In Search of Myanmar: Travels through a Changing Land, is based on the journeys the author, James Fable, made while writing for the travel section of Myanmore (see his articles here). The book is an entertaining and informative account of his nine-month journey around Myanmar.
Renowned Mandalay artist, Chuu Wai Nyein, has created maps, a front cover, and illustrations for the book.
The following is a synopsis of In Search of Myanmar:
Everyone told me I would have an enriching cultural experience in Yangon, but I’ve spent most of my year walking past Insein Road’s countless phone shops, staring at adverts reading ‘perfect selfie’, ‘selfie master’ and ‘selfie king’, and teaching phonics to elite Myanmar toddlers. Where is the fascinating, diverse and turbulent Myanmar that everybody is talking about and how can I ‘find’ it?
The answer, I conclude, is travel: a nine-month odyssey round the entire country, particularly to regions recently opened to foreigners. I spend the last months of my teaching contract catapulting myself into learning the language and plotting my route. Shwe Ei, my girlfriend, prepares me for conversations with inquisitive monks, probing policemen and bribeable immigration officers. A job in travel journalism for a local magazine falls into place; and just before I leave Yangon, a palmist tells myself and Shwe Ei that I, a white Surrey atheist, will become a champion of the Muslim community and that Shwe Ei means nothing more to me than casual sex…
His awkward predictions are followed by a shaky first few days as I get dragged into a sleazy karaoke bar by two punks and interrogated by immigration officers desperate to show me the best restaurant for a pennywort salad. Leeches crawl up between the bathroom tiles of Paradise Guesthouse whenever I shower; pariah dogs turn rabid at the smell of me. Avoiding the tourist trail is not cracking up to be all I had expected, and it’s not long before I find myself wondering: did I make a terrible choice in leaving Shwe Ei to travel?
Nonetheless, I plough on, hungry for knowledge and experience. My journey takes me from the empty and unspoilt beaches of Dawei, where phosphorescent plankton sparkle beneath moonlit seas, to the rarely visited Naga hills, where I receive a hostile reception from armed tribesmen. I meet a local English teacher who lived through WWII and claimed to have played football with the decapitated heads of Japanese soldiers, a Kachin State resident who had been ‘taxed’ at gunpoint by ethnic insurgents claiming to safeguard Kachin national interests, and countless locals who would happily see the Rohingya dead.
In my eagerness to learn how Myanmar has changed since its transition towards democracy, I talk to people from all walks of life and delve into the country’s intriguing politics. I examine drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle and how it is skewing voting patterns; the catastrophic effects of foreign-backed extractive industry projects and their impact on the Rohingya genocide; and why civil conflict has worsened since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government took over.
Yet the more I search for answers, the more questions are raised. As the complexity of Myanmar reveals itself, my attachment to the country wavers. I find myself disputing firmly established narratives of Myanmar – are the civil wars really about federalism, or has their raison d’être become hard cash, cold politics and the encroaching hand of China? And as my journey reaches its end, the question begs: which Myanmar have I ‘found’?
More details can be found on James’ website, https://www.jamesfable.com/, where you can also read the first chapter of In Search of Myanmar for free.