Friday, February 15, 2013

Leaving Yangon

Tonight I take the bus south to Mawlamyine, where George Orwell was once stationed. Glad I read Burmese Days.

Yesterday I ferried across the river and took a trishaw (like a rickshaw) tour of a delta village. The driver took me to his house and his sister rubbed sandalwood paste on my face. We stopped by several pagodas and then waited out a rainstorm in a coffee shop, which was a plastic roof and thatch affair that served milky instant coffee to Burmese folks seated on tiny plastic chairs watching a soap opera. 

I spent the afternoon reading and went to dinner in a restaurant, which was a change of pace since I've mostly been eating street food. I'm 95% sure I'm going to get food sick before I leave this country. It's bound to happen. Or at least it is if street refuse and vermin are correlated to bodily illness: The alley between my hotel and the adjacent building is like a mini dump, there's even garbage on some of the window awnings, like it didn't make it all the way down when people chucked it. My first morning I saw a rat crawling across the roof. Also, Yangon is like pigeon heaven. They roost on the telephone wires here in droves. Droves! I thought one was going to fly into my face yesterday. 

One of my dorm mates last night was a 70-year-old German man who has been to more than 100 countries. This was his eighth time to Myanmar. He said that he was always single minded about what he wanted in life: to travel. As soon as he was done with university, he left Europe and spent most of his working life teaching in east Asia. He was raised by his grandparents, and I wonder, because of his age, if he was orphaned by the war. Never had a wife or family, he just travels. All the time. It wouldn't be for me (he's also been robbed four times), but it's fun and inspiring to meet people who are so intentional about following their dreams.

This morning I went to the National Museum which was, bar none, worst lit museum I've ever been to and they had giant metal jail doors over the display cases with golden court accouterments. All the folk art was in shadows. 

I walked around the block to a Lonely Planet-recommended Burmese restaurant for lunch. It was noon and crowded, so a waiter showed another single man to my table. When he went up to the buffet to get his food I thought, "hmm, he looks like someone I know from church in Shanghai." And sure enough, that's who it was. We talked about our mutual acquaintances and about wanting to move back to the US. On the one hand, it's kind of amazing to run into someone I know at lunch in Yangon. On the other hand, it's Chinese New Year and expats love to travel, so it's not so crazy. It's not the first time either, a couple years ago I ran into a girl I knew from Shanghai coming down a hiking trail in South Korea.   

What I'm reading

Just finished

Anna Karenina

The first of many classics I hope to plow through this year. The list is pretty long, and so are most of the books, including this one, but man it was a great one to start with. There isn't much to say that hasn't been said more eloquently elsewhere, it's on most of the "best novels ever" lists. It's always so satisfying to read a book that's more than a century old, written about people in circumstances much different from mine, and identify so strongly with the thoughts and emotions conveyed.  Tolstoy, nicely done.

Currently reading

Bleak House

It's a Charles Dickens. And so far it's pretty bleak! I'm glad I didn't live in London back then. 

Best American Essays 2012

Amazon had a killer sale a month ago, each of the books in the Best America series was going for $1.99. I've found a couple of the pieces to be a bit of a yawn, but mostly they're good. 

Also, I highly recommend this story in GQ by awesome short story writer Wells Tower about going to Burning Man with his dad. 

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