All posts by Chris Moreno

Born and raised in San Francisco, Christopher Moreno is currently an International Relations student at Berkeley City College. He has traveled to Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and India. One of the most important things he's learned about traveling, is just how easy it is to make friends all over the world. It doesn't matter who you believe in, who you vote for, or what you do for money; compassion is alive everywhere.

Young in Bagan

The Rapidly Changing Culture of a Modern Myanmar

Bagan is home to Myanmar’s precious “Valley of a Thousand Temples”. It is a place quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a landscape that is both barren, and vibrant, and host to an ancient culture that is in the midst of modernization.

All over Bagan, there are thousands of temples tucked away, hidden between trees and cliffs. These temples, though ancient, are made surprisingly accessible to the public, with some allowing people to climb through their dusty passages. A recent law by the government has now restricted this, in an effort to preserve these beautiful structures.

There are many questions left to be answered regarding this modernization, especially with regards to the new youth of Myanmar, many of whom are now working in the tourism industry, a business that didn’t exist when their parents were their age. Many Burmese people, both young and old, have acknowledged that as Myanmar opens itself up to the world, it is inevitable that change will happen. However, both have expressed sentiments that aim to preserve as much of their traditional culture as they can.  As I walked around the plains of Bagan, meeting with locals and travelers alike, I asked myself, how will Myanmar look in 10 years? It was then, that I met a young Burmese girl, who introduced herself as Ma (younger sister in Burmese). She approached me, with a stack of foreign money in her hand, and asked me where I was from. I told her the United States, and she promptly spoke to me in English. Perfect English, not a word wrong, her accent was impeccable. She reminded me of a highly intelligent young girl in junior high. So what was she doing with a stack of money from all over the world?

“I can speak all of these languages” she told me.

Ma showed me her collection of money from all over the world, which she has used as a means of educating herself about culture outside of Myanmar, and to make a living.

Every single one?” I looked at the stack, there were bills from all over the world. France, Brazil, England, Chile, China, everyone was accounted for.

I tried Spanish with her, she nailed it. French, again, perfect. Her Portuguese was good enough to get her a job in Rio. I couldn’t believe it. We walked for some time, and she told me how she learned so much.

Ma, like many Burmese youth, is proud of her heritage, and at the same time, excited to embrace new cultures from all over the world.

“Tourists are my teachers” she said with a smile. Ma has been a tour guide for 5 years, literally starting as soon as the borders opened. In that time, she has worked all around Bagan, hiking from one temple to the next, with a bag full of postcards, and foreign currency.  From sunrise to sunset, this has been her life.  As the tourists come in larger and larger numbers, Ma has seen more and more business. So, how is this influx of global culture affecting young people like Ma?

In a recent study published by Routledge, a publishing company that specializes in providing academic books and journals regarding humanities and social sciences, researchers went to Bagan, and conducted interviews with locals, who described the three biggest changes that they had seen since the opening of the borders. People of all ages agreed on three major areas; the consumption of alcoholthe way thanaka (traditional make-up of the Burmese people) is worn and the perceived importance of marriage (Rich and Franck 334-44). Although, tourism in not alone to blame for these changes. Free access to the Internet has also helped foster a developing mindset in the minds of many young Burmese people, especially with regards to drinking alcohol, and relationships. According to the study, it is in conjunction with modern media formats that Burmese people have been exposed to and have assimilated new cultural identities.

A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.
A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.

There are undoubtedly benefits to tourism, and most locals do agree that those benefits are very important to providing new opportunities for the next generation. Many young men and women are now able to afford luxuries that their parents could not have thought possible at their age, and many more are able to attend schools now. Whatever future these changes hold in store for Myanmar, it is important to learn from the successes and failures of nearby destinations like Thailand and Cambodia. Will Bagan’s Valley of a Thousand Temples someday have backpacker ghettos lined up across it’s plains? Will the environment suffer the way it has in some parts of Thailand? These questions are left to the people of Myanmar to manage, and to hopefully, resolve. Either way, it is a fascinating time to be young in Bagan ;a time when the new generation is setting out to define itself, and decide what direction it wants this new Myanmar to go.


Source Citation:
Rich, Anna-Katharina, and Anja K. Franck. “Tourism Development in Bagan, Myanmar: Perceptions of Its Influences upon Young Peoples’ Cultural Identity.” Tourism Planning & Development 13.3 (2015): 333-50. Print.

For anyone interested in reading more about Myanmar, here are some interesting books to check out:

The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Freedom from Fear, Kyi, Aung San Suu. London: Viking, 2009.

