In January of this year I went to Burma to visit my relations. And I saw a side of the country usually hidden from visitors.
From next Friday, direct flights start from London to Rangoon on Royal Brunei. Anyone tempted to catch one should spare a thought for those lacking the diplomatic immunity of tourism.
At Rangoon (now Yangon) airport, we watched fellow tourists being cheerfully greeted and waved through customs. But once it was clear that we were visiting family and not just sticking to the tourist attractions, we were forced to pay a bribe of US$400 to get through customs.
Our movements were strictly monitored and a government-appointed guide openly followed us all week and even stayed in the same hotels as us as we travelled around Burma.
Our family was terrified of talking about the government to us. We asked them if they supported Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's democracy movement, and they all said they did. However, when we went to watch Suu Kyi speaking to her followers outside her house in Yangon, only one member of our family would accompany us. The others were frightened of the very real threat of arrest - some of them had previously been in prison for supporting the opposition.
Although the members of my family were poor, they were very well educated. My female relations included a doctor, vet and economist. None of them could get work. Today it is difficult for professionals to find employment: the introduction of tourism has encouraged people highly qualified in other walks of life to work in hotels or as taxi-drivers instead.Reuse content