Friday, March 1, 2013

An Evening in Myanmar

February 25, 2013

We arrived in Myanmar and slowly made our way down a large, latte-colored river.  Large white birds, I'm thinking they were some sort of gull, were following the ship and eating all of the fish that we were stirring up.  As we chugged along, these small silver fish would surface doing some pretty crazy acrobatics.  They seemed a little upset at our ship for interrupting their calm lives.

A line of musicians and dancers.
We pulled into the port, which is about an hour's drive from the city of Yangon, and heard the sound of crashing cymbals, banging drums and a crazy little clarinet-type instrument.  There was a whole line of people welcoming us with flags.  They had a little band and also a set of dancers who would each perform their number for the group.  People lined up along the railing to enjoy the show.

At this point, it was about 3:30pm, and we knew that it would still be about an hour and a half before the ship got cleared for passengers to get off.  We hung around the ship for a while, finishing up our post-production and organizing our film gear.  At 5:00pm, we were allowed to get off the ship.

They had arranged a busing system that would leave every two hours from the dock and then back from the city to make the hour and ten minute trek in to Yangon proper.  We got on the bus, which was decked out in all grape.  Someone had worked very hard to grape-theme the bus, and I felt like they did a very good job.  Very impressive.  I could almost smell the fruit.

Our first bus.  Grape City.
The bus ride took us through a rural area and down, as we affectionately named them, "kinda roads."  The dirt and concrete slabs rocked the bus around to the point of humor.  People were flying all over the place and laughing at how crazy the ride was.  But, we can't complain.  Semester at Sea worked out a deal so that we would have this shuttle to and from the city running for the five days we'll be here for only $10 a person, total.  That's pretty awesome!

The most interesting part of the ride was getting an hour-long tour of the rural area surrounding Yangon.  We got to see the action going on along this main road to town, and also down along side streets.  We got to see where and how people live.  See their cattle and their rice fields and also kids playing.  People smiled and waved at us as we went by, and other people stared and frowned.  Overall, I think tourists are pretty welcome here, and they say that it's one of the safer places that we'll visit.

A view from the bus on our way to Yangon.
I found it really interesting at the stark difference between neighbors.  There would be houses built out of tin and cardboard, with a mess of a front yard and dogs and chickens all over the place, with laundry hanging out and the people all in the front digging around in the dirt and cooking off of a fire, then, right next door, would be a beautifully built, painted and well kept home that looked like it could be straight from California.  The yard would be immaculate, the fence around it painted, and it would have a satellite dish on the top.  I had heard that there was no buffer between income levels here, and that was very evident as we went along.  I've heard that there can be a million dollar house sitting next to a slum, and that's just normal here.

Our bus made it to the center of town, which felt a lot like Ho Chi Minh City the way it was bustling with traffic and the street vendors with food and supplies.  We only had a limited amount of time to adventure around since it was an hour back to the ship by bus and the last one leaves at 11pm, so we decided to try and change our money and then head for a restaurant.

We were told that there was a nice restaurant named Monsoon a few blocks away.  Fourteen of us travelled in the dark down the streets wandering through a ton of action.  We realized later that people are up and about at night and in the early morning because you just can't get anything done during the day.  It's sooo hot outside and pretty humid, so as a worker, those are the sitting or lounging hours.

Our swanky Monsoon restaurant.
They had told us that the streets were pretty safe here and that the Myanmar culture is generally very polite and with very low crime because of the prevalence of Buddhism.  They believe that if you do harm, you'll come back in the next life and get that suffering yourself, so it's better safe than sorry.  It made for a unique experience after that last couple countries we visited because people were so darn honest.  More to come on that topic.

We finally found the restaurant, and after the surprise of the owner of so many people, they split us up into three groups and found room for all of us.  They had Myanmar, Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Indian food available at the restaurant, and Matt and I went straight for the Myanmar food to try it out.  I immediately learned that I am absolutely against fish sauce.  It's like soy sauce is in Japan or like salt and pepper is in America - their seasoning for almost everything.  It tastes like fishy band-aids, in my opinion, and I would prefer never to taste it again.  Blehk.

The pork and beef curry that Matt and I got, however, was delightful.  It came out with two little pyramids of rice, and we really enjoyed it.  This was an extremely upscale place, so our meal came out to be $24 for the two of us.  That included our two curries, white rice, soups, tea and a beer. Whew!  Big spenders!

I had a terrible headache (that will sadly hang around until we leave on Friday), so Matt and I took a taxi and caught the 9:00pm bus back to the ship.  The next day we had flights to catch to Mandalay.