This past week I had the amazing opportunity to travel to several countries, which I will be posting about soon. The first, and the place where I spent the most time, was Myanmar. Read on if you’d like to hear a little more about this amazing experience.
*** Also as an important note – an interesting engineering project to meet a HUGE need in Myanmar is providing access to proper sanitation and bathrooms. Read more about this problem here: http://www.unicef.org/media/media_77952.html – maybe you’ll be inspired to do something about it, I know I definitely have a new appreciation for our clean sanitation systems back home!
The overall feeling we have gotten from Myanmar is that it is a country full of nice people, a feeling that started from the minute we boarded the plane. For those of you considering flying Myanmar Air, I highly recommend it. For our three hour flight we were offered a great meal, several rounds of tea and coffee, a moist towelette, and candy at the end of the flight. The steward was incredibly kind, and asked us multiple times if we needed or wanted anything. I spent most of the flight free writing and sleeping. There was also, I should note, a very kind Burmese monk sitting in first class, which we found quite entertaining. We landed in Myanmar to another dusty sky, though this time somewhat warmer and less oppresive than Cambodia. The air was hot, and we could see the golden framework of the Burmese arquitecture on the airport’s facade. The airport was clean and simple with no lines at all so we quickly passed through immigration, having set up our evisa the week before. The lady at the front desk was very kind, and laughed with us as we filled out the paperwork. Even the immigration forms were simple – only a thin piece of white paper, no special crests. It is this charming simplicity that we came to find all over Myanmar – the people here some generally content, and their contentment with simplicity makes their way of life enchanting. There were no bumbling hoardes of camera happy tourists or taxi drivers yelling at us, only calm kind faces and a friendly dusty sky. We found the same kind faces at the currency exchange booth, where we were handed a stack of a couple 100,000 khiats, given in stacks of one hundred 1000 bills. Our stacks was an impressive four inches high, more bills than we have likely ever held before, resulting in a rather comical scene that made us smile. Immediately upon walking outside we realized that things were a little different here. The men, not the women, are the predominant skirt wearers.
We saw multiple groups pass with women in jeans and men in long skirts. This particular style, called a longyi, is most often plaid (though I did see some hot pink) was wrapped around and knotted with a particular knot. Our taxi driver, a very amiable man named Heil, also dawned one and as we drove around the city we noticed it was commonplace. Yangon revealed itself to be a much more relaxed dusty city. The streets held an eclectic mix of plaster buildings and hammocks and dusty food stores and old fashioned buses packed with people. Our first, and sadly our only stop, in Yangon was to the famous pagoda, we were removed our shoes and followed the locals into the large maroon and gold style temple. Inside we found an enormous stone statue of Buddha inside a huge glass case that stretched to the ceiling with carpets around on which people were kneeling to pray. There were dozens of large glass boxes with money inside, and we saw several people drop bills inside. The ceiling and walls were high and covered with curling gold decorations very similar to the style of the Alhambra in Spain. The best view by far, however, was a group of thirty or so women of all ages wearing traditional garb, kneeling in formation and singing prayers from a Burmese prayerbook into microphones. Their music filled the entire pagoda, and many locals seemed to know the song. Here we noticed something we had seen much of since arriving – almost all of the women and many of the men and children wear a golden yellowish paint on their cheeks and arms in different patterns – we saw this in the kneeling singers, the lady cleaning the restroom, little boys in the market, and men riding motorcycles. Heil explained that this is mostly done for beauty purposes. While at the pagoda we also noticed the general kindness. The ladies at the entrance helped us with our shoes, for example, even though she could not speak english. We also noticed how quickly Heil was to donate to the pagoda – at the entrance the car was approached by lady handing out fliers with burmese script and the faces of monks. Our driver paid her without thought, and proceeded to read the flier carefully. When our car later was in traffic on the way to the bus station, he pulled out his ear buds and placed the poster in front of the wheel and began to pray. It was such a simple, yet beautiful, thing to behold.
