The pre-race pasta dinner was an elegant affair under the stars. Unfortunately it was also under the rain clouds. The rain therefore prompted a mad dash to seek cover and wreaked havoc with the microphones and speakers set up for the course overview.
Fortunately the rain stopped after dessert and we were able to crowd the stage and hear the speeches. Albatros introduced their local patron, the minister for hotels and tourism, who was enthusiastic in his speech for us … and the camera crews covering the event.
The basic gist of his speech was that we who are visiting can see what a friendly, warm place Myanmar is, a people determined to welcome us all with open arms. He urged us to enjoy the race, and the place, and then go home to tell our friends and family the truth. He didn’t use the words exactly but the sentiment was clear. Those stories in the western media that contradict this are “fake news.” And if there is any truth to the stories it’s that there are good people “on both sides.”
It’s when he then said how happy he was to be there and to tell us that the Myanmar media was there covering the event so it would air on television to show the spirit and the excitement of this event being held in Myanmar
I’ve said repeatedly how I’m perhaps not so incredibly conflicted about traveling here for this event. To be told I would form part of an internal propaganda campaign and was being recruited as a goodwill ambassador at Home… well, the conflict grows stronger.
I know I’m viewing the speech and hearing the words with my own baggage and through my own emotional lens, but the truth is — I was super weirded out.
It’s not surprising I guess that the minister of tourism WOULD try and downplay the negatives and play up the positives… but I think we all can agree that ethnic cleansing is a pretty big negative.
Co-Race Director Lars gave us the race briefing. I was able to say hello afterwards and snap a photo with him; he once again asked about my mom which only further endears him and Albatros to my heart. He mentioned he and his wife welcomed a baby girl and I congratulated him. A good guy. Lars. If he and the company are okay with Myanmar, I guess I need to keep an open mind.
Still. Super weirded out.