Go to Razzle Dazzle welcome page. Myanmar (Burma)

Rural Burma

July, 2004

Burma photo.
1. Typical rural home
Burma photo.
2. Young woman
Burma photo.
3. Preparing to plant
Burma photo.
4. Fishing
nul. nul.

One of the first things we did after we arrived in Yangon, and recovered from our train trip, was to hire a taxi to take us into the countryside west of the Yangon River. Although we only traveled about 20 kilometers beyond the river, we were quickly in a landscape that could have been seen hundreds, perhaps even 1,000 years ago. The people's homes and tools (see photo #1, at left) were hand-made and constructed almost entirely of natural local materials. Here in southern Myanmar, the terrain is flat river delta with little high ground and numerous waterways. The paved road we were on was flanked on both sides by canals. There were few side roads, and crossing the canals could only be done on foot over rickety bamboo bridges. Some were fairly substantial, but many consisted of a single piece of bamboo to walk on, and an unstable handrail. Once across the bridge, the land was muddy and slippery. By the end of the day, we were a mess, especially Jim, who walked out between the rice paddies to take pictures.

The people we met were happy, friendly, and smiling (photo #2). All were quite content have us tramping through their property taking pictures. As elsewhere in asia, they seemed genuinely happy to have us take the time and show an interest in them. This lady was very enthusiastic as she demonstrated her water pump while collecting water in large buckets. Although there were power lines running along the highway, we saw no houses that had electric service. We did see a few houses with TV antennas; the television is powered by a car battery. (NOTE: Throughout Burma, people put a tan colored cream on their faces as sun protection. We actually saw it just as often in the cities, even amongst clerks and others who spent the day indoors. It may be a fashion statement as much as sun protection.)

Rice is, of course, the principal crop in this low-lying tropical landscape. The land is worked by laborers who are paid by the land owner. It was the beginning of the rainy season, and everywhere we went, we saw people preparing the soil (photo #3), or transplanting rice seedlings. Most people stooped down to place the seedlings into the soil, but we saw one woman using a long pole with a forked tip to plant seedlings without bending.

The waterways and canals are used for fishing (photo #4) and for transportation. The fishermen catch only a few tiny little fish. It is hard to imagine that they are worth the effort, but rice is not high in protein, and every little bit must help. Long-tail boats are used on the larger waterways to transport people and goods. Where there are roads, small gasoline-powered wagons are used. They are loud, slow, and polluting.

Our driver did not come with us as we walked through these rural areas. We would have liked to us him as an interpreter. He did tell us that people he talked to while we were looking around said they had never seen a foreigner in their villages before. Most Burmese farmers speak no English, so we were left with sign language for communication. We found many interesting sights and activities on our walks. In one small hamlet, we found a small shed with clay jars and cups. The person who lives there puts out drinking water for anyone who is thirsty to drink. There is no charge, and the water is refilled regularly. This is a common Buddhist custom. We passed a small elementary school, and found all of the children out for a break. Some were fairly brave and were interested in seeing us up close. Others were more shy, and retreated to the school to watch us from a safe distance.

While walking in one area, we saw a house with a small, hand-lettered sign that said "Right Bakery House." A man (Saw Wai Htoo) approached us from the house and offered us some packaged pastries. He works for the owner of the land, and supplements his income by selling these snacks to his neighbors. He and his wife were very pleased to give us these pastries. We could not speak with him, but took his gifts with smiles and happy gestures all around. We wanted to do something nice for him in return, so we had photos we had taken of him and his friends printed in Yangon, laminated the prints in plastic (photos don't last long in the tropics), and returned with them the next day. He was thrilled to have the pictures, as was his wife. The baby soon began trying to tear the photos apart, and we were glad that we had them laminated.

Here are a few more photos of the many people we met, and the places we visited during our two days in the countryside of rural Burma:

hand pump  | woman  | man  | canal  | bridge
fisherman  | waiting  | straw  | man  | water buffalo

Ultimately, our warmest memories of Myanmar are for the rural people we met. They were happy to meet us and demanded nothing from us, except our friendship. They were proud of the fact that we, as foreigners, had gone to the trouble to travel such a great distance to meet them. They felt honored by our presence, and we were honored to be accepted into their community. The experience made our trip to Myanmar particularly worthwhile.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 7/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.