11.04.2008 - 15.04.2008 38 °C
Well hello everyone!
The last week in Myanmar was spent in Inle Lake and Yangon. The last few days that we were there, Thingyan, or Burmese New Year was starting. Thingyan is a large water festival where everyone splashes everyone to wash out the old year and start anew. The festival lasts for 5 days leading up to the Lunar New Year of April 17. We were lucky enough to get downtown with our cousins to the main opening ceremony in front of City Hall. There, we walked around the large main stage and around the VIP area directly in front of the stage. It was obvious that it was a special area as it was outlined by stands of barbed wire about 4 wide and 4 feet high. There were also many armed police men and security forces on the inside of the area to keep the peace as it were. It was obviously a serious gathering. The festivities began with some traditional dancing, singing, and ribbon cutting ceremony and of course the spraying down of many people with water hoses.
During the first major dance, it was easy to see the many uniformed security and police officers monitoring the crowd from inside the VIP area and all around the back of the sqaure. This large public gathering was not going to get out of control. As the festivities warmed up, I moved closer to the barricades and pulled out our small digital camera. I was able to hold it up above the crowd to get a few pictures of the crowd. Because I couldn't see exactly what I was shooting at, I tried several times. The sight of the ONLY camera in and above the crowd drew several glances from security and the public. It was obvious that no one else was taking photos in our area so I started to put the camera away and resume watching the show.
As the first few dance performances were over, the crowd started to depart en masse, away from the center of town and headed towards the buses to escape the large rush of people that would soon ensue. As we headed out, I caught out of the corner of my eye, a small group of security forces eyeing me up. Their eyes stared at me for sometime as we approached. I tried to look away but not before I noticed that they some were carrying rifles and all had batons and handguns. It was soon after we passed that I heard them yell something and they opened fire! The crowd around me, parted leaving me completely exposed and felt my skin turn icy cold with fear as I felt the first barrage pass very close by. The second officer registered a direct hit in my shoulder from slightly behind me but luckily all of this was just with their water pistols they were carrying. I turned, smiled and wished them a Happy New Year and they replied with another huge smile and a third barrage into crowd with water.
Pretty exciting festival huh?
The next few days it was impossibler to walk for more than about 5 minutes before you were ABSOLUTELY SOAKED to the skin from locals on the streetside throwing water or from one of the many trucks, or jeeps with at least about 15 or more people throwing water as they passed by. Yes jeeps with a driver sitting, about 9 people standing in the jeep and usually about 5 more hanging on while 3-4 people sat on the hood and all dancing as they cruised the streets of Yangon. Everyone wants to dance, sing and hug everyone and be sure that everyone is involved in the party. Offers of food, come join, and have a drink were everywhere. The main party area along Inya road was huge. It was almost a mile of temporary elevated stages along the side of the road playing loud, dance music, serving drinks and has 30-50 hoses for the patrons to spray down each other and the people walking or stuck in the inevitable traffic jam that follows. Everyone is in such good spirits it is quite the sight. Not only that, the temperature is about 38C so having cold water thrown on you feels really good.
We were sad to leave but our visa expired and so we are headed back in Thailand and going to Laos for a few weeks. We have some more places to see and places to go but Myanmar (Burma) is a huge highlight of the trip and would encourage anyone looking for a great adventure to consider it.
Other than the above brush with a public shooting, we are safe and sound.