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Yangon One Last Time

Written on: Monday March 24th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

I had a good amount of time in Yangon this second time around to do not much at all. I returned to the Motherland with Peter and Christian, and also met up with Lilly of Sihanoukville stardom. She had emailed me a while back and told me she was on her way to Burma so we had arranged to meet up at the Motherland, just as my journey here draws to a close and hers begins. On the first day we met up she had the stomach-wrenching despair of having her camera stolen while using one of the public buses. It had all of her 5 months travel photos on it and she hadn?t backed anything up. She was distraught as I?m sure you can imagine, so I met up with her later on that afternoon and we visited Swedagon Paya, the most famous one in the whole of Burma. I probably should have visited this one first in retrospect as although in its golden entirety it is very impressive, I had really seen one too many of them and so wasn?t as awestruck as I would have been had it have been the first I?d ever seen. But this is rather an obvious comment for I?d probably be awestruck by a cabbage seeing it for the first time if I?d never seen any other vegetable in my life.


It was decided that a much better way to cheer Lilly up was to get her drunk. Peter, Christian and I were already around the corner from the Motherland at an excellent restaurant that sells pints of draught beer for 25p, when Steve a 60 year old Kiwi who was sharing the dorm with me, along with another dreaded Kiwi that I?d hoped never to clamp eyes upon again. Anyway Steve came flying in to the restaurant more than half-cut himself, ?Simon, that American girl is looking for you.? She?d been dining with a Burmese-Indian family who run a local school but she had seemingly returned. We took Steve back with us and brought a bottle of whisky also help to broaden our minds.


Once back in the Motherland we found Lilly, and the five of us sat in the dining area playing cards for drinks. It wasn?t long before Steve had to go to bed as he was so far gone, but after finishing the first bottle in what seemed like record time we decided it was very wise to obtain a second, which is exactly what we did. A quarter of a way through this bottle, Steve arrived again, this time intent on getting some stories off his chest. I?d spoken to Steve earlier in the day and a pleasant enough character, who gave me the impression that coming from a small farming community on the North Island of New Zealand, and still living with his mother at the age of 60, he may well have led something of a sheltered life. We discussed writing and he went on to tell me that he also writes a fair bit and sends it all home for his Mum to read. He then slipped in to me that there?s a lot that goes on in Thailand though that he doesn?t write home about. I shivered, not wanting to imagine what it was that Steve got up to in Thailand. After many beers, and these two bottles of whiskey though, Steve was about ready to tell us all what he had been up to in Thailand.


I can?t quite recall how we?d got on to the subject of lady-boys but here we were. From nowhere Steve pipes up from his corner exclaiming very calmly that he had had an experience with a lady-boy. It went a little quiet around the table but curiosity got the better of us, well me anyway and I in turn asked him to tell more. He went in to graphic detail about how he?d been drinking with a Thai girl/boy and she/he had come back to his hotel room with him. At this point it appears Steve thought the boy was a girl, but when finding out that she was a he, he just accepted this and carried on like all was natural and as it should be. Not only this he has continued seeing the ladyboy and before he came to Burma paid $1200 for the ladyboy to have a boob job. I?m not sure what came over us all but we took Peter?s lead who was very understanding and liberal in his comment of ?I think you?re very brave to tell us this?. A comment that we all echoed, myself chipping in that, ?I really respect you for being so honest?. I don?t know, should we laugh at somebody like this, should we pity them? I know we laughed a lot the following day when we remembered his frankness and our very polite understanding comments that followed. Later that night he even confided in me that he was married and asked me to give him my opinion on whether I thought his marriage was over or not. I told him I thought it probably was.


Steve wasn?t long going to bed, shortly followed by Christian who?d been throwing back the whiskey. The remaining three of us seemed to be in reasonably good health, and then all of a sudden we were down to three. Lilly stood up, pushed her chair under, only to fall in the spot that her chair had now vacated. ?I?m sleeping here? she exclaimed. Peter and I managed to get her to her feet but she simply couldn?t support her own weight, so I ended up as I drunk as I was, having to carry her up two flights of stairs before dumping her on her bed.


I awoke in the dorm early in the morning to Steve still fully clothed, rolling off his bed muttering to himself that he?d drunk too much again, then stumbling out the door as he went to catch his 8:30am flight. I was left with the other Kiwi, I can?t believe he was here. I was civil though, but to be honest ignored him as much as I could for the next three days before I flew back to Bangkok.


Burma has had more of an impact on me than any other place I?ve probably ever visited. To meet people that have so very little, but to see how happy they can still be was inspirational, when we of the Western world have so much, but yet still moan and complain and stress at the most trivial of circumstances. There are some wonderful things to see here, most notably Inle Lake and the temple skyline of Bagan, but it was at times a hard and challenging place to travel around, especially as for much of it I was doing it on my own. Had Dave of been here travelling with me, it would have been a different story, but then I do not think I would have had the experiences such as being invited in to stranger?s homes to meet their family if I had of been travelling with another. I?m glad I stuck at the private bus travel, for all except that one train journey. I met many travelers who visited similar places to me but did it all by plane, flying with the government owned Myanmar Airlines. I?m now sure I made the right decision in coming here to learn of the country?s plight and I would urge anyone who is thinking about coming here to do so, but be prepared to be in some discomfit sometime. Don?t fly about the country, think twice before spending out on that plush air-conditioned hotel with satellite TV and instead put your money where it is much more needed.