17 February 2007

Disreputable Planet

Given the opportunity there aren’t many places in the wouldn’t go; Kyrgyzstan, Chad, you name it. But one place I would not go is Burma. —Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go. It’s supposed to be beautifully amazing. However, democratically elected leader and Noble Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi asked tourist not to visit Burma after the military seized power in 1988.

Since the coup, the military junta has done heaps of annoying and terrible things like: change the name of the country (to obnoxious and unfamiliar Myanmar); moved the capital (to Naypyidaw, a dusty, purpose-built settlement in the middle of nowhere); crippled the economy, tortured and killed pro-democracy activists; and persecuted ethnic minorities. In short, they are total douchbags. They have also kept Aung San Suu Kyi under an unflinching and unwavering house arrest which has prevented her from seeing her British-born children for the past 18 years, and kept her away from her husband’s funeral in 1999 (whom she’d hadn’t seen since 1989).

The jerk-faced Burmese military likes to have a finger in every pie and controls almost all aspects of the tourism industry (or more correctly most all aspects of every industry): hotels; transportation; restaurants; businesses; whatever’s going, you know they’re cashing in on it. Tourist dollars go straight into military coffers and provide much-needed foreign exchange to prop-up to the regime. Because this money allows the military junta to buy arms, consolidate their power, and smother dissent, Ang San Suu Kyi has asked foreign tourists to spend their money elsewhere and to not visit Burma.

Back in November (when I wanted to write this post, but didn’t have time), Lonely Planet published its fifth edition guide to Burma (nauseatingly referred to as ‘Myanmar’). That’s one-two-three-four-five editions of a guide to a country that shouldn’t even be on the tourist radar at all. Why are they publishing this guidebook? To go against the wishes of a nation’s democratically elected leader and put money in the pockets of a brutalitarian regime is totally irresponsible.

They do include a two-page “Should You Go to "Myanmar"?” section, which *of course* tells you should go (because otherwise you’re not going to buy their guidebook), arguing the trickle-down benefit to the local people. Realistically, if you are seriously concerned about the plight of the average Burmese person, I’m sure your money would have a much bigger impact and be of more benefit if you were to donate it to the Burma Campaign, rather than staying in a government-run hotel and wondering how that helps the local people when employees don’t get paid for months at a time then get beaten up if they try to complain.

Conversely, if you are a humble adventure tourist in search of a nice place for a vacation, there are plenty of countries in the world (without a self-imposed travel ban) where the local people are just as deserving of your tourist ¥¥¥ as the Burmese.

Anyway you dice it, this guidebook to Burma is bad news. People should not be going there, pointe finale. Lonely Planet, I’m calling you out for ignoring your moral duty and the request of Ms Suu Kyi, in the hopes of turning a quick buck. Shame on you! Your Lonely Planet Guide to “Myanmar” puts dollar signs ahead of social responsibility, and supports an oppressive and brutal dictatorship. –Because of this, I’m banishing Lonely Planet guidebooks from my bookshelf forever. You are: Dead to Me!

(If you stop publishing Burma guidebooks, or if the travel ban is lifted, you might get off my list, if you’re lucky. I probably still ixnay your guidebooks though for being such kowtowing, lackey jerks in the first place).


Anonymous said...

Good job Dan. I hate Lonely Planet guidebooks. fuck 'em. gimme Rough Guides any day. The Rough Guide to Smoking Crack. That's what I'm talking about.


Jennifer said...

That's a pretty hefty statement considering that you are the largest consumer of guidebooks I know. I'll join you in chosing Rough Guides over Lonely Planet in any case where they both publish a guide.
Vote with your money, that's exactly what Ang San Suu Kyi asked us to do, and let's do it by not supporting anyone who props up the Myanmar dictatorship, including Lonely Planet.

Anonymous said...

I am with you on that, and I boycott the Second Cup on College near McCaul because the owner is of Burmese descent and supports the military and referred to Aung Sun something like 'that dumb woman causes problems for everyone, she should just disappear'. I responded by calling her a 'Yangoon-Ragoon city dweller who doesn't know anything' She kicked me out, but I said I BOYCOTT before she yelled 'Get out of here'. So I boycott her before she kicked me out. Bitch!!!!

She also said, what would I know, because I'd never been. I said, I know, because I HAVE been to refugee camps along the border. I know that SLORC burns downs Karen village refugee camps. CBC National did a report a while ago about the abysmal conditions for people who still live in Burma.

Unknown said...

Shoot. That is shockingly irresponsible of LP. I will join you in your ban Dan.

Jennifer said...

Was the anonymous commenter my little friend P?

Princess Pessimism said...

the one place I would NOT go is Algeria.

Tom said...

This is a very ignorant rant, with no original research.

Overlooking the fact that name “Myanmar” (or Mranma Prañ) is derived from the local short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw, which in Burmese, has been used since the 13th century. It is neither 'obnoxious' or 'unfamiliar'. The Lonely Planet actually focuses on how tourists can spend their money in local, rather than government-run, establishments. The vast majority of Burma's people want more tourists to visit and up to a million people directly and indirectly rely on tourism.

Plus, if you're going to boycott Burma, one should probably also boycott Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, Laos, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, most of Asia, most of Africa, and one should probably include the USA, UK etc..etc.. There is blood on every country's hands - don't make ordinary people suffer more.

Tokyo Tintin said...


Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. However, this post was not written in ignorance. In fact, it was well reserched because it is a topic I care very much about.

You can not say that the name "Myanmar" is familiar to English-language speakers. Every single newssource writing about Burma I've ever seen must use the phrase Myanmar — previously called Burma. I find this obnoxious, though you are right to point out that the way I wrote it in the post was unclear. The fact that Myanmar been used since the 13th century in the Burmese language is not much of a help to English speakers.

Furthermore, my country (Canada) does not recognise the authority of the ruling junta to change the name of the country. Several other countries (England, Australia, USA) have adopted this position as well, and I feel this is appropriate given that the junta is not the legitimate government of the country.

You suggest that because I am boycotting Burma, I should boycott several other countries as well. However, you fail to acknowledge the main point of my post: democratically-elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has asked that tourist not visit Burma.

While Robert Mugabe is a terrible dictator, the difference is that there is not a parallel and legitimate government of Zimbabwe somewhere which has asked tourists to stay away. The same was true of Turkmenistan (though since the death of Niyazov in 2006, the situation there has considerably improved).

You are right, many people in Burma do depend on tourism - but their democratically-elected leader feels that it would be in the best interests of the nation and its people for tourist dollars to be spent elsewhere. As leader of her country, I respect and abide by her decision. For Lonely Planet to publish a guidebook telling people to do otherwise is irresponsible in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

well boy howdy