Myanmar, Where Hope Dies Last?

News stories take on increased significance when we’ve actually visited the place being covered. For example, we've recently been reading more about the effects of a harsh winter on the lives of ordinary people in both Tajikistan and China. As we read these stories, images of the people we’ve met become superimposed on a piece of news that we might otherwise regard with detachment.

We now follow Myanmar (Burma) more closely, as well. Just a few days ago, the junta (military government) there made news by announcing another “road map to democracy” and elections in 2010.

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Lonely Myanmar

Don't worry, we're not feeling lonely. The title refers to the current reality here in Myanmar where once bustling tourist sights and streets have been transformed into ghost towns. Strings of flashing lights still hang from restaurants advertising the best Burmese, Indian, Nepalese – and even Tibetan – food in town, but the sobering and obvious fact is that most of these restaurants have only a few customers per day…and that's on a good day. There are simply very few tourists here.

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The Search for Grandfather’s House, Part Two

The new house, commanding magnificent views of open sea and bathing beaches, and mountains and forest gardens, and houses. North of the Iltis Huk church, at foot of the big hill, on south slope. Wish you could enjoy it soon with us. Big love, Daddy

— a note on the back of a photo of the house in Qingdao, China, written by my great-grandfather to one of his children on July 31, 1937.

Armed with the photo of the house and the description above, we hopped on a bus

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To Grandfather’s House We Go

We’re headed next to Qingdao to look for my grandfather's birthplace and the house my great-grandparents built.

— explaining our travel plans in China to a group of expats at a Thanksgiving dinner in Beijing.

The group appeared utterly confused. I don’t look like I’m of Chinese heritage in the least. So how is it that my grandfather was born in China? And had a house in Qingdao?

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Kazakhstan’s Postal Police

You know you are in trouble when the only people in the place who smile at you are the missionaries.

A trip to the post office in each country we visit is pretty standard for us. We dread it because of the time it usually eats up, but we always find ourselves making the journey in order to mail backup DVDs of our photos or an occasional postcard. From a cultural anthropological point of view, however, a trip to the post office affords us another slice of real life and provides a window into how a country actually works (or doesn’t).

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Uzbekistan? Overchargistan!

Shaft us once, shame on you. Shaft us twice, shame on us. Try and shaft us repeatedly and charge our friends $1.00 for a few teaspoons of sugar, and we write a blog post about you. [Yes, one of our travel mates was repeatedly charged for sugar – and outrageous sums, no less.]

Apologies to all of our recently acquired Uzbek friends, but rip-offs in Uzbekistan – particularly along the touristy parts of the Silk Road – seem endemic.

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Reflections: Expectations and Delivery in Turkmenistan

While planning our itinerary through Central Asia, we dismissed Turkmenistan mainly due to Audrey's impressions of the place. She envisioned a dark, totalitarian state where people mysteriously die in jail. The outlandish whimsical declarations of its leader, Turkmenbashi, would be humorous if they didn’t encase the six million people living there in a difficult reality. Having worked with Turkmenistan and some of its neighbors in the job she’d recently departed, Audrey was certain this wasn’t her vivid imagination running wild.

Dan kept Turkmenistan in sight and brought it up often enough to keep it on the radar of travel possibilities.

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Battle at the Border

kazakhstan battle

Have you ever watched the news and witnessed escaping refugees at a border crossing, crushed against iron bars like animals in a cage? You know the scene. Now superimpose two backpack-laden white faces onto that newsreel, throw in a few cries of “Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan” amongst the shrieks of old women and children being squashed in a sea of madness, and you would just begin to understand what we went through at the Uzbek-Kazakh border yesterday.

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