myanmar day 3

the next morning, i ran into the israeli who i had met on my first day. when i mentioned the burmese guy i had been hanging out with, he said “oh, you mean your guide?”. i told him that the guy wasn’t a guide, just someone who wanted to practice some english etc and hang out, but the israeli was skeptical.. he mentioned that *lots* of people in india for example, say that they are just practicing english, but then hit the person up for money. later while i was at the front desk, the receptionist also asked about my “guide”. i started getting worried.

was this guy really a guide? not that i think there is anything wrong w/ guides. guides can be very useful and hiring one is usually money well spent. *but*, it’s a completely different story when you’re hanging out w/ someone and you feel like this person is your friend. it would be pretty sad if what i thought of as some kind of friendship was actually just based on money. so many thoughts started whirling around in my head. this guy had been really cool, it had been a lot of fun hanging out… but was all of this just a ploy so that he could hit me up for money? was i being used? ugh. but then, at the same time, assuming that this guy really was legit, i started feeling really bad for doubting him. but, i also was dreading that at some point, he would hit me up for money, and then i’d feel like a chump.

a bit later, i met up w/ the guy, still having all sorts of doubts in my mind. when i suggested going to get food, he marched towards the nearest tea shop as usual, but i said i really wanted to finally try some burmese food from a restaurant, so we headed to a place in my guidebook. i was excited to finally try burmese food, but when i got to the place, my excitement vanished immediately. as i looked into the pots of food in front of me, i started getting a feeling of dread. none of it looked good. i cant say that it looked completely disgusting or anything, but it definitely wasn’t appealing. pots of weird goopy stuff, shrimp w/ a million little legs sticking out from them, chicken bones, odd lumps of fish…. none of it looked good.

it was too late to turn around and run. i would have to eat something, so i chose some of the least offensive looking things. some venison and these shrimp balls. the side dishes also didnt look too appealing, but i got some anyways. in the end, the food that i got didnt taste half bad. in fact, the venison was actually quite good… but still i started getting a bit worried about burmese food. is this how it usually is? if so, i was in for a rough time.

this was to be my last day in yangon, and so i needed to arrange my ticket out. making travel plans in myanmar can be quite difficult. first off, there are many places where the government wont allow you to travel. certain roads are off limits which makes figuring out how to get places a bit confusing. for instance, i wanted to go to this cool town called Mrauk U. it seems that you should be easily able to get there, but since only locals and no foreigners are allowed on this one road, instead, i’d have to take: a 5 hour bus ride then 9 hour bus ride, then 12 hour boat ride then 6 hour boat ride. in other words, a total pain in the ass. not everyone who sells tickets is informed about all of these things, so depending on who you talk to, you get different answers which makes things even more confusing. plus, since the country isn’t as tourist oriented as others, certain connections to get places just arent set up right. for instance, to get to one town that i wanted to go to, you had to take a bus somewhere else and then sit at the bus stop in this random town from 1am to 5am until you caught another bus going to where you actually wanted to go. not exactly convenient, right?

in the end, i wasn’t able to get a ticket to where i wanted to go, but caught a bus to a town named Pyay, halfway in between. my burmese friend helped me get my bus ticket and took me to the bus station. in the end, he never asked for any money or anything and i felt like a total dickhead for ever doubting him. he just ended up being a totally nice guy, and kicking it w/ him really made by time spent in Yangon so much better. he totally showed me around town, translated stuff for me and helped me interact w/ shopkeepers etc, explained things to me that i never would have known, and just in general made everythng more fun. i hope that i can kick it w/ him again when i come back to yangon to fly out of myanmar.

the bus ride to pyay was about 5 hours long and in the begining, quite uneventful. when we stopped for a food break, i was once again confronted w/ the long row of pots holding strange burmese delicacies. none of them looked good. finally i decided to go w/ the one that looked least unappealing, the mutton curry. after tasting it, it turned out to be liver which i hadnt expected. *sigh*. maybe i should start sticking to teashops and noodles?

