Obviously no one briefed the censors that I was coming. This site is one of the only things out there that isn’t blocked. Thank you for your trust, Junta. Appreciated.
We arrived yesterday morning after a long (and yet not long at all) journey from Shanghai: our flight out to Guangzhou sat on the tarmac for hours, waiting for clearance.They served us meals and drinks and more drinks before we had even taken off. Not a good sign. It was well after midnight before we were able to steer our sleep-deprived bodies down the long industrial subterranean passages toward the Guangzhou airport hotel. Note to self for future: 3 minutes from Departures doesn’t necessarily mean it’s close to Arrivals.
But Yangon. We are in Yangon or Rangoon or Bob or whatever it ought to be referred to as these days. It smells like incense and Tom Yam paste. It’s hot but not as hot as Shanghai tends to be. It’s humid but not unbearably so. I glow after a long walk. My skin looks better than it did in China and we’ve only been here 36 hours. It’s possibly from all the fresh lime juice and chilies.
We walked over 22000 steps yesterday after we landed, marching around the city, playing hopscotch on the mishmashed paving stones. Like in Ubud last summer, there are huge gaps in the pavement that a dog could get lost in. Others tip and tilt. If you walk home at night, it isn’t much lit and it is easy to find yourself in a ditch. We were careful.
In Yangon there are streets lined with fortune tellers and with bookstalls.
The bookstalls aren’t so much stalls as collections of old books: 1950s guides to repairing circuitry, carefully re-sewn collections of colonial writings on aged paper, useful phrases in English, books in Burmese in a scripts I have yet to fathom. People read a lot here. So many people can be found at their stall or on a step or in a tea stall, hunched over something, anything wordy. I find it very soothing.
The fortune tellers are equally ubiquitous. We caved and had ours done near the end of yesterday before the afternoon rains broke. We had interviewed a few for the job to see if they had enough English to make sense to us.
The one we chose in the end told me that 1. I am good with books, travel and playing the lute and 2. I’m very fat and will get even fatter as my life progresses, which is apparently a really great thing and 3. I’ll write a novel, win the lotto twice, buy a white car, and 2 houses (I’ll rent the less-nice one out) and 4. I’ll have some stomach ailments in my 60s (not needing surgery) and will die in old age at home, very pleasantly.
Doug’s was the same, nearly, except he won’t get fat, nor will he write a novel or get 2 houses or a car.
He will win the lotto 3 times, besting my 2 times.
In the mornings, the streets and their crooked pavements are lined with vendors, with their bottoms and their wares placed firmly down on the ground: all sorts of veggies, plucked chickens with uncomfortably wrung necks, vats of boiling oil frying long dough sticks for breakfast.
There are pans of samosas, pakoras and bhajis.
We walked a lot, before everything opened. When things started opening this morning, we stopped in the New Delhi restaurant and I drank strong dark spiced chai from a metal cup in a metal saucer and Doug ate many chapatis with dhal and tamarind and chutney. Breakfast of champions.
For lunch, we had biriyanis from another Indian place across town, with huge stacks of spiced rice and veggies and lime pickles for a dollar.
This city reminds me of Mumbai, which was unexpected given its geography.
Also unexpected is the very visible Muslim population and the plethora of churches.
Everyone is very calm.