Monday, March 31, 2014

Do you like Pina Colada's ?

Monday March 31st 2014 – 7:45 p.m.
Ngapoli Beach, Myanmar.

The hotel manager last evening suggested that I pedal on down to the end of the road today and catch the fishermen as they brought in the catch of the day as well as fish for drying to be the catch of some other day. His estimated time of departure should be around six a.m.. I set the iPod alarm to five and was showered and gone by quarter until six. What a very pleasant ride. No construction, no big trucks. The occasional car, but most of the vehicles on the road were of the two wheeled type. I know they get their fill of tourists but I was surprised by the number of people who said hello as I passed them.. The road was wide and generally flat. The road was also in well used condition. Meaning very bumpy in places and there isn't any cushion or springs in the bike that I had under me today.

About a week ago I quit buying cigarettes by the pack. I could see that I would be a hard core junkie by the time I went home. A pack a day was passing my lips in no time. I noticed in passing a store and restaurant that they sold single Myanmar cigarettes from an open pack. For a nickel (I got ripped off once for a dime) I can have a cigarette and still have some control. I was passing a roadside shack that had the fixing for Bettal leaves (the entire southeast Asia's drug of choice. Something that is wrapped in a leaf and then stuck between cheek and gum. It makes you spit a lot and makes your teeth really really bad at the gum line), they also generally sell cigarettes. I stopped the bike, put my foot out and my cuff caught the pedal and I crashed into the middle of the street flat on my back. Now that was a graceful move I hope not to repeat, but I did get my cigarette.

At the end of the road there was a breakwater partially encircling a very peaceful bay. Dozens of boats were pulled up close to shore and people with baskets and poles were wading out to the boats exchanging emptys for full and repeating this over and over. Nthe women on the shore would dump out the fish on the sand and start sorting. Most of the fish were sardine size and would be used for drying. Some were palm sized but not too many. I did see one little puffer fish in the mix as well. Ome woman was taking the fish and throwing them in the dirt and then covering them with dirt. I thought these were the rejects until I wanked through them and caught a dirty look. WHOOPS !! Sorry … I have not idea what kind of process she was doing. It looked like she was throwing them away. On the drying rack besides the fish were some really nice looking squid.

Then the town drunk found me. He was all talking in some English, some Burmese and a lot of Sot at a volume you could hear all over the beach. I tried to humor him and then tried avoiding him and then used one of my 5 words in Burmese. Go! And motioned away. None of the above worked. Finally I had to admit defeat and leave the area.

I walked the bike through the village amid a chorus of “Ming ula bah's” (Hello) and beauty pageant waves. If yoyu wave back with your fingers they interpret it to mean “Come here” a mistake I am making less and less, but am still not flawless at it. If they stared at me I smiled and almost without exception they smile back and said hello. The young pre schoolers were the best. They would almost wave their arm off and they yelled hello. Sometimes in Burmese, occasionally with an actual Hello. I was in the part of the village that most of the tourists overlook or just glimpse as they pass by in a vehicle. Walking the bike brought me to a pace where we both connected at some basic level.

The heat of the day was starting to pick up so I sauntered out of the village and to the main road to go back to the hotel. By now the rest of the world had awoken and the trucks and construction workers were back making my life interesting. Back at the hotel I had some breakfast, took another shower and just hung out in the room or on the veranda until late afternoon when I went for a walk on the beach. Walking along at the surf line with the waves washing over my feet and soaking the cuffs of my pants. I walked until I turned around and the sun was getting closer to the horizon.

When I was on the boat going to the worlds largest bell and unfinished stuppa there were two guys on the boat. They recognized me as we waited for different planes at Lake Inle airport. They recommended two places here. One the Green Umbrella for a drink on the beach and a different one for food. Both are little shacks on the beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas. They said to order the drink in the coconut. I took their advice and got a huge drink in a big coconut full of rum and real fruit juices with so much pulp my straw kept collapsing because it would clog with the fruit. Am excellent way to finish a long hot walk and watch the sunset. Now that is a good reason to watch the sunset. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beach Music

Sunday March 30 2014 – 7:45 p.m.
Nglapali Beach, Myanmar

You know those Corona beer commercials with the palm thatched umbrellas and the waves gentle breaking in the background. I am there except the beer is Myanmar Beer. Pretty nice digs as they say. Beach front room over looking the Bay of Bengal with A/C and everything ! It is coming at a price, but reviewing my finances I can handle it.

Last night I walked down the street to the restaurant that Franco recommended. It is a pizza cum spaghetti place. I wander up in all my touristness at the appointed time for dinner and walk up and the girl looks at me. I look back and nothing. I smile and say “Will you feed me please” miming to my mouth. Nuttin. I say something like “I want to put it in here and let it go here” miming both places. I didn't continue down the alimentary track for her. Sill the Sphinx. Finally I just walked over and took a seat. I still don't think she understood that I wanted dinner, because a different woman took over as soon as I sat down. Great avocado salad. So-so pizza.

Bed and morning. You know the morning flight combination as well as I do now. The taxi price was five dollars less going to the airport than coming from. Must have been shorter. We landed to a very organized cluster fuck. For some reason Immigration always wants to see your passport when you got on and off a plane. After immigration everyone from my plane just stood around with our mutual thumbs located in a non traditional area. Eventually I asked about the luggage and a vague that-a-way gesture. I went as directed and asked again and was told that the bags were outside the airport and my hotel was taking care of it. I'm thinking about the times that we have flying pigs. Somebody asked my hotel and took my luggage tag. Still no luggage in sight, I was ushered into a waiting full of German tourists and looked out the window anxiously for my currently worldly goods to appear. Appear they did, like magic. I was certain with all the chaos things would work out poorly. They obviously have done this in the past and have it down to “Swiss Watch” precision.

At the hotel I asked the manager if I could buy an upgrade from basic room ro beach front room. I was happy to pay the additional fee. Huge room, great view, BIG bed, I looked around the -property and then immedietly took a nap. After the nap I picked up one of the courtesy bikes. I chose the “girl's” step through bike because it had a handlebar basket, The mountain bikes did not have and storage of any sort.

The road is narrow. Two mini vans can barely meet oncoming, toss in a mix or motor bikes a bicycle maybe a trishaw and things get tight. Add a lot of construction, mostly by hand but the occasional large, very large dump truck or cement mixer and it scared the girl to death. I wanted to turn around and give the bike back but I do have me audience to inform and entertain (though they never write and they never call (Hint, hint)), so I made the sacrifice. The road wold be paved for a while then rough stones then sand then hard pack and then pavement again. All the time trucks are coming and going. Motor bikes are zooming past after a beep-beep of warning “I am here and I am passing you”. Once the deep baritone of a big truck would bellow and I'd head for the soft sand on the side of the road, Again controlled chaos. If you know the rules, Great. If not maybe an extra pair of scanties along wouldn't hurt.

I pedaled until it looked like the road was going to be the same to Yangon (Rangoon) so I found a dirt track that looked like it might be heading to the beach and it didn't appear to be a path to someone's house. And started walking the bike down the lane. The path had never seen and probably never will see tarmac. Through the village amid the ducks and pigs. Waving to the men and mostly women sitting on their “stoops” a board in front of their houses. About two thirds of them initiating hellos in Burmese and nearly all the rest responding back to a nod. The road did end at the beach where small fish were laid on blue nets to dry and then at the end of the day shaken into piles and harvested. I took some late afternoon, early evening pictures of the boats in the harbor. I was told by the hotel manager to go a little further tomorrow around six a.m to see the boats come in. I kind of want to stay in bed, but duty calls. I turned around and found a cross path on the way back t the main road. As Yogi Bear says “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I took it. As a tourist you know you are in uncharted territory when a local stops and asks you if you are lost. My only question was if this road parallels the main road and another road crosses and leads to the main road. He assuaged my fears and I kept going.