Our driver kindly dropped us at the Aung Mangalar bus station, which is a huge dusty street corner filled with buses and small stores. The only non locals to be seen amongst the longyi’s are backpackers, many of whom have also adopted the burmese apparel. We were greeted at JJ’s by a smiling staff – one gal had gold on her face and a purple streak in her hair and never stopped smiling. We got some delicious street corn hot off the griddle and proceeded to explore the little stop before boarding. We ended up at a little clothing place, where I ended up buying a traditional shirt and long skirt after a group of four women with very broken english insisted on dressing me up. I felt like a little doll and it felt so strange to see my reflection in the mirror looking like a traditional Burmese woman. We then ran back to the bus station, where we boarded a very nice luxury tour bus for our trip to Nyuang Shwe, which started at 6 pm. The bus had recliner seats and AC and even little TV screens behind the seats. We were given small snack boxes with strange Myanmar treats, like a strange cheese cream bun, red bean tart, raisin cake, and something called cow ear chips that we didn’t ask about its contents. The bus ride was fairly bumpy heading along the dark roads towards the north. We stopped briefly at a little bustling restaurant where very sweet servers got us cheap rice and eggs and vegetable soup and tea for dinner. We tried asking for some bread, and ended up getting two squares of white bimbo bread, much to our amusement. Back on the bus we watched Wall-e, which actually hit home a lot more than we would have thought after seeing all the trash and pollution in Southeast Asia. After the movie on very poor quality earphones, we settled in to sleep quite awkwardly, and truthfully I think I only succeeded in closing my eyes a little before being jolted awake. At about 5 am the bus pulled over and we were all told we had to pay a fee of 12,500 khiats per person in order to enter Inle Lake park. The passengers were all outraged and disgruntled from being awoken, and not satisfied with the charge. Unfortunately, there was no other way to avoid it unless we wanted to be dumped on the side of the road, so we handed over the money reluctantly. We would come to find over the next couple days in Inle Lake that this is just one of the many fees charged specifically to helpless tourists. Buses, taxis, hotels, tours, and even sometimes food all cost about four or five times more just when they see the color of your face or hear your foreign language. Negotiation, sadly, is not always an option.
We arrived in Nyuang Shwe an hour later at 6am, at which point we promptly headed straight to a travel company by the river where we arranged an all day tour of Inle Lake. We hopped on the longboat shortly after, and headed out to watch the sunlight dispel the mist over the lake as we saw the sun rise over the hills across the water. The air was cold as we sailed through the lake, which is actually quite shallow though wide in girth. The water, though muddy and fairly polluted, excellently reflects the world on its surface. The face of the lake is dotted with clusters of small bulbous green plants, which give it its name the floating gardens. On the lake you can see many locals divided into two categories. The first group dawns the traditional white shirt and yellow brown pants, carrying the large conic fishing net on their boat as a prop. When tourists pass they will lift the net and balance on the edge of their boat in all sorts of strange poses for the tourists to photograph, then ask for money. Farther into the lake, however, the real fishermen can be found balanced precariously on the edge of their narrow wooden longboats pulling up nets or standing with their paddles tucked against their side and moving the paddle with their feet (which is quite an impressive sight even the local children seem to have mastered. We passed all sorts of boats on the lake, some with fishermen, others packed full with women in traditional clothing, some piled high with stacks of crops and things to sell. The best part, however, was the way almost everyone without fail would smile and wave. The children especially would shoot their little hands immediately into the air with the a huge grin on their face the minute we motioned to wave, and some would even wave first. It was interesting to see how here, on a lake nestled deep in the Myanmar mountains, there was still a ridiculous amount of smoke in the air – the mountains were almost entirely absconded behind a thick veil of murky brown, and the blue sky was hidden behind dust and smoke. It would seem the combination of burning trash and fields has nearly destroyed the air everywhere in Southeast Asia – we sadly found this to be true of everywhere in Myanmar, even the most small and rural of villages.
Cutting through the cold morning, our boat headed deeper into Inle Lake, which divides off into several small tributaries containing lofted villages and has one main river heading south to other lakes. We had wanted to originally to visit all of the Southern Lakes, but the southernmost of the three Inlay Lakes passes out of Shan State into Khiaw state, which is not permitted for tourists as it is mainly composed of native villages. Our small trek in Inlay Lake consisted of heading first to Tha Tagoda, a morning market around a small village where our boat made its first stop. The neatest thing about this market was the way it seemed to be meant for the locals. Tourists who passed through just happened to be there, but the market did not exist for their benefit, the advantage of this being that we were not constantly hailed by salesmen and the ubiquitous elephant print; rather, we were able to walk through the dusty streets and just listen to the shouting prices and morning greetings in Burmese, watch the children running around and the exchange of wrinkled bills for rations of meat and vegetables, and smell the plethora of local dishes enjoyed by groups of locals seated on the floor such as churro like bread and dumplings and noodles and rice on banana leaves. It was neat to see the way people spoke to one another and interacted in their nuclear community. We even made the short trek up to one of the many local monasteries, which is surrounded by dozens of small pagodas, all nearly identical. Inlay Lake is a collection of rural river villages, each village consisting of stilted houses where communities live that practice unique trades and craftsmanship. We were able to see a sample of these crafts in the market, though the rest of our tour would show this more completely.
