Monday, August 20, 2007

Myanmar: Sittwe/Mrauk U: 6/7 February 2007 (Written 17 August 2007)

The previous night, after having a light dinner with my new friend, he dropped me back off at the hotel I was staying at. I was wandering around with my headlamp and literally ran into Anneke and Kees, a couple in their early 60’s from the Netherlands. I went out again with them for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and when walking back to the hotel we passed by Cordelia, the Swiss girl from MSF. We went to search for some amoxicillin for me, as I had this horrible chest infection from Inle Lake and it had been nearly two weeks and it wasn't going away at all. She was with an Italian co-worker, and we marveled at how crazy it was that I could buy a full dose of amoxicillin at a tiny vendor on the side of the road, but the Italian guy couldn't find any toothpaste or shampoo.

After dinner, Anneke and Kees stayed to chat on the balcony, and they shared some stories of when they traveled through Burma 20 years ago. We talked about if things had gotten better or worse, and I was really surprised and a bit ashamed when I learned that they had come from Yangon all the way overland, on the bus to Pyay which took 15 hours in a crammed bus where they were sitting on top of dried fish, and then taken the boat from Taunggok.

On the 7th, the hotel staff was kind enough to prepare me breakfast at 5.30am, still in the dark, and then I took a trishaw to the jetty, with the young boy from the hotel cycling next to us. It was really, really cold. He had managed to talk to the owner of the boat and get the price down a bit, for which I was really grateful. I got on the boat and sat. And waited. And waited. It was 2 hours before the boat made any movement at all – meanwhile, the sun had come up and it was warmer. I slept the majority of the way to Mrauk U. There was a mother with 3 small children on the boat, as well as a few men. When I was able to wake up during the boat ride, it was beautiful.

There was farmland on either side of us, with large haystacks, there were water buffalo wandering about, and the outline of the Chin hills behind us, in the distance. They looked foreboding and inviting at once. When we arrived at the jetty, there were a whole crowd of people working at various guesthouses. I actually saw a recommendation for the Golden Star Guesthouse on Thorntree forum, and since it hasn’t made it into any guidebooks yet, I decided to give it a try. The manager Than Htun is a great character; he’s really short with slightly large ears and his grin takes up half his face. I checked in and went for lunch.

I went to For You restaurant where I met the local schoolteacher who was a bit…off…and then the dentist who worked across the road came to say hi. He had been Mr. Rakhaing in 1976, and although he was getting older, he still had a very muscular build. He showed me his antiquated dentistry equipment, including a cleaning machine that had a foot pump – he showed me that it had been made in Japan in the 1930’s. The collection of fillings and surgical instruments was much more interesting than I had expected.

I headed off to the temples which I had come to see. Mrauk U was the ancient capital of Rakhaing State, and it’s often compared to a min-Bagan. In fact, it is completely different. The temples are smaller, and often more simple. The spherical, at times conical shape of the structures gives them the impression of being from outer space, or at least from a completely different era. I went by foot to Shittaung, Andaw Paya, Ratanabon, and continued down the path. There were beautiful small villages scatteres amongst the ruins. I saw another tourist in the distance; other than him, the only human beings to be seen were women carrying wood or water on their heads or hips, and children running around with their school bags. It was so…quiet.

At Pitaka Taik, a small, old (supposed) library, I needed a break from the hot sun, and found a group of kids and women with the same idea. The ever useful origami skills were used, and we walked back towards the village together.

I went to Haridaung for sunset, considered “the” sunset spot in Mrauk U, and sure enough, there was a group of Germans there handing out bonbons to children who were laughing and dancing and wanting to get in photographs. The children ran over to me and the instant they realized I wasn't going to give them sugar or writing utensils, skipped back towards the Europeans. It was a frightening foreshadowing of what may come to be in Myanmar, much like what Southeast Asia and Africa already is.

That evening, I went into town to see what was available. It was surprisingly lively, and rather than going to the 3 restaurants with English menus, I sat down at a street stall where a man was making fried rice, fried noodles, and soup in the same wok. It was really tasty and really greasy, and I was exhausted. The complete darkness of the town, the sky that was so heavy with stars it almost seemed to crash down, and the silence from the utter lack of vehicles meant I fell asleep instantly.

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