Returning the King’s Gold

Burma has always fascinated me. Perhaps unfortunately, the foremost reflection on Burma for me is Alec Guinness being unceremoniously slapped by his WWII Japanese captors, irrespective of his rank and status, and then thrown in the hotbox for several days in that badly named, but immensely successful movie, “Bridge over the River Kwai.” When I went to Burma a few years ago the country was entirely controlled by the military Junta and Aung San Suu Kyi was under seemingly eternal house arrest. At that time, tourism was discouraged by the west in order to starve the Junta of cash.

Alas, 5 years later, Burma is reforming, and the official name of the country is Myanmar (always was really). But I can’t stop thinking about Alec Guinness and other imperialist British endeavors, which defaults to the moniker, Burma. It is also much easier to say and to spell. Has a much better ring to it I think. Five years ago when I went there I felt that I was the only tourist in that land, leading to a song of the same name, which has been listened to by at least one fan in my land, but I digress.

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The British essentially plundered Burma as part of their expansionist imperial actions, and for Burma the initial British annexation was to protect the teak trade. (Didn’t see much teak in Scotland FYI). As was customary, the imperialist Brits also sequestered many Burma treasures including royal gold items such as crowns and orbs, which were put up for display in the Victoria and Albert museum in South Kensington, London. Conquests generally need some form of public platform I suppose if taxpayers foot the bill. In the 1950s, when Burma was given the right to self govern, these impressive antiquities were rightfully and duly returned to their home and subsequently displayed in the Yangon Museum. Or Rangoon as the Brits would call it.

I went to see said treasures about five years ago, and indeed they were impressive. Since I was, apparently, the only tourist in Yangon that week, I was given a private tour of the museum and treasures by the museum’s curator. She was a lovely middle-aged lady who sincerely appreciated the globally growing American culture of tipping. It was, by most accounts, memorable, and I was forbidden to take pictures (which usually does not stop me, as I consider that to be an utterly nonsense rule, but they took all my electronics before I went in there).

With a growing geo-political shift to less authoritarianism and more democracy (apart from Ukraine), Burma has opened many more doors in recent years, and more importantly has the support and encouragement of Western Governments. For that reason I decided to return to Burma in 2014 and to explore many other parts of this fascinating country, which I will report on soon.

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