Yangon: Through the lens

There is undoubtedly an air of electricity in Yangon. Myanmar’s largest city is in the midst of an incredible growth spurt, brought about by foreign investment from countries like China, Japan and Korea. Ever since Myanmar opened its doors to tourism in 2011 the country has experienced a huge upsurge in the number of people visiting, giving the former capital of Myanmar, a breath of new life.
I ventured to Yangon in January of 2016 to see for myself what the city looked like beneath the surface of so much change. What I found were good people, great food and a city that was ready to embrace its bright new future.

Cities are Psychedelics

By Chris Moreno

People in this metropolis move on a schedule, they listen to a melting clock that keeps on ticking, and they ride a subway that’s so brand new it hasn’t even developed it’s own unique stench. It just smells like freshly printed plastic. I’ve been sucked into the  toxic bloodstream of South America’s largest city. I wake up, put one foot out the door, and am swept away in a river of new cars, old people, middle aged office buildings, and aging infrastructure.


I have overcome the language barrier by becoming a very good actor. Basically everyone I have spoken to in the last month is convinced that I understood them very well; in fact so am I and that’s really all that matters. I should get an Oscar for my performance in “Paying for Dinner” and “Asking for Directions to the Night Club:Part 4”.It’s really amazing how much you can say by not saying anything at all. A smile convinces someone that you agree with even the most ridiculous notion, a head nod here and there will encourage someone to go on, even a grunt does wonders for making your partner go into detail about some experience years ago under a moon you will never see.

Even though I don’t understand a damn word these Paulistas* speak, I play my part perfectly. Laughing when a joke is implied, and frowning when a question is asked. Every now and then I pretend to think really hard about the answer. I’ll mutter things like “tuna sandwich” and “gasoline monkey” until they figure it out themselves, then everyone laughs, smokes a cigarette and has a fantastic evening dancing to whatever is playing. A Brazilian likes someone who will listen, and trust me, I can listen. I’ve made a lot of buddies down here, all with only a handful of words, and some choice herbs.

IMG_9738In between beers and bars where classic rock lives on, I have started teaching English in downtown São Paulo, right off of  Paulista Avenue, the Broadway of Brazil. I’ve got experience teaching people how to speak English from my last job, although, this time, I’m not helping a drunk guy pronounce his girlfriends name properly after closing the bill with  her card. I’m helping a Brazilian say the day of the week, and I like things much more this way.

The days that I work are irregular, I cover the teachers that are sick, or on vacation for the weekend. I have heard great things from my students. They seem to like our videos of protests and my lame jokes about American politicians who get caught in scandals. I’m doing my best to make sure when they travel to the USA, they can make fun of the right people, and hey, who doesn’t love a foreigner who can laugh with you about corruption? The next generation of Brazilian students are going to speak great English, refer to everyone and their grandmother as dude, and will  know why the air smells so funny when the clock strikes 20 minutes past 4 in California.


São Paulo is a city where you can find anything you want, for half the price; unless your lazy and you went somewhere expensive.  Break that comfort zone, or break the bank; whichever your more comfortable with.  Go to places with lots of ethnic diversity, venture down those dirty alleys that are leading you downhill where the shadows are drinking and laughing at you.  If you want to really experience this city, you’ve got to chase everyones demons, and try everyones vices. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a few new ones.

Liberdade, Republica, Centro; these are all neighborhoods where Asians, Italians, Jewish,  and Lebanese people have settled and mixed so beautifully with Brazilian culture. Have you ever seen a Japanese person whip up some fantastic Ramen, and then cuss profusely in Portuguese because he’s so damn busy? I have, and now I want to live in Japan, make Ramen and cuss in Portuguese. Traveling makes you want to do weird things like that. Every time I go to a new neighborhood in this city, I want to trip somewhere else in the world.

There are many kinds of trips we take in life. The trip to the store, the trip that leaves a mark on your face, the trip with your friends to south america, the trip to cabo with the girls, and, if you’re lucky, the trip from a potent portion of something someone made in a lab (you hope it was a lab at least).


I didn’t realize this until I lived in São Paulo for a month, but there is a new kind of trip that we’re all on. If you’re living in a big city, you’re hooked on a drug, and you’re tripping as we speak. If you’re laying in bed and you can hear rubber tires squeaking on asphalt,  if you see grime clogging up the gears of trains on their way to work, if you have an appointment at 5 and you leave by 3:30 because of traffic, if you see graffiti on nearly every empty surface, if homeless people sleeping in front of banks is a normal fixture of your neighborhood, if concrete is comfortable; you, my fortuitous friend are on a sneaky little psychedelic named after whatever metropolis you are currently dosing yourself with.

That’s what your rent is. It’s a bill for that trip you take when you put one foot out your door, and your swept around from 9 to 5, then shuttled back home in a little machine with wheels. Welcome to the modern day my friends, where drugs are legal, and cities are psychedelics.

