Ok ok, I know I shouldn’t leave you like that. Things definitely picked up the next day. Now I have hindsight, and a few long journeys behind me, I can safely say that I never get (or give) the best impression of a town after 4 hours sleep and a 6 hour bus ride. I am trying to remember that, so that the next time I don’t spiral and get caught up in my own drama…
Here is a summary of all the awesome things that happened on my very first full day in Myanmar.
I got photography advice from a policeman
I don’t know how much you know about Myanmar but it is kind of under marshal law. It’s not as bad as it was, but 25% of the seats in government are still held by the military – who have final say on all matters relating to national defense, justice, enforcement… So when I was waved over by a policeman on my very first morning I was pretty terrified.
I’d just taken a photo of him, you see. Well, not him – a man next to him who was carrying a carpet on his head walking through an ornate temple gate. The policeman just happened to be in the shot. But I could see how a policeman might see this as a threat to his personal security. I walked over and showed him the photo I had just taken.
‘Look’, I said, ‘It’s just the gate.’
‘Hmmm, ah, yes,’ the policeman said. He took the camera from my hands and I held my breath. ‘The angle should be a little more up,’ he said, handing me back my camera.
I went on a guided tour with some monks.
Ok, so remember the scallywag from yesterday? I ran into him again in a temple. In fact, it was a temple that a monk had opened specially for me (at least that’s how it felt) so I was already feeling very cuddly inside. The scallywag seemed sad about how things had gone the day before, and it seemed he wanted to make it up to me. He told me that there was a temple on a hill nearby. I replied with disinterest – I know how these things go: ‘Only 100000000 and I will take you’, and then you arrive and it’s shit and it’s another 10000000000 to get back.
‘I am taking these monks’, he said, ‘You will have to sit in the back.’
That changed everything. A man who consorts with monks can be trusted; or, at the very least, a lone female traveler who hangs out with monks is unlikely to see any harm come to her. I got into the boot of his car (never thought I’d write that!) and off we went on our little tour.
We went to the temple on the hill, and then after that we went to a temple where they were constructing one of the giant Buddha statutes. That was very interesting – I’d never considered that underneath the careful painting and gold leaf, the statutes were just concrete and steel just like anything else.
Then he took me home, and an hour later his friend showed up to take me to Hpa-An. It was really just very nice. As he left he shook my hand, and looked into my eyes.
‘Ok?’ he asked.
I terrified a teenager through the fact of my existence
We were sat next to each other in the back of the taxi and I honestly don’t think she took her eyes off me for 20 minutes – except when I looked at her, then she would blush and look away.
She was a very scared girl generally. At one of the stops she wanted to get out of the car, but she was afraid of the oncoming traffic and couldn’t find a space to open the door. I got out on my side and gestured that she could leave that way. I got a free tangerine for that.
I got free lunch
I am not sure whether it was free or whether I stole it. Either way, this is what went down.
The taxi had stopped and the wife of the taxi driver asked me if I wanted to eat. I said yes, because that’s what curious people do when asked questions. She took me into the restaurant and showed me the food. I dithered and looked confused until she pointed to a thing and suggested that I would like to eat that. Thus I was presented with a bowl of fatty pork and a separate bowl of rice. The taxi driver’s wife sat down next to me with a spicier looking bowl of fatty pork and her own bowl of rice.
Then the food started to arrive. First was the salad, which is quite normal for these parts – a metal platter of mint leaves, cucumber and lettuce with a bowl of spicy sauce in the middle. Then the vegetables, which still felt a bit normal – maybe everyone gets a little bowl of okra with their meal? Then more vegetables, and more, until the table was groaning and there was no room to maneuver. I didn’t want to assume and so I helped myself to each dish only once the taxi driver’s wife had pointed it out to me. Some of it was delicious, like this strange bean situation that I’ve been hunting for ever since, and some was disgusting.
Then, suddenly, the taxi driver’s wife got up and left. I was engrossed in my fatty pork and didn’t really notice until she had not come back. I looked around, terrified that she had landed me with the bill – maybe this was the custom in Myanmar? Or a tourist scam that I hadn’t heard about yet?
I stood up, warily. Nothing happened. I walked across the restaurant – nothing. I stood around, adopting my best ‘white and confused’ face – nothing. I walked out of the restaurant, to find the taxi driver’s wife standing by the taxi. She showed me to the toilet, even though I didn’t need to go, and showed me where to wash my hands, laughing. Then we got into the taxi and drove away.
I know now that in Myanmar a waiter won’t pay you attention unless you ask them to. They were probably so unaccustomed to my behaviour that they didn’t know what I was trying to do. So maybe I stole lunch, maybe we both did, maybe she paid for me. Either way, it happened.
I saw a lovely sunset
At least, it was lovely until all of the white people appeared. But they soon left.
I ate delicious food and got drunk and chatted bullshit until the early hours.