#3 Myanmar, February 21, 2003

Dear Everybody,

I left Mandalay to go to the British colonial town of Pyin U Lwin which is at about 3300 feet altitude so is much cooler. It even required a light jacket, at least early mornings or later in the afternoon. Being a British Colonial Hill Station it had many restored large colonial houses.

My breakfast was quite an adventure as every meal is. Since the hotel didn’t provide breakfast because it just opened, I went down the street to a tea shop. As I sat down the waiter brought four plates of different Indian pastries. I ate two samosas (triangular pastry filled with vegetables and deep fat fried) and one ‘egg roll.’  Then I noticed that most people were eating some nan dipped in a dal sauce, so I got that too. That, along with three small cups of chai (Indian tea cooked with milk and sugar and flavored with cardamom) constituted my huge breakfast. Marlys, Ruth, Susan—I pretty much blew my Weight Watchers points for the whole day!

I took a pony cart (the taxi device here that looks like a half scale Wells Fargo) to the Botanical Gardens. These were superb—about the best I’ve seen, I think. They were constructed by a Brit during World War I using Turkish prisoners of war. Another pony cart back to the hotel—not very satisfactory for sight seeing as you have to bend over to see out of the open windows.

In between times when I’m not actually sightseeing or in the evenings before I go to bed I often read (thanks for the books, Gayle) and over breakfast in Mandalay I managed to trade one that I had read. I also have music as I finally figured out an mp3 device on which one can record CDs using a computer. I have about 10 CDs on my mp3 and it is very tiny and lightweight—always important in backpacking. I haven’t heard very much music playing as I walk around although when I was doing email in Mandalay, I heard some American country music coming from across the street. The email man said that American Country music is popular here, and yes, they like Willie Nelson very much! (I have a Willie Nelson CD on my mp3)

The hotel man told me that a festival was on—my guidebook mentioned the ‘nat’ festival for Ko Myo Shin which happens for five days after the full moon of Tahaung. So I decided to rent a bike and go there. When they brought the bike and I tried it, I felt too insecure to ride it—way too out of practice. Yes, I know, one never forgets, but there’s lots of traffic here! (And I’m going to practice up this summer, Ruth!) Anyway I walked to the festival which was very like a county fair. A ferris wheel, a man with a monkey, lots of food stands and other things for sale, a soccer game, etc. I ate some little pancake things with a pigeon egg cooked inside of each one—I felt I needed the protein and they did taste just fine. People here are a little short of protein, I fear, and big on fat and carbos.

I took the train to my next destination because I wanted to see the Gokteik Viaduct, an engineering marvel built by an American company in 1896. I was expecting wood, but no, it was steel—kind of like the Eiffel Tower lying down. It was huge and united the northern and southern parts of Shan state that were partially separated by an enormous gorge.

The train was like the old Sauk Centre ‘Galloping Goose’ swaying and galloping. It took seven hours to go these 80 miles; it made many stops. (One can fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam in seven hours!) The scenery was pleasant and the rural life views were interesting

 

 

–water buffalo used for rice growing, small villages with houses made of woven bamboo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sat with a man from Australia who had become interested in Chinese Daoism and Ti Chi (Jim R., a compatriot of yours?) and was on his way to film a Chinese temple up the line.

The guesthouse where I stayed in Hsipaw (See’-paw) was ‘typical backpacker’ with many nationalities represented and we had many good conversations over beers on the balcony.

 

 

The owner, Mr. Charles (a Shan native) lead

 

 

 

 

us on a walk the next morning through several Shan villages. The Shan are a separate group from the Burmese, and Hsipaw is in the Shan state in Myanmar. The walk lasted four hours. One of our stops was a monastery where the peace and quiet were deafening! Another was a home where a lady was rolling cheroots. Materials were supplied and she gets paid 60 cents when she has rolled a thousand of them.

The next day I explored the market and bought a couple of attractive Shan bags that one sees the rural people wearing. The market was amazingly clean and laid back with almost no one calling to me trying to sell their wares. A polite “Hello” was all I got from the vendors.

After the market I needed a cup of chai so I went to a teashop. A man at the next table began chatting with me. The discussion quickly turned to the political. He was a member of the ‘National League for Democracy’ which is the organization headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. He told me that she had visited Hsipaw in December and 30,000 people turned out from the countryside to hear her speak. He invited me to accompany him to their ‘headquarters’ whose sign I had seen in the street. I met the ‘head’ of their Hsipaw group that has over 100 members but many more supporters. He described an incident recently where Aung San Suu Kyi was speaking and the firemen were ordered to turn the hoses on the crowd. She told the firemen to turn the hose on her, and not the crowd, which made the firemen put down the hoses and listen to the speech.

The people in Myanmar are really lovely. They are almost always smiling and pleasant and even the vendors on the street are not very aggressive. As a tourist I think I have rarely been treated so well. I spent some time simply walking around the town. I had a nice chat with an Indian who was drawing water from a well in the courtyard of an Indian temple;

 

 

 

an older woman invited me into her home for a bit; a man was constructing the woven mats that they use as walls and roofs for their houses.

Now I’m back in Mandalay again, having taken a shared taxi this morning. The cars drive on the right, a recent change; the steering wheel is on the right, like the British cars. In order to pass, the driver has to get the car all the way into the oncoming lane in order for him to see if it’s clear—not a happy situation. Plus they all drive too fast, given the bumpy roads, sharp turns, and all the animal, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. Well, all’s well.

If you answer this email, send it to me on my hotmail address, and then Claire can send it along as I may not get it here.

All the best—Carol

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