it’s tough to get across just how miserably hot it is over here. even after dark, it’s still pretty damn warm, but during the day… sheez, a lot of the time you’re just praying that you can get to somewhere that has either shade or AC. to make maters worse, the people here frown upon it if you wear shorts. it sucks so bad to have to wear pants in this crazy heat! when i was still in yangon, i asked my burmese friend whether foreigners ever wear longyis, and whether the locals would think it weird if a foreigner did so. he said that he has seen some foreigners do it, and that the locals totally wouldnt think it was weird, in fact they would like it. i still wasn’t particularly convinced, but later, at shwedagon paya, we actually did see one white dude w/ a longyi on. one person isn’t exactly a great precentage, but it was still good enough for me… i knew that wearing a longyi would be a hundred times less warm than pants. so we went to a store and i became the proud owner of a longyi.
a couple of days later, when i got to Pyay, i still hadnt put it on, because i had no clue how to tie the thing. the men here often readjust their longyi while walking around town, and they somehow manage to tie it in 3 seconds flat, while walking even.. but i havent managed to get a really good look at exactly how it’s done. so, that morning, i sheepishly asked the hotel manager to help me out. i proceeded to get a hands on demonstration right there in front of the hotel, much to the amusement of curious onlookers. i awkwardly got the hang of tying it (it still doesnt look quite right) and then set off to see town wearing my new skirt.. errr, i mean longyi.
i gotta admit, i felt really really weird. on one hand, it was definitely much much less hot while wearing the longyi. and it was actually really really comfy. but still, despite the fact that i kept telling myself that i was wearing a longyi, i kinda felt like i was basically wandering around town in a skirt which is a bit embarassing. also, i really did wonder what the locals thought of this. it did seem that a lot of them thought it was funny, but i really couldnt tell if they were laughing w/ me or laughing at me. some people said “oh! longyi!! very handsome myanmar style!”, but i gotta wonder if they were just trying to be nice. eventually, as time went on, i started becoming ultra paranoid. everytime anyone was laughing anywhere, i would instantly wonder if it was about my longyi. plus i still dont think i was really tying it correctly. and walking up stairs was really hard without tripping and falling. plus, now i dont have pockets which is an incredible pain in the ass as i have to carry a bag w/ me to keep all my junk (camera, money, etc). so many reasons to ditch the longyi… but for some bizarre reason all the reasons just make me determined to keep wearing it.
anyways, enough about the damn longyi. the town i was in, Pyay, was a tiny little town, about halfway between myanmar’s two most famous cities. it’s got some cool stuff in it, but i get the feeling like people mostly stop here just to break up the long bus ride. one neat thing about it though is that the whole day i did not see one single other tourist until i got on the bus to leave town… not one.
i spent the morning battling it out w/ the damn internet. having issues w/ email and accessing my site. i can tell that being online in myanmar will continue to be a pain. here’s one crazy thing i learned about the city: they only have electricity 24 hours at a time in alternating cycles. in other words, they’ll have electricity from 2pm to 2pm the next day. then, from 2pm to 2pm the third day, no electricty. and so on and so forth, every 24 hours. what kind of a bizzare system is that?? so, every other day, places that can afford it, run on generators.
the most famous thing to see in town is shwedaswan paya (yes, half the temples in myanmar have names that sound almost the same, other than 1 or 2 letters). i went down there and spent some time strolling around. i really enjoy the atmosphere at these pagodas. whether there are a lot of people there or very few, they always have this incredible feeling of calm and tranquility. just being there totally changes your state of mind. somehow, no matter how hot i am, or tired, or frustrated, all of a sudden i feel totally at ease. instant serenity. part of it is the fact that all these pagodas are incredibly beautiful, with large open courtyards, and incredible decore. part of it is the other people there praying quietly. part of it is that almost of all of them have little bells strategically placed in different areas, and as the wind blows in any direction you hear the quiet chiming.
the really cool thing about this pagoda in particular, is that when sitting by it, you get a great view of this huge buddha statue across from it. and by huge, i mean about 10 stories tall. this thing is absolutely gigantic and towers over the trees in front of it. when looking at it, it kind of feels like there is a huge giant peering at you. i found a good spot where you could see the buddha well, and sat down. instead of just walking through and snapping photos, i’ve tried to make it a point to actually sit down and just take it all in at each of the pagodas i’ve seen. after a while, a 14 year old monk came up to me and we chatted for a bit. people here are so friendly, and really seem to enjoy talking to foreigners!
eventually, when i left the pagoda, i managed to get myself totally lost… again. i dont know what my deal is, but somehow over the last several years, i’ve lost all sense of direction. for most of this trip, if i didnt have caryn w/ me telling me which way to turn, i’d be lost daily. no, really. to complicate matters, it’s really difficult to ask for directions. first off, a lof of people here dont speak any english. plus, my pronunciation of their language is so absolutely pathetic, that even when i try to say the names of well know landmarks, they still usually have no clue what the hell i’m talking about. often it’s completely impossible to communicate.
eventually, i took the bus that night for a 10 hour journey that started around 8 at night. there were two other tourists on the bus, and i got seated next to a 45 year old guy from albaquerque. this guy was pretty cool, and had gotten a leave of absence from work to travel around SE asia for a few months. we got to talking about poverty in the world etc, when he told me the most impressive story. he was just in cambodia and, wanting to help the poor somehow, he decided that if he could make a difference in just one person’s life, it would be good enough for him.
to get around, he had hired this cambodian kid to drive him around on a motorbike. it’s really difficult to make a living being a motorbike driver. you can only take one passenger at a time. also, you have to charge less than if you have a real taxi. this kid was obviously struggling to get by, and seemed like a good guy… somehow he stuck out to albequerque man as a really honest, hard working kid. so, albuquerque man bought him a tuk-tuk (an auto rickshaw). i dunno how much a tuk-tuk would cost, but i cant imagine it being under $1,000. i just couldnt believe it! i cant imagine just giving a total stranger that kind of money to help his life. but then, just when i was begining to think that this guy must be the nicest man ever on the planet, he got into this huge altercation w/ the girl in the seat in front of him, just cause she wanted to lean her seat back. he had long legs, and got uncomfortable, but instead of just nicely asking her to tilt forward, he made all these snide remarks until she overheard him, and then got in a huge fight w/ her. it was surprising that someone that had the capacity to be so incrediblly kind to someone and freely give tons of money, would be so stingy w/ his legroom.
oh, btw, if you’re wondering what a longyi is, i was able to find one rather crappy photo online. see it here: http://www3.worldisround.com/photos/1/426/328.jpg