A right turn and back at the main road, construction and all. The ride back was less harrowing and seemed shorter. Back at the hotel I dropped off the bike. Had a beer, moved pictures from the camera to the netbook and came to dinner. I suppose the next will be about early morning fishermen.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Sloop John Aung

March 29th 2014 – 6:30 p.m.
Lake Inle – Myanmar

This morning started the same as any morning in a 2 star hotel in a third world country. Find a darned plug for coffee and hairdryer. There are plugs galore and they all work, the problem lays in finding one that will fit snugly enough so that it makes connection. For some reason the plugs with the little round holes wear out and you have to fiddle with the plug to get the insert to fit just right. It works for a second and as soon as you release it it moves and you lose power. So you go through this dance of jiggling the plug, releasing it and when it keeps power to try and never move it again until whatever task you are trying to accomplish. The hot water is reasonably easy as it is static once in place. The hairdryer is nearly impossible. It was so impossible that I almost didn't wash my hair today. Eventually I reigned successful.

I rented a bike from the hotel because the boat driver said he would meet me on a bike. He did show up on a bike and had a trishaw along. One of the forms of transport I haven't ridden in yet. A trishaw is a bike with a sidecar sort of affair attached. I it has two seats of wood and generally covered in dirt. One faces forward and one to the rear. Maybe I'll get a chance later.

We got to the boat and he passed me off to a young man with English skills nearly as good as my Burmese. Not quite a bait and switch but if I had known that he was just a middleman I would have taken my business to a different vendor. The actual boatman.
The boat is the typical boat you might think of going down a river in Thailand. Long and thin as a snake with a giant engine in the back and a long shaft connected tot he engine with the propeller on the end. The boatman cranks a wheel like winding up a spring and the engine coughs to life in a cloud of smoke and a heavy thrum-thrum that I am certain that it is going to die in the next second.
I never did, it just sounded that way. He revs the engine puts the shaft into the water and with a rooster tail of green water we were away.

The first stop was a town that was hosting the five day movable market. Every day a different village. Mr. Boatman pulled up a set of wooden steps and pointed shoreward. I climbed up onto dry bridge and walked into town. I started following where the string f people carrying full shopping baskets were coming from. Probably two thirds of the way there I thought. I've seen local markets in many places and they don't change. Tarps on poles, goods on tarps on the ground, fruits vegetables, some meat, some fish. This one might be in the woods, butt only thing different is the setting. I did a U-turn. A hundred feet into my return a dozen of so yellow hatted tourists trailed along behing a man dressed better than the locals. Obviously their guide. How was the market ? I didn't go. The day is early, you have plenty of time to see the rest of the lake, come with us.” --------- fine !

We walked along talking. I felt a little bad taking their guide's time when they were the paying customers, but he seemed to want t talk. So WTF ? When we got to the market it was exactly what I had envisioned. I could have stayed on the boat and not missed a thing – as far as the market was concerned. The guide told his charges to be back as a certain time and motioned me to the locals only teashop. I offered to buy him a tea and he insisted on hosting me. He ordered some local tea and (there must be a bad joke in here someplace) it smelled awful but tasted fine. Of course they were using the water from the river and it smelled it. The tea and sugar and milk tasted really nice, but fear kept me from more than a few sips. I know it was boiled, but how long ?

I glanced over at some of his group one woman stood out. Dressed in red from head to toe with a hankie to her nose and mouth. It was a little dusty, but nothing smelled. I asked Franco where his group was from, Italy. No, they didn't take and buses it was airplane all the way. He had lived in Italy for a while perfecting his Italian and next language to master was English. I thought he was doing pretty good in our conversation, but he wanted better. I asked him abut the woman in red. Nothing was good enough for her. The food, the lodging, the sights. One of those people who should stay home and read about it. He suggested a guesthouse in Yangon and neither of us had a pen to write the number down. I walked over to a lady selling tourist things and asked if I could borrow a pen. She took one out of her purse and handed it to me. When the information was affixed to paper I returned the pen to her and she said if I needed it, it was her present to me. Now that is hospitality.

Back at the boat, the next stop was the cigar makers, then the jewelers and the weavers. The cigar makers were the only thing that – you seen one, you seen em' all –. They rolled flake tobacco into tobacco leaves and crimped the top down inside the tube, instead of rolled tobacco leaves.

We stopped for lunch and a pagoda was offered. I declined. I found out later I probably shouldn't have. Instead of LED Buddha they had another gold leaf magnet Buddha. I had seen the one in Mandalay but a different one would have been gravy.

The next to the last stop on the circuit was a weaving shop. I thought we had already seem a weaving shop; This wasn't your normal weaving shop. It was your Ripley's Believe It Or Not ! Weaving shop. The women weaving in the shop were from a tribe in eastern Myanmar. The reason they were here is because there is some fighting going on there and it is closed to foreigners. They came to Lake Inle because that is where the tourists are. They start out at 4 kilograms and move up to 6 kilograms. If you live long enough you could be wearing 8 kilograms. For those of you who are not kilogram savvy it is about 8 pounds, 13 pounds and seventeen pounds. Just pick up a 5 pound bag of sugar and imagine that around your neck. The women just kept weaving as I took a few pictures. Feeling a bit exploitative, but nt enough not to take the pictures. I left some money behind to soothe my guilt.

The final stop was the monastery where the monks have trained some cats to jump through hoops and over things. The cats weren't jumping and the monks were off monking. It was a pretty cool building regardless of jumping cats or not. Numerous cats loafing around, accepting ears and belly rubs. One monk was in a regal chair on a dais and people would kneel before him and offer him cash. He would take it with just the tips of his fingers and place it in a large bowl next to him and talk to the person. I don't know if he was offering advice, absolving them of sins or telling their fortunes. It was fun just to watch him talk to them.

Back at town. I paid up the driver and pedaled back to the hotel and fell under the fan and tried to cool my poor burnt shoulders and arms. Well, duh !

Tomorrow at at a few before seven the taxi will be here to go to the airport and the beach for a day or so. I wanted to go to Taungoo and see the working elephant camps, but since they are in the jungle tourists require a permit and a guide to enter the area. Neither of which I have. So a day or so of umbrella drinks sounds kind of nice

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday March 28th 2014
Lake Inle, Myanmar 6:30 p.m.

You have heard it all before. Get up. Do stuff with hot water. Ram food down. Get a taxi. Be about to leave, but before that can happen the mini bar has to be checked, even though I haven't touched it in 4 days I might have loaded my luggage with Coke and beer. Give the luggage and ticket to somebody. Get on a plane. Get off a plane. Get luggage. Find taxi. Complain about the price. Pay the price and arrive at a hotel. There were a few hours in between the start and stop of that.

The hotel is $30 a night. It is very basic a semi secure place for my goods, a bed and hopefully hot water in the morning. No A/C but it does have a fan. No green oasis like the one in Bagan. A sea of concrete with bungaloos on short cement piers. It feels temporary to me. Kind of those beach side caravan parks I've seen in Morocco. The clientele seems to be the same as well. Men and women of a certain age who are well ensconced and are here for the long haul. The guy next to me has this old dusty (nothing special with the dusty part) five speed that is well worn. I paid for three night and am leaving after two. It just isn't my kind of place.
The town is laid out in a grid and has no reason to be anywhere as larger except for the tourist trade. There are a couple temples to look at, but only from the outside. Inside they are all the same including LED Buddha. It is located on a canal that feeds the lake, not the lake proper as I had anticipated. My intention was to go on a boat ride. Sit in a restaurant watching the sunset over the lake as I sipped my evening beer. Did I tell you I was leaving a day early?

Nobody seems to smile in this town of dusty hot straight treeless streets. In Bagan and even Mandalay if you say hello to someone the almost always replied and generally smiled as well. I have been looked through more times today than I care to remember. Leaving day after tomorrow – remember ?

The hotel can do everything and I assume with a comission attached . I kind of blew her off on the boat tour, but did take her up on making the flight arriangments out of here day after tomorrow.

In my walkabout town of course a boatman found me.”Yes we go here and here and here and big market and here and pagoda there” basically the tourist circle that everyone goes on. Start in the early, but not too early a.m. and back in the late afternoon. His price was the same as all the rest. So tomorrow is cast.

That is about it for today. I am not angry, I am just disappointed. Maybe if the hotel was different, or the town was on the lake things would be different, I certainly expected it to be.

Going to the temple and we're going to get ....

