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Published: April 2nd 2015
I've had a cough for the last few weeks. It started well before I left for Myanmar, but the 24 hours flying and little sleep during the whole ordeal made it worse. I wake up hacking up green phlegm and coughing so hard i have tears coming from my eyes. it was worse in Yangon but now simply attacks as it sees fit throughout the day. Katie thinks its a URI with the dusty streets making it worse. I think its the black lung
. But coughing up stuff every morning isn't much of an issue. However I recently started getting the GI issues that accompany any real overseas travel. It's not been pretty but it was expected. The real treat comes in their combination though. I've never experienced the two problems together. A good coughing fit really makes the GI problems that much more dicy. I've been popping Imodium like its a daily vitamin.
Anywho... Darren met up with us in Mandalay and we took off for Hsipaw. We rented a shared taxi because it is a significantly shorter trip in a car than in a bus. I pressume it is due to the significant number of switch backs we encountered. Also,
with three people it only requires us to buy one unused ticket to have our own car and it isn't significantly more than a bus fare. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a place that more or less panicked when a couple white folk walked in the door. They had no idea what to do with us. We just pointed at a few words in the guide book, D and Katie at noodles and me at chicken, and figured we would see what came out. As mentioned my stomach wasn't the best, but you've got to embrace the chaos at some point.
The other notable thing on the trip was a massive traffic jam we encountered along the route. For some reason the road was closed the night before so hundreds of semis were backed up along these switch backs down and back up a valley that were difficult for a car to maneuver alone. These semis had to squeeze past each other on what should only squeeze two VW bugs alongside each other and nothing more. So we were stuck in traffic for a few hours but our cabbie pulled off some amazing feats of passing
and we made great time
into Hsipaw. In fact we actually arrived on time, which is quite peculiar. For the most part, things have left on time. Things have arrived on time. Things are punctual. I feel like there is a rift in the developing country-time-space-continuum here. How things have been running on time for us is perplexing. We are waiting for the shoe to drop. Yesterday an Indian man was helping organize one of our taxis. We thought for sure with an Indian involved we would been several hours late. Nope.
While in Hsipaw we did a day hike out to some Shan villages and our guide was a wealth of knowledge on the Shan people. I haven't fact checked everything he said, and he certainly did not hide his bias, but it was interesting to hear how large their empire once was. He said around 1000 AD it stretched from the Yellow River in China to Burma, India to Vietnam. Through fighting with the Tibetans and Chinese it gradually lost ground, got split up during colonialism, groups got assimilated in other countries, and the last Shan prince disappeared after the military junta in 1962. We treked through the farm land
in the area, ate a Shan meal (kaw-lin-fu which is a rice mold similar to tofu ), and took a boat ride up to a small waterfall where we took a quick swim.
The views were a bit obstructed during the hike due to a pervasive haze across the horizon. The guide explained it is from slash and burn agriculture. The locals are doing more burning this year than in the past. Combined with it being the dry season (no leaves on the trees) the landscape wasn't as picturesque as it seems it could be most of the year. So, we decided we would try to do an overnight trek elsewhere. During the evening we spent time at this out of the way beer hall along the river, also a place where the servers fret when white people show up because of the language barrier. There are a lot of very established traveller spots in Hsipaw with flocks of backpackers, older retiree tour groups, etc but what they have in convenience is lost in local flavor. And the flavor the other travelers left was unpalatable to
say the least. I was glad we made it to Hsipaw but we decided to dip out fairly quickly.
Now permit me a few random musings on our time thus far...
People here are crazy friendly. The locals go so far out of their way consistently just to help you out. The other day we were looking for a specific temple and some guy just stopped what he was doing, walked the 10 minutes to help us find it, and waved good bye. Our cab driver the other day got out after dropping us off, helped us negotiate prices, drove us to other places he thought we could get better prices, and then gave us his phone number in case things didn't work out. You can sit down in a cafe and within a minute someone has shown up and is plugging in a fan to cool you off. And they aren't doing it for a tip or for extra money, as one gets so accustomed to while traveling. They are just incredibly thoughtful, caring people.
The funniest is when Katie shows up in a hotel lobby with her backpack on. Guys come running to get it
off her back and to give her something cool to drink. She regularly declines the help and says she is okay; she knows that in a few minutes we will be going to the room. This sends them into a fit. It is like when I bounce a ball in front of my cocker spaniel, getting it riled up for a game of fetch, then neglect to throw the ball. The dog's head goes on a swivel, it gets jittery and starts bouncing off the damn walls, and it bounds around wondering what to do. These guys look aound in a confused panick, they start grabbing Katie's bag but they don't pull it off, they talk to other staff looking for advice, they grab tables and ask her to set it on them, they try to explain it in other ways... They lose their mind.
Lastly, the biggest change D and I have noticed since we last traveled is the proliferation of smartphones. Everyone seems to have one. They are ubiquitous. I was surprised last time I traveled by people making phone calls while we were on the top of Kilimanjaro. Now kids are YouTubing Lil' Wayne videos straight
to their phone from some river bank in Myanmar. Its fairly absurd. The ease with which information is available the world over now is shocking and will continue to be the major transformative factor moving forward. Unless something gets us first, which is why I need to share the following in case something happens before my next blog. The largest tele-com provider in Myanmar is SkyNet. No joke. The fictional military artificial intelligence network that took over the world in the Terminator is an actual tele-com company here. So, in case the machines come in the next few days, Burma is already overrun by SkyNet.
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