Greetings from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and from the best little guest house in Yangon, The Motherland Inn (2). Friendly, helpful, clean, you name it,
they have it…and all for from $7 a night, breakfast included. See,
all you people who thought I was extravagant. You really can’t beat
these prices and can have a huge meal for about a dollar. The other
night, after spending the afternoon at the bazaar, four of us decided
to stop in the Moslem section of town to try their food. We walked in
rather late at night, sat down, and immediately were served a large
bowl of rice apiece. We thought…oh, well, this is a complimentary
appetizer. No. Along came excellent dal in small bowls. So we poured
the dal on the rice and started in with the chopsticks. More dal
arrived. We hadn’t even ordered! Soon we had each had consumed four
dals and more rice. Every time we finished something another helping
would appear. Finally we couldn’t eat any more and asked for the
check. It came to 25 cents per person in Myanmar money (that’s about
1250 kyats). We left, scratching our heads. Were they just trying to
use up the dal or what? When I saw the rice fields some days later,
and people leaning over harvesting by hand, I wondered how they could
ever sell this food for so little. All the farming, as with any
construction, is backbreaking work. Done by hand.
This town is a sprawling collection of ethnic areas. Just walking to
the center we go through Moslem, Hindu, and Buddhist enclaves, each
with its own food and flavor. Even photographs can’t capture the
charm and the smells, some of them good and others, well…there’s a
garbage problem here…but that’s pretty true throughout Asia.
There are very few cars and all of them old, emitting clouds of
exhaust. Gas is rationed at 2 gallons a day in the city and 6 gallons
a week in the country. For those who want more, you can find little
stands of gas in quart bottles around town. My favorite shot was a
seller of old mufflers, each muffler hanging on the branch of a low
tree. Incense was burning inside one of the mufflers.
I’ve gone to the usual sites here in town, like the great golden
pagoda, Shwedagon Paya, and the incredible markets where you can buy
jewelry, textiles, optics, anything for pennies compared to the U.S.
If only I had room in my pack!!
On Wednesday I headed for the famous pilgrimage spot, The Golden Rock
(Kyaiktiyo). Getting there was an adventure in itself, from the local
bus to Bago, to being packed into open air trucks (50 to a truck)
going up a bumpy, winding, hairpin-curved road in the middle of a
bamboo forest…perfect for those who didn’t get enough of roller
coasters as a child. Then came the 5-miles walk to the rock. I was
followed by several men carrying litters and hoping that I would drop
before reaching the top. If it hadn’t been so funny, it would have
been annoying. They just wouldn’t quit, even quoting “five dollars
only” until the very end. Can’t wait to show you the pictures.
Kinpun, where we stayed before and after the rock, had the usual jolly
market place, with a few good restaurants, all open on all sides,
abutting the main walkway. I was there with three friends from Whidbey
Island, with whom I connected at the Motherland–Lee Compton, Yana
Viniko, and Dale Reiger. We made quite a foursome. Dale, being 6ft.
4″ was always easy to find and when I arrived in Bago I simply asked
at the bus station where the tall man and his friends went. That’s
how we connected each time.
Just before we left to return to Bago, we were eating in the Sea Sar
Restaurant, when cameras appeared, followed by a massive crowd of
squealing young people, and buses packed to overflowing with people
hanging off the back had stopped to watch…all because two movie
stars were going to shoot a scene at the restaurant. People seem the
same everywhere. They love celebrities! It so happened that we were a
backdrop (unpaid extras) in both scenes, which was quite amusing. We
did a little horsing around to liven things up. It will probably be
cut, but we had fun!
We opted for a taxi drive both ways from Bago to Kinpun, and this gave
us time to photograph the landscape, a plethora of water buffalo with
their young, and my favorite wooden-wheeled wagon drawn by two
bullocks. Shades of the Middle Ages. It was like traveling back in
time. Everybody, including the monks, let us take pictures (we always
asked first, then showed the subject the pictures, which delighted
them, especially the children). I’m saving conversations and
observations until later. I just wanted to touch base with you all and
tell you what an amazing, delightful country this is.
Next week I head for Taungoo, a little off the beaten track, to see
some elephant farms, if possible. It will take about 8 hours by bus,
and I want to divide up my trip to Kalaw, which I’ll do at the end of
the week. Will write more about that and the trek around Inle Lake
after it happens. In the meantime, I hope Jersey enjoys its first
snow. Think of me slathered with sunscreen.