on the way back

me on the roof of the boat

front of the boat

offerings to the nat

i woke up the next morning and my back was killing me from sleeping on a tiny wooden bench that i didnt really fit on. i had a crapload of bizarre insect bites. plus, i was tired as hell since everyone on the boat decided to get up around 6 am. i groggily walked across the plank, and then we headed back into the village.

after a breakfast of these fried egg pastry things, it was time to visit the nat again. yes, the nat is all about drinking and card playing, but he also has a softer side… he happens to like colorful tissues and ribbons.. go figure. so we go buy some ribbons and then walk to the spirit shrine again. there is some kind of weird procession going on where people walk around a column while keeping one hand on the column at all times. we walk up to the nat and hand over our ribbons to a guy who touches them to the nat and hands them back. our ribbons are now blessed and i’m told that i should tie the ribbon to my pack or somewhere else so that i will always have it w/ me. i guess lots of people attach these ribbons to their motorbikes to keep themselves safe.

??, lwin, and naing naing

we sit down for a few drinks, even though it’s still like 9am. once again, beer w/ shots of rum in it. despite everyone’s urging that i should be sure to drink “slowly slowly”, everyone else proceeds to get quite wasted. it turns out, that most of these guys aren’t really allowed to drink when there isn’t a festival. they only drink a couple of times a year, so when it’s time to drink, they dont go light! after wandering around more, we head back to the boat.

on the way, Lwin asks me if i was interested in trying some toddy. toddy is this weird alcoholic beverage made from the sap of a palm tree. the sap is left to ferment and then becomes mildly alcoholic, like a weak beer. i say, why not, and we head off to go find a toddy salesman who fills up 2 liter bottles and a huge plastic bag. we walk back, with the toddy sloshing this way and that out of the sack. i dont know who decided it would be a good idea to sell beverages in plastic bags… it was just begging for trouble, and only 5 minutes after returning to the boat, the sack fell and all the toddy inside spilled all over the deck. oops! in the end, it turns out that it was for the better. when i tried the toddy that we still had left in the bottles, i was not pleased. it kinda had a nice sour taste, a little like cider, but at the same time had this funky smell and aftertaste that, although described as “nutty”, kind of smelled like a gross fart. after a few gulps, i couldnt drink anymore. in fact, for the next several hours, i couldnt shake remembering that nasty smell. ugh.

after a bit, we play cards. blackjack. it’s pretty fun, and we play for negligible amounts, like 10 cents a hand. after playing for a bit, everyone stops, and then naing naing gets up to walk away, thinks better of it, turns around and grabs the whole pile of cards. he throws the whole pile overboard into the river. huh? before the last of the 52 cards flutters into the water, one of the players jumps up and starts screaming at naing naing, and seconds later punches are being thrown. madness ensues. people start trying to hold the two guys back, but then other people are screaming at each other and then they start fighting too. everyone is falling into the mix. the people next to me, herd me to the back of the boat. people are still getting crazy, one guy is bawling like mad w/ tears streaming down his face, while being held back by two other dudees. as the fight slows down, some of them get down off the roof, and by this point the older people on deck have had enough. the older women are screaming at the top of their lungs at the fighters, and then start pounding them as hard as they can as the boys just cower, obviously not going to hit back.

i was utterly confused. what the hell had happened? what had caused all the chaos. i asked one of the guys who responded “it is your friend who is the bullshit man!”. other people seemed to agree. it was naing naing’s temper tantrum of throwing the cards that had started the fight. everyone was still pretty pissed, and he spent the rest of the morning sulking by himself on the front of the boat. at this time, i remember, only hours earlier before the fight, seeing a full deck of cards fly off the roof of the boat. i had assumed they just accidentally blew away, but now i wonder if naing naing had thrown that one too, and maybe the fight started because he had now thrown 2 decks of cards overboard.

the plan initially was to stop at one more village before we went back to bagan. a bit later, we pulled ashore, but then, it didnt seem people were really getting off and in a bit we started moving again, really slowly. someone from the boat got on the mgaphone and was broadcasting something very loudly to the shore. i asked someone what was going on, and it turned out that naing naing had stormed off the boat. he was gone. the megaphone guy was broadcasting that he better get back on the boat quick cause we werent waiting for long, and would leave w/out him. as we cruised downstream a bit, all of a sudden, a large light fixture from the roof of the boat came crashing down on deck. someone from up there had torn it off and thrown it. looks like there was trouble up above again. i couldnt believe the direction everything was taking.

