Myanmar: A nation of gold
Myanmar (previously known as Burma) implanted three images in my mind that will never leave.
First, the stunning and imposing gold plated temples that sit alongside crumbling and abandoned buildings from the time of British Rule were an obvious reminder of the lasting effect of colonization on a nation's lifecycle. The contrast in the beautifully maintained temples and the crumbling buildings of the nation's British past is a highlight of the country's pride in its own cultures and history that I am often thirsty for when visiting the previously colonized countries of the world.
Second, the country is going through an internationally known ethnic cleansing, yet walking the streets of Yangon, I had no inclining that it was happening. No conversations, no television coverage, nothing. As a guest, it was not a topic I was anxious to bring up. However, there was certainly a part of me that sat back and wondered if people knew the scale of the tragedy.
Finally, Yangon served as a very stark example of the ways that tourism can impose on the religions of the world. The gold covered Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist temple in Myanmar. It's beautiful steeple reaches towards the sky as an iconic piece of the city's skyline. Naturally, it is also at the top of every "must see" list for visiting the country. When you arrive at the Shwedagon, the first thing you'll notice is the grandeur. The second - the crowds. It has to be the most crowded part of the city. At first, it feels just like any tourist attraction - the Taj Mahal for example. However, if you look closer, you will start to notice Buddhists praying among the chaos of selfies and backpack donning tourists.
This served as a hard reminder for me. The world is not a zoo curated for your entertainment. The world's 'rawness' is what makes it so beautiful. Respect the places we are in for what they are. Shwedagon Pagoda is not a museum exhibit, it is an active place of worship (an incredibly important one at that). While the world is filled with new experiences, we have to be conscious of our place in the world.
Seek adventure, learn the stories, and respect the places we visit.