Last night on our way back to our hotel, we met a man who had emigrated from China several years ago. He was on his way home because he had promised his wife that he would be home before ten from drinking whiskey. His English was excellent and he seemed very pleased to have met some Western tourists. Apparently there has been a directive from the government instructing all citizens to be helpful to foreign visitors. He was very pleasant and let us know that Obama had come to visit in the last month, but also reminded us that our president only stayed for 6 hours, a point that seems to come up a lot.
I can't quite figure out if the people are insulted by such a short visit or happy to have had a US president come at all - Obama is the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar. We also learned today that President Obama was born on a Friday, as we were informed by our guide at Shwedagon Paya, as we learned that we were both born on Saturdays (this guy carries around a hundred-year calendar dedicated to informing tourists of their birthdays so that they know which Buddha to pour water on.) Not the same day as Obama, but close! That means that we're dragons in Burmese astrology, by the way - not sure what it means for Obama...
Speaking of governments and directives, the English language hotel newspaper lists the "National Objectives of 65th Anniversary Independence Day for 2013." They are:
1. All the national people to live together in the Union through thick and thin
2. All the national people to conastantly safeguard non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty
3. All the national people to participate in the tasks for bringing about genuine, eternal peace putting an end to the armed conflicts
4. To make relentless efforts, in building a modern, developed and democratic nation, in order to better serve public interest, to ensure poverty reduction and bring about righteous legislative, administrative and judicial pillars.
Easier said than done? Perhaps? We'll find out more tomorrow night when we meet a bunch of performers and artists ( and performance artists) for dinner and drinks!
Stay tuned for some gorgeous photos of Shwedagon Paya! It's an amazing historic and religious site, and so hard to reconcile such friendly people and beautiful national treasures with Myanmar's ) ongoing (but hopefully resolved by 2015 - people have different opinions about that as a realistic goal) inter-ethnic fighting as well as its recent history as a country with an extremely high rate of internal and international human trafficking. All things to keep in mind while exploring a country that is "opening up".
And they are - Angry Birds are everywhere!! Weird.