I find it interesting — strange? — that once I visit a place, I find myself inpsired to continue learning more about it. It’s as if everything I read ahead of time is meaningless — mere words on a page — until after I have some life experience that can serve as a framework to structure the information. After I’ve been there, in a sense after the opportunity has passed, is when I can really read and learn more. Of course I looked at travel guides ahead of our Burma trip, but none of them really made sense until after I was there. All the locations seemed like just places on a map, jumbled together all in my mind.
Once I’ve visited in person, met some people, seen some things, then I have a better idea of what those locations are like, what they are in relation to, what is near or far from them. That’s when I want to learn more about the histories and people I’ve met, the culture I’ve seen. I find myself inspired to learn more of the history so as to better understand the present day situation. As such, I often buy books when I travel with the intent of reading them later. I only just now finished about the fifth one of the books we purchased during our trip last year to Cambodia.
While we were in Burma, I was short on cash, but nevertheless picked up a copy of George Orwell’s novel, Burmese Days (ISBN 978-0156148504 ). My particular copy was purchased from a woman selling books in a temple compound. She didn’t hound me to buy something, but she quietly explained to me that she needed to sell something so that she would have money to eat that night. Tourists had been short that day, and she hadn’t yet sold anything. Gee, I’m a softie, I think I gave her a bit more than she was asking for the book.
I’m putting a link to the book, as well as some others, on the book list in my blog. The novel makes quite an interesting read. Worthwhile, I think, and it’s very cheap on Amazon. Probably even cheaper than what I paid!
Orwell was born in India, raised in England, and then returned to Burma as part of the British colonial force, where he lived from 1922 – 1927. When Burmese Days was published in the mid 1930’s, there were fears of libel suits; names and locations had to be changed along with strong disclaimers in the preface that there was no resemblance to real persons. But of course the characters are clearly based in reality. I see them in people I know, too.
As an expat living in a very different culture from my own, I recognize certain aspects of colonialism even in my present situation. Of course now colonialsim is not so much political as economic. We don’t admit to racism, overtly at least, but class distinctions and social climbers exist. People overseas get by with putting on airs that would never be tolerated in their home cultures, enjoy a higher standard of living than they could manage at home, and persons of relatively lower class enjoy that privilege all the more among the "natives" who are likely unaware of just how base their resident Whites may be. Expats still get lonely, still yearn for someone to speak their native idioms with, share native jokes or a beautiful sunset, sometimes tend to drown their lonliness in a glass of brandy. And some of the expats still just really don’t "get it," when it comes to navigating in their host culture, will fail to appreciate any aspect of the host culture regardless of how long or how short of a time they’ve lived overseas. In some ways, things have changed so very little.
I recommend the book for anyone who would enjoy a descriptive read about life in Southeast Asia. This book, and my travels in Burma, have inspired my interest also to read:
Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyii (ISBN 978-0140264036 )
A River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U (ISBN 978-0374531164 )
Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (ISBN 1594200521)
Read the reviews on Amazon. Especially in light of the current political situation there, you may find something you want to read, yourself.