Jody's Adventures

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Myanmar busses

You always hear stories when people travel around southeast Asia about the buses, the crookedness of them, the chickens on them, children on your lap, children and adults puking out the sides of them. The buses being piled sky high with people and rice, and luggage, and more chickens. It's all true. Oh yeah and they break down.. a lot. well I've been on my fair share but the buses in Myanmar are special. First of all in the city they are almost all leftovers from the British colonization effort which ended in the 1940's- as is clearly evident by the age of the buses. And no Myanmar bus is full until very inch of space within is occupied and a row of people are hanging of the back. I often had to maneuver carefully to avoid being hit by the closing door. Sometimes they didn't bother to close the door at all as someone would surely loose a limb in the process. But the most amazing thing I saw was one bus at a long distance bus station. It had the usual load of stuff on the roof piled almost as high as the bus itself is tall, then the back of the bus piled floor to ceiling with rice and tea sacks, then all of the seats at the front filled and all of the space under the seats filled so that all of the people sat with their knees up by their chins and feet even with their butts. Oh and I didn't mention their is no aisle in most southeast Asian buses, there are seats that fold up to the side when people get on and off, but while riding the entire aisle way is filled with an additional row of seats. No leg room here. And if you are an average sized Swedish guy you are in big trouble because most buses are made to fit Asians and I am tall around these parts. Yeah I miss my truck!

A Guide for Putao

Putao is a little place in the far far north of Myanmar, and it's a bit tricky and expensive for travellers to get there. You have to get special permission from the government to go, and book a trip with a travel agency. Most people go as part of a package tour. Otherwise you must book your own private guide. Not the way I normally like to travel but I was introduced to a man in Thailand who had a lot of herbal medicines from this area and a daughter there who he had not seen for many many years. So the lure of finding out about traditional medicines coupled with the facts that it is more out of the way and right at the foothills of the Himalayas was more than I could resist, I had to go. Part of the deal with going to a restricted area is that you must have a guide which of course you must pay for. Fortunately I got a lovely lady who I was able to meet beforehand. I was also told that 2 other people would be meeting me in putao so I would have an entourage. I really wasn't even sure if any of it would materialize because of course I had to pay for all of it upfront and had nothing but a vague handwritten receipt to prove what I had paid to this government agency. My guide was to meet me in the last town to the north that travellers are permitted to venture unaccompanied. Fortunately she did arrive.

Blog blog blog blog

So sorry it has been so long since my last confession... I mean entry. Lets see since Tonsai I've been to Bangkok, Myanmar (Burma) and now back in Bangkok. Tomorrow I fly back to China on my way to Tibet. And yes it is as exhausting as it sounds. I just sent a 10 kilo package home with stuff I don't need, stuff I've bought that I probably don't need, and some stuff I bought for you guys that you definitely need. I got a great T shirt for my friend steve in bangkok-can't tell you all what it says yet I don't want to spoil the surprise. You can get a lot of cool things here. I bought an international student ID card- for student discounts, and a press card for sneaking into events and concerts $3 each. I almost bought a rhinestone studded belt buckle that says diesel, just because.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Myanmar Monks

Shwedegon paya (spelled sort of right)
Monk #2
Head Monk
English class
So my friend Kristina who I worked with in China, and then hung out with in Tonsai, came with me to Myanmar for a few weeks. We arrived first in Yangon the biggest city in the country. There is an enormous temple complex there called the Shwedegon Pagoda. It has one huge stupa (the thing in the picture) and many smaller temples all around it. The big stupa is covered in gold and is rumored to have been rebuilt with the use of forced labor (very common in this country). At any rate it is a big tourist attraction and therefore also an attraction for Myanmar people hoping to learn english. They loiter around the large outdoor complex offering to be a guide or simply trying to chat with you. Kristina and I ran into a monk who comes there every friday with his class of students who he teaches english to at the monastery. We chatted with them at length and were escorted all over the complex by them and even put onto a bus back to our hotel which they paid for claiming that we would have to pay a much higher price for the bus. The monks invited us to visit their monasty and stay the night if we could before we left town. We decided to take them up on it and found our way out to the monastery the next day. Turns out we arrived a half hour before english class, so we became english class. We were brought up to the teacher monk's quarters and fed a lovely traditional Myanmar dinner and the english class students one by one found there way up to us as they found the classroom empty. We chatted with them all for several hours. In order to stay at the monastery permission must be sought by the police- the government wants to know where foreigners are every night. Unfortunately Kristina had forgotten her passport and without it the police would not grant the permission so we had to go back to town, but not before the head monk met us and gave us a lesson in Myanmar language and delighted in quizzing us repeatedly on the few words he taught us.

Myanmar Money

I may look rich with almost 200,000 kyats in my hands, but it's only equal to $150. Unfortunately for the Myanmar People their currency has been falling fast under their current government. Not only has the government devalued several bills (basically decided that the 25, 35, and 45 bill were suddenly valuless, so if you had any they were no longer worth the paper they were written on. The largest bill in circulation is 1000 kyats (pronounced chats) and there are 1250 kyats to one dollar- today-this morning. The exchange rate can change several times per day, but all money is exchanged on the black market. I have no idea how this works. At any rate people end up carryng bags and bags of the stuff around. The funniest and most irritating thing is that they will not accept US dollars with the slightest crease, blemish, tear, or ink spot, but their smaller denomination bills look like they are 100 years old and have been through 300 mud puddles, a few wars and a shredder. Oh well.