I was somewhat nervous about being back in America. It's two years now since I've left, and although it's probably not changed as much as I have over that time, I didn't know how I was going to feel with my feet on American soil today. I took a taxi to America, and on getting out I looked across the street to my native land.
It's the Embassy of the United States of America here in Yangon. Technically, the grounds of an embassy are a little piece of that country's sovereign territory overseas, so, there past that fence is America.
I was visiting to get extra blank pages added to my passport. Two years of travel and visa runs had filled up my little book; I had two blank pages remaining.
Sure, I saw the sign that said "no photos" out front, but I wasn't even on that side of the road. My mother country was right over there. Why can't I take her picture?
I think I've now landed myself on some kind of watch list. They let me on the embassy grounds all right (I had an appointment), but when I got to the first bunker-like gateway building, I got busted.
"Sir, you take a picture with your phone?" the Myanmar-native security guard asked me from behind his desk.
"Uh, yeah..." I tried to look as innocent as possible.
"We saw you on the CCTV taking picture. Why you take picture from the road?"
"Uh... Umm... Just for memories. To share with my friends... Facebook!" As soon as I said it, I wasn't sure that last utterance was such a good thing to admit. I was expecting them to ask me to erase the picture.
The other guard behind the desk was quite stern (I think they were playing good cop/bad cop), but the one speaking was understanding enough and although I had to leave my phone with them (everyone does), I got through to the consular office with no additional questioning.
Eighty-two US Dollars to add extra pages to a passport?!? I knew that coming in, but heck, that's a lot of money for a few pieces of paper and half an hour of labor!
On my way out of the embassy, the guards at the gate had another form for me to sign. It was an admission that I had taken a picture of the embassy. It asked me for all my contact info and again, the reason I took the picture. I'm sure it's going to be on file with the FBI soon.
One nice thing about visiting the US Embassy is that it is walking distance from one of only three places in Yangon that I know of that serves that staple of American cuisine: tacos. I had the fajitas. They were divine.