Thursday March 27th 2014
Bagan, Myanmar

Thursday and the banks are closed, how odd.

Last eve I took a walk to a different restaurant than the one where I caught the past WiFi signal. This was a little more local than tourist, but a step away from street food, which I am still leery of even though the only two times I have been sick were from eating in tourist oriented eateries. This one was lit outside with LED strings of lights and looked inviting. My stomach was making ugly faces from the anti malarial pill I had taken before leaving my hotel. I have to remember to take with food. I ordered a beer and looked at the menu. The prices seemed a little high but I was there and they were here, so go with it. I ordered soup, salad rice and a main of stir fried chicken and vegetables. The waiter said it might be too much and the way my stomach was feeling I agreed. Nix the soup. The salad of tomatoes, onions and cumber was really good, but just a little and see how it goes. With 'goes' being the operative word in that sentence. The rice was a nice cup full but the protein of the meal was huge. The waiter said it was a single serving when I ordered. Ya, a single family. I ate half of everything, but I did drink all the beer. I motioned for the check and the waiter came by looked and walked away. Then some lady came and looked and walked away. Then the manager or owner came over. “What is wrong with the food?”. “Nothing it is just too big.” He understood, wrote the bill up and charged me five bucks. I did glance out the open kitchen door into the cooking area. I might call it a kitchen but you wouldn't probably. It wasn't a room, just burners set up outside the back of the restaurant. I'll go back tonight.

This morning was meet the horse cart at 6 a.m. For sunrise at the temples. I don't know what it about the sun they think I need to see it pop out of the ground or fall into the river. Whatever. That was the time he set. We clipped in the dark to temple/pagoda/building he said for me to climb. I finally found the stairs inside and they were totally back and I hadn't thought to bring a flashlight. I stayed slightly elevated and took the morning pictures. All I wanted was the 'golden hour' after the sun came up. It was a very nice sight and I am glad I went. As the sun was brightening the morning the hot air balloons were rising. It made a very pretty scene.

Then off to some pagoda/temple crawling and to the new town New Bagan. In the 1990's the government moved the population from living among the temples to a town outside the national park. It was a nice town, lots of trees and greenery on the riverside. Next stop was a new golden temple that was jammed packed with tourists and no white faces among them. I circled the stupa and took some pictures and reboarded my ride.

The reason I think is today is a holiday. This morning on the way to sunrise I saw a group of ten women in traditional dress eating breakfast. They were wearing the dresses with lots of gold embroidery and the hats that go around your head and have a golden spike at the top. On our way to the next sight we came along a large parade of people half in similar dress for both men and women and a motorized paladin carrying the guests of honor. This was their send off to join the monkhood. Vows taken today, a large feast tomorrow and off to red robes and rice bowls for as long as they stay monks. (Monkhood is kind of fluid. Go, leave, come back as you need/want to) My camera sounded like a cicada as the shutter opened and closed. Then it stopped. Dead battery. The meter on my camera is like some gas gauges. Shows full until suddenly it falls off quickly. Of course no back up. I was forced to look at this marvel with my own eyes and not through a view finder. Oh ! The humanity !

After a couple more temples it was back to town where we ran into another parade. This one Bobo said were for rich people. I asked how he knew this and he said “They have an elephant” There was a walking mountain draped in reds and golds coming towards us. A camera would have been nice, but just seeing it was special enough. Behind the elephant were two ox carts drawn by two equally fancy garb. Quite a scene.

Back at the hotel by ten a.m.

I got the bad news that the plane for the 29th would have a long layover in Mandalay, while the one tomorrow would be there only long enough to discharge passengers and take on fuel before going on to my destination, Lake Innle. I kind of wanted to see Mount Popa but it is time to move on since time in country is getting shorter. So the bird flies at 7:30 and lands finally at 9:30. Hopefully time to find a hotel before too late in the day.

A power nap full of odd dreams while the young nubile bodies froliced in the pool. A walt to the local water station and back to meet Bobo and son around 4:00. Mostly just some easy fresco laden temples. At one a sales man told me the story of this minor temple. A the head monk of the Monistary was paying tribute to the king and his funds ran out the king demanded what the monk didn't have and when he couldn't come across the king had him blinded. Since he could no longer see to write the tablets any longer the people took the ones that were written on and tossed them into the toilet for safe keeping. Eventually this king died and the people dug up the tablets and wanted the monk to write more. The monk said he could with the magic stone and new eyes. The people went to the market and brought back one goat eye and one cow eye. How the cow eye fit is beyond me. Once the eyes were in place the magic stone came into play and everybody was happy except for the bad dead king. – of course the tale came with the obligatory viewing of his wares which I bought some of just because of the good story.

Another temple another sales man cum tour guide. His tour was good, more history the story.. He was selling the same merchandise as the other one and I had to turn him down. I also had to turn down the guy who wheeled up on his motor bike and offered to sell me real rubies. At a price better than he would give his own mother. I had the impression he was selling them at a loss, just for me. What a guy ! I let him keep the stones because I am not real big into rubies.

We stopped at a couple more places, but honestly the sun was heavily filtered and not suitable for the photos I wanted to get and I didn't know how to make lemonade out of lemons. So I mostly asked Bobo about things. He was alive and living here in '75 for the last earthquake. Happened around dinner time and as thibgs began to move mom said hang on it is going to get bumpy. I don't know if they knew what was going on, probably so, but everyone in the village started banging their fire bell. No deaths were reported in the area, but most of the pagodas and temples sustained damage. The only to survive intact is the one in yesterdays picture with the gold stupa and the birds flying through the picture.

His family is a family of cart drivers going back at least four generations. I asked jim if his grandfather ever told him about when the Japanese occupied the country. He said that his grand dad remembers a lot of Japanese and British and Indian fighting each other. Many were killed, but he didn't know what it was all about. He said No. they weren't/aren't allowed firearms, only sling shots and knives. He doubted they would be very effective in world war two..He did say numerous Buddha statures lost their heads for some reason the plunderers thought there was gold and jewels inside.

Atop one of the temples that you are allowed to climb there were hundreds of people one top watching the sunset. Bobo said they were mostly Myanmar people. I asked him why and he said it was 3 month summer vacation for school. Next month is the Water Festival then New Years and then back to school for today's co-pilot. Back to monk school, not to become a monk, but taught by monks. In Mandalay I ad seen a boy get tapped rather sharply on the top of his head for messing around. I told him that the Christian nuns had a rep for smacking palms with rulers. He told me that in school if you don't do your lessons the first time is a warning. Second stronger warning. Third “How many lashes with the cane do you want ? One – two or three ?”. – “Noooo I don't think only one is enough I think three is right. But I will split the difference with you at two.”. Interesting learning tool, especially the higher math involved in figuring out how many lashes are deserved.

We rode back to the hotel. Good wishes and appreciated thanks given on both sides. I made an instant pit stop, changed shoes and walked back to last eve's restaurant with a replay of the previous meal only spicy and sour chicken which is pretty darned good. Then back to my abode, pack and get to bed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

These sandals are made for walking

Wednesday March 26th 2014
Bagan, Mandalay 1:30 p.m.

As I was saying …

I kind of balked at the idea of climbing the temple to see the sunset. A little prodding of Bobo got me to submit to his idea of what would be fun for me. The climb up was really nice. A perspective overlooking the entire plain. I knew there were a lot of temples in the area, but until I got high did I realize just how many. We only stopped at maybe less than 10 yesterday and I would image that was just a 10th of the total. Granted most of them are unremarkable, but still there are a ton, no several tons of them.

I took a lot of pictures as the light and shadow changed. I don't know if I got any shots worth printing we shall have to see once me and Photoshop are reunited. Sunset ? Well it did. Not a lot of color as sometimes happens. The sun played peek-a-boo behind some clouds and finally fizzled out into the haze. Nice perspective, better than midday light, so so sunset. Glad I went.

But like mount Everest. The top is only half way. I must have looked like a spider coming down all stretched out and hanging on. Obviously I didn't need to use my trip protection.

The horse was happier on the way back. I am not sure if it knew ti was – go home time – or it was a little cooler. However it was it was nice to see the horse not just plodding along.

