Published: October 12th 2006May 14th 2006
The Shewadagon (Yangon)
That's all gold leaf folks, layers and layers of it.
E-mail #5 Burma tops the list!
I am back in Thailand after being incommunicato in Burma for the last 2
weeks! As you can tell, I am well and alive, and I had wonderful
experiences in Burma. I hope that everyone is doing well too!
SO, why you ask does Burma top the list. Well...here are the categories that Burma took the "top 1" spot for:
Best Cultural Experience
- By far, Burma offered the most culture out of all the countries that I have ever been in in my life. The best way to describe it is "surreal". The country was and continues to be so closed off that it is like stepping in a time machine. All the men and women wear "longyis" which are sarong-like skirts. Women also decorate their faces with a white paste that they apply in different patterns (stripes, circles, etc.)which they believe protect them from the sun and make them beautiful. We rode on trishaws which is a bicycle with 2 connected seats on the side. We drank freshly sugar cane juice squeezed before our eyes with an archaic looking press with
a crank on the side that
The Shewadagon (Yangon)
I'm hoppin' on this photo, HOT FEET!
rolls the sugar cane through. Really unbelievable how traditional they are but truly beautiful!
- Everywhere we go in Asia, we are constantly hounded by hawkers and touts that want to rip us off. But in Burma, it was really different. For the most part, Burmese are very humble, intelligent, nice, helpful, and polite. Many speak excellent English as Burma was formally a colony in the early to
mid 1900s. We were really impressed by the spirit the Burmese people have despite their challenges which comes to my next category...
Most Corrupt Government
- You would not believe how screwed up the government is. Sure, we bitch about our politics but in Burma, any bitching will get you sent to jail for years. Any demonstration will result in thousands of deaths. The government has a disturbing power over the people. They have repressed democracy (through violent means) for the past 20 years. Most people suffer and are unbelievably poor. For example, in the mid 90s, the government decided to ban the import of all vehicles (yet, you can see really new cars obviously driven by select few, government officials that make an exception). As a result,
most of the cars are falling apart and people rely on public transport..this is my next category
Record Setting Number of People in a Toyota Pickup Truck
- With few cars available, public transport takes the form of pickup trucks. How many people you ask? Well, sitting in one one day, I thought they could not fit one more person but at each spot, more people got on, sitting on the roof, inside, standing on the tail gate, and at one point, there were 30 PEOPLE on the truck. This is the NORM. It should be an ad for Toyota. The trains on the other hand should be an ad for poor safety standards in trains. Is it odd that the train rocks side to side when it moves??? Is it
odd that first class means shitty chairs covered in torn vinyl??? Is it odd that the bathroom is a dark room with a hole in the ground where you can see the tracks go by??? By Burmese standards, so strangely normal!
I saved the last 2 categories for the end:
Most Disgusting Habit
- BETELNUT!!! Smoking is gross, yes. But Betelnut is disgusting. Betelnut is this
Whole lotta money!
$1 is the equivalent of around 1200 kyat (pronounced chat) but this fluctuates on a daily basis
little red fruit/ nut that is wrapped in a leave with tobacco and lime paste. They chew it and wads of spit accumlate in their mouth which they then hold in their mouth and spit out. The spitting happens EVERYWHERE! Even on the bus...they manage to spit into plastic bags. It's not a healthy habit as most people have these red stained teeth and rotting gums, and it makes their lungs congested which causes more spitting! In our last bus ride, a lady behind Nick had a phlegm problem and she kept making these gagging/ puking noises and spit in her little plastic bag. VILE, VILE, VILE!!!!
Most Disgusting Hotel
- All of the places we stayed at were clean and nice. However, to break up a 16 hour bus ride, we decided to stop at a midway town. The Lonely Planet described this guesthouse as "dark rooms but clean". BULLSHIT on the latter. It was so dirty!!! The rooms were ok but the bathroom was like Thai prison style. The toilet had NEVER EVER BEEN SCRUBBED EVER FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS! As I squatted to take a desperately needed pee, I reached over the grab the roll
This pic goes out to our trishaw driver Jo Soe who has a very sad life story and got sick on the day he was with us. We hope he'll get some breaks in life.
of toilet paper and FREAKED RIGHT OUT when a cockroach the size of a rat crawled onto my hand! YA, GROSS! More bugs, more mosquitoes, and then to top it off, the smell of backed up sewage wafting out of the bathroom. I'm sorry but how hard is it to clean a bathroom! Seriously, scarred for life! Okay folks, I've written enough. Burma was great but it took a year off my life. I have more to share when we get back. I can't believe that we are back in two weeks! Time flies but I am looking forward to being home and seeing all of you beautiful people!
Much love and please write back,
There are more photos below