Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 8 in Yangon, Myanmar & the Yangon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and San Francisco airports

NOTE: This blog post is meant as a more informational account of my trip-- look out for some social commentary/analysis posts to come when I get back.

Well. Its over.

Right now I'm sitting in the comfort of the San Francisco airport, half awake, waiting for my red-eye flight back to DC, writing this post and thinking about all the different airports I visited today.

Its hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago I was waking up in, of all places, Yangon, Myanmar.

I still can't believe I had the opportunity to travel to Myanmar at such an interesting point in its changing history. Not many people have had the chance to go and I feel quite lucky that I was able to make my first visit at such a young age.

Anyways, I'm not going to attempt to write anymore. I'm not even sure if I'm making much sense through the jetlag and fogginess (I know my text messages make 0 sense right now-- shout out to my family and friends for putting up with me). However, I will leave you with something I don't normally share-- photos of myself. In Myanmar.


Day 7 in Nay Pyi Daw & Yangon, Myanmar

NOTE: This blog post is meant as a more informational account of my trip-- look out for some social commentary/analysis posts to come when I get back.

Well, my last day in Myanmar was one filled of packing, car-riding, and walking.

In the morning I finished up my photography work for PISA, said my goodbyes, and headed off to Yangon for my last evening in Myanmar. I was lucky enough to have GW's Prof. Elizabeth Chacko for company for the long car ride-- between some great conversations and our Burmese driver's interesting music tastes for entertainment, the five hour car ride went by quickly.

Once we arrived in Yangon and settled into the hotel, Elizabeth and I headed out to the Pagoda one last time.

Here's some of the shots I took:

After the Pagoda, we headed for a quick dinner and caught a taxi back to the hotel. Then, it was off to bed!

In Myanmar... I miss Argentina.

I apologize in advance for the rambling that is to follow.

Sitting in my huge Nay Pyi Daw hotel room, smelling the burning charcoal in the Southeast Asia air, I find myself strangely wishing I could hop on a plane and head back to Argentina.

Its funny, never have visited Asia before, my mind keeps making comparisons between my South American experience and my evolving Southeast Asia impressions. Maybe my mind is simply associating another long-term travel to a foreign country with my study abroad experience... or maybe its a sign that I should just hop on a plane and head for the Rio de la Plata :)

In many ways, Myanmar is a bit like Argentina-- the lack of organization, the friendly people, the business of the streets. But in other ways, the two countries couldn't be more different.

In Argentina, there's a certain sense of Latin romance that's plainly non-existent in Myanmar. Although porteƱos could arguably be called the least-warm people in all of Argentina, I still think they have a certain warmth and friendliness that I have yet to come across during my time in Myanmar.

Now, I'm not saying that the Burmese haven't been anything but welcoming, but, not being Latinos, they lack, well, the Latin vibe that seems to seep out of every corner in BsAs. Also, I'm sure my comfort level in Argentina is also much greater because I speak the language. There's not exactly a high demand for Burmese classes in the U.S.A.

Burma is just different. Different than Argentina, different than the United States. Different than anywhere else I've ever been before.

And that's okay.

Either way, listing to my Alejandro Sanz music probably isn't helping my impressions too much.

Day 4, 5 & 6 in Nay Pyi Daw, Myanmar

NOTE: This blog post is meant as a more informational account of my trip-- look out for some social commentary/analysis posts to come when I get back.

Conferences in any country are... well... conference-y: a lot of sitting, formalities, and chatting with people you don't know. For a photographer, they pose a particular challenge as a group of people sitting and talking is about the least invigorating thing to film.

But I have to say I've left the MLICC quite informed about the impacts of climate change in Southeast Asia and Myanmar in particular-- and I think I captured some nice shots and made the conference look as informative and interesting as I found it.

The first day of the conference, Monday, was a morning of formalities and introductions and an afternoon of information. We were lucky enough to have the minister of hydrology and meteorology attend our opening remarks sessions, which was pretty exciting. Afterwards, there were presentations, tea breaks, and lots of group excersises.

After the day's session was over, I had a nice break to work out and read my book (Life of Pi), which was a treat. Later in the evening we headed to the YYKO Restaurant, where we had an amazing Thai meal-- yum!

The next day was similar to Monday, with many meetings and activities, all completed with a delicious dinner back at the Shan Noodle House. I even got to try the local beer (shout out to my dad) which was actually quite tasty!

Today, was, again full of meetings and information sessions. I did get to do great a cool graphic for PISA to use at the end of the conference as a thank you note to the participants.

On a side note, we went to another awesome noodle place for dinner tonight, which was ab-sol-utely tasty! I'm really going to miss the food from here when I'm back in DC on Saturday!

Back to Yangon tomorrow!

