Myanmar Musings

Some random notes, thoughts, and observations about Myanmar.   These are interior monologue sort of ponderings, and perhaps not all that interesting. I probably could have added more pictures too, but it was getting boring. Consider yourself warned.

Our happy host

Our happy host

    • People are really nice.  You have to break all the carefully cultivated habits of other SE Asia while traveling here.  Most people who say hello really are just saying hello.
    • Burmese people get your attention by making kissing sounds
    • In Yangon especially, there are free, communal jugs of water with a communal cup all throughout the streets, the markets, even at the pagoda.  No one seems to mind us filling up our bottles there.
    • As always, chapatti is the cheapest meal.  At 600 k, it’s cheaper than a coke.
    • People on the street sell birds you can buy and release, helping improve your karma.  (I wonder if the birds are trained to come back though.)
    • The young man who helps usher people onto the crowded city buses exists in other places, but only here have I seen him slide a brake under the bus while it waits in traffic.
    • Cars are equally divided, it seems, between driving on the right and the left.
    • Mini-marts are just starting to exist.  There are no chains, and the ones that are just now stocking their shelves even as we speak.  (Wait, we are speaking, aren’t we?)
Julian gets his longgi tied.  Again.

Julian gets his longgi tied. Again.

    • Longgis are really cool. But how do you live without pockets?  Furthermore, if you wear one out and aren’t sure how to tie it, consider wearing shorts or something under it.  Otherwise you might end up being VERY amusing (and more than a little scandalous) to passers-by.
    • People really look you in the eyes.  It’s cool.
    • Not many trash cans or public loos around the place.
    • Lots of small, feral dogs around—not cute but not scary.
    • Burmese really love tattoos.  Lots of men have them too, but not really any ladies.
    • A young girl today, part of a semi-scam, but really nice girl, told us girls in Bagan don’t smoke drink or get tattoos. She implied maybe in crazy exotic countries like Mandalay or Yangon they could, but what could one expect of those strangers?
You put the straw in the coconut.

You put the straw in the coconut.

  • It turns out I don’t much like drinking straight from a coconut.  UPDATE: It turns out that particular coconut was quite putrid.
  • The temples in Bagan, while beautiful, aren’t nearly as fun to explore as Angkor Wat.  That said, there’s something to be said for the density factor—everywhere you go, there are so many temples!
  • If you do climb a temple, make sure you go around to the shady side first.  Otherwise your ascent might be way too hot.
  • Sand paintings are cool and would make a really good tattoo.
  • Buy bus tickets from the bus station, rather than your guesthouse.  At the station, someone will come up to you, ask you where you are going, and then take you to a little “office” to get your tickets.  Very easy, and quite pleasant.
  • The Irrawady is cool—so big and so full of life.
  • Being tall is really kind of a fail.
  • Burmese ladies have relatively really big bums.
  • It’s hard not to look at places like Myanmar, Thailand, and (purportedly) Bhutan and start thinking that Buddhism has got quite a few things right.
  • Have seen quite a few very old trucks, including some that get started with crank engines, Indiana Jones style.
  • Nice hotels give you cordial when you check in.  Hope for orange or lemon.  Avocado juice is kind of a fail.
  • Baby wipes are worth their weight in gold.
  • Wifi doesn’t always mean wifi.
  • Don’t believe the scare report. We paid 3 times as much as we should have by booking ahead when we got afraid we wouldn’t find a place. Spoiler Alert: we would have found plenty of places.
  • Although most young people use the word tattoo, a few older dudes have called it “munshin,” which is the same as in Korean. Weird.
  • Embarrassingly, I find it kind of hard to live without mini-marts. Where can I find Jackers/cold sodas/water/etc?
  • Paid 2000 kyat each for dinner last night, plus another 2500 for a beer. Felt like a fortune (dinners have been a third of that) but then realized it was altogether about 7 bucks.
  • Starting to see tribal people in Kalaw. Their faces look different and some have brown hair. It’s cool to see the variety.
  • Our trek boasts that you will “meet children who have never seen foreigners before.” Our trek also leads up to 12 foreigners a day through these villages. So not true, obviously. And why is that a selling point? Does anyone care if they’re the first foreigners ever to meet a local?
  • Pickled mango is REALLY intense.
  • There are more punks in Kalaw—young teenage boys who kind of think they’re badass.
  • Sitting by the sidewalk, drinking a Myanmar beer with the friendliest beerslingers ever, and given “presents” of near-buja mix and near-papadam, when who should go by but a street samosa salesman?! What a country!
  • Lots of people walking/biking/motobiking are just singing away—nobody looks twice at them.
  • You can see the stars from Yangon—almost no light pollution at all.
  • Inle Lake has a big red moon.
  • Walking around with a freshly shaved head in the hot sun at a snack break on the bus. A vendor with an umbrella comes up to me and starts following me, umbrella held over my head to protect it from the sun. He leads me all the way to the bus and then says “thank you” to me before departing.
  • Getting my hair cut outside the hostel attracted quite a crowd. At one point, ten amused people were gathered around. Some kids across the street came out onto their balcony and waved hello. Finally a couple of guys came and watched. One guy pinched my nipple and kept rubbing something on my arm. Turns out it was a withered dead bird corpse, which he was rubbing on the bird part of my tattoo.
  • The best food in Myanmar is found in the villages.
  • Rice wine is nice, but sweet rice wine is far nicer.
  • A bottle of rum, even at inflated prices, only costs 1600 kyat (2 dollars).
  • My tattoo was done on the floor of a restaurant by a guy who terrified me by showing me Chinese style tattoos first (cutting the flesh with an exacto knife)
  • Talking about how Myanmar was becoming my favorite SEA country to a German friend. As we discussed this, a cart full of smiling people went by. “Hello!” they shouted and waved, smiling the biggest smiles. Far from an isolated incident, but very timely.
Pineapple.  The best.  I wish every country had these.

