My second holiday season spent in Asia, things went... way Asian.
|Whoever "Santacross" is...|
And then, 'twas the Friday before Christmas, and Liza and I bussed off to sweaty, steamy Bangkok. We did our usual BKK routine: indulged in light-festooned shopping malls, luxury movie theaters, and 7-11s bigger than all of Nan's combined. We spent Christmas Day bopping around tourist-filled temples, eating Indian food in Chinatown, and the next day, commiserating with a friend who'd awoken from a night out with a large bloody gash above his eye (apparently a bar girl hit him with beer can... CLASSIC Bangkok).
|First Hilary, then me. Burma's where it's at!|
Finally, Tuesday arrived, and by 10am Burma-time, we'd landed in Yangon.
From the taxi window, Burma was immediately a fascinating, and utterly exotic place. Yangon is bustling, the pot-holed streets chaotic with mismatched taxi cabs coming apart at the seams, and plying red city buses that never come to a full stop to pick up and drop off passengers. The broken sidewalks are lined with grey buildings partly new and partly crumbling, interrupted by occasional glimmering golden pagodas, standing tall and proud above the mess. Almost every male at every age wears a traditional lungi skirt tied at their waist and a button-up shirt, while women and babies paint their faces with tanaka (sandalwood paste), cream-colored lines and large circles streaking their cheeks, noses and foreheads. Men chew and suck on betel nuts, spitting red juices out indiscriminately, so that walls and sidewalks and car doors across the city are stained in it. (At first I thought everybody had some kind of horrible gum disease and was constantly bleeding from their mouths; it's a really unattractive habit).
Liza and I settled into a cheap room at the Golden Smiles Inn - one of a handful of dingy, windowless, bathroomless, dimly-lit guesthouse rooms that we looked at, at a price far higher than what we'd find in Thailand. We then set out, taking on Yangon by foot.
|Streets of central Yangon|
|Mini nuns, returning from gathering morning alms|
At sunset, we took a taxi across town to the 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda - which is truly enormous, and whose glittering towering stupa can be seen from almost any open space in Yangon. We hired a guide, Win, who told me he'd been giving tours there for almost 15 years - though he looked no older than 30. He was incredibly friendly, and knew every detail of the pagoda and surrounding temples, about Yangon itself, about his country; by the end of the tour it was dark, and the entire gold-guilded grounds were brilliantly lit up, and we were exhausted.
|Shwedagon Pagoda. BAM.|
Momo asked us what we were up to, and since we had no plans, took Liza, Jose and I to the closest cafe and ordered us tea and coffee. Momo started teaching us phrases in Burmese - all sounding like no words I'd ever learned before - so many that it filled whole pages of my notebook and my hand and head ached by the end of the lesson. Momo paid for our drinks, making us practice "Thank you," and then walked us back downstairs to the bustling street below.
Momo parted ways with us as bizarrely as he met us - asking Liza if he could have a souvenir from America, perhaps a pen (which she gave him), then shaking our hands and saying goodbye. He wished us good luck on the rest of our trip, and told us to find him next time we were in Yangon. It was the warmest welcome we could have asked for.