Back at the hotel I told Bobo that I would be taking a horse cart day off tomorrow (today) and would be going to the outlying areas via taxi, but I might like to get some early morning photos the following day (tomorrow). He gave me his business card and wrote his phone number on it. I told him I'd give him a call and let him know.

I made a quick pitstop and then headed out to seek dinner. I liked the place I ate at the previous night and the price with a beer was about the same as a Mocha Frappiccino at Starbucks – and – they had WiFi. Maybe their Wifi would let me get onto my blog. (it appears it did). Dinner was good but missing some crucial elements from the previous evening. The prior meal was sliced raw carrots and such, a kind of chopped up spinach mixture, broccoli, a really great fresh curry and some boney chicken that had been portioned with a cleaver into bite sized pieces. There were no carrot sticks and no curry last night. I didn't tip. To be honest I am the only tourist who does so I doubt they even knew I was slightly miffed.

I stayed up all the way until 10 p.m. I am such a big girl now.

The morning came and sitting on my veranda sipping coffee and watching it lighten. Had some breakfast and then went to wait for the taxi I had called for last night. It was the same taxi driver as I had from the airport. On the drive into town he gave me his card and told to give him a call and he would give me a full day for $35. Seemed pretty fair to me. In the phone conversation I had his say “$35 for full day” back to me. At the appointed time a different taxi driver arrived and told me the other one was busy. Ok, fine. No huge deal. I told him where I wanted to go and his eyes got big and said $30 more. I told him stick to the original price and I'll pay for the gas, because I know we are leaving the town area. He got on the phone post haste and called the no show driver and handed me the phone. “Nooo, madam. $35 half day in Bagan only”. I handed the phone back, said thank you and walked away expecting to get called back. The car and driver drove away. It isn't the cost, but I am not going to be taken with 'bait and switch'. I might be missing out on the day trip of a lifetime, so be it.

So as the package tours say in their itinerary I have a “Free day”. Walked to the market and did some actual shopping. I walked down the tourist gauntlet of shirt and skirt seller and told on in particular I would return after some more looking around. I did return after taking s9me pictures and the stand was there, but she wasn't. So I walked down to the stand 2 booths away and after many different tries did fine 2 tops that would fit my fluffy body. I could have negotiated harder but she really do work to find a type and size for me. As I was leaving I passed the first shop and she was back. She gave me Holy Hell for not waiting for her. I don't think I deserved that. Maybe, but I think not.

Back at the hotel I asked them to call Bobo. Of course the phone was disconnected or not in service. O.k. Now what ? On the back of his business card it had his cart number and the area where he was generally based. Fair enough. I requested directions from the front desk and she pointed in the general direction with a left at the traffic circle. Learning from a previous mistake I asked if I was going in the right direction about every 10 minutes. Kind of like saving your work when working on a long document, except I don't have a built in autosave. One of the stops she suggested I take that dirt cow path over there. It would be like cutting off the “V” I would be making at the traffic circle. True to her word she saved me a substantial amount of walking.

I bought a bottle of water and kept on keeping on to the location on the card. I knew he would be out hustling customers but I was optimistic. His number is 20 and of course no 20 in sight. There was a 29 though. He and I exchanged pleasantries and of course he was more than willing to take me to see the temples. He did know Bobo. I told him. “If you see Bobo, tell him the American lady from the Thante hotel wants to talk to him. If he finds me as I am walking back I'll give him 2000 Khat to give to you.”. 3000 was the rejoinder. Then he said lest splint the difference at 2500. I did try for 2300 but he kind of had me over a barrel ($ .20).Then he said “I know where Bobo live. You wait here ten minute.” Sounded good to me. I was in shade, I had water, I would have waited 30. I didn't have anything better to do anyway.

Ten minutes later he came back with Bobo in the back of the horse cart. I had to smile. I handed two 1000 notes and started peeling off 100's. I paused at 300 and looked a question at him. He just continued to hold his hand out until the other 200 landed. Smiles all around.

Bobo happened to be at home instead of searching for tourists. He had a 2 a.m. gig of moving luggage for someplace to someplace else. Then found a Dutch couple who wanted sunrise service at the temples and that was all. So his morning was made by nine thirty. We made the deal for tomorrow. Six a.m. Call time (he set it, not me). Early morning photo shoot and New Bagan with something else in the late afternoon.

They offered me a ride back to the hotel, but my pride kept me on my sandals. I made a wrong cow path choice on the way back and ended up half a block from my hotel. Life is good.

The remainder of the day is watching tourists attempt for melinoma at the poolside. Take a walk to the travel agent to get a ride out of town day after tomorrow and find some grub. Sounds like a “Free day” to me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

All I can say about hot tiles is ----- oh ! Oh ! Ow ! Ow !

Tuesday March 25 2014 – 1:40 p.m
Bagan Myanmar

Back at the hotel after spending five hours smelling horse farts, burning my feet on hot tiles, saying improper words from stepping on pointy rocks, holding my bladder, saying “No” a hundred times an hour to postcard ladies and seeing some very interesting temples. I have had my shoes on an off so many times today that people should be sticking dollar bills into my bra. Shoes off when entering the pagoda or temple area, back on upon leaving – unless I want to carefully look at each step to avoid a puncture – Shoes off to get into the horse cart – just because it is the polite thing to do – then do it again at the next stop.

I really don't have a lot to say about today that can't be said better in pictures. I was in full blown Nikon tourist mode. One of those days when you get back home and people say “What did you see” - your reply in “Nothing. But do you want to see the pictures?” I didn't have my camera lens glued to my eye all morning, but I did take a lot of photos and not too much in the way of interaction with anyone except Bobo my horse wrangler.

I was walking around a temple and two early teenage girls were ringing a bronze bell with a large wooden stick. The stick had been used so much that the head had mushroomed. I smiled and they smiled and then the one with the camera (I hope) mimed that she wanted to take MY picture ! You know I thought about saying, no, but I had asked a number of people on this trip if I could take their picture and no one turned me down. I guess I was kind of obligated to say, yes. Photos were taken with both of the girls and they left smiling and I chagrined.

Around 11:30 the red tiles surrounding the temples started to get hot and by noon, I told Bobo that we could go more, but I wasn't doing anymore barefootin'. I think he was glad to hear that. His six year old – Take your son to work day – partner was fading fast as well.

A quick stop at the back to change Benjamin into somebody else and back at the hotel for so chillaxin' until 4:30 to go look at a sunset. I think I've seen sunsets before but not from here.

Maybe I'll write more on the flip-flop good buddy.

This is so weird. I can connect to the internet only some web sites with my computer and so others with my iPhone, but now where can I connect to I guess it will be a couple more days before I can send this out.

At the appointed time I met horse and driver minus child. We were going to see the temples at sunset – no that is wrong. We were going to see the sunset at the temples. The first thing I did was buy a bottle of water. Then as I was opening it I dropped it and 70 percent of it spilled on the ground and made the bottle filthy. I just poured the rest on mu hands and washed myself of the whole problem. Bobo said he's stop and we would replace it a bit down the road. It wasn't as hot as at noon. I wouldn't call it cool though it was better. We stopped at one shoe removal station and I am glad we did. Nice frescoes inside though some panels were missing. Some German guy in 1899 removed them and took them to parts unknown. Then he had the nerve to sign the blank wall.

Next strop was the pagoda for watching the sunset. Looked at the stairs up and almost said let's move on. They aren't at the American staircase angle they are at 60 degrees, narrow, oddly set in height and finally no hand rail. Going up is fine, it is the down that horrifies me. Out of balance and only one bounce away from seeing how good that travel insurance is that I bought before leaving.

I have a connection not. I'm going to drop this writing and post while I can.

Begin the Bagan

Monday March 24 2014
Bagan, Myanmar

Today has been a not too much to report day.

Up at 4:30. Taxi to the airport at 6. Supposed to take an hour we made in by six forty. There were times I was wondering if we were going to make it at all. The driver looked my Chinese than Burmese - I'll let you fill in the rest of that stereotype. He would turn late going into the curves and then turn late coming out of them and having to over correct to get back on the straight and narrow. All the while exceeding the speed of the vehicles around him. It was bad enough that I started sniffing for the  scent of alcohol. But as is obvious we made it to the airport. Check in, get on the plane. The plane holds 72 passengers we were ten total. It appears it is past tourist season.

