars. Then I flew to Kuala Lumpur, where they don't have any Koalas, which I think should be prosecuted under international law for false advertising. Alex my lawyer friend might have another case!

OK, warning, I'm about to get into the politics and history in Burma... This is a food blog Max! Why are you writing all this political crap! Sorry, there will be many food adventures to come in Myanmar, KL and China. I just wanted to set the stage and give people who might not be familiar with a distant corner of a globe a sense of the place and the time that I traveled in. You can skip this post if you like, but it's a fiercely interesting place.

After KL (as the savvy travelers call it) I went to Myanmar for 9 days. If you haven't been paying close attention to global politics for the last few decades, let me give you a quick rundown of Myanmar's recent history. Between 1824 and 1949 Burma was under British Imperial rule so most of Yangon(Rangoon) was covered in Crumbling British ruins. During WWII General Aung San forced the British to give up rule in Myanmar with the help of Japan and gained their independence from the British Empire. Once he saw the brutal leadership of Japan he forced the Japanese out of Burma as well. With his strong leadership the Burmese people canonized him and he was on his way to becoming the leader of a free Burmese state. Unfortunately he and his young cabinet were assassinated by rival politicians in 1947.

In 1961 The Military staged a Coup D'etat and took over the country forming one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world. Every aspect of life was controlled by the Military Junta, media, production, business, schools, etc.  Secret police lingered in every coffee shop and on every road to listen in to conversations and send people to prisons for long re-education periods.

On August 8th 1988 (8/8/88) after living in extreme privation there were massive country wide protests. The military Junta's response was to open fire on hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks, students, children protesting in Yangon. Thousands of deaths during the protests were reported by the protesters and the Junta claimed that the number was only 350.

Aung San Su kyi, the daughter of the canonized general who freed Burma from the British and the Japanese, emerged from these protests as a strong leader of the protesters. Her NLD party won 80% of Parliamentary seats in the next election held in 1990. Of course the military refused to give up power and put Aung San Su Kyi under house arrest for the next 20 years. While under house arrest she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her roles in the uprising and her continued support for democratizing Burma and her denouncing of the military Junta.

In 2011 the Junta formally bowed out of power and replaced itself with a more liberal Union Solidarity and Development party. This new party was made up of and backed by the same military. They have striven for a much greater level of openness with the rest of the world, have released hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed press censorship, enacted new labor laws, and generally given in to many of the pressures from around the world to lower the amount of human rights violations they regularly perform. They have become much less controlling and freakishly big brother. The Junta is formally giving away some powers but at the same time it's more firmly cementing itself as the political force in the country. They are liberalizing but more as a way of stabilizing the country and shoring up their own political power. They are also vastly increasing the size of their own pockets with international aid, investment and money flowing much more freely into Myanmar.

This is the Myanmar that I stepped into just a few weeks ago.


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