For those readers familiar with Ma Thanegi’s excellent travel book The Native Tourist, the publication of a new travelogue by the spirited Myanmar writer is good news indeed. The adventurous, irrepressible — and always hungry — traveler is back with another memorable adventure. In her new book, Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy, Ma Thanegi and her colorful supporting cast travel down Myanmar’s famous Ayeyarwaddy River, as well as into the lively villages and towns scattered on its shores. But Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy is much more than an account of a trip, it also gives the reader insights into Myanmar’s complex history, culture, and its diverse populace.
Myanmar gets more negative press than any other country in Southeast Asia, thanks in no small part to the brutal and inept ways of the ruling junta. Much of the criticism is certainly justified, but the one-dimensional focus on the junta’s horrible ways gets more than a bit tiresome. Based on what is “reported” by the international media, you would assume that everyone in the country is either a political prisoner, desperate to leave, or living in poverty. Yes, there are some political prisoners, there are some people who want to live elsewhere, and there are some pockets of poverty (as in any country in the world today), but that’s only part of the story. There are also large parts of the country where people are content, businesses thrive, and the junta does not terrify the populace. In other words, things are fairly normal.
Thus, it’s enlightening to read books like Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy that give the reader a different perspective of life in Myanmar. One of Ma Thanegi’s strengths is her ability to shed light on this “other” side of Myanmar, and especially how she gets the people she meets during her travels to open up and talk about their lives. Amidst the heartbreaks and hardships there is lots of love and laughter too. And parts of this book are very, very funny. Ma Thanegi is an extremely engaging writer with a perceptive eye for detail. Even if your travels are confined to the pages of this book, with Ma Thanegi to guide you, you’re in for a mesmerizing trip.
Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy has been published in a paperback edition by Things Asian Press. It’s available online at Amazon.com and at Dasa Books in Bangkok. Also available is To Myanmar with Love, another excellent book of travel stories from Things Asian Press with contributions from a variety of writers, including Ma Thanegi.