Taxi ride from the airport and the first hotel that was recommended to me by a Swiss an this morning at the hotel in Mandalay turned out to suit my style and then a little bit more. For half a Benjamin I have your basic bungalow with A/C, a beautiful shady pool and WiFi from my veranda. So far I am a very happy camper.

I kicked off my boots, jumped into  my sandals, reassembled my camera and unpacked Indiana Jones (my hat) and went exploring.

First stop was the covered market. It is completely a locals market except for the edges which are full of all those things you need to put in your luggage and try to exceed you baggage weight allowance

I left the market and started following the road on the map in Lonely Planet. I walked for thirty minutes and started seeing fewer and fewer tourist buses. I asked if I was on such and such road and the guy n the side of the road nodded enthusiastically. So I kept on keeping on. fifteen or twenty minutes later two guys on a motorbike pull over and ask me where I am going. -- Well you can see the punch line coming as well as I can. Maybe nodding your head is "No" here. Ok, how far ? Long ways -- 7 km. I did the math and heck I can walk 1.2 miles. The road is flat and it isn't too hot. About face ! Forrrworrrd March !

So not I have given up on the map and am pointing in the direction and saying "Old Bagan?". Now these responses were in the affirmative. I even generally asked twice. Walk, walk. No,, no bike thank you. No taxi thank you. I don't need a horse cart today, thank you. I keep looking  I don't see any cold drink stands or tour buses parked anyplace. I am beginning to wonder again. I stopped at a cafe to check. In English she confirms I am in the right direction. Just 20 more minutes. What ? You didn't rent a bicycle. You are walking ?!? It's .. uh .. er .. maybe one hour more ! -- An hour ?!??!? WTF, Over ? I can't be walking that slow. Lets see, here -- .62 Miles to a kilometer - times seven comes out to 42 plus change - move the decimal -- !!! FOUR AND A HALF MILES !!! No wonder the guys on the motor bike laughed at me.

Like an oasis in the desert under a tree seems to be a horse and cart. I approach it gingerly thinking it might be a mirage, but I don't think mirages snort when you get close. I did the universal thumbs up, thumbs down question and got a thumbs up. How much. About the same price as a "Full meal deal" at MacDonalds. Maybe a little more but not much more. To my destination and all the way back to my hotel. I was hot and sweaty enough to pay Olive Garden dinner and wine and desert for a horsey ride.

The guy was nice to his horse and the horse knew his job. I told him not much pagoda climbing today. More just to get the lay of the land. I am really glad that I made this trip. The temples are in a different style and setting than Angkor Wat but they are almost as impressive. We clip clopped to the hlfway point in the archeological area and I had him stop and bought myself, the driver and his son a soft drink in a can. I supported the big red can from Atlanta and they bought something that I am sure was much healthier. we moved on from there and I took a minimal amount of photos. It was jst getting to know the area day, not a full blown Nikon clicking, shoe removing day.

We went back the way I had come and it sure seemed shorter this time and he dropped me at my hotel and asked about tomorrow. I honestly hadn't thought that far in advance, but decided we would be a team tomorrow. Fair price, reasonably comfortable, nice guy, cute son. Sounded like a good combination to me.

I know I said this earlier but the people here are really friendly. Smiles and waves from the locals in the back of pick-up trucks just because. Nothing to prompt it, just plain friendly. I have been trying to pick up a little of the language. I have a close approximation of 'hello' and a pretty good 'good bye'. 'Thank you' is giving me a bit of a problem because it is about six or seven syllables. Maybe by Wednesday it will come and not leave me sounding like I just got off the boat.

There was one very unexpected encounter. A march of 0ver a hundred people all wearing t-shirts with "Change the 2008 constitution" written on the back and I assume the same in Burmese n the front were walking two abreast all around town. No chanting of slogans, just an orderly parade for lack of a better word. One woman caught my eye, smiled and waved. I waved back and gave her a thumbs up. She suddenly had a thousand watt smile.

So it is now around 4 p.m. I've been back for a while. No food since last night's dinner. I may put on my sandals and go foraging.
. A woman did show me a very common tourist purchase that I may get. Light white shirt that if you ran a stick through the arm holes and hung it, it would look like a capital T (Kimono). She said she had one in my size, but I am questioning that statement. I told her I would be back later to look at it closer and she immedietly dropped the price 30 percent. There must be quite a markup on it. If it fits - cool! If it doesn't I'll give it to someone back home and tell her I bought it just for her. She'll never know and I'll never tell.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some really BIG things

Sunday March 23 2014

Last day in Mandalay. Tomorrow I fly to Bagan. I was wobbling between the plane or the boat. The boat leaves around 8 am and gets into Bagan around 4 or 5.  The plane leaves at 8 a.m. and gets there whenever it gets there, but certainly before the boat does. There was only a 20 or twenty-five dollar difference and it gives me a half day more there. It is just too early in the trip to want to have a day where I just lay around watching the world float by.

Today was a pretty darned good day. Up to before daylight, even before that yelling guy in the tower started hollering about Allah. Out on the street to watch the monks walk to either work or breakfast. I think probably the latter, because even monks have to eat. I stood on the corner and watched the dumpling/chapatta guy make his dough (not money kind - the other kind). That was quite a process. Especially since there was not a machine involved in any way. Then he tossed them into hot oil and left them in for much longer that I thought necessary, but he was the pro in this scenario. Around the time he was getting things in the oil the street side venders were setting out their blankets and putting out flowers or vegetables out for the day's trade. It was just starting to lighten so I went back to my room and did my morning stuff.

We got to the ferry dock fifteen minutes before sailing to Mingun. The location of the world's largest uncracked bell and what would have been the world's largest stupa. But as things like that happen the king died and his successor said to hell with it and stopped., to go and find a way to spend his subject's money differently.

These were 30 minutes up river on the tourist ferry. Our chairs were on the open deck and I spent about half the time talking to my seat mate. It passed the time, but no new horizons or knowledge exchanged. At five a.m. I could feel a wind out of the east. Moving air ? I sense a change in the weather. It sprinkled a little on the way there. A dozen warm raindrops and everyone was throwing coverings over their heads. I put my hat over my camera. It was nice.  I don't think it lasted 5 minutes. Pikers !

The ox cart drivers were waiting for us.  I had to do it even though the area was smaller and mostly level and with the moisture in the air really really cool and pleasant. This trip - plane, motorbike, taxi, boat, horsecart and now oxen. I wonder what is next? Hot air balloon ? Train ? I haven't seen any camels or elephants yet. I hopped in one and  we followed along behind the ox train of the rest of the tourists.

That unfinished stupa is really huge and only one third completed. Most of the tour buses freight headed up the main steps and into the front door. I and a couple of other ferry passengers started walking around it.  I was impressed. It would have been quite a sight, though the corners are scarred deeply due to the earthquake in the 1800's. I am questioning whether it would have survived that quake if it had been finished. Maybe it fared better because of the earthquake. I climbed the front steps to find a bathroom sized  niche with a Buddha and the required LED lights. I could have skipped the stairs and been able to keep my shoes on and not missed a thing.

Then came the giant bell. It was a tourist encircled giant bell. I made a big gong.

There was another pagoda that I can't remember, so it must have unremarkable, even though
I did just remark on it.  Last on the stop was a very very pretty white pagoda built in seven levels with the pagoda at the top signifying Mount Menru (?) It was really cool looking. Back at the ox cart I paid off the driver and took to foot for the way back.  I had an hour and a half to slowly walk back t the boat for the return. I walked really slowly. I even found a European toilet ! and got back to the boat landing with an hour to spare.  :(  Another boat passenger walked over and asked me the time. He was about to return to the vilage and decided to stay and chat. He was a memorable chatter.  a flight attendant for KLM who had already been in Myanmar for about 3 weeks. He had lively topics and a few flight attendant stories as well as sever do's and don'ts for my next stop. He even recommended a hotel in Bagan. For me it was a very worthwhile interlude.