by this point, the boat owner had had enough. he screamed at everyone for a long time. eventually, we pulled ashore, and lwin told me to come w/ him, but the boat owner got up and told me to stay put. he told me not to go anywhere off the boat and to ignore lwin cause “he has no brain. he’s stupid”. i felt really bad having him talk shit about my friend, but i really didnt know what to do. i couldnt go against the boat owners will, so i sat down and then lwin sat down too. minutes later the boat took off. naing naing was just left behind… hours from home. i hadn’t realized it, since i had no clue what was going on, but when lwin was telling me to come w/ him off the boat, it was to end up being left behind too, and the reason the owner didnt let me off was that he wanted me to come back to bagan by boat. phew.. good thing i didnt get off! i kind of started feeling like i was in an awkward position. my two friends on the boat had been a big part in the cause of the problems, and i kind of felt like i was in a weird jam between them and the owner. he was of course, really nice to me, but it was still weird.

soon it was time to eat lunch, and everyone made sure i was well fed. the people on board (and everyone else in myanmar) eat *so* much rice! it’s insane. they’ll fill up a their plate w/ what in america would be about 3 people’s worth of rice, eat it all, and then get about the same amount again, all in one sitting! everyone kept being shocked that i ate so little. eventually, people settle down and started playing cards again, and the tension on board seemed to have dissipated except that the owner was still pissed at lwin. when lwin asked me if i wanted to have one of the two beers i bought, i said ok, and he went to get it for me. when the owner saw him w/ a beer in his hand, he gave lwin this look that could easily have killed someone, until he realized the beer was for me. he told me that under no circumstances can i give my beer to anyone else; they’re too drunk already and too stupid to have anymore. i just nodded sheepishly.

soon, we came in sight of bagan. they put on this tape that had a song about the nat, and then everyone started dancing like crazy on the boat. all of a sudden everyone was very happy again. we then caught a bus to lwin’s house to pick up my pack. for a while i hung out there and met his family. while lwin was out back, naing naing’s wife asked me where he was. errrr. umm. i muttered that i didnt know. i certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell her that her husband had been left behind hours away after getting into a fight. at this point, all i wanted to do was go back to the hotel. i was exhausted. i was dirty. i was sweaty. i was hungry. i just wanted to go back and sleep. all of a sudden, they bring out this small plate of dried fish.. w/ heads still on. ugh. the last thing i needed at that moment. but i couldnt say no, so ate some, and they actually turned out to be pretty good. my bag had gotten ripped earlier (lwin was holding it when the fight broke out). lwin’s dad pulled out some thread and fixed it up in no time flat, and handed it back to me w/ a huge smile. his dad is the epitome of the proud silent fisherman type. doesnt say much, but when you catch his eye, he always gives a very warm and sincere smile. his mom is rail thin, and seems to always be in the back cooking something. both of them, although they spoke no english, seemed incredibly friendly.

eventually, it was time to go and we got on a scooter to leave. lwin asked me what my plans were for the next day and i said i’d be leaving. he said that i should stay one more day. he’d spend the day giving me a tour of the temples, showing me around town, and then i’d come over to his house for dinner. to be honest, my first reaction was that i really didnt want to. first of all, i didnt want him to have to go throug any trouble. second i didnt want his family to have to cook for me etc. plus, i had already spent two days seeing temples in bagan and didnt need to see more. but no matter how many times i said no, he was insistant. he said i was a dear friend, and he really wanted to show me around town etc. so i said ok. after a terrifying motorbike ride across sandy roads where the bike fishtailed at least 3 times, we arrived back at the hotel, and i finally got some sleep.

in, the end, i still have no idea why anyone thought that the village we went to was in chin state. some people on the boat thought it was chin state, others did not. looking on a map later, i dont think we were even anywhere near chin state. i never got to the place i really wanted to go… but still, i had a crazy adventure nonetheless. i met a bunch of great people (despite some fights!), made some friends, experienced a real family holiday trip, spent some time on the river, went to a crazy festival.. and really had a once in a lifetime experience. looks like i would never get to see chin state, but you know what, that’s fine by me.


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