Tag Archive for 'National Geographic'

Land of shadows

As it emerges from isolation, the nation of Myanmar is caught between repression and reform, dark and light, writes Brook Larmer in National Geographic

It’s the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.

The carnival-like atmosphere doesn’t last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.

“Welcome to the Hotel California,” calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. Three young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. The DVD vendor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. Though his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel “over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch.” more

The greenest citizens?

Indians and Brazilians top in a list of country’s whose citizens have the most environmentally friendly lifestyles finds a survey conducted by the National Geographic. Brian Hendwerk reports for the National Geographic News.

The National Geographic Society and the international polling firm GlobeScan today unveiled “Greendex 2008: Consumer Choice and the Environment–A Worldwide Tracking Survey.” (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

“The Greendex gives us an unprecedented, meaningful look at how consumers across the globe are behaving,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president of mission programs.

Consumers in Brazil and India tied as most “green,” while those in the United States scored lowest, or most wasteful.

To create the survey, GlobeScan conducted Internet surveys of consumers in 14 countries, which together represent more than half of the world’s population and use about 75 percent of its energy.


My life in forbidden Lhasa

Austrian soldier Heinrich Harrer escaped from a British POW camp in India in World War II and ended up as the young Dalai Lama’s tutor in Tibet. His story was published in the July 1955 edition of National Geographic. The magazine has republished the story in its May special issue on China.

The rocky trail led into the broad valley of the Kyi River. Exhausted, our shoes in tatters and our feet bleeding and blistered, we rounded a little hill. Before us lay the Potala, winter palace of Tibet’s Dalai Lama, its golden roofs ablaze in the January sun.

Lhasa was only eight miles away!

I felt a sudden compulsion to sink to my knees and offer a prayer of thanksgiving, even as did the Buddhist pilgrims who were our companions. It seemed impossible that we had reached safety, that our agony of cold and hunger and danger lay behind us. We had walked more than 1,500 miles across the most forbidding terrain in the world and had climbed 62 mountain passes, some as high as 20,000 feet.

It is just as well, I have since felt, that no man can foretell the future. What would Peter Aufschnaiter and I have thought, when we left our native Austria in 1939 as members of the German Nanga Parbat Expedition, had we known we faced long imprisonment and a desperate escape into Tibet, where we were to roam fabled Lhasa with a color camera?


Bhutan’s enlightened experiment

Guided by a novel idea, the tiny Buddhist kingdom tries to join the modern world without losing its soul, writes Brook Larmer in National Geographic

First come the high clear notes of the ceremonial trumpet. Then the Buddhist pilgrims, gravitating toward the sound. The sun has slid behind the mountains looming over Thimphu, capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the day’s final ritual is set to begin. Along the edge of the crowd, in pageboy haircuts and tattered robes, stand peasants who have traveled three days from their remote villages on their first visit to the big city, likely the only capital in the world without a traffic light. Near the center of the plaza clusters a group of Buddhist monks, arms linked, their betel-nut-stained teeth matching their burgundy robes. Together the monks and peasants and townspeople press forward to catch a glimpse of the main attraction: a small boy standing in the center of the circle, his bright orange shirt hanging down to his knees.