“We met a lot of people and made a lot of friends – it wasn’t hard at all. The country’s long isolation has made an impact. The initial distance is more a sign of amazement on their part. In many locations, we felt like we were movie stars, and many locals had not yet met a (big-nosed) white man. But damn, when they feel the openness, they immediately smile and tell stories, and many people start getting to know each other, even without any serious English knowledge. They love to take photos and look at themselves.
There is already free internet, access to foreign sites and media, and Facebook and others are also uncensored for local residents. Several of our friends also openly post, express opinions on Facebook, and keep in touch via the internet both inside and outside the country.” (2018)
"More than two-thirds of the country's population works in agriculture, and almost all activities are done by manual labor, from cement production to road construction. It is striking that in every workplace, be it a bank, hotel or petrol station, teenage girls always seem the busiest. It’s a social expectation that every man should go on temporary retreat at a monastery at least twice in his life, so it’s no surprise that there are about 50,000 monasteries in the country, all busy and thriving, with monks walking the streets every morning, men dressed in red, women in pink, and all bald. A common theme in Burmese paintings is a line of monks walking with umbrellas, always depicted from behind, as the work would no longer be perfect with a face expressing the human self. For the monks, the parasol fits nicely with the mobile phone, since here religion is part of everyday life, and there is no need to banish modern appliances for the sake of an antiquated appearance.” (2017)
"It's unbelievable that their hygiene standards are pretty much zero. They're dirty, living in a pile of garbage, in a simple house with running water (maybe). If not, they bathe where they can. They cook the food right down on the street where hundreds of cars are constantly roaring past in clouds of dust, which of course gets on the food. The only thing more disgusting and intolerable (for me) is to expose any raw meat in the same way along the roadside, on a table that is two inches away from the dusty, dirt road, and stays there in the heat all day. (By heat I mean 35-40 degrees.) And then the hungry man comes and points to a random piece of meat, which is better covered with a (perforated) net. Any infection or disease can easily be caught this way. There are few old people in Myanmar. By the age of 50-60, 70% of people will be dead.” (2015)
"There are poor people who live in their own hand-built bamboo cottages (who knows how many of them there are). There is only one thing they can do: they sell home-grown fruit and various locally baked local foods along the roadside, or they work as wandering street vendors, also selling fruit, water, and other things. Besides these, there are people who offer snacks and freshwater among the cars stuck in traffic jams. A lot of people have bikes since not everyone can afford to take a taxi - plus in the end, it may be quicker to go by bike. In addition, a lot of people travel by bus, but don’t imagine the sort of thing you’d find in Europe – buses here are in very poor condition, dirty and horrendously polluting, but also cheap and always full of passengers. There are often traffic jams and sometimes cars are just gridlocked for 10 minutes as if time had stopped. Nothing moves. By contrast, like everywhere else, there are richer people here who have a company or a better job. Most of them either come with a rented car (air-conditioned of course) and driven by a chauffeur, or in a taxi.
"Nowhere in the world can you see as many Buddhist temples as in Burma? You can hardly look around without colliding with one of the many thousands of stupas, but even they are not enough – new ones are constantly being built. Foreigners tend to believe that the Burmese suffer from some kind of religious madness, but this is not the case. Their faith simply permeates all aspects of their daily lives. I think the stone-hard dictatorial government is also very much involved in building new stupas, believing that while people are praying, they will at least remain peaceable. They are wrong, however: a few years ago, when riots broke out against the government, the monks led the protests, and government soldiers fired at them.
The place to be really won over by the spirit of Buddhism is in a monastery. We made a trip to Mandalay, one of the spiritual capitals of Burma. It is visited by many tourists, a fact evidently not regretted by the monks. Roughly a thousand live within its walls, though this is nothing when we consider that there are around half a million monks and nuns throughout Burma. All the same, only about a quarter of these dedicate their entire lives to Buddha. It is a social expectation that every man should spend some time in a monastery at least twice in his life, first between the ages of 10 and 20, and then as an adult. The first entry for boys is also adult initiation. They shave their heads completely, wear the characteristic yellowish-red robe, and possess only a few objects necessary for everyday life. They get up at dawn, eat cooked rice, then set off on their usual food-collecting tour with their big black pots. People are usually waiting for them in front of their houses. The food is eaten that same morning: after twelve noon they are forbidden food. Their main occupations, by the way, are prayer and meditation. Not only does the population not consider it a burden (though it is a burden, as there are so many poor people) to feed the monks, but they do it with joy, out of sacred duty. The monk cannot look at the donor, and cannot give thanks for the food, as it is he who is doing the favor by accepting it. Better off families take food straight to the monastery. The food was just being shared out when we arrived. Rice was steamed in huge cauldrons, dispensed by elegant women. They also got other things, such as meat, fruit, or sweets. Food is also cooked within the monastery, but not by full-time monks, just their young disciples. The monk cannot work. They can accept money, but they cannot buy things themselves.” (2016)
“Yanmay, our guide, was a freshly graduate twenty-year-old with a philosopher’s face, so it can’t be said that we were trying to unravel the big picture by relying on information from some randomly lost soul picked up on the street. He claims that the reasons for the ongoing civil war atmosphere and frequent disturbances are as follows:
All minorities are autonomous in Burma. They have their own laws and their own army, which they use to occupy territories from neighboring tribes because more territory means more financial support. He says ordinary people aren’t interested in it at all, it’s just a game between various semi-legal armies. As an example, he pointed out that we were sitting around the fire with two Shan, a Palaung and a Palaung-Shan. They always work together and have peace, love, and happiness. I said all right, but then what about the Rohingya?
His answer was that the Rohingya are afraid because they are Muslims, and if they were also endowed with the same rights, they would begin to bring an unmanaged wave of Islamists into the country, meaning that the exact same thing would happen as in the Philippines. I said fine, I accept that, but what about genocide, setting their villages, torturing children, and raping women, but he argued it was just fake news, and not really happening. I think if someone decided to escape from Burma to Bangladesh, it could hardly be much worse!” (2018)
"In Myanmar, Buddhism is permeated by an even older belief, respect for the nats, or spirits. Every house, hill, lake, and the prominent tree has its own guardian. Even the big cities are full of old trees, and nearby houses make appropriate food and drink offerings to their spirits. 37 main spirits are recognized in the country, their most significant place of worship is the building complex next to Mount Popa, which rises as abruptly from the landscape as any fairytale, mountaintop castle. The place itself seemed more like a gathering place for fairytale figures than a sacred place full of religious reverence. The mountaintop can be reached by means of a covered corridor, in the company of pilgrims, where monkeys expect alms from us every turn. Each entry is lined with kitschy statues of nats. Pilgrims literally place the money in sacks at the feet of the nats, with separate glass-sided chests serving this noble purpose. Apparently, the glass box law is already operative here.” (2014)