Three years ago it was controlled by a military junta, and the United States had no formal diplomatic relations. The Myanmar of today, however, accessible to me (as a tourist) for the first time in my adult life, is an interesting South East Asian country, in some ways undergoing change at a break neck speed, in others starting to realize that there is a lot of changing that is going to take place.
Yangon is no longer the country’s political capital, but it is undoubtably the cultural and economic hub. The massive golden spire of Shwedagan Pagoda is visible anywhere in the city, down to the muddy banks of the river. Ancient as it and many of Myanmar’s puras and pagodas and stupas are, they remain sites of active Buddhist life, and a majority of people in this part of the country are Buddhist. Ancient stones are decorated with neon lights, thousand year old wall murals have teddy bear rugs spread before them for the comfort of those come to kneel before the images of the Buddha. It is hard for the tourist (me…) to wrap their head all the way around, the expectation being something more akin to an “artifact,” something that gives a window into something ancient, a civilization that is no more. That window is still there, but it is a history that is mingled with a present.