My Burma days: DECAY in YANGON

Asia » Myanmar
April 8th 2011
Published: April 8th 2011
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Months in advance, my ticket, free on miles, is ready, but the not forecasted diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis, a painful inflammation on the shoulder, threatened my journey. Well, the doctor categorically said “go, anyways”, and that was all I needed to get my visa and trekking shoes and start packing.

The morning of the long awaited trip arrived. I was certain that my flight is at 8:20am, so despite waking at 5, I hung in bed. At 5:55am, I had an urge to check my ticket and it read: departure time 6:40am!!! I panicked, woke Amanda up and in record time got my bags and rushed to the car, still in my pajamas, and headed to the airport hoping for a miracle. I started to change my clothing in the car, when I realize my bra was missing… it had fallen and stayed behind in the garage. I beg for Amanda’s but she couldn’t take it off while franticly driving. I glanced at the clock: it is 20 minutes to take off time when we arrived at the airport. I run to the counter and the gentleman announced: “You will make it, but let’s hurry”. Miraculously, since the pilot had arrived a little late himself, I was still going to Burma. I threw the ticket and passport on the counter and run to the door to waive to Amanda to bring my bag. She’s not allowed in, so the guard brings the bag, and I plead, shouting across the check-in area: “Please hand me you “sutian” (bra in Portuguese, changing the language not to embarrass ourselves to death. “How?”, she asks. “Take it off in the car and bring it in, hurry.” A couple of minutes later, a police officer hands me my sleep shirt. Excuse me Madam, the young lady sent you this. I’m puzzled! Unfolding the shirt, I find the miracle bra. A sight of relief came, and I raised my eyes to see Amanda waving goodbye from the door. “Thanks and I love you”, I shouted, and headed to the security and arrived at the gate, when passengers were already boarding the plane.

As I get to my seat, I crackdown laughing as I realize that I made it from bed to the plane in 58 minutes, I had not brushed my hair or teeth, and was still braless, heading to SE Asia with a frozen shoulder. I remembered my massage therapist calling me a “warrior”, while friends and family were more inclined to question my sanity for pursuing such an insane endeavor. At that moment, I felt like a little of both, like an insane trooper, but a happy one, nonetheless, now confident that this trip was meant to be.

I have long been fascinated by intriguing places and the thought of exploring them, but I never expected I would have the opportunity, or the guts, to actually get to see and experience them. Well… Suddenly I got the “guts” to match my passion a few years ago, and here I am, again heading to one of the enigmatic places on my list of places to get to know (not just visit): Myanmar.
The story of this journey actually started back in 2007. My ticket to Myanmar was already bought when the monks took the streets to protest fuel price hikes. The peaceful demonstration let to an ugly crack down by the junta and I franticly got my passport back from the Burmese embassy, changing my plans to visit this land, which has intrigued me, in
Tons of Bills, little value... in dollars.Tons of Bills, little value... in dollars.Tons of Bills, little value... in dollars.

$1=850kyats; largest bill is 1,000
more ways than one.
My reasons to visit wanting to Myanmar weren’t, and still aren’t political, but the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest at the end of 2010, made it feel like this was the right time to reactivate my plans and head back to SE Asia.

At first, it was just about the magic spell that the pictures of Bagan casted on me and the wish to interact with the locals with their much talked about “Burmeseness”, their own flair of gentleness influenced by Buddhism. However, as I started to read and explore more about the land, I became curious and interest in digging a little deeper into the culture, their multicultural ethnic minorities and its other stunning sights. An added perk was the fact that this is a country that hasn’t yet been spoiled by tourism, at least for now.

So while I’m aware that there may be political and human rights issues here, I’ll put them aside. I’m here to simply see the sights, interact with the locals, witness their daily lives and get my own perspective of the country as a curious traveler, scratching the surface of yet another culture in Asia, in the areas not restricted to foreigners by the government.

After a short flight from Bangkok, on cheap Air Asia, I arrived on the once capital of Burma. The entry procedure at the immigration was unexpectedly fast and uneventful. The agent from Radiant Tours was there to deliver my internal flight tickets and soon I was inside the old free shuttle bus to Mother Land Inn 2 GH with some other foreigners, including a brave Spanish couple, traveling with their 2 year old child! The GH was packed and we were offered our free breakfast. My room with air conditioner, is $16, and even up from $12, still a bargain.
I met a Swiss and we headed to downtown for a walking tour.

First impressions of Yangon:
- Nothing really special…
- Innumerous gorgeous colonial buildings, once splendid for sure, now crumbling for lack of
- Streets packed, I mean really crammed with vendors, food stalls, and sidewalk tea shops, set with
colorful child-size plastic tables and chairs.
- Lots of tropical fruit I recognize, like (huge) guavas, jack fruit and mangos and some others
unknown to me.
- Sidewalks are dangerous and definitely the biggest threat around! Uneven paving and slabs at
every step and huge pot holes. They require a careful watch, and despite the almost unbearable
heat, I regretted not wearing hiking shoes after my friend tripled and got a bleeding toe… in a pretty
dirty environment, with blood-red stains of spitted betel nut covering practically the entire ground.

