Hello from the Golden Land! As usual, my apologies about not writing sooner. It’s just that internet connections in Myanmar are hard to come by. I have not been online for many days. And, when I do find an internet connection, it is typically ridiculously slow. About 5 days ago I tried to use a computer with a dial-up connection. Ouch. When was the last time you used a modem to connect to the internet? I am going to say it has been a long time. But, that is part of the fun of this country. In related news, at the markets here you can still buy walkmans. Let me know if you want me to pick one up for you.
My initial impressions were that Myanmar is much more like India than the rest of SE Asia. Especially in the city of Yangon. My second impression was how friendly the people are. (Actually, I find they are even protective of me). I know I say this often, but I really mean it this time. I have never had this much fun just waving and saying hello to people. The hello’s and waves are always returned with a smile, and usually a laugh, too. I wonder what will happen if I continue this behavior of saying hello to strangers at home in North America… people will probably think I’m crazy :)… ah, I don’t want to think about it.
It is easy to find places in Myanmar where the presence of a foreigner is still quite an event for the local people. Example: the other day I walked into a locals restaurant, as I like to do. They stare at me (out of curiosity). I’m used to this by now. I smile and say “hello” in Burmese. They smile back. Needless to say, there is no English menu here. To order, I walk over to the next table and point to their food. The restaurant erupts in laughter. I feel them watching me eat. I rub my tummy, using the international hand movement for “hmm, the food is good”. More laughter. I ask for the bill in my broken Burmese, pay, and am watched as I walk out of there. A great exchange.
Another example: I arrived in the town Kalaw just as a festival was going on. Four young men were becoming monks. I believe this is one of the most important days in the lives of these young men, and I got to partake (the travel gods smiled on me). A French guy, Guillaume, (an awesome dude who I would trek with later) and I followed the procession through town. Then we got ushered into a huge dining hall where we ate with the friends and family of the soon-to-be monks. Then, a local woman invited us to her home. We sat in the only chairs in the house while about 15 locals sat on the floor around us. We were treated like kings, being served food (which I still can’t identify), tea, and beer. We had a great time with these people even though we could not communicate a word to each other.
The point of these examples: I am either watched like a circus freak, or treated like royalty. In both cases, I am likely to be the the most exciting thing that has happened in a long time and the talk of the town. I call this the “I’m Kind of a Big Deal” phenomenon. It’s great fun. I’m not sure why I like it so much. Probably because I am such a small deal back home. I experience this “I’m kind of a big deal” phenomenon in Bangladesh as well.
I know, I know, less typing, more pictures. Here are a few:
The soon-to-be monks.
The Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, probably the most recognized landmark in the country. It is covered in 53 metric tonnes of gold leaf! Current value of at today’s gold prices: $63,651,468 CAD. I thought about trying to smuggle the Pagoda home but it might be too big for carry-on luggage.
The halls and walkways around the paya. Nothing exciting going on in this picture, I just like it. It gives a good feel for the place.
The famous temples around the area of Bagan. According to my guidebook, there are about 4,000 temples in the area the size of Manhattan! Most are about 900 years old. I had a good time cycling around the temples and watching the sun go down on the thousands of temples.
A few other random comments I want to squeeze into this already long blog post:
– Politically, Myanmar is very interesting/complicated. I will tell you about that next time.
– The other day I was given a spoon to eat some noodles. I thought, “Man, this spoon is clumsy, I wish I had some chopsticks”. And then a second thought: wow, I just insulted the eating utensil I have been using my whole life and wished for a couple sticks. I think this is a significant turning point in my SE Asia travels; it means I have been here a while.
– As in Laos, it takes forever to get anywhere over-land in Myanmar. Part of the problem are the horrible roads. The other part is that all buses stop at least every 2 hours for a food break. Even at 1am. Again at 3am. Then 5am. You get the picture. Craziness.
Ok, I need to jet. Next time, more Myanmar info, including a 3-day trek I just completed. Also, for those of you who enjoyed the first video in my “How To Travel the World” series, I have been working on a couple more. Stay tuned for that. I am headed to the beach; I have heard Myanmar has some great ones and I will investigate.
PS: A while back I considered that if I have no one to tell my story, do I really have a story? I don’t think so. (ie, if the tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) So, as always, many thanks for reading! For that, I am in your debt.