Day 3 in Nay Pyi Daw, Myanmar

NOTE: This blog post is meant as a more informational account of my trip-- look out for some social commentary/analysis posts to come when I get back.

 This is just bizarre. That's the phrase that has been jumping around in my head all day long.

While most capital cities the pulsing epicenter of a country's livelihood, Nay Pyi Daw is empty.

The city itself is just six or so years old and was build by the government of Myanmar without telling the people. The majority of the ministries, as well as the parliament and the president's residence, are located in this new city, which was created with the intent of being the home of the national government.

However, six years after being built, the city is eerily empty. There are huge, wide roadways spanning over a sea of concrete that stretches for miles...but no cars any where in sight. During rush hour there is a bit of traffic, but pedestrians can still safely cross the road. Its as if the city was built for millions and millions of people...but no body got the notice that they were supposed to move.

On our first day in the capital, which was a Sunday, I was lucky enough to have a relaxing morning off from shooting, and spent the day editing my photos from Yangon. Around lunchtime, we headed up the road to the Shan Noodle House restaurant where I ate the best noodles I've ever had in my life, no exaggeration. The combination of sweet, savory and nutty was just perfect-- what a treat!

After a delicious lunch we (myself and the PISA gang) headed off for a car tour of the city, where we were able to take in the scale and bizarre nature of Nay Pyi Daw.

We drove by many of the ministries, which were quite far from each other, zipped past the parliament building, which was enormous, and decided to stop at the National Monument Museum, which was basically a down-scaled replica of the entire nation of Myanmar. With the help of the golf cart, we were able to visit the whole country in an hour!

My favorite part of the day was probably on the drive back from the National Monument, where we drove back along the old road to Mandalay. Finally, I saw real people!

The landscape in this area was absolutely gorgeous--there's nothing prettier than rice paddies at sunset.

That evening we all went to bed early, but Suzanne and I managed to make a quick trip to the super market across the street, which was an anomaly in such an empty city. It was sort of like a Burmese Wal-Mart, except it was cool to be there. I ended up buying some Sunsilk shampoo (which they discontinued in the USA) and some snacks.

At least it was a tasty end to a weird day!

Day 2 in Yangon, Myanmar

NOTE: This blog post is meant as a more informational account of my trip-- look out for some social commentary/analysis posts to come when I get back. 

I think that time changes are always worse the second day.

I got more sleep, but refreshed was not the word I would use to describe how I felt waking up this morning-- good thing the coffee's great in Myanmar! After having another excellent breakfast at my hotel, Suzanne (from PISA) and I hopped in our driver, CoCo's, car and headed out for a day of shooting in Yangon.

Our first stop was an interesting one: the local Bangladeshi Sunni mosque. For those that don't know, Myanmar is made of many ethnic groups, some one which get along and some of which don't. In Myanmar, from my understanding, there is a Muslim population that is cast off as the minority and lives in sub-par conditions in Yangon.

I didn't get actual stills of the mosque (only film) but we did talk with a gentlemen outside the mosque who interestingly informed us that in Yangon women are not allowed inside mosques at all. There is no separate area for the women-- they are simply not allowed.

Outside of the mosque, I captured a few shots of the women and children making their morning meals and selling fresh food, as well as a few shots of homeless men sleeping near the mosque.

Our next stop was really quite exciting-- the National League of Democracy's headquarters, i.e. where Aung San Suu Kyi works. We actually got to go inside, which was really amazing, and I captured some really really excellent shots of her office and the messages people sent her while she was on house arrest. For a better idea of who Aung San Suu Kyi is and why she's important (super important, she won a peace prize), you should read this.

A little tidbit: right outside of the NLD's headquarters is an excellent little coffee stand where I tasted true Burmese coffee for the first time...and learned that the reason I love it so much is that they put sweetened condensed milk in it. Yum!

After visiting the NLD headquarters we headed to Aung San Suu Kyi's house itself and snapped a few shots of her house and the nice neighborhood around it.

We also managed to make a quick stop at the Yangon zoo... where I was way too close to a number of wild and dangerous animals... including the most dangerous snake in the world!

Our final stop in Yangon that day before heading back to the hotel for lunch was a market... where I snapped some great photos and dropped a lot of money. One of my treasures was a longyi, which is sort of like a floor-length wrap-around skirt that both the women and men wear here on a daily basis. It was so lovely, I couldn't resist!

After our shopping trip we headed back to the hotel for a quick bite to eat and then hopped in a van for a five hour drive to the capital, Nay Pyi Daw. There really wasn't much to see along the way, although I got some nice shots near sunset.

We also stopped at a little roadside restaurant along the way and enjoyed a great meal and a lovely sunset.

We arrived at our hotel in Nay Pyi Daw late that evening and I headed to bed early... but not so early that I couldn't capture a few shot of my huge and nicely decorated hotel room. More on that later!