- I knew there would be no ATMs, that credit cards weren’t accepted and $100 bills for exchange to Kyat had to be “crisp, no folds, no marks, and no tear”. Also that you’d have to shop a little for rates. What I didn’t expect was to have 5 of my bills rejected at the Central Hotel because “there is a small faded mark on the face” on the center of the bill!!!! The woman would find a minuscule area which we couldn’t even detect and was firm to reject each one. Luckily I brought extra, just in case of an emergency, not expecting this to be counted as one.

- Bookstalls on the streets abound, like a library of old and photocopied books.
- So many alleyways of decrepit buildings. My eyes caught 2 women seating by 2 windows on the top
floor of a decayed building which hasn’t felt the feel of paint running through its walls in many
decades. They waved to me, again and again. I couldn’t see their faces, as the room was so dark,
but couldn’t help but to wonder what they must had been thinking, looking like birds on an old cage…
- Safety didn’t appear to be an issue at all.
- Fortune-tellers under a line of trees seem to do good business here. I saw costumers and I’m glad I
escaped… There was a pretty well kept garden to the side.

- SULE PAYA was scar folded. We passed through temples, mostly Hindus, as the Indian influence is
strong in this area. We ventured into one, where devotees were busy polishing the Buddha
statutes and also into a lovely Jewish Synagogue, which has only 8 families as part of its community.

I ended the walking tour degutting a delicious coconut vegetable curry and a papaya smoothie while listening to the spell bounding voice of a street singer. The young
Refrigerated like water Yangon styleRefrigerated like water Yangon styleRefrigerated like water Yangon style

No refrigerator... just a block of ice melting!!!
woman wore a clutch, and accompanying her melodic voice, just 2 tiny bells, no more than an inch each, between 2 of the fingers.
Exhausted, still jet lagged with 3 days without good sleep, it was time to head to the GH by cab (1,500-2,000 kyat) for some much needed rest. I had dinner at the GH, joined by travelers from Australia and UK, and many mosquitoes.

By 2am I’m awake!!!! At 4 I heard a roaster, and at 5am a melodic call for prayer from a mosque, which reminded me of Istanbul. Soon after, the street noise started, including the banging of metal from a Rickshaw shop just outside my window. It was time to get up and start my second day exploring Myanmar.

The hotel staff was very friendly and called my next destination for hotel arrangements. After a simple but tasty breakfast, to the streets I went for some people watching, one of my favorites pastimes activities. Rickshaws, monks, bikes, street vendors...

As planned, my time was up in Yangon, as I intended to head north as soon as possible. On the ride back to the airport, the young cab driver made all sorts
Out of desperation...Out of desperation...Out of desperation...

... got a bra for $1.6 on the street.
of conversations, starting with “Brazil futebol so good. The best. Ronaldo, very good but likes to…”, the limited English didn’t have the words, but he mimicked the sign for drinking. Then he handed me a bottle of perfume so I could smell it, and exclaimed, “Very good for women!”. At this point I don’t know if it’s good for women to wear it, or for him to impress women, but I left at that. Next he showed me a small plastic bag with a dark green dried leaves in it, and announced: “only for men, not woman”. I asked if it was to be chewed and again, without words, he made a craze circle around his head, waving his hands around. Ok. At this point I just hoped that he wasn’t on some hallucinogenic weed. He kept on spitting outside the window, like it’s common here.

I was shocked to see how naïve the poor driver was when he volunteered: “Myanmar VERY expensive country for tourist. Need very much money to come here”. He was one of the first to verbalize facts so untrue about their country and other countries, a result of isolation from the world, including through
decaying Yangondecaying Yangondecaying Yangon

Beautiful buildings in decay abound.
the media.

Till next blog from somewhere in Myanmar.


Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Hindu TempleHindu Temple
Hindu Temple

Buddhism reins, but Hindu has some presence in the city.
Street vendorsStreet vendors
Street vendors

From bananas to phone calls for sale on sidewalks.
No intimidation from this police man...No intimidation from this police man...
No intimidation from this police man...

by the airport, playing a game, barefoot.
Yeah, yeah, yeah...Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Yeah, yeah, yeah...

Government propaganda on newspaper

8th April 2011

enjoy th decay
your initial thoughts on Yangon match what i remember of it. once you get out of the big hot city i think the decay becomes part of the atmosphere. maybe our blog of Burma will help you - [diary=85949]
12th April 2011

Hi Patricia, Been reading your blog with interest. As you rightly say, Yangon is nothing to write home about. We were there twice in 2009. But I am surprised that you haven't mentioned the Shwedagon Paya, which was an unbelievable experience. If you did miss it and you are returning to Yangon to fly out of Myanmar, you really need to see it, both during the day and evening. Not to be missed!!!
12th April 2011

Shwedagon Paya
David. You're right. The Paya is a place not to be missed, and I visited on my last day in Myanmar. My report on it is still to come, after a few blogs on Kentung, Inle and Bagan. Unfortunately we can't blog from Myanmar, and since I returned a few days ago, I haven't found the time yet. Soon... thanks.
15th April 2011

a very interesting blog and wonderful photos.
5th October 2011

I have to say...
Really great blog here, a place I haven't considered! When I make it over that way I will for sure check it out!

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