When they beat on a broken guitar
And on the streets, they reek of tropical charms
The embassies lie in hideous shards
Where tourists snore and decay
When they dance in a reptile blaze
You wear a mask, an equatorial haze
Into the past, a colonial maze
Where there’s no more confetti to throw
“Let’s send him to Burma!” Okay, where is that exactly? And isn’t it called Myanmar now? And isn’t there some reason I’m not supposed to go there? Sure, whatever – I need this job, so who am I to argue? But I really don’t want to be away for Christmas. I’m flying in from Taipei with six hours to kill at Suvarnabhumi. Burger King – a welcome break, then a disappointing break, from Chinese food. Meeting up with Nick, landing at Yangon. The airport is surprisingly modern – the city, not so much, but in the dark it looks a bit like LA. Our hotel is rubbish, the windows don’t shut and there are bugs in the room – but it’s only one night. Gmail is blocked; the military plutocracy makes its presence felt for the first time (but at least they don’t block Facebook, thank goodness).
Driving to Kyaiktiyo with a stop at a WWII cemetery. Lunch – a tasty Chinese stir-fry with peanuts as a starter. These peanuts – they’re unusually crunchy and robust! Bottled water and a flatbed truck ride overflowing with people halfway up the hill to the Golden Rock pavilion (I heard one of them tipped over last week and killed eight people) – then a refreshing hike up the rest of the way. The Golden Rock – huge, and gold. I wonder when it will roll off the cliff and kill a dozen pilgrims, but it’s beautiful in the sunset. A crepe filled with palm sugar and coconut. A dance performed by tribal insurgents. A stunning sunrise. How high up are we, anyway?
Walking, then driving down the mountain – the same guy who carried our suitcases up the mountain on his back carries them down. Wow. I bought some spicy fruit preserves then let myself get ripped off by a flirty banana vendor. What the hell am I doing to do with all these bananas?! The drive to Mawlamyine – impossibly uncomfortable and bumpy through miles and miles of rubber plantations. Half the road isn’t even paved. It’s hard for people to get around, and I suspect the government likes it that way.
Mawlamyine – an hour on the internet at a cafe costs less than 50 cents, and Gmail works here! What the hell, this government is so rubbish they can’t even censor the internet properly. Y’know what else costs less than 50 cents? A glass of draft Myanmar beer! But isn’t it brewed by the government? Who cares? It’s cheap and I’m bored. I’m also starting to get sick of temples (but not Burmese sunsets – yet).
The next day was rubbish. Another torturously bumpy drive, first to a pleasant war cemetery, then to a wholly unpleasant former Japanese onsen and POW camp. If I had known I’d be trudging through a muddy river and sulphuric muck I’d have worn sandals. I’m probably going to get worms. At least lunch was nice – stunningly fresh seafood from Setse Beach. Back to the hotel to get slightly less drunk than I did the night before.
Driving back to Yangon via Bago for six hours – not nearly as horrible as I expected (I was actually able to sleep in the van). More peanuts come with lunch – why are the peanuts in this country so good?! I am getting sick of mosquitoes, and of Buddhas, but these four in Bago are remarkably cool. But not as cool as our hotel tonight in Yangon – The Savoy. Damn, I wish we could stay here for more than twelve hours! This is colonial chic; I wonder how many temples were plundered to decorate this place. And the happy hour is a damn good deal, too, but you call this a Manhattan? I’ll stick to ABC Stout for the rest of the night – one good thing about the British Empire is that it brought extra stout porters to the most unlikely corners of the globe. The sun never sets on decent dark beer.
Waking at 5:00 to catch a 7:00 flight to Bagan. Bye bye Savoy! (Sometimes this job is awesome.) A glimpse of Bagan’s red brick temples from the plane, of what may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.