an armour readied, but never put to use
the first sign was its airport. it was small but clean and modern. almost a miniature of hkia or incheon.
and i was there, armed with nerves of steel, ready to take on touts; ready to fend off endless haggling, and rip-offs; ready to confront the straight-backed, stiff-lipped, stern-faced myanmese people i was expecting to meet.
… that didnt happen.
once we took off from yangon’s airport, we noticed something immediately: they drove on the right side. this was a bit of an anomaly for an ex-british colony. but those who’d read up a bit on myanmar’s history would know that the colonial period was an unhappy one; it was a period rife with much resentment towards the british – for their disrespect of myanmese traditional customs and culture (unlike singapore, myanmar had many hundreds of years of history before british rule).
and we noticed something else: right-hand drive vehicles co-existing in equal (if not greater) number with left-hand drive vehicles on the roads. ah, even the normal rules of traffic didn’t apply here. but, they didn’t seem to mind it at all. oh yeah, myanmar is a huge market for used japanese cars.
it took us an hour to get to ocean pearl inn. ocean was exactly what i expected it to be. the staff were a bit gruff but responsive and efficient. yup. didn’t have to flex that armour yet.
we dropped our bags and decided to walk to the travel agent to collect our airtickets. on the way, we got tripped up by a local coffee shop. we were feeling hungry and we needed coffee. the young men running the shop were very affable and friendly. they quickly cleared a table for us. even their other guests made way so that we could sit together comfortably (because all their tables were tiny and we were (felt like) fat, bourgeoisie vips. here’s what we ordered. pretty good!
we left the coffee shop and a few blocks later, saw this lady getting her stall ready. she was just starting her shift and let us poked our noses around . not knowing what she was making, we bought 3 pieces (in case we didn’t like it). but it was yummy! freshly fried toufu stuffed with some kind of vegetables. we regretted we did not buy more but we said, we’d be back.
at exotic myanmar, we met the lovely miss thein who had been helping us with our airtickets and hotels and took all our questions patiently. she’s very pretty so the photo didn’t do her justice. we were shown around the office and she led us to the balcony where we we could get a bird’s eye view of the city below. snap snap went the cameras.
our chores for the day done, we were free to wander the bustling streets. which were perfect for street photography. the people were very gracious about being photographed; they’d gladly pose for us (for a few takes even) and share a laugh over the photo after that. there and then, i began to appreciate digital cameras.
because i was still hungry, i sat down for a simple bowl of noodle soup made by this cheery young man. it wasn’t the best bowl of noodle because it was laced with fish sauce (my nemesis). but it was a good vantage point from which to observe everyday life on the streets.
even though they spoke little english, they would not hesitate to introduce their wares to you. there’s this warm curiosity towards foreigners. and that’s how we ended up drinking hot milk from a wok.
they love betel nuts to death. everyone was chewing it. so betel nuts shops were very very commonplace. in fact, i think betel nut shops were sacred.
i was tempted to buy these tangerines because they looked so juicy and fresh. but, i was linguistically challenged and too shy to ask what was written on the sign. so all i did was take a snapshot (such a chicken!)
at the end of the street (maha bandoola) , we came to an intersection where the sule pagoda was. this was a busy place. lots of buses, cars, interesting buildings. this was the epicentre of yangon.
we loitered outside sule, circling it, wondering if it was worthwhile to pay the entrance fee (usd 2) to go in. eventually we did. inside, this elderly gentleman approached us to explain about the sule to us. he spoke very good english and explained the rituals to us patiently. of course, it was not free. we each paid him 1000 kyats towards his ‘donation’.
it was dark when we emerged from sule. by then, yangon was feeling like a safe place, even for ladies. people were generally soft-spoken and shy. and the men were respectful. so we could walk to pansodan jetty without worry. we reached pansodan in time for a very beautiful sunset. we snapped away, careful to avoid disturbing those couples having a date. ah, some things never change.
we had dinner @ the junior duck restaurant overlooking the jetty. the food was good and affordable. and the fried rice was the best i’ve had for a long time.
after dinner, we walked back to our hotel. the roads were shrouded in pitch darkness because there were very very few street lamps. but safe.
at the end of the first day, all my notions of myanmar were dispelled. what a good thing that was!