Planning my trip Myanmar, I’ll admit that I didn’t have any set expectations. I shouldn’t even be allowed to use the word “planning”, perhaps convincing four other people to embark on one of my crazy unforgettable dreams would be more appropriate. I can assure you that more energy and sweat was spent obtaining visas and making sure passport photos were printed and cut correctly. In fact so little planning aside from purchasing plane tickets (ahem except for David someone ahem) went into our initial itinerary, as in we may or may not have wandered around aimlessly begging hostels and in one desperate instance a monastery to allow us just two centimeters of floor space for a night.
Did we realize that it was peak season in one of the most sought after mysterious time warps of countries? Meh-beh yes. Did we realize how crazy imbalanced the person to bed ratio would be? Meh-beh no. It seems that those approving visas in tourism affairs have yet to send a kind memo informing those in the hotel industry. Through luck and charm, we unfortunately never got the chance to take shifts in the hammock that I’d brought over nor did we have to sleep in any monasteries or on the streets (though it would’ve been fun to write those posts: “The Bear Family Swings…in Hammocks…Yeah, Hammocks!” or “The Bear Family Goes Homeless Buddhist”).
Boarding a hotel shuttle bus whose glory days must have surpassed sixty years, some of us were given free tourism magazines. When I wasn’t busy daydreaming out the window and inhaling the local aromas unpleasantly belched from the many old vehicles that still operate on clunky noise/fresh air contaminating carburetors, I was busy memorizing Burmese phrases out of the tourism magazine with Elaine, sometimes adding a Texan twang (a successful method that once helped me to remember difficult Indonesian phrases during training). Hey Elaine… what’s “hello”? JaY-ZHoo-BaY… noooo, my dear… the other oneeee…MINGAH-LAH-BAH!!!! YESSS! Girl, you so SMART… Jay-ZHoo-BaY (thank you).
I swear I spent that hour memorizing many more things, but those phrases failed to reappear when we wandered hungrily into a small food stall. I felt like the biggest tourist sitting there among the locals, not knowing how to order because there was no visible menu. Between lots of pointing, nodding, and smiling, they brought something out that resembled nothing but delicious bowls of noodles that left us quite pleased…until dinner blew our minds (and not our wallets).
Until only a few years ago, before the government adopted Naypyidaw as its new capital, Yangon (aka Rangoon), a quaint southern port city tucked along the Irrawaddy delta, had been flexing its political muscle for nearly 120 years. Over the more recent decades as power has slowly transitioned from militaristic rule to something that currently resembles bits and pieces of an aspiring democracy, Yangon has unintentionally been able to preserve the unique and alluring colonial quality that is rarely found anywhere anymore (except for Cuba and popular Victorian-era lit).
An attempt to see the romanticized Bay of Bengal was in actuality met by tall, restrictive barbwire fences, train tracks, and a non-conspicuous looking warehouse with a corrugated facade. Maybe we had made a wrong turn and missed the mock Jersey Shore boardwalk selling Jell-O shooters and all you can eat funnel cakes (that post would’ve been called “Bear Family Receives An Unexpected Visit From Sir Stomachache and A Madame Hangover, Respectively”). We were a little bit disappointed but not enough to stop us from exploring.
We ended up wandering around, watching our every step to dodge the blood-red betel nut chew-splatters that decoratively stained the sidewalks until we unexpectedly discovered one of a supposed thirty-six (as of only three months ago or so) [discreetly placed] functioning ATM machines in the entire country of over sixty million people. Interesting fact: The kyat’s largest bank note is K10,000 which is about $11. But since ATM machines only dispensed K5,000 notes, it wasn’t hard to make it rain with only $50.
Plus! Daniel’s post: Burma Photos: Part I, Temples and Towns.
Up next: Bears Gone ‘dagon