The taxi was waiting for me at the landing and we made a quick stop to pick up my plane ticket before hitting the jade market. I was expecting a brightly lit neon palace where artisans worked before you and then had you exit through the gift shop. I was glad I was wrong. I was there for 30 minutes and didn't see a single western face the entire time. A storl down an alley where young men and a few older - operated foot driven wheels and polishes the jade into ovals suitable for jewelry. then into the sales area that was clearly marked "Foreigners 1000 Khat" I reached into my pocket to pull out the bill and one of the men standing around just waved me through. This was the heartbeat of the market. This is where the raw jade is bought ay buyers sitting at wooden tables with high intensity flashlights to judge the quality of the raw stone. A little deeper were the actual gem buyers and sellers. Table after table of little paper packets filled with gem stones ready for setting.  Some laid out by size some but color and some by both.

I left and walked back past the cutting and polishing area and sat down to smoke a cigarette. Two little boys were sitting across the lane from me preparing the tools for the artisans. The older of the two (maybe 8 years old) mimed me giving him a cigarette. Well I laughed at him, and so did the men working around him. I mean I was down to my last two cigarettes. I took their pictures and sat there watching. As I was leaving I handed each of then a 100 Khat note (about a dime). They seemed really happy with that, I hope happier than taking my last two smokes.

The next place of call was a monastary with a really cool teak temple. Of course no shoes allowed on the grounds. Np shoes so much that in the 1880 a group of westerners walked in and refused to remove their shoes and the monks beat the hell out of them. One of those monks for a life sentence. I took off my shoes and  socks immediately upon entering. It was as peaceful stop on the tourist trail so far. I don't think I want to become a Buddhist nun, but it was very relaxing. -- PLUS -- I saw a sign TOILET --> -- I followed obediently. My luck with western porcelain did not hold. I only peed on my foot a little which generally isn't that bad when I am wearing boots. Barefoot is something different.

The last stop was the gold Buddha. Men (only) have been putting on gold foil for so long at the tour book says that the gold is six inches think and this is a big fat Buddha. His face is clear gold and polished daily to a mirror sheen. In order to get to him, of course shoes are removed and there is a long, long enclosed walkway to the Buddha himself.  This would have been a spiritual walk except it was totally lined with neon lit shops selling religious paraphernalia, but mostly tourist aimed geegaws. The closest I have experienced before was the grand bazaar in Istanbul.

Buddha was an interesting site from the angle allowed that the women were allowed to be in.  Gotta remember those cooties. I would try to explain the sight but it is one of those things that even a 1000 words would not do it justice. I walked around to the back of the area where Buddha sat and found a blank wall with mostly women and a few men worshiping to a suspended television of the Buddha. When it comes to technology it seems Buddha is an early adopter.

Back to the hotel and a 4:30 a.m. wake up for the flight.

I hope the internet is back up .............

zar in Istanbul except there was no pressure to buy anything.

Gold pounding - Monk feeding

Mandalay 5 p.m.

Back at the hotel and ready for bed and a shower. Maybe not in that order. I have seen enough pagodas to last a very long time. Some interesting, some supposedly interesting and some totally lost on me as to why they are on the list. Some are the equivalent of seeing a city's cathedral, some are more like going to the local church.

A few things they all have in common is that shoes and socks are totally forbidden. That is understandable given the culture and the level of dirt and dust. The nicely polished marble of tile floors would be as dull as a Lutheran church service in a heartbeat. This is all well and good since for the most part the floors are immaculately clean. But (isn't there always a but ?) anytime after say 11 am the floors getting to and from the shrine itself turn into cooking griddles. My poor western feet ate not quite tough enough to handle this without my walking to a chorus of my making of "Ooh, Ooh, Ooh!" while doing some type of hop from foot ro foot as I try to forget that I have to go back too.

Once you are safely passed the "Ooh, Ooh" you are greeted with a nice square room with perhaps a little carpeting, several boxes to collect donations and Buddha himself all white with gold trim. But the statue is not the first thing I notice. What I notice is rays radiating from behind his head of multi hued flashing LED lights. I am not exaggerating this. It really sets my teeth on edge. It is as incongruous to me as a bikini at Mass. I know it is not my religion, but it still hits a bad note in my melody.

I went to sleep sometime last evening. It might have been 9 or it might have been 10 or it might have been 10 thirty. There is no clock in my room and the time changed by half an hour between Thailand and Myanmar. This has got my iPhone all confused since it needs to see the internet to figure out the time and the log on procedures in this hotel as a challenge. (Right now there is no internet connection at all - a technician has been called - they probably got customer service out of India like we do at home.

Surprisingly I slept pretty good considering that the road in front of the hotel has two eateries that seem to be favored by all the motor bikes in town. I woke at what I thought was five but turned out to be 4:30. Get showered and such. Had breakfast and still had an hour to kill before the taxi arrived. So I went for a wander. Monks walking by with their rice bowls, at 5 a.m. and the city in full open for business mode by seven. The sidewalks solid with people selling meat and produce. Lots of fish what were weighed on a balance scale and then cleaned before being wrapped in paper. Vegetables enough to make a vegan fat. Onions garlic, tomatoes, okra, beans and fruit. Many varieties I have know idea of what they were or how they might be prepared. Severl smiles were exchanged between sellers and myself and some not smiles too.

I met the taxi at the appointed hour and we were off to the gold market first. That was interesting. They take a paper thin postage stamp sized piece of gold. Sandwich it with bamboo paper and a bunch of other pieces, wrap it in leather and beat the heck out of it for half and hour. Then they do it again after cutting it into sixths. And Yet again but this time for 5 hours.. Eventually they get a piece of gold so thin that if you blow lightly on it it will fly away. I'm talking less of a blow that would flicker a candle. I bought 10 sheets for $3. So everyone back home is getting GOLD ! I feel like Oprah.

The main reason for this process is so that you can stick it on Buddha. Well you can if you have a penis. If you don't have a penis - no dice, sister. Even when you are a guy, you have to stick it on him with your right hand. The left won't do at all. That is because the man has the power and his power is focused in his right arm. The right is so dominant that men have to sleep on the right side of the bed. I guess they are lucky that men don't have two penis or one would not get any use at all. Let's see what else, besides girls have cooties and periods. No Buddha time on your period of course. AND, men only need to shower weekly, women need to bathe daily because otherwise they stink. Christ on a crutch ! Maybe I should have said "Buddha on a pogo stick".

The next stop was a embroidery and wood carving place. Nothing new there.

Afterwards it was monk feeding time. I am not putting you on. We went to a monistary and got there around nine forty-five because the monks ate at 10:15. The way through the complex was just that - complex. A wandering monk took pity on me and escorted me to the dining area. We had a short chat. He had been to the U.S.A. in the mid 1980's, well Los Angeles if you can call that part of the states. That was a nice, short interlude.

At ten a gong in a clock tower rang and like soldiers they lined up two abreast down the block. Each carrying a rice bowl and cloth to sit on. A long line of shaved heads wrapped in red. By ten fifteen the line was two blocks long and they kept coming. (1200 in total the monk told me). All this time the sidewalks were getting denser and denser packed with my brother and sisters of the Grand order of the Nikon. At precisely ten fifteen a monk hit a hanging railroad rail with a metal hammer and the slow march through the throng began. As they passed through the gauntlet people began placing wrapped candies and other goodies on their covered rice bowls. Silent except for the incessant click of camera shutters. Mine included. I would like to be and sometimes think of myself as reverent, but when it comes to a crowd and a spectical I am as heathen as the rest.

I broke off before the end of the line and sauntered through the postcard and knick knack vendors to the world's longest teak bridge. It is the most photographed bridge in Myanmar. Possibly only second to the Golden Gate .. maybe not. Rows and rows of stilts going on for a kilometer or more. The light for photography was poor by this time so I made a few snapshots, but nothing that I would expect to come out os a photograph. I think a six thirty or seven a.m. photo would be ideal. I was tempted to cross the bridge, but there was just more sales men/women there and another pagoda that sounded minnorly interesting, but not an hour walk round trip at noon in March. I walked under the bridge to get closer to the water. It is the dry season and so the water is low and a photo of a bridge crossing a bunch of gardens is not as photogenic as having water under it.