one thing that has taken a bit of getting used to here, is that everyone makes these kissing sounds. that’s how you get someone’s attention. for instance, if you want to call over a waiter, or you are trying to have someone talk to you, you make the sounds. i’ve seen this happen a little bit in other countries, particularly in the middle east, but not nearly as often as i’ve seen it happen here. here you here this constantly. it’s a really bizarre sound to be hearing all around you all the time, since in america no one really does it unless maybe it’s some lewd construction worker trying to get a woman’s attention.

as the bus ride continued, the person next to me, who hadn’t said a word to me during the last 5 hours, all of a sudden said “hello! i am leaving off the bus now. bye bye!” and handed me a small folded piece of paper. i unfolded the paper to see a neatly handwritten receipt from a grocery store. noticing my look of complete confusion, the guy told me to to look at the other side, where i saw written “do you know Aung San Su Kyi? free free Aung San Su Kyi. In Burma Struggle for Democracy!”. and then he got off the bus.

Aung San Su Kyi is the leader of the party for democracy in Myanmar. because of this, she has been put under house arrest at least 3 times. despite the fact that she was elected to lead the country by the peole, the military regime here instead put most of her party in prison and never gave up their own brutal leadership. for the last several decades, there has been a struggle in this country for her to gain her rightful leadership, but each time she is released from house arrest, she is just put back in after a while. in all appearances, it really seems that any struggle against the government is futile here.

i looked down at the note in my hand. it was really crazy that the guy had handed it to me. i’m sure he could get into huge trouble for giving that note to someone, especially a foreigner. yet the people here desperately want to be free, and i think they really want their situation to be known by the outside world. once again, i felt like my life was some kind of crazy movie. here i was on a bus, in a country ruled by a military regime, and being secretly handed pro-democracy notes by locals. so unreal.

it all makes me realize just how lucky i am to be living in america, where we have so much freedom. i know i bitch about my country all the time. i often complain about how much the government infringes on our freedoms… but really, we all have it so good in the states. we dont have to live our lives constantly being in fear that we’ll be arrested for voicing our opinions. we may have a terrible administration in the whitehouse now, but at least we know that in the future that can be changed. all of us living in the US are so lucky to be there. we could just as easily have been born in some oppressive country. in fact, i actually was born in such a country, and if it hadn’t been for my parents giving up everything they had to move to a country where they could give their children and themselves a better future… who knows where i’d be now. things could have turned out so differently.

as i pondered all this, a cop borded the bus and sat down in the seat next to me. uh-oh. just a coincidence? i quickly put the note into my pocket and sat there waiting. on one hand, there was no way the cop could know, since he had just gotten on the bus… but you do hear stories of people being spied on around here. could the guy who handed me the note get into trouble?

i started thinking back to my time in McLeod Ganj. all over the place there were posters that had a stenciled picture of a man’s face and said something like “i am sentenced to die. save Tenzin.” this was regarding a man named tenzin who was sentenced to death by the chinese for “subversive activities”… which he allegedly did not commit. the posters urged people to campaign for his freedom. i promised myself to check out the website until i noticed his execution date… december 2004. seeing the date was so chilling. this man, who’s face i had seen staring back from posters daily, was now dead. dead for no reason. eventually, after looking it up online, i found out that he in the end was pradoned from being killed. “luckily” now he only had a lifetime in prison to look forward to.

as i sat on the bus, i wondered how many people here in myanmar had suffered the same fate as Tenzin. *sigh*. anyways, eventually we arrived in Pyay, and everyone got off the bus. the cop hadn’t said anything, and i had worried for nothing.


2 thoughts on “myanmar day 3”

  1. I’m so glad the Burmese guy ended up not being a tout. I was wondering if he was. I wouldn’t feel bad about doubting him. I bet more “friends” end up being guides than just people wanting to practice their English. It seems you got lucky enough to make an actual friend.

  2. a way, i think this scam may be the worst of all.. the “pretend to be your friend” scam… so messed up!!!

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