Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 23 2019

In Yangon

So I’ve been in Yangon, Myanmar, for the past few days. There are 15 of us (!) on this trip, so things have been rather restricted, with super-organized days and a disturbing combination push/pull that is constantly going on when everyone is going at different speeds.

As our flight was at 7 a.m., I had to get up at 4. It felt strange, fleeing in the night like that. One bumpy little 737 ride over seas and shining deltas and we were in Yangon, still in morning garb; we put our stuff in our rooms, and then walked around. I was in an odd mood; everything seemed hectic and out of focus. I was seeing photos I couldn’t get because of the nature of my circumstances, and it was screwing with me. Our friend Han and some of his friends met us at the airport, photographer friends who wanted to meet us I guess, but I wasn’t showing any particular photographic prowess, or any prowess at all for that matter.

We had lunch at a place the hotel, 999 Noodles or something. It was full of white tourists, and quite busy. One plaid-attired dude was showing off his new Nikon camera, which he promptly left on his seat when the group left. “Dude, you forgot your camera!” I yelled at him as he descended the stairs. He went back, sheepish. Are things this desperate here, cuisine-wise, that we have to eat with tourists? I thought. I thought of Vietnam, where excellent food is everywhere.

Later, local photographer Ye Min came out to meet us in the park near our hotel. We walked together through more streets and alleys, ending up at the small but interesting Puzundaung railway station. We then caught taxis to a restaurant, but our taxi got so hopelessly ensnared in Yangon’s incredible traffic that we had to abandon it halfway and get another one. I hope it survived.

There was a band at dinner; they weren’t terrible. Then Ye Min took up up to the rooftop restaurant overlooking the city, where we drank rum and chatted until late.

The next day we headed through Little India to Chinatown, walking down alleys, through markets, over overpasses. It struck me that the Myanmar greeting of Mingalaba sounds like bells. The weather here is a little hot around noon, but otherwise quite pleasant, with no hint of rain anywhere. We passed temples, churches, mosques, hindu temples…it’s a fascinating mix of cultures here. We ended up at a mall, Junction Centre Something, where everyone went off on their own for lunch. Chenbl and I had lunch slurping noodles as an Indian man washed his tires a couple feet away. Han and his friend Myat Thu walked with us over to the riverside, where we walked out onto a jetty and onto a couple of ships that were docked there. That was a fascinating scene, people with huge packages, chickens, goats, families camped out, crew painting things. If I lived here, I’d probably be over there all the time.

After the jetty, we got into taxis to go meet Ye Min, but we’d only driven a block when we hit a traffic jam. Our driver surprised usĀ  by getting out and walking off. We were thinking of just driving off when we saw that there’d been a small accident ahead, actually involving one of our group’s taxis. Fortunately no one was hurt; it was just a trishaw making a bad u-turn.

We met Ye Min at the People’s Park, an amusement park, and he showed us where some students like to practice their dances, and some fountains, etc. Apparently he shoots there quite a lot. The sun was setting as we prepared to enter the Shwedagon Pagoda, which requires that visitors remove their shoes before embarking on a series of escalators up the mountain. This seems like a recipe for disaster; as we were passing through security, I noticed quite a lot of blood on the floor; one of our students had cut her foot on the escalator, and security escorted her up to the clinic to clean the cut. I wonder how often this happens.

The complex is magnificent, truly. All that gold, the statues, all of it. Amazing. There’s not much else to say about it.

We ended up back in Chinatown, on a street that reminded me a little of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, but better than that chaos. Ye Min introduced me to a couple of his photographer friends here, but their English wasn’t up to direct conversation, so we had to do a lot of translating. It was fun, though, and the street people finished what we couldn’t.

The next day we walked down to the river to catch the ferry to Dala. On the way we passed what looked like old British government buildings, one of which, it turned out, seemed to have become a mosque. The waiting room was filled with 1950’s songs by the Ventures.

The ferry was by its nature interesting, plying across a river that is soon being bridged. We were met by a barrage of trishaw drivers on the other side, but eventually escaped to walk the dirt roads. We talked with some people from a church, and then were invited to join a Hindu ceremony at a temple, including dancing, good music, and lunch, which was delicious, served on large leaves and eaten with our hands.

We kept walking for a bit; I preferred to stick to the waterfront roads, but the others seemed to want to stick to more inland roads. Oh well. We then took a couple of decidedly air-conditioning-free vans to Twuntay, another fishing village. There we walked around the market and then back down by the river. People kept inviting us in to see whatever they were doing; it was rather fun. We met one boxer to gave us a little demonstration of his skills by knocking Chenbl on the head. Fortunately, Chenbl’s head could take it.

We pretty much literally flew back to Dala; the van drivers had wanted to go back earlier and were trying to make up for lost time, so we blasted past traffic at alarming speeds. The sun was setting when we arrived, lighting up the city on the opposite bank. Some of the students went back first, while some of us remained for some extra shooting as I wanted to cover the waterfront for a bit more. As we walked and looked, a huge red orb appeared on the horizon…the moon. It was time to go back on the ferry.

This morning we got up early again and walked to the old train station, arriving with the sunlight reflected off nearby glass buildings. We checked things out a bit before going back to the hotel for breakfast, returning to stalk the platforms. It felt a little like the station in Bangkok, with the old trains, the people from the countryside with their packages, etc. We hopped on and off trains, and eventually got on one of the trains that ply the circular route. It was like a little market, vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their wares. We had some fresh corn that was really not bad. The train proceeded at roughly the pace of a middle-aged jogger, but I didn’t mind; I like trains.

We got off at a market; I didn’t realize it was actually a station, as I had to jump off the train while it was still moving, but apparently it was. The market was chaotic, so we walked around the nearly village. A couple of monks at the local temple showed us which statues indicated which days of the week and which directions they faced. Many of the monks I’ve seen here sport elaborate tattoos; it makes for an interesting appearance.

I was all for taking the train back, but the students were hot and wanted air conditioning, so we hopped on a bus that took longer than the train but was cooler.

Back in Yangon, we got off, and a discussion ensured among the others concerning the changing of money and where and how it should be done. It was late afternoon, and I just stood and watched the scene, the traffic, the buses and cars, the vendors and their wares amid the crumbling old colonial buildings. The discussion went on and on, but I was happy because I was free to just stand and observe, not even really taking photos, just being there. The drone of the city resolved itself; Yangon finally felt good to me.

Too soon we had to go; they’d Googled a place for dinner, which turned out to be pretty fancy and full of white hipsters in skinny jeans and boots staring intently over their beards at laptop computers. All I wanted to do was to go back to that corner, or just walk around the city, perhaps down to the riverfront, or wherever I felt like, just looking, but of course I couldn’t do that. So I sat and ate and wondered.

Tomorrow we’re getting up early again, of course, and taking a van to some other placed in the country for a few days. But I thought I’d get this much down for now.

posted by Poagao at 12:36 am  

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