Ar one point I heard some ducks quacking and looked over to see a man in his boat herding his flock ? Covey ? Coven ? of ducks with the boat. Once he got them in a crowd he herded them up onto the levee and someone was waiting to herd them along dry land to wherever ducks go after the spa.

Then it was off in Inwa. A former royal city. First a ferry crossing in a over sized long tail boat with a huge truck engine. Then a small climb up the river bank and back into trinkets, postcards and any number of things for sale. The vendors are nice, but they are persistent. About as persistent as I can recall anywhere.

The traditional tourist way around the former royal city is by horse drawn cart. I knew the price was fixed at 6000 (about 6 dollars). One of the cart salesmen pointed to the sign "2 persons 6000. 3 persons 9000" I handed him 3000 since I was alone. That drew a laugh from a few of the locals, but not the salesman. He got his full fare and w4e were away. Rough, bumpy, tossed from side to side. Not camel bad, but a close second.

More pagodas, but not much else to show there was ever a city there much less a royal one. I don't know if the marble and such was carted off to other uses or if the city was wood and it just disappeared over the years. Now it was mostly farm land with the occasional pagoda. It was a nice ride and a fun experience, but that
was all it was - an experience.

I'm starting to really drag and the next top on the tourist train is a 400 foot climb up a steep stairway at 2 p.m. in 95 degree heat to see another pagoda. I called it quits. UNCLE! I've has all the fun I can stand. Back to the hotel, James.

Which brings us back to "Doe, a a dear, a female dear ....."

p.s. Sorry for the spelling errors .. I was very tired

Friday, March 21, 2014

Do you know the way to Mandalay ? (sung to the tune of San Jose)

March 21 2014 - 7 pm
Mandalay, Myanmar.

pictures tomorrow - promise

Happy vernal equal knox.

It does seem that I made it. I think the effort of getting the visa was worth it. Though at the moment I am so tired I can not totally attest to that fact.

I got up around five after a good six or seven hours of sleep. I did wake around two, and was fearful that it was another night of tossing and turning. A quick pit stop and back to sleep in 10 minutes. A welcome addition to my sleep cycle.

Packed everything and left my big purple coat and a pair of very dirty pants in one of my small packs and hit the road to the airport. Check in was as simple as it gets, as was departure immigration. I didn't toss my passport to the inspector and we both left happy. The flight was what a flight should be. Smooth and reasonably comfortable along with getting us there safely.

Myanmar formalities were about what I've come to expect. Stand in line hand your passport over, stand some more, get your passport back, find your luggage, nod to the Customs officers after your bag is x-rayed once again, and welcome to Myanmar.

Now the fun begins. The swarm of taxi touts descend. I was the most important person in the world judging by the number of people surrounding me. I made a deal with maybe not the devil, but certainly an Imp of Satan. I got pressured and gave in too soon.  I should have gone with the independent guy and not the company pogue. It would have been less expensive by a few dollars, but more importantly would of gone to a guy who could probably really use it. Next time, go slower T.

Mandalay as a city hasn't shown me too much yet. It is just a big noisy city in a long list of big noisy cities around the globe. I am sure it has it's charm. I'll await judgement for later.

My hotel was recommended in the top five in Mandalay in Trip Advisor dot com. The staff iis great. The room seems to be clean. A little on the small size, but after the suite in Bangkok my view of the room may be skewed. It is your basic utilitarian hotel room. Off the street, reasonably secure and a bed and toilet. That is about all I can say for it other than my stinking room is on the second floor overlooking the street and it is not a peaceful sanctuary. Maybe the fan on high will sooth my eardrums. I am going to need to go back to TripAdvisor and re-read some of the reviews I obviously missed something.

As I was setting things out of my luggage my phone rang. It was the tour guide that was also recommended on TripAdvisor who I had exchanged emails. A nice young man who would take me everwhere on my list over the next three days for about $50. It seemed a fair price to me. Then we were about to take off and he said "Hop on the back of the motorbike." Now that was unexpected. That might factor into how low the price was to me. Heck it wasn't even his bike. He rented it for a buck a day from a friend. Ok T. put on your big girl pants, you wanted an adventure, you got one. So pile on, sit down and shut up. I thought they drove wildly with no regard to stop lights ot lines on the road. It really came into perspective sitting out in the open as trucks and cars slipped past.

Mandalay is about a thousand year old, but most of the monuments and such are maybe a century and a half old at the oldest. Most of them are post 1945 . Burma used to be under control by the British. But for some reason Japan thought they wanted it more, so they asked the British to leave which they did amongst a lot of grumbling and dirty looks. A couple years later the British decided they wanted it back  and brought some friends along to ask Japan to go home. Japan kind of liked it in Burma and threw a shit fit about this.  It turnedinto quite a spat and most of the buildings that were the nicest and strongest got renovated via explosion. They stayed that was until thirty of forty years after the Japanese went home to take over the world economically the buildings stayed just like they were when they left.  Then the current government (for some reason after all the hullabaloo in the 1940's the British had gone home to sell records in the USA in the 1960's) came into some money or more likely asked their citizens to volunteer their labor to repair the British/Japanese renovations.

This is strongly seen in the former royal palace with it's twenty foot high walls stretching toe kilometers on a side. The area now is 80 percent army base and 20% tourist site. You enter the main portico and you can only walk down the road half a mile to the royal palace. There is no deviation, nor photography allowed, Inside the royal palace it is really pretty. But that is about all I can tell you. I had left my Lonely Planet book back in the room because I had a tour guide. I had left my tour guide at the main gate. I thought I had a tour guide, but in fact I had a motorbike and driver. I will have to read my LP book and look at the photos I took to see what I saw.

We went to a pagoda and he came along this time and I asked him some questions about what I was seeing and his knowledge and English skills were not sufficient to give me much more that what I had skim read on the plane to Mandalay. I am going to have to terminate our union and find something with four or even three wheels surrounding someone who can tell me what I am seeing.

We went to all the tourist sites on Mandalay's tourist track. I kept seeing the same people at each stop. The world largest book as well as the high hill overlooking the city and river. By the way there is no Mandalay Bay in Mandalay. It is on a river and Las Vegas lies.

I am pretty tired right now. Still dealing with Jet lag, but not too bad. More than anything hanging on to the back of a motorbike trying to keep my bladder clenched all afternoon has really worn me out. So on that note I'm going to stop writing and get on with something else

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Two embassies - Two successes

March 20 2014 - noonish

(Still no photos - sorry)

It does appear that I will be going to Myanmar (Burma) after all. A little added stress, a little wasted time, and a few dollars more and it looks like it is going to be a "go".

Last night's sleep was intermitent. Sleep for four hours. Wake up for an hour of two, sleep for a couple more hours. Finally I gave up around 5:30 a.m. and got out of my very comfy bed. I had planned on arising like a Phoenix at 6 so not too much of a problem.

I Had an appointment for 8:30 at the US Embassy, so I left the hotel around seven thirty to allow for plenty of time to get there. I assumed (correctly) that the morning's rush would be in full swing on Bangkok's streets. I wasn't wrong. None of the taxis wanted to take me there. Finally one acquiesced for $3. He thought he was gouging me, I thought I was getting a bargain. I knew I was getting gouged when he didn't turn on the meter, but I was in not panic mode, but very severe business mode. He got me there by seven fifty.

I really lucked out getting the appointment yesterday. It was the last one for the entire day, and it  was early allowing me time to get to the Myanmar Embassy - maybe. The appointment checker let me in early and after surrendering my lighter, ear buds and cell phone. Removing everything for the x-ray, passing through the metal detector (no beep) and getting wanded I was on US soil. The process was reasonably painless. Window 2 followed by window 6 followed by window some other number. Told it would be an hour and to sit down and watch some basketball game on the Armed Forces Network, my number was called in about 35 minutes and I was handed my passport now fatter than a passenger disembarking for an all you can eat week cruise.

