March 18, 2009

Yangon, Myanmar

When I first arrived in Burma, I met a nice American couple, who said they had been to a small town in between Yangon and Inle lake, where they stayed in a quiet and beautiful teak lodge overlooking rice paddy fields. I remembered this as I was leaving Inle Lake and wanting a few days of solitude to read and write, I booked a ticket to Tongoo.
The bus ride from Inle Lake to Yangon is a grueling 18 hour overnight journey with inside temperatures of too much heat in the day and too much air conditioning at night. After the first part of the white-knuckle ride down a huge mountain pass, I looked at my bus mates headed to Yangon with sympathy as I was stopping off mid-point and only had another few hours left. When I originally boarded, I had handed my ticket to the attendant, who is responsible for waking you when you reach your stop, and as midnight was approaching, I was dozing in and out of sleep. It seems as though the attendant was as well, because when I awoke at 3 a.m and asked when we would be reaching Tongoo, he sheepishly replied through an interpreter that we had passed it over two hours ago.
As I was now headed for Yangon, I was fuming with disappointment. I had been looking forward to spending some down time in Tongoo for my entire trip. As the air conditioning was freezing the outer layers of my skin and my legs were now getting used to the idea of not moving for a long time, I tried to steer my thoughts away from throwing the attendant off the moving bus. And as I started to find my center again, I realized that I didn’t really have a lot of room to suffer such a disappointment in this country. O.K, I missed a stop on the bus, but how, I thought, must the people of Burma have felt when they voted for democracy in the elections only to have their votes and their voice discarded? They must have felt disappointed. Just like the time I got stung by a bee on my foot while visiting Auschwitz, having it swell to three times the size, I humbly shut my mouth, threw away my attitude and adjusted to my new itinerary.
Yangon it was. I arrived with my French friend Claudie early in the morning and I had a repeat performance of when I first arrived in the country, only being able to mutter the words for “bed” and “shower”. I was lucky to follow her to a guesthouse where within an hour, both of these were at my disposal.
Claudie and I spent the later part of the day wandering around town, cooling off by the lake and visiting the famous Shwedagon pagoda in the early evening. I had gotten so used to cities with almost only dirt roads and generators, that I was surprised at how up-to-date Yangon felt. Walking the streets, I felt like I was truly in a city. There were moderately modern stores and businesses of every kind. There were fancy hotels and bars and restaurants. And there were paved roads and cars.
Yangon got blazing hot during the day and I still had another week left on my visa. I thought the only way to remedy this situation was to head West, to the beach of Chaung Tha. So, after just one day and one night in Yangon, I rearranged my plans to continue my pursuit for a little peace and quiet.

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