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Published: February 9th 2009
For those that don't know, we are travelling with a Swedish friend of ours called Anders. This blog features the seven major funny things that happened in the last few days.
It could well be the most interesting country out of the 21 we have seen so far, and the people are (usually) very, very friendly, but the travelling in Myanmar is a definitely not for wimps. English is rare, though anyone who speaks it will rush to your aid if they see you in difficulties; but getting buses and finding your way around can be a real adventure in itself.
The first thing we noticed was that all the men wear a kind of skirt. Really, all of them.
There are no ATMs here, so we had to bring some US dollars to change to Kyat. The government exchange rate is 6 kyat to a dollar, whilst the black market one is about 1200! We found a guy hanging around who would give us the 1200 and so went to his office to do the deal. This isn't strictly a funny thing, but we'll make it Funny Thing Number 1:
The guy tried to scam us.
It was funny really because he did such a bad job. First of all he switched the lights off half way through our deal, but didn't manage to swipe anything. Then, after he make a fuss about serial numbers and we counted our money, he wanted to take it all back and put rubber bands around it (we're talking more than 500 notes here). Dom got suspicious, so began to recount the money. At this point the guy got cross and decided to say "no deal, no deal" just as we realised that he had palmed 80,000 kyats of our hard earned cash.
So the next day we tried again, this time going to a hotel with a good reputation, guessing it would be easier, and it was - we walked out with a big wad of cash at a fair rate.
Now we don't want to give the impression that the Burmese are a bad lot, as apart from a few dodgy money changers they are the friendliest people we have ever met (yes we said that about Cambodia, but it's so true). For example: Funny Thing Number 2:
Walking gaily down the street, Dom got
some kind of living thing in his eye. In wailing discomfort he flails about and sits down heavily on the pavement. Ten minutes later he is still there and the thing in his eye is dying with as much of a fuss as possible. The eye turns blood red and oozes gunk while a guy comes over and asks if Dom is okay. He insists that he sticks his head in his bucket and flushes his eye, but after ten minutes that doesn't work either. Then a small crowd forms and slowly becomes a large one. Then a lady disappears to get some 'medicine'. We're all suspicious, especially after reading Burmese Days, where local medicine causes a boy to go blind and even starts an attempted revolution against the British. But it turns out that she went to the pharmacy and bought some eyedrops! She wouldn't take any money for them either. Unfortunately they didn't help, and some time later Dom staggers to his feet and demands to continue with our mission, whatever that was. 15 minutes pass and the thing in the eye vanishes. What was it? Insect? Web? Poison? dunno.
We went to the zoo after that
drama. We walked there in the heat of the day (not recommended) and had a really good time. All the animals were in pretty good nick except the elephants, who were chained still and pissed off enough for Funny Thing Number 3:
You can pay to feed the elephants various things - green stuff, fruit and some kind of sticks. We didn't pay, but Dom found a stick on the floor and fed the biggest elephant he could find. After picking up the chunk of wood, the animal curled up its truck and threw it, hard, right at Dom's face. If it wasn't for his heroic lightening quick reflexes, it would have hit him instead of the woman behind.
Which brings us to associated Funny Thing Number 4:
Twice we were stopped and offered cameras. Sure we'll take your picture, we thought. But actually we were asked if people could take our
picture, with them. The first time a man wanted his sons photo with us, and the second time a group of five women wanted a picture of each of them, individually, with all three of us. So we posed while their friend, a Buddhist monk
took our photo. Surreal. Dom later had his picture taken on the sly at a pagoda.
The next day we decided to take the boat and bus to Twante. We hailed a taxi, haggled a good price and jumped in. Funny Thing Number 5:
Then we arrived at the zoo. For god sake, if you don't know where the port is just ask to see a map or something!
So another cab ride later we were at the jetty. But before we could get on we needed written permission! So the manager at the jetty got 2 young boys to escort us to the tourist office (they didn't know where it was but this entry is getting too long to explain!) where we had to put in writing our intentions - specifically not to engage in any naughty behaviour in any way political whilst there.
So with our permission we boarded the boat. A 20k trip for locals or 1 dollar for foreigners. That means that the entire two level boat full of nationals paid less collectively than the three of us!
On the other side we got a bus to Twante. Just enough space
to breathe... just! Dom and Anders were on the back row along with five other people, and Laura was a row in front with a makeshift seat put in the aisle to give space for two more per row.
In Twante we arrived in time for a massive procession. More monks than we have ever seen and hundreds of people pulling a huge float. It turned out to be a funeral. We could tell because we could see the body on the float. Nice. But everyone was in high spirits, so we guessed that maybe death was a good thing for a Buddhist.
We walked through town and found a guest house... 'no foreigners'. The next place asked to see our permission slip. It was like being back at school! And cue Funny Thing Number 6
The lady at the tourist office has written the wrong date on our form, and our permit wanted us back by nightfall.
We tried phoning the tourist office in the hope of getting a fax or something, but surprisingly the Lonely Planet contact number was wrong. So after being shouted at, a lot, by the manager "YOU GO YANGON, NO
SLEEP. YOU GO", we decided to call it quits and go home after vising the local pagoda.
It was nice, but we were (again) the main tourist attraction. There really are no tourists here, at least not white ones. A tricycle driver told us "yes lots of tourist today - eleven!!"
Then a different tricycle driver struggled to take all three of us to the bus station. Fun for us, maybe not so much for him. But we got there, and had a beer and food. Of course we missed the bus back to the port. We then had to take the apparently illegal (for tourists) bus straight to Yangon. But we got back okay, despite an apparent breakdown for an hour. Only in the last ten minutes did Dom realise the guy next to him had a massive cock. Why it didn't make any sound through the whole journey, and how the guy hid it, is a mystery. We staggered off the bus and got a jeep back. Whereupon Funny Thing Number 7
Weary and bleary eyed we sat down heavily in the back of the jeep. There were no windows so we were open
to the elements. This was nice until a truck parked next to us. The exhaust pipe was exactly between us and exactly at eye level. Giant puffs of black smug surrounded us for what seemed like ages, and we choked them down with our maniacal laughter.
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