Another taxi ride to the Myanmar embassy some line standing with a bunch of other sweatty  tourists. The man at the first window, said :I did this for you yesterday!" - I explained the additional pages. He smiles and said go to the next step. The heartless woman at the next step said "Not too much trouble?". I had to admit it wasn't horrid. It could have been so much worse. I was making "Plan B" in my mind when I got up this morning. She gave me a yellow reciept for my passport and told me to report back at 3:30 to pick it up.

I walked over to the sky train. Guided another tourist in the ticket process, now that I am an old hand at Bangkok mass transit. The train was waiting at the platform. I got on and settled back for a nice ride. Looking out the window as Bangkok passed under me. Then the river passed under me and I didn't remember seeing it on my previous passages. The reason for that was I was going in the totally wrong direction. I am really glad I didn't tell the tourists to follow me. That would have been a very untasty dish of crow. I got off at the next stop. Changed sides and good old Bob was my uncle again, until I exited at my stop and went the wrong way there too. Yesterday totally sleep deprived and stressed it went like silk. Today with a fair night's sleep I am Corrigan.

Somehow I managed to make it back to the hotel where 20 ninutes under the A/C made life whole again.

Now getting a light lunch of Pad Thai and Diet Coke waiting for 3 pm to forge onward into the forge that is the afternoon heat of March in Bangkok in search of my passport and new Myanmar visa.

- evening -

Wow ! The time change just ganged up and beat me over the head. It is almost 7 pm here. Maybe 5 am back home. I'm not sure about that, my brain is not computing time zones very well yet. I was going to walk down to the main street and take a wander after dark in the night market. I stepped outside and like a wave exhaustion hit me. Maybe I should have taken that nap that sounded so good this afternoon. No sense crying about it now. With luck I'll be able to hang in there for 2 more hours until 9.

I loafed around between noon and two thirty and then started making trails toward the Myanmar embassy in hopes of picking up my passport with a new visa in it. The heat was oppressive so I wimped out and instead of walking the 4 blocks to the sky train station and then to the embassy. I started talking to the taxi drivers who lurked at the hotel's entrance. Trolling for that unsuspecting tourist who has no idea the real cost of a taxi ride. A meter reading should be in the neighborhood of 100 from here to there. So when the head taxi shill said 200 I laughed at him and said I'd walk.Then I countered with 150. No dice so I started to walk. One of the other guys said "160". No, 150. 160 ! Uhh.... 155 ! (15 cents less.) I was just playing the game now. 160 wasn't too bad, but comeon guy let me win. Nope ! No siree 160 it is. We went back and forth for a bit and I blinked first. I feel like such a wimp. If he would have gone to 155 I am certain I would have gone with his 160 (maybe even a little more)

The ride was fine and probably a little slower than the sky train, but it was all A/C all the way.

You know how there are pictographs explaining things if the mono lingual? One cab today had a series of circles with lines through them in the rear door windows. One wih a gun and a knife. One with a bottle of booze. A cigarette. -- you get the idea. The final one in the line was a couple locked in a missionary position embrace. I guess cabbies in Bangkok see everything.

When we arrived at the embassy there was a line out the door and quarter way down the block of "my people" to pick up their passports and visas. The line moved faster and smoother than it should have based on the number of people there. The woman handing out the passports gave my a big smile. I guess we did get a small rapport in the three times I had seen her over the previous two days. I thanked her and checked the page. Lo and behold my planned trip to Myanmar was a go, as far are the visa goes. Now if I can just remember that the Thai Immigration officers get grumpy when you toss the passport to then from 5 feet away I should be winging my way northward tomorrow morning.

I caught the sky train back to my hotel area and at the entrance to the hotel who should be there -- Mister 160.(it must be good fishin' here) I told him I wanted a taxi to the airport tomorrow and to give me a good price. He quoted me what I think was a fair price including road tolls and the deal was struck, 8 am tomorrow for a 11 am flight. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The government is the same no matter who's government it is.

Wednesday March 19 2014

(sorry no pictures yet)

Well, got that long wagon train in the sky done with no major mishaps. We were an hour late getting into BKK but that wasn't too bad. The Seattle to Tokyo flight was delayed a while due to heavy winds in NRT (Tokyo). The same thing happened last year, but with a much longer delay. The landing was a bit rocky but from seat 36A I helped as much as I could. I expected the NRT to BKK flight to be delayed as well but it loaded close to being on time and had to sit on the tarmac as flight control cleared up some of the prior backup. That flight from NRT to BKK just about came to the limits of my endurance though. I can sit at home all evening watching television, but put me in a aircraft seat and I immediately need to get up and walk around. Luckily my row was three across with the middle seat empty so it allowed some movement without that sardine feeling.

The taxi to the hotel was a snap. I gues once you have done it a time or two it gets sooo much easier. You know at 2 a.m. the toll roads are virtually empty and you can go 120 km in a 45 km zone ? Once you hit the city streets it is totally a different matter. The sidewalks and roads were jammed. They were as busy as I see it during the daytime. The song New York, New York says it is the city that never sleeps. Well that is a lie. It does sleep, between 3 am and 5 am. Bangkok NEVER sleeps. $12 cab ride for 25 miles. Not too bad.

My reservation was all set and check in was easy squeezy. I spent more time trying to figure out the lock on my room than I did checking in. No card slot, RFID reader at the door that reads your card. I had reserved a 'Superior' (read standard) room and was upgraded to a 'Deluxe'. Let me tell you it is nice. A sitting area and then a sleeping area. Everything you could want shampoo, hairdryer, safe, iron and board, two 45 inch tvs. No view, but the room is plush. All for the price little more than the Motel 6 at home (I checked). I got to bed around 3 am and semi slept until about 6:30 am. I probably could have gone back to sleep for an hour or so, but my mental schedule wouldn't allow me to.

Showered and breakfast and out the door about 8:30 to go to the Myanmar (Burma) embassy to get the visa. I walked to the sky train and only had to ask two people how much I needed to feed the automatic ticket machine before I was flying above the snarled traffic of Bangkok's streets. The directions to the embassy that I found on someone's website worked beautifully. I only had to back track half a block.

A bit of confusion as to which line did what but eventually someone pointed me to the right line and "Bob's your uncle". A quick review of my paperwork a plastic number and wait for it to be called. I took my passport to he window when called, handed her the right amount of money and was told that my passport didn't have enough pages left in it. It needed at least one free page. My passport has 25 pages and page 25 was clearer than a virgins Wasswerman test. I guess they count one differently than I do. I whinned and pleaded, but she was firm. I had prepaid for the flight to Mandalay and three nights at a hotel, all non-refundable of course. Shit, fuck, hell. It is only around $200 in fees, but I really want to go to Burma.

I stepped outside to think and the penny dropped. There was a US Embassy in this town. Mister Tuk-Tuk said he'd get me there for about five bucks (I found out later the taxi fee for the same trip was a third of that). WTF I was in need. Besides I kinda like Tuk-tuks, I'm not ready for a shared motorcycle, but Tuk-tuks get you up close and personal with the street.

The line was a block long to the Embassy, but I noticed a shorter line with white sunburned faces so I went an stood in that one. In a jiffy I was explaining my situation to a lady through 3 inch glass. She said we can add pages to your passport, what time is your appointment ? Appointment whadda ya mean ? All US citizens need an appointment and it has to be made online. Please give me a gun, so I can shoot myself.

I picked a direction and started walking and asking for an internet cafe'. One travel agent did offer to do it for me for 500 Bhat ($12.00) That seemed just a tad excessive. I found a multi story business tower and asked at their information desk and she directed me next door to a shopping center on the second (third) floor. I didn't find a internet cafe, but I did find some sort of business with computers and a printer. Five minutes and I had found the web site, made an appointment for tomorrow at 8:30 am and had a print out of the confirmation page. Price ? 5 Bhat - Twelve cents.

I flagged down a taxi, regardless of price and found out the real price for a metered ride back to the area near the Myanmar embassy and the sky train station. The train back was less crowded at noon than it was at nine and I discovered a blister on my sandal clad foot. Back to socks and boots tomorrow.

So safe and sound in my hotel where I think I am going to stay for atl east the rest of the afternoon. Not too sure about what to do for dinner. But with 95 degree heat outside, a gimpy foot and 3 hours sleep in the past 36 staying here does have a certain appeal.