Back to being students; the day of the first official workshop on community involvement in tourism has arrived! It marks the beginning of the actual research phase – our main purpose of travel.
As typical students most of us only started the preparation for the workshops the night before. Some would think that this is a sufficient amount of time since the only thing we had to prepare was a short presentation of the research plan that we worked on extensively during the previous weeks. However, it might be possible that procrastination is the reason for another night with an insufficient amount of sleep. Especially, because we also still had to pack since we wanted to depart to Nyaung Shwe the next afternoon. Still we made the best out of the few remaining hours of sleep: According to some group members, this includes an A/C set to about 27 degrees to “cool down” the room. Others did not take their time to sleep as seriously, instead they started a “gezellige” birthday party for one of our classmates, Joris. Clearly, not even the IFP can stop our students from celebrating.Either way, sleeping late and having breakfast at 7 a. m. is hard even for a full time student – particularly, when regular uni merely starts at 10 a. m. Despite the lack of sleep students managed to stay awake during the workshop. Credits for that go out to the interesting guest lectures by the two tourism experts Chou Yi-Lan and Rachel. Chou discussed her work for ActionAid about community-based tourism (CBT). Since 2010, her organization is actively engaged with over 200 local communities in the dry zone, Myaing to use CBT as an alternative mean for sustainable development. Rachel started training the village of Thandaung Gyi in order to make use of community-based eco-tourism for conservation and development purposes. Therefore, her working group received a special permit that international visitors are allowed to visit and stay overnight in the village. Normally, staying with Burmese locals is denied on behalf of the government. Following, these two presentations a discussion on challenges and opportunities faced by the tourism development of Myanmar was initiated. After a modest start, an active exchange of opinions took place resulting in a few main arguments on the current situation and predictions of the future. The main debate was about the decision making process by the local communities vs. outsiders. How strong do the communities rely on a guiding hand? How much knowledge and awareness about the downsides of tourism exists? Are they capable to make completely autonomous decision?
Even though, the opinions were quite diverse and no single correct solution was established, everyone agreed on one aspect: “Culture does not take place in a museum”. Instead, it is constantly evolving by all kinds of external influences and it cannot be expected to persist in its status quo.
A well-deserved coffee break was filled with delicious spring rolls and chicken curry, tea and of course, the one thing we cannot live without: WiFi. Trying to fight the exhaustion and sleepiness of the students, our lectures discovered two microphones to get our attention back after the break. Once the group noticed the malfunction of the microphones, severe cases of microphobia (definition: fear of speaking into microphones) appeared.
To make students focused again, Sebastiaan and Harald challenged each other who could write the most unreadable notes on the white boards. Unfortunately for Sebastiaan, Harald already took the lead by performing a good start through writing with a pencil.
Fortunately, the students prepared power point presentations, so there was no further need for the teachers to make hand-written notes. The former BTO Students, which did an extraordinary job to organize this event, and the three guest speakers were able to get a glimpse of our work and consequently give us feedback and valuable tips for the data collection phase.
This exciting morning was wrapped up with a delicious Indian lunch. The food was so kaun- deh (Burmese for delicious) and hot that some of us even felt like the air conditioning stopped working.
Finally, we headed to the bus terminal three hours in advance to make sure we come on time. However, the rush hour was not as busy as expected, so in the end it only took us 45 minutes. Even though now we have an 11 hour trip through the countryside and mountains ahead of us we probably still will not make up for the little sleep we got in the last few days.
But why sleep when reality is better than your dreams ;).
Authors: Flora, Laura, Maaike, Nellie& Wiebke