Like any of the countries I have travelled through there are many things to see along the road while travelling, one reason travelling by bike is so good. However unlike any other country Myanmar has more to see per km than any other I have ever been to hence the idea that I took over 700 pictures during this 2 week trip, more than in any other country. Ther are an uncountable number of temples and pogodas in Myanmar some perche din th emost precarious places. One of the most fascinating things were the roadwork’s. Burmese build their roads by hand (except in the new capital Naypyidaw, but I’ll get to that in another post) Every time we came across road works we got to see more of the process unfolding. First the old tarmac is dug up, leaving a square ditch of varying sizes, rocks the size of a large fists are carried in baskets mostly by women and young adults (I am guessing varying ages from 12 to 20) and laid down in the ditches. A steam roller then squashed them down. Smaller stones and gravel are then carried and thrown into the ditches, tar is poured also by hand from tins with holes in them across the stones. This part of the process was fascinating to see as the men carrying the tins would run with the tar pouring out of the holes at the bottom on the tin and trying , I assume, to get an even layer. At some point, I am not exactly sure when but I think, once the tar has solidified / dried, fine sand is laid over it. Give or take a step or two this is generally what we saw all along the roads throughout Myanmar. Seemingly a back breaking, EXTREMELY hot task. Yet every time I raised my camera I still received that touching beautiful Burmese smile and more often than not a little laugh or two.
The other road related thing we saw, were the street side beggars (beggars is not the right description, but is the right word) Since Myanmar is an extremely poor country one sees the poorest grass huts dotted along the way. Where people, I assume, are not farming or doing something to make money they sweep the roads. Clearing them of stones, sand and any other debris along the way. Motorists then throw money down for them. We did not see this very often but it was pointed out as I had no clue what these people doing. Other people will stand on the side of the road with silver bowls asking for money for their Wat (local Buddhist monastery) or school etc. I did find it interesting to see the different practices along the roads. In the lush mountain areas the villages are bigger and the areas are covered with farms. Families usually farm together and all financial decisions are family decisions. It was only in the lower dryer but more populated areas that we saw very poor families. I am busy reading a book on Myanmar as I find this demographic interest and am wondering if I have understood it correctly.
All along the rout we found tiny villages all with a small roadside stall. It was easy to see the difference in the village ‘wealth’ by the size of the village, the local sore and the grass huts. I loved these roadside stops as we got to interact with the people and every stop was an event. We must have seemed like Aliens as the villages would all come out and simply stare at us. No one spoke English but with a little sign langue, laughter and big smiles we managed to communicate in some ways and have an enjoyable time. Some villages do not like their photos taken so when asked just look away, but most are quite happy and always want to see their pictures. This is when I really wished I had an instamatic so that I could give the people a picture of themselves. One or two pictures we took to me truly captured the Burmese, the pride and love they have for their children, the shyness found in most of the women and the joy in the children. The Burmese certainly have a great sense of humour and often laugh at a little trick or expression. At one stop I was offered a chair by one of the young villages, as was most always the case, and this young boy (maybe 13) sat on his haunches and just stared at me, just brazenly starred. He was so sweet and I am thinking that maybe it is my red hair or perhaps the fact that I ride a bike which was so fascinating.
Shaking hands is completely alien Burmese, and of course something we did every time we came to one of these villages as it is our way to say, hello, thank you, goodbye. Unlike the Thai the Burmese in rural villages don’t put their hands in front of themselves as a thank you, there is no hand expression for this. It was hard for us not to do anything to show our appreciation/ friendliness so we shook hands and boy did this bring a lot of laughter and smiles. I would LOVE to know just what the people were thinking I can only image something along the likes of ‘Dad, what the hell was that, are these people crazy or what’ The tiny children who had clearly never seen a white person just pulled their hands away and hid them behind their backs before these ‘white ghosts’ could touch them, making the adults laugh like crazy at them. Maybe you had to be there but if you were you would have enjoyed the moment as much as all of us did, foreigners and Burmese alike.
Even thought the poverty in this country is palatable the people are clean. Now it does not look like it as first sight since it is very dusty, but looking closely one can clearly see pride in the women’s dress and eyes. The roadside café glasses are clean and the food absolutely delicious, not one of us got sick from eating in these grass huts. As well as the cleanliness, friendliness and inquisitiveness of the Burmese people one thing that struck me was just how elegant the woman are. All stick thin and wearing the traditional sarong and top, in the mountains the women wear black with vividly coloured head dresses that indicate which tribe they are from. One of my favourite road side stops was just outside Mandalay where we were fed very delicious samousas and doughnut like pies sweet and filled with coconut the lad who ran the roadside restaurant was so elegant and photogenic. David took one of my all time best Myanmar picture of her in the kitchen, it never ceased to amaze me how such good and delicious food comes out of these very rustic kitchens.
Of course one must not forget the roadside delicacies like deep fried duck, pigeon, sparrow and cricket. The crickets I saw in a market in Yangon and when I was taking the picture a man walked passed me and said you need to try one, I said no I didn’t have the courage to which he answered but they are deliscious and laughed. One of my best food related sighting was the post Eric pointed out to us ‘’educating’’ people about what food they cannot mix together or they will get sick or die….strange but true, so don’t forget you will die if you eat pumpkin and pigeon.
I have become completely addicted to 3 in 1 coffee especially the rich and creamy kind, which one will also find at every little road side stop. I know the addiction stems from the fact that it is 47% sugar buy man I cannot get enough of this stuff 🙂