Skift Take

"Parts Unknown" brings the world to life in a way that CNN has largely ignored on its U.S. channel. Bourdain gets to do what the news programs on CNN can't do: Dive into how real people live without featuring the opinions of ridiculous talking heads.

The Travel Channel’s biggest ex-star’s show premiered on CNN this evening, and it’s the Tony that everyone loves, with a bigger budget.

Politics and current events of the Bourdain’s Parts Unknown is present for the start. With black and white videos, Obama, and ‪Aung San Suu Kyi making an appearance before Bourdain’s usual tasting and descriptions of local food.

Still this is the Myanmar of last summer, at the latest.

Bourdain says credit cards are accepted almost no where, but Mastercard and Visa entered the country this year, perhaps after Bourdain taped the episode.

After three minutes of intro about Myanmar politics and history, Bourdain heads straight to the food and drink, with a visit to a Yangon tea shop. As Bourdain describes, before the 2011 thaw tea shops were the “main forum for guarded and not-so-guarded discussions of daily news.”

Bourdain soon meets up with Philippe Lajaunie, the owner of Brasserie Les Halles, where Bourdain was a chef before he hit it big with his book Kitchen Confidential and was able to step out of the kitchen. With his clean white shirts, cool demeanor, and instant understanding of everything around him, Lajaunie comes off as a French version of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World.

Lajunie takes Bourdain to a full-moon festival, where they sample the food. “Just like a New York street fair but with infinitely better food,” Bourdain says. But the real highlight of the street festival is the human-powered Ferris wheels throughout the city. “I don’t want to be implicated in the death of four underage carnies.”

Later Bourdain continues to Yangon’s 19th Street, which is the center of youth culture. He gets a meal with Side Effect, a band of Burmese punk rockers. They soon prove that terrible music can’t be held back by a half-century of political oppression as Bourdain and the Myanmar rockers agree that Creed is the worst band in the history of the world.

Staying within Myanmar’s tourist triangle, Bourdain and Lajunie board train for a 600 km for “kidney-softening” ride by rail to Bagan. The 10-hour ride takes over 19 hours.

Keeping to his infinitely cool demeanor, after the 19-hour train ride Lajunie’s shirt is perfectly pressed.

Bourdain takes a break from looking at the 3,000 or so temples built after a conversion to Theravada Buddhism, to discuss life outside of the tourist triangle: “Simply put: there is shit going on they do not want you to see.” He calls out the violence against ethnic groups (there are 135 within Myanmar) to say “All along the edges they’re waging a war to hang on to the status quo.”

Expedia is a sponsor, with its the “find your courage” ad in its “Find Yours” campaign. Asiana Air and Viking River Cruises also make brief appearances.

Next week on Parts Unknown: Koreatown in Los Angeles.

A full stream of the first episode is available here.

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Tags: anthony bourdain, cnn, tv

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