“They were too beautiful, so they….….” Yangoon, February 6rd, 2012

I made it too Bangkok from Sulawesi in one day, I got my Myanmar visa within the one day I had, so I guess I was meant to go to there and got excited about it. Already on the short flight to Yangoon (Rangoon, whatever, its not the capital anymore anyway) I noticed a few strange things of which I only partly could make out reasons for. A lot of elderly couples, really many of them in there 60s easily. Must be the adventurous generation now travelling on tour groups to new exciting places of the world. Next are the many “photographers”. At least the amount of high tech expensive equipment (my couple thousand dollar machine is a toy in comparison) was far beyond what you see in other countries. I guess it’s the mystic image Myanmar still has and the pros and wane be pros trying to get it ahead of the crowd. The extraordinary amount of French and Belgian in the elder as well as younger groups did not make much sense to me. Usually you find the French in former colonies of them (because French spoken) but here? Laos and Cambodia are close and there is a direct flight Paris Yangoon, maybe that’s it. Anyway, there will be more strange things to come in Myanmar.

I never book Hotels in advance for two reasons. You always find something and its exciting where you end up. So the case this time again. The hotel infrastructure does not keep up with the opening up of the country and the tourist flow resulting in it. But I got a bed sharing a twin room and the costs. I immediately liked Yangoon, a mixture of Havanna and Asia, not the music and vibe of Cuba, sharing the lack of electricity and adding the Asian busyness but with style. People here respect traffic lights, I could not believe it. Also you can see and feel what you hear and read in the news. A country walking on the edge, full of hope for a better, democratic future but in constant fear and a military government changing its mind once again and turning against its people. They are amazingly friendly, kind and welcoming getting me scared it might change as tourist, money and western lifestyle pours is.

Quickly I realised that I have planned too little time here and therefore decided to follow a reco of my Belgian room mate flying to Sittwe, a relaxed town in the north west. It has not much to offer but a boat ride to Mrauk U, famous for its 700 temples in the jungle. The one day you have to spend there is easily past with the market and a nice sun rise.

The 6 hours boat ride itself is not that exciting but I met a monk who invited me to his home and I met Mar and Christopher, a Spanish couple in my age. She was nice and he spoke no English which was even nicer. For the next 4 days I would practise my Spanish and they would not ask “what” a single time giving me the feeling I am fluent. Muchas gracias for that.

Together we did a day trip to 3 different Chan villages, here showing the market in one of them including a promoting tour of some politicians. Quite simple but effective.

The 3 highlights and one low light of that day would be. I fell in love with that charismatic shy girl. She would be around me from the beginning to the end but whenever I made an attempt to talk to here, she went 3 steps back. Then the old ladies with their tattooed faces. About a thousand years ago the Indians noticed how beautiful the girls here are and got them to India. One escaped, returned home and told everybody how bad it is in Inida. To avoid having to go there they decided to make themselves ugly  via those not really creative square tattoos. What can I say, it worked. Only about 60 years or 2 generations ago they stopped this practise which is why there are only 7 women in there 70s and 80s left in those villages. They enjoy their fame and generate donations for the village. We had a good time. Thirdly the pool game in the last village. Complicated as you are only allowed to play the numbers of the playing cards you drew before but I managed to win. The price money I disturbed among the audience which really made them remember me I guess, think, hope, smile.

Back in Mrauk U I got my bud out of bed for sunrise and did not regret it.

The lowlight was that at lunch time of our day trip I swam through a river and now I suffered from diary. Still I managed to stick with the group and visit the monk I met on the ferry.

It was a nice day but the half hour ride back on the back of that little jam packed tractor vehicle on bad roads gave me the rest and I spend the afternoon travelling between bed and toilet

A perfect time to reflect on a few things regarding the pics below. Lets start with the easy and fun stuff. I have seen Arabic language, I have seen Chinese picture language but this one here I can not believe. It’s a combination of 32 circle shaped characters, each of them having 6 ways of pronunciation. Go figure.

Next is how different our life’s are on the very same planet. In my country its hard to find a phone booth because they are all taken down. They have past their time. Here its hard to find a phone booth because they are just being built. Along the streets you find public phones that people are now allowed to use. Expensive though. A international call about 5 Dollars a minute, a Sim Card for a mobile phone around 1000 dollars. Do you remember………

Hygiene and trash. Even after more than a year on my world trip I can not get used to it. It is and it will be the major challenge of our society. How can we support economic growth in the third world without destroying the planet. Education is certainly one answer, check out the video below. Education is also an issue in terms of health and safety. The helmet campaign and the bike in front speaks for itself but check out the father smoking with his girl in his lap. Parents here are caring but they smoke, due drugs and drive their kids on cycles without helmet and so on. It must be education. If they understood the issue, they would not expose their loved once to such risks, I believe. The older lady is about the teeth. Most men and many women look like this here. They all chew tobacco resulting in all of them constantly spitting a red “source” on the street, out of trains and even into baskets inside restaurants. Worse, the teeth rotten like crazy and mouth cancer is just around the corner.

Back in Yangoon I decided to take the train south. A good decision as buying the ticket was already an adventure. Before the train station I ended up playing soccer with the local kids. They laughed a lot, stopped playing when an old man crossed the field, even helped him, they waited for me to finish drinking every time before continuing to play and they informed me that its time to finish playing. But they would give a clear and strong “NO” on my trying to take a photo. Very strange as everywhere else people and especially kids were all excited about me taking pictures as you can see below. Was is the capital? Is it the train station area? Is it a sign that the country is not as free as it seems? Does it fit to the fact that occasionally men would approach me asking where I am from, where I am going, where I stay and how I like it? In any case a reminder on where I grew up, East Germany. The train ride itself was also exciting and tiring. 10 hours of bumpy up and down.

Another reminder on how far this country still needs to go is this machine. I was fascinated by it. Sorry.

The opposite of old, rusty and cheap would be timeless, gold and expensive. Here we are, at the most famous Buddha temple called “Swedagon Paya” in central Yangoon. 15 tons of gold just for the inner part, a huge diamond on top and endless traditions, figures, and ceremonies all around. Each Myamese has to make it here at least once. I understand that even though its quiet a contrast to the poverty of the country as such.

As said before I should have planned more time here and Myanmar is a clear recommendation to all of you looking for adventure, unspoiled people, living in the past or being politically interested. But its not easy travelling either (at least outside of tour packages) and so I was ready to head back to Singapore and on to Cambodia. Things I love were waiting for me there……………. .

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