Pineapple. The best. I wish every country had these.

  • Not too many sweets, and those that do exist aren’t often vegan. Except for some chocolate peanut cookies we found at a snack shop on the side of the road. Awesome and delicious. And some tiny squares made from cane sugar that taste like molasses. But by far the best is, naturally, “want want moon cakes.”
  • Very basic slapstick is still quite popular here. It’s kind of endearing.
  • Mandalay is an underwhelming city. No real center, and all the activities are kind of “meh.” It’s overall craptitude sort of makes me like it more.
  • Riding a motorbike through the streets of Mandalay at dawn is, if not a transcendent experience, at least a semi-transcendent one.
  • Biking around the villages of Inle Lake at sunset, on the other hand, IS completely transcendent.
  • Motorbikes are called mosquitoes by those driving larger vehicles.
  • It’s actually quite a cheap country, apart from the guesthouses in Mandalay and Yangon.
  • Fried bread with peanuts inside is one of the better bus snacks you’ll find. Waxy coconut blobthing is not.
  • “Sparkling” is a sprite knock-off so good that Rachel will buy it, even though it has REAL sugar.
  • Still can’t figure out my longgi, but I’ve found that a carefully hidden belt solves most of my problems.
  • Crazy to think of the industries that crop up when a poor country gets overrun with rich tourists.
  • The new road between Yangon and Mandalay is pretty amazing. A sign of things to come, perhaps.
  • The mustache brothers have real presence; it’s not a show that many westerners will completely love, but it’s worth going to see.
  • All Burmese men have to be monks twice—once as a boy for a year and again as an adult for a year. They aren’t nearly as sequestered as one would think.
  • Some of the cows here are very large and have equally large humps just below their necks.
  • Both foot and wheeled traffic operate by a simple principle—critical mass. Even with no stoplights, enough people gather that when they cross the street, the cars have to pass down. Likewise, with vehicles, lanes are more suggested and everything is chaotic. One motorbike doesn’t have a chance—but 20 are guaranteed to get by.
  • Avocados are everywhere. They’re cheap! And huge! And the guac (a rarity in SE Asia) is too delicious.
  • Guacamole!


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