Burma sits at the crossroads of Asia's great civilisations of India and China, sitting on the Indian Ocean. One of South East Asia's largest and most diverse countries, it stretches from the islands of the Andaman Sea in the south to the Eastern Himalayan mountain range. To this day, Burma remains one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world.
Burma also has some of Asia's most glorious sites, including the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda which glimmers over 300 feet over Rangoon, a garden city maintaining its charm with wide, treelined avenues, tranquil lakes and majestic colonial architecture. The ancient city of Pagan boasts a spectacular plain of more than 2,000 temples, some more than a millennium old. Inle Lake lies in the cool, green hills of Shan State, an area of outstanding natural beauty and cultural diversity, where the Intha reside in stilted houses built on the lake. Mandalay with its fine royal palace and impressive moat sitting at the foot of a high, pagodatopped hill, still evokes images of a romantic, bygone era. Nearby is the U Bein Bridge, the world's longest teak bridge and site of hazy lakeside sunsets.
Ms Courtauld goes on to describe the political situation of Burma over the last 25 years, when she has been visiting and writing about the country. The talk covers her earlier experiences including the strength of Buddism which has carried the country through its difficult times. This culminates with a description of the gradual liberation of the country, including the momentous changes which have been taking place in the country during the past two years, best exemplified by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and recent elections.
Ms Courtauld has just spoken at the first Irrawaddy Literary Festival, an extraordinary event at which former political prisoners were speaking openly in the lecture halls alongside international literary names. She also describes the part being played by NGOs, how as a trustee of Prospect Burma, an educational trust of which Aung San Suu Kyi is Patron, Ms Courtauld and her cotrustees are helping towards tertiary education. She also speaks of the future of the unique colonial heritage buildings in Rangoon, being saved by the Yangon Heritage Trust from developers. Overall, Ms Courtauld gives a wide ranging talk on this fascinating and beautiful country still full of magic, which is emerging from 50 years of isolation.
Caroline Courtauld is a writer, photographer and a filmmaker specialising in Burmese and Chinese history since the mid1970s. Her publications have focused on Asian travel, history and culture, including recently published Myanmar: Burma in Style, In Search of Burma and guides to China. Together with May Holdsworth she wrote The Hong Kong Story and the Forbidden City.
HK$150 for RGS Members, HK$200 for guests and others including the complimentary drinks reception.