Myanmar has managed to foster tourism in a way that is sustainable, minimally invasive on the local communities, and financially advantageous for the local people without allowing it to become the crux of their economy. Myanmar people have also realized that what tourists value most is seeing the organic culture of the place they are visiting, so they have tailored tourism programs specifically for this purpose. As it turns out, tourists are far more willing to buy things when attached to the image of someone making it, giving their souvenir a story, an experience, and authenticity rather than an anonymous trinket from a market. They will also, incidentally, pay far more for it when they can see how its made. The rest of our day consisted of witnessing Myanmar culture in the most incredible and organic way, observing and participating in local life. The thinly veiled ulterior motive, we soon realized, was to awe us into becoming efficient shoppers, buying into not just the community life but also buying their products. Our boat stopped at several of these small villages, each with a different craft. In — our boat pulled over and we got to walk into a small local village famous for pottery. A woman let us come into our home where she gave us typical tea and sat down in front of us to show us how she used a brick of clay, some water, a wood circle, and her hands to turn dirt into beautiful pieces of art. We watched dumbstruck as the clay seemed to magically move beneath her fingers, growing and widening or narrowing as she willed. She then let us try and guided us through making a small clay bowl. She then showed us how the entire process works, from forming the clay to baking it in the ovens to painting it. Paint is made from certain types of powdered rocks and plants, the most common of these being green and black and brown. We were then able to tour the small community where we saw the many pottery ovens and various local people all hard at work making and painting the pottery. Our guide explained that this pottery is shipped all around Myanmar and in some cases throughout Southeast Asia. We even saw some of these clay flower pots later in the bigger cities we traveled to – it was amazing to know we had seen them being made.
We then traveled to a number of other small villages. In — we saw silk and lotus weavers, where there are rooms full of women working on old fashioned looms, creating long sheets of cloth in bright colors, pulling and spinning long plan fibers out of plants. In — we saw blacksmiths laboring over hot metal and coals, in — we saw boat makers, and in — we saw silversmiths at work. In — we even saw some of the Longneck People, dressed in traditional clothing, their necks twice the normal height, with arms, legs, and neck wound in thick metal bands. One of these women even played us a song on a beaten simple wood guitar – her melody was so simple, and yet so perfect echoing out over the sunny water. We then passed through the crowning jewel of Inlay Lake – the floating gardens. Here streets are made of river and houses stand tall on stilts over gardens of green bulbous plants lining the waterways. Behind the houses gardens extend for acres, constructed with lightweight bamboo, taro, and clay as floating rafts upon which the plants are rooted. These gardens produce a variety of produce, everything from tomatoes to squash, which is then shipped around the country. It was breathtakingly surreal to float through this floating village, watching the gardeners coming home from a hard day’s work. The best part, of course, was seeing all the children waving from the windows of the houses.
