I got spat on this week. I suppose the real miracle is that it didn’t happen earlier. I had become perhaps a little too confident that I would be able to leave the country without wearing another person’s saliva. That confidence led me to walk a little too close to a tobacco chewer and the next thing I knew red liquid appeared on my foot. The spitter ignored me as I wiped my foot on the back of my trousers and tried not to retch.
We arrived in Yangon at 6am after an amazingly comfortable bus ride where only one person spewed into a bag and only one chair was added to the aisle. As we sat in the reception of our hotel we watched the world go by. Nuns came to the door singing for donations and street sellers attached their wares to bulldog clips that were then hauled up to the higher floors of the street’s buildings.
Despite knowing that the foreigner price is extortionate, we decided we had to see Shwedagon Pagoda anyway. We were initially left with a sour taste in our mouths after paying 7,900 kyat each to get in. ‘No change,’ the lady in the foreigner payment booth said as she took our 16,000 kyat and reached out to put a payment sticker firmly on my right breast. That was awkward.
As we walked around Shwedagon looking at photos of the gold, jewellery and gems that adorn the top of the umbrella, my mind wandered back to some of the people we had seen in Ayerwady division. People whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. People who have been living a hand to mouth existence ever since.
I guess the pagoda was OK, but the more interesting thing for me was people watching. So many groups of people sat around the pagoda grounds eating lunch, sleeping, chatting and using the WiFi, young couples cuddled in secluded corners and a monk stopped us to ask for a photo.
We decided that one last pagoda wouldn’t kill us and crossed the road to Maha Wizaya pagoda. This pagoda was built by President Ne Win in dedication to himself during his time in power. It was unlike anything we’ve seen here. The central chamber had a giant 3D mural of a forest and a sea, with several other murals around the outskirts. It was fascinating and we probably spent more time here than Shwedagon – and it was free!! There was even a small lake full of turtles outside.
Wandering around Yangon afterwards we stumbled across a mausoleum. Leckie quickly recognised that one of the tombs contained U Thant, former secretary genersal of the UN. It seemed that we had found a VIP graveyard and found that among others, there were tombs here of Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother and Supalayat, the last queen of Burma.
We’ve been taking it quite easy in Yangon, absorbing the energy of the city. Being Aussie/Brit nationals we’ve been missing the ability to go out for a beer. Hearing about China Town’s bars on 19th street we didn’t need our arms twisting. As we drank cup after cup of Myanmar lager we snacked on food sold by street vendors. Leckie had a pig’s ear but stopped short of eating crickets.
I’ve mentioned before that to call waiters here you make a kind of kissing noise. When I’ve tried it before I’ve been laughed at, but several beers down I was ready to try again. I steeled myself, ready for humiliation and sucked air in through my lips. To my delight (and surprise) the waiter’s head snapped around and he made a beeline right for us. Success!! I thoroughly enjoyed doing it again every time we wanted another beer.
Things started to get a little messy as the night wore on. One waiter sat next to us, threw up and disappeared when his colleagues turned up and smacked him over the head. I had a drink spilled on me by a Myanmar/Chinese girl next to me, who we soon became friends with, united in shared hatred of the culturally unaware tourists two tables up, one of whom tried to show her backside to the whole street!
As I went towards the toilet one of the waiters shouted for me to stop. He fetched a bucket of boiling water and detergent and from the door of the toilet tossed it in, cleansing floor, walls and loo alike. In that moment I was completely won over by Asian toilets. If only you could do that to the toilets of some of my favourite pubs in London!
After one last visit to a tea shop and one last curry for breakfast it was time to go. Myanmar has been an amazing experience. I won’t lie, it’s been a challenge and there were times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to last (particularly with the food), but we’ve been rewarded with a unique true look into Myanmar, Mon & Karen culture – and that’s all worth a few mornings of chicken’s feet, fish egg sacks and chicken blood. Jayzu bah Myanmar!!