After a week spent in different locations indulging in our muses – Ednora in Chiang Mai, meditating, and yours truly in Myanmar, writing, we were finally reunited in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital.
From the off, my time alone was fraught with challenges. My card would not work in any bank, so was cashless, apart from the little money I had changed from Thai Baht. I had no charger, and no battery on the phone, so no way of getting online to see which bank would take my card. I had just enough to get to the hostel. At the hostel, I contacted my bank. It was Sunday, closed. Though, fair reader, this was not the end. I learnt from my hostel owning friends that the international banks were more than a walk away. Alas, I had no money, so walking was my only choice. After walking for an hour, I found an ANZ and Maybank, neither of which took my card, and then tried another obscure bank as a long shot, and it swallowed my card! Exhausted, thirsty, hungry, and pissed off with life, I tried a random bank with my back up card. Even though I knew it would charge me a shed load to access money, I had little choice, and it worked. I had lost all of the battles, and the war, but had money. Thanks for leaving me, Ednora. I quite literally fell to pieces on my own.
The next day I had a fresh head and cash in my pocket. As I strolled around the streets, I noticed that so many Burmese people enjoyed to sing out loud. I was particularly fond of the street sellers, walking through the residential roads, selling whatever they had balancing on their heads by singing to potential customers. It felt like a scene from Oliver Twist. I was close to running for the balcony to start a rendition of ‘who will buy?’ but felt the context would not have translated.
I drank Myanmar beer with new friends out for dinner that night, which was delicious. I shared the dinner table with three people from three wonderful locations: Israel, China, and Yorkshire. Our Chinese friend looked around 15 years old, though told us he was 41. How do the Chinese manage to look so young? I also learnt that night that Burmese people make a strange noise to catch the attention of the waiter, which can only be described as someone who is trying to entice a cat to come to them. Not done in England, but entirely acceptable here…
I met some cool people while Ednora met with serenity. But there was one person I could not have categorised as cool. She entered the dormitory room with her lover and friend, and upon saying hello, asked me what the breakfast was like.
‘It’s OK, couldn’t tell you the exact ingredients though.’
‘Just tell me it’s vegetarian, I cannot eat anything unless it’s vegetarian.’ OK, you’re vegetarian, thank you for making a point about it. Then her mate asked if she had any paracetamol, ‘no, I don’t do any drugs.’
‘But, Hannah, you took ketamine two days ago at that party.’
‘Well, I don’t do prescription drugs, they’re bad for you.’
Then she told her mate about this guy she had once made love on, and that they were simply ‘different spirits’. She dove into how they had courted upon meeting, and connected as though they’d known each other for decades (she was 19 – she has only completed one decade), but that since his departure, their paths have not since crossed. She detailed how she messaged him many times, to minimal response, his excuse being that his internet was too poor to reply. She also told her friend that they were actually in the same city one time, but he couldn’t manage to find the time to see her, like ships in the night. She claimed that ‘his spirit altered his perception, but he was a really interesting human,’ I translated it as, ‘he shagged you, then ditched you, stop making it magical.’
After this excellent story, she wanted her and her friend to move beds, because she felt ‘a better spiritual pull this side of the room.’ I asked them what they had been up to these few days in Yangon,
‘The first day we went into a school and did some teaching. I’m not a teacher, but I do teaching. For me, it’s about the communication, the sharing, the experience. Then the second day we found a homeless boy and ran around the city with him.’ What?
There was a point later in the night where she laughed at something she was reading for 15 minutes. Well, I say 15 minutes. It was 15 minutes from when I started timing it on my phone. Non-stop laughter, no breaks. Mental.
I befriended a Finnish gent who was hot on pool. We searched far and wide for some pool tables, even venturing into a KTV (a karaoke place which is actually a front for a weird stripper/brothel place), until we found one at the poshest hotel in the city, The Novotel. This bar was pure elitist, and there was I, with a stupid beard, jeans which no longer fit me (due to my never-ending weight loss), and hardly any money in my pocket because my cards were no good here. I was a fraud. That evening Ednora and I were reunited! The team back together, and a free bank card back in my life.
Ednora with all the foods ever and our mate photobombing us.
The next day we went exploring, visiting a park and the Shwedagon Pagoda, and I got shat on by a bird. That night we went to watch England vs. Iceland with two Dutch gents we met at the hostel, with whom we ended up getting extremely drunk with until the small hours. We got a cab driver to take us to a club, the only one still open, and begged the bouncers to let us in for one dance. He gave us what we wanted, but there were 25 bouncers surrounding us on the dance floor, watching, waiting. There were only three other people who weren’t bouncers in the club, at a table near the dance floor. As I danced, I was ushered away from them, and told to dance in one square of the dance floor. It was a fantastic night.
Entrance to the Shwedagon pagoda.
A Fokker 100 in a big park we visited next to the pagoda.
Inside the plane.
Hungover, the next day we took a train trip which circled the city. It was good to see it from the local train’s perspective. We stood at the back, which looked out to an open space where a door should have been, and had lots of people wave at us as they played on the tracks. Normal. We then visited the National Museum, getting there using their local buses, which looked like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie, where the bus was used to traipse across the land, a defensive, battered shield against the damned. The museum was gigantic, and very impressive, but not that many words, so didn’t really learn much. That night we took a 10 hour overnight bus to Kalaw.
Kids on the train track!
The zombie apocalypse buses.