Our Inlay lake excursion finished watching the sunset over the lake as the fisherman brought in their final catches of the day. We then headed back to the pier in Nyuang Shwe where we found a place to stay by the water and proceeded to get some dinner. As a big curry eater, I make it a point to try curry everywhere I go, as I have found there are wildly unique and delicious flavors of curry distinct in each culture. I had not found a curry yet I didn’t like, but Myanmar has it – Myanmar curry consists of a sparse number of chicken or vegetables in a bowl of red oil. That’s it. After dinner we settled in for some well needed rest after sleeping on a bus and waking early that morning. The next morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel before beginning our trek to Shwe Nyuang (it was momentarily confusing going from Nyuang Shwe to Shwe Nyuang) by tuk tuk, passing many open fields and lakes with farm workers and fishermen, all who waved. And of course, everywhere pagodas. A thick layer of dust and smoke remained covering the entire landscape as far as the eye could see. Upon arrival, we were shuffled to a minivan where we were told it would cost 10,000 khiat for the ride to Kalaw, even though we were well aware the rate was supposed to be half that and the locals also riding were paying only 2000. We were able to argue it down to 9000 but in the end were forced to pay it for fear of being left on the side of the road not being able to speak the language. Our trip to Kalaw consisted of passing scenery with much of the same – fields and rivers and farms and huts and many, many pagodas. Upon finally arriving in Kalaw around midday, we headed straight to a travel agency, where we booked a local guide named Tan to take us out on a day hike. Although a bit pricey, the hike was well worth the cost. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, telling us about politics, socioeconomic change, and local life. He spoke very good English, and had studied up until secondary school in the 90’s. Unfortunately at that time, all of the universities had been closed under military leadership, so he was unable to finish his education. It was incredibly interesting to hear about Myanmar’s history from someone who had lived through many different political eras, including the 2007 military overthrow where thousands of civilians and Buddhist monks were killed. While struggling with poverty, he explained how the Myanmar people are relatively happy even when they have little. Because so many people are farmers, everyone generally has enough to eat at least. He proceeded to tell us about how Myanmar’s population of roughly 60 million is divided amongst many tribal groups, the most prominent of which is the Burmese culture (with Burmese being the national language). Within the Shan state alone where Kalaw is located, there are multiple ethnic minorities, each with their own language and/or dialect and traditions. The Palau people, for example, are known for the practice of longnecks amongst the females. Although there are very few young women still practicing this art, several thousand older women with upwards of 30 golden rings around their neck, arms, and legs are still living in the area. The rings served both for beauty and protection against tigers according to local tradition. The — are famous for black teeth, which is accomplished by eating a certain type of bark and practiced according to the belief that white teeth are only for the heavens. The — are mostly a farming people and wear traditional cloth headwraps and skirts. The — are known for an archaic language very different from Burmese.
The mountain landscapes we passed through were absolutely breathtaking, the terrain changing dramatically every 10 minutes of walking up and down the mountain’s face and through valleys. There were patches of ginger and tomato gardens where local people from Kalaw maintained their gardens on public land. There were tall pine trees and a sea of pine needles ground into red clay earth. There were lush green forests and hillsides dotted with flowers and terraces of organized cabbage plants. The land was mostly dry, but the natural land was rustic and full of life. After many steep ascents passing stacks of firewood and small gardens, we arrived at the first village, Pein Na Pen, which means Jackfruit Tree. Here we were followed by a group of smiling children to a local home.
I believe a good measure for determining how well a child has been loved is in their open friendliness to strangers. In the Pein Ne Pe village, we saw many such children. Their noses were runny with thick yellow mucus and their shirts were soiled and their pants or longyi’s had holes in them and many were so dirty it would be hard to determine the true color of their skin. But they smiled with joy that brighter than the morning star. They giggled and laughed and pulled one another to play games. They waved and they smiled and they peeked in and out of windows playing all sorts of peek a boo games. One little girl sitting on her grandmother’s lap bobbed her little head and waved at us until we were far in the distance.
The local home was simple – a wood and concrete structure with a few tables and weatherbeaten mats on the floors. There was a hose outside where several children were bathing as we arrived, and very simple living utensils. At the local home we were given tea and traditional snacks by two local women, who proceeded to sit on the floor weaving on a large homespun loom, which appears to be a tangle of hundreds of threads of pink and blue and white all somehow magically going into place to become a long stretch of fabric. After a little while, she insisted on us dressing up in traditional garb, much to the amusement of the giggling children peeking through the window. The second village we passed through just for a moment as it was beginning to darken, but the most memorable sight was definitely a group of monks singing to themselves and working away at construction for a new monastery. Once again on the outskirts of Kalaw after passing more beautiful pastures and forests, we saw several children playing futbol and families hard at work in their homes. Back in Kalaw, we proceeded to get dinner at a small restaurant on the street, where we watched the sunset and the dusty cars and buses speed by. Our server was a sweet little kid, perhaps around 10, who kindly showed us to our seats and took our order with a smile though he spoke very little English. It definitely made us wonder about working ages here, and about how many children work so early on.
