Thursday, March 13, 2008
On March 11th I crossed the Friendship Bridge into Myanmar for the 1st time to renew my passport for another month in Thailand. The officials on the Myanmar side were extremely friendly, and allowed me to leave my passport at the office while I wandered around the border town for 2 1/2 hours until 5 when the border closed.
An english speaking 'translator' aka city guide picked me up immediately for a walk about. The first thing that struck me about the opposite side of the river, the Burma side, was the total lack of corporate businesses. The vibe of a closed country like Burma or Cuba is remarkable, no 7-11s, no cell phone hawkers, &c. Everything was pre-1950s or handmade.
It also became evident the extent to which Burmese reverent Buddhism and their monks, the city and country side are littered with impressive golden stupas and their subsequent monasteries. The most impressive of which topped a hill and the slope leading up to it held 108 three meter tall pillars with a golden seated buddha, 108 being the number of beads on a prayer necklace. Now, the Saffron Revolution (see; September 2007 monk's protest) is put into context, the monks hold considerable political power in this country.
My guide and I dashed around the city from stupa to stupa, stopping in a few slums for photos of families and children; it was obvious he had led many photojournalist-wannabes around, and knew how to cater to their desires. On the way out he led me through a jungle of vendors and umbrellas at the night market, then we split ways.
Other good news, the Minsk is renewed for another 6 months in Thailand.