Paradox Lost

We hiked Dois Irmãos yesterday.  It is one thing to dream of heaven. It is another to walk above the clouds and live in it. It is an experience that will awaken an incredible sensation in your soul.  When you stand at the edge of a precipice that seems to hover above the earth. When you are suspended in flight, and below you the world is glowing with the artificial orange light cast by tall steel street lights numbering in the thousands. Dogs bark to one another across the favela. They share secrets, and  you are secretly listen in on every little story that is told. The sheer number of sounds shrinks your being into a small blue dot on a large black sheet.

Rocinha, the largest slum in South America.

Two hundred thousand souls survive in the streets below me. Two hundred thousand mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts, and uncles. The list goes on with every generation, and this was a neighborhood as old as Rio itself.

I sat upon the edge of the world and was swallowed into it’s gaping maw. My mind was a pebble rolling down the mountain; there was nothing I could do to stop the momentum of my curiosity about the world below me. What lives in such a place? What culture grows in a crammed community, that never slept, and never ceased to make noise, for no reason other than for the sake of sound.

Lagoa and Ipanema.

When we passed the summit, the glorious, and legendary beach of Ipanema stretched before us The majestic lake of Lagoa was basking in her glory, spoiled with attention from hotel towers who surrounded her form; peddling a view of her for a ridiculous sum to the only the wealthiest patrons of society. The silence was deafening.

There is beauty in Ipanema, but there is no music. Money does not  sing in Ipanema, not like the people who dance in Rocinha do. There is Samba creeping  through the trees from the largest favela in Latin America into your body. The sounds reach in and grab you from your place on the mountain and thrust you into a whole new world. They shatter your perspective on life by showing you something you never thought existed.

Contemplating Leblon.

Lost in our moment of grand exposure to a new world, we forgot to keep track of time. The sun had set, and the sky was pitch black, and the air was thick. With no moon in sight, we began hiking through the trees; enveloped by jungle, and a thick shroud of darkness. We had lost sight of the trail, but had found our place in a paradox lost.

Strange Days in the River of January

We have been away for two weeks now, and I am beginning to get comfortable with feeling like an alien on Earth. Things are very different here. Red lights don’t mean stop, they mean stop if you want, otherwise dodge the pedestrian. I have not worn a jacket since I left California. Nothing is in English, I can’t even understand how to use a washing machine because it’s in Portuguese. The Subway is not a subway, it’s a tiny box that hundreds of people squeeze into and pray for a safe journey as they shoot through the cavernous tunnels below Rio. There are so many people here, it’s bewildering.  Gunshots, fireworks and the cheering from fanatic fans all combine to infect you with enough energy to want to roam around favelas, dodging potholes and gaping at gutted brick buildings. Before I go to sleep, I look out the window and wonder if I am still on the same planet.



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Today I woke up to a foreign land that I believed was only a dream. I stood in absolute silence, staring at a landscape that was exotic and strange as far as the eye could see. Palm trees, Banana plants,  Mango trees; trees that are every shade of green, except for my comfortable Pine or Eucalyptus grow wherever they can thrive, which seems to be everywhere. Buildings composed of brick and sheet metal huddle to support each other through the thick humidity and relentless heat. The air smells of dirt, gasoline and sweat. The streets are arteries congested with trash and gravel, always packed with cars and trucks, groaning like lumbering giants struggling to bear their loads of sugarcane, gasoline, water, cement, people and whatever else workers manage to strap down, by whatever means necessary. Motorcycles zip between trucks and buses, buzzing by mere inches, never flinching, always looking for the next gap to slip into. No helmets; flip flops and t-shirts are all you need if you’re a local. The bus drivers are the most insane people I have ever seen entrusted with a public service occupation. These men and women can make a manual transmission sing like a baritone with Leukemia.  I’ve never been a religious person but after my first time on a bus in Brazil, I had found my faith; not in a God, but in the hands of every bus driver who navigates through the chaos, and still manages to have a conversation with some passengers about whether or not Brazil will win the World Cup.


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The World Cup has been underway for a week now, and we have watched most of the games from Copacabana. We’ve seen the Brazilians dance all night when they won their opening game against Croatia, witnessed Chileans losing their minds when they beat Australia, saw the Argentinians light flares when they barely stole a win from Bosnia,  gasped at the Spanish losing to Holland, and stood in fear as Germany delivered a crushing blow to Portugal, goal after goal.  When the USA played Ghana, the rest of the world doubted our men on the pitch. A Ghana fan approached Nick and I and asked, “Do you really think you can win?” 30 seconds into that game, he was asking himself the same question.

That night, the chanting in the streets of Rio had changed, it was our night, and every American was singing the same anthem,
“I believe that we just won”