We then headed to wait for our bus to Bagan, which arrived at the station rickety and full. We ended up crammed on a small overcrowded bus for 7 hours overnight, listening to the incessant rattling of broken windows. Despite being sick from food poisoning and feeling quite nauseated the entire ride, the trip was well worth it to see the sunrise view over the temples in Bagan. Upon arriving, we chartered a cab to take us to a famous viewpoint from which it is possible to see over 4000 temples, stupas, castles, and pagodas scattered throughout the landscape. At the bright hour of 4 am (our bus having arrived at 3:30 am) we scaled the brick steps of a temple and settled in to wait for the sunshine. I fell asleep for a little while, and when I awoke the sky was already lightening and many people from all around had gathered around to watch the view. The temple we had chosen was a perfect viewpoint because it had 360 degree perspective of the vast temple speckled land. The sun rose as a perfect circle of fluorescent pink above the silent brick masterpieces, glowing orange then muted golden yellow as it rose into the dusty air. Thick fog had settled over the horizon and it was possible to see several kilometers over the horizon in all directions where ancient ruins emerged in and out of the mist. The sight was surreal and the views spectacular.
We had a minor dispute with our taxi driver upon returning to the bus station after realizing that though we had agreed to pay 20,000 khiat for our driver to take us to the temples, wait and bring us back to the station, our driver had instead left while we were exploring to find other customers. He returned two hours later than our expected departure time, and though he had mentioned he had had a busy morning, refused to answer our question about his absence and insisted he had waited the whole time. Unfortunately, as foreigners without the ability to speak Burmese, we were unable to argue much further, and had to settle for paying the flat rate we had agreed despite the driver’s dishonesty. It is unfortunate to see the way some people choose to take advantage of others when there is no infrastructure present to enforce moral rules.
Needless to say, the next leg of our journey was another five hour bus ride to Mandalay, where our next flight would depart from. It was so interesting to see the way tourists and monks alike shared the same bus into the city. Upon arrival, we hopped on a bus through Mandalay that led us to the Nylon Hotel. We drove through streets containing much of the same – dirty streets, dusty crumbling buildings, bustling street markets, peddlers of trinkets and fried Burmese treats, construction sites, and parading monks. We saw a group of boys in the back of a pick up truck covered in plaster and white dust coming from one of the many building projects with bricks piled high in the yards. We also saw the same religious generosity we had seen in Yangon. A group of female monks in pink tunics were walking around carrying metal buckets, asking each storefront and individual and passerby for donations. Without fail, every single person dropped in a bill, even those working at restaurants and those dining, who would get up to give something. It was a remarkable sight, this wordless generosity. Passing on our way to the hostel, we also witnessed the interesting view of women tending to small gardens of roots on patches of grass growing in between sidewalks, which was funny considering how our guide in Kalaw had said people can pretty much plant everywhere. Possessiveness over land works a little differently in Myanmar apparently – most land is readily available for common use. At this point exhausted and still feeling the vestiges of food poisoning, we chose to relax and enjoy the wifi at our hostel. We unfortunately did not make it out to Mandalay Hill, which is the only well known landmark in the city, but we did enjoy getting to see Mandalay on a local level. We enjoyed a nice dinner and breakfast the next morning before heading out to the airport.
Myanmar was nothing short of an extraordinary experience. It was in incredibly neat to get a taste of each city we visited and really witness the local culture. Myanmar is a country full of pagodas. I actually think it may not be possible to stand anywhere (other than in the uninhabited countryside) and not see a pagoda, if at least in the distance. The widespread presence of these monasteries, stupas, and places of worship seem to influence the spiritual landscape of the country and the lifestyle of its people. Whereas in Cambodia we found general discontentment and dirtiness and bitterness, in Myanmar we satisfaction and simplicity and friendliness. In Cambodia people seemed to have given up, and tourism seemed the only option. In Myanmar people seemed to be always moving about productively, working or building or even gardening (as it is basically allowed to plant for one’s self just about anywhere, whether on the hillside or on a city sidewalk). Collectively we found Myanmar to be country of rather friendly people, who generally enjoy helping and waving and smiling. Kindness, we found, does not always follow friendliness as we saw when getting bilked out of money by taxi drivers (which happened pretty much every time) but we appreciated the general friendly dispositions we received. All of the children waved and smiled, and the adults were likewise receptive to our presence. We felt welcomed everywhere we went, and enjoyed the simple, yet active, lifestyle of the people of Myanmar.
