Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2007 Vol. XXXI, NO.3
In the Land of the Gods
Back Door Travel by Rick Steves
The Resourceful Traveler by Tim Leffel
Independent Travel by Rob Sangster
Senior Travel by Alison Gardner
Ask the Expat by Volker Poelzl
Local Encounters by Michele Peterson
The Intentional Traveler by Michael McCarthy
International Career Adviser by Jean-Marc Hachey (magazine only):
Interviews by Ron Mader
Traveling in the Terai: Trekking Off Nepal’s Beaten
Path Lawrence Morgan
Activist Responsible Traveler
Travel to Eat
From the Editor
As this issue was headed to press, hundreds of monks and pro-democracy activists were rounded up at night and trucked away to unknown fates in the repressive country of Burma. With the world watching, Burmese military government troops used tear gas, automatic weapons, mass arrests, and likely worse, to quiet opposition. The exact numbers of casualties suffered is not clear. The regime admits to only 10 deaths, but it is thought that the number of fatalities is likely many times this.
While the international community took actions and made proclamations to show support for the Burmese people, analysts say that without strong pressure from Burma’s sponsor, China, life in the closed country will return to “normal.” That is to say, to tyranny. Earlier in 2007, Burma was listed among the world’s most failed states by Foreign Policy magazine, right behind Sudan in human rights violations.
In the recent news coverage of Burma, I have been struck by how many times tourism was cited for playing a role in opening the world’s eyes to the plight of the Burmese people. Although National League for Democracy party opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi discourages travel to Burma because tourism dollars support the regime; small numbers of travelers have gone there anyway—some with the purpose of increasing awareness of the issues there.
In the March/April 2004 issue of Transitions Abroad, we published columnist Rob Sangster’s article “The Lady Said ‘Stay Away’ But I Went to Myanmar Anyway; Here’s Why,” and a year later, we published Sangster’s “The Road to Mandalay,” as well as Shaughn McArthur’s piece on “Why Traveling to the Country May Be in the People’s Best Interest.”
Although traveling to Burma was a decision that neither writer made lightly, Sangster summarized his decision, saying, “No one benefits by remaining ignorant of facts on the ground. Being present provides deeper understanding of what the conflict is about and what’s at stake.”
In his March/April 2004 article, Sangster quotes a Burmese man explaining that the absence of military personnel on the streets is because the government wants to improve its image. “Tourists keep the soldiers behind the fence,” he said. Sangster goes on to conclude, “[T]ravelers carry torches that can illuminate a country. Their light may not reach the darkest corners, but the government is very aware of their presence—and affected by it.”
The fact that Sangster and McArthur used their trips to give a voice to the subdued people of Burma is a significant reminder of the positive role that travel can play in the world. In a day in age when only “five percent of the world’s population [has] ever flown in a plane,” as Guardian journalist Leo Hickman tells us in his interview with Ron Mader (page 25), it seems ever more important that we recognize the privilege of travel and give it purpose. Added to this reality are the critical global environmental challenges we face today.
In a video interview I conducted with environmentalist and author Bill McKibben for www.AbroadView.org/Green, he says, “In the last few years, as we’ve learned about the extent of climate change and global warming, it’s gotten much harder to just blithely dismiss getting on an airplane and flying around the world. That one airplane trip to wherever you are going requires the consumption of more fuel and more carbon than most people in the world will use in a year for all the tasks of their daily life—not to be taken lightly. To me, the only excuse for travel is to go someplace, see something different about how to live in the world, and bring it home to do something about it.”
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