After our travels, however, I have come to realize that another great human luxury (which may seem obvious to a Westerner but is not globally as instinctually intuitive) is access to a proper bathroom, a basic right I feel particularly strongly as a woman. In Myanmar, the most common kind of toilet outside a major city or hotel is what is referred to as an Asian toilet (a small hole in the ground, sometimes with designated places to put your feet), which is only slightly better than the great outdoors. We took four buses on our trip, often traversing large tracts of land over which only small villages could be found and there was not a single toilet. Not one. This was a particularly hard experience, one I had not encountered to such a degree. At one point, at 11:30 pm, our bus to Bagan stopped for a bathroom break. Not realizing the other five people to get up were men, I naively hopped up and followed the group out. When my blond head appeared at the bus door, a monk holding the door open laughed and shook his finger. So I reluctantly re-boarded miserably and sat for another two hours in pain until our next stop at 1:30 am. By this point I was feeling the full effects of food poisoning, which meant I no longer cared about decency and ended up having to forgo all dignity on the side of the road to let my stomach run and digestive system take care of themselves. It was absolutely awful. My greatest concern, however, is that women in this country deal with this kind of unsanitary inconvenience all the time, which is frankly just sickening. I had never realized what a blessing it was that every gas station rest stop in the US is at least equipped with a toilet. The reality of the desperate need for proper plumbing and waste disposal and widespread bathrooms is exceedingly important, and a vital step for improving the standard of living. In places like Inlay Lake, waste disposal is especially problematic, since human refuse is often drained right back into the very river that serves for irrigation, bathing, and fishing.
Myanmar is still a desperately polluted country, as seen when our plane rose into the air over Mandalay into a haze of ugly brown. This smoke is pungently insidious on all of the city streets and sadly even in the country side as we witnessed in Kalaw and Inle Lake. This haze is ubiquitous all across Southeast Asia like a disgusting dirty blanket, which can be seen clearly from above all the way to Bangkok and beyond. Myanmar is also still recovering from a lot of pain in the past. In 2007, just a few short years ago, the country experienced the genocide of over 5000 innocent civilians and peacefully protesting monks who spoke out against the military government. For a while there were no universities opened, there was substantial violence, and freedom of speech was highly censored. As our guide Tan in Kalaw mentioned, Myanmar is “like cheese”, squished between the two major powers of India and China, with the US and Europe also playing highly influential roles in trying to win the allegiance of the Myanmar government and people. Tan claims Myanmar struggles knowing which side to take in many global disputes between China and the US, while struggling to protect its natural resources from exploitation by its neighbors. China especially has taken interest in Myanmar’s national assets, even building roads across the border to access better trade. Myanmar is unique in that unlike many of its neighbors, the country has discovered how to market their culture without ruining it. People here still wear their longyi’s and long skirts and live in their traditional bamboo homes and eat their traditional foods and worship in the pagodas as they always have. Foreigners are charged for observing their way of life (quite a hefty fee I might add), though their way of life seems mostly uninterrupted by tourist presence.
Myanmar is also an incredibly diverse mixture of over 60 tribal cultures and people, many of which have their own language. While the Burmese culture and language are the most widespread, there is great variation in the cultural practices across each group. Nonetheless, what seems to tie these cultures together most strongly is staunch commitment to religion. Buddhism in Myanmar is not only incredibly widespread, but its followers are very active, seen through great generosity, friendliness, and attendance at local pagodas. This spiritual component even overshadows the reality that Myanmar is another Southeast Asian country filled with dirty cities, dusty villages, trash, and heartbreaking poverty. While the country is clearly on the road to get on its feet economically, there is still a lack of infrastructure and resources. However, as Tan mentioned, people are generally happy. Because farming is allowed basically anywhere, very few people are starving as they can at least afford to plant food for themselves. But even if they are poor in material things, Tan claims they are “happy because they have what is most important”. I would argue this “thing” is family and the firm belief that each purpose has greater purpose and value beyond this physical world. In Myanmar you will still find a great disparity in material wealth and physical wellbeing. There are countless sick children with runny noses who do not have access to healthcare. The majority of the country’s population does not have access to proper sanitation, especially clean bathrooms and bathing facilities. The air is very polluted and burning trash releases toxic fumes into the communities. Yet nonetheless, the nation is rich in culture and general contentment. If anything, we have found Myanmar an excellent example of how happiness is not contingent on money. It is in fact possible to be satisfied in life with far less than the comfortable luxury afforded in many cultures. They key point is finding that “thing” that brings unfailing joy through rich or poor times – its that thing that makes life worth the living.