Sunday, November 26, 2017

No women allowed and lumpy smoothies

November 26th 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

My last full day of this trip. Tomorrow is a plane ride to Bangkok, which kind of kills a day. One full day in Bangkok to prepare for Wednesday’s 730am flight to Tokyo and then home.

I like Chaing Mai. I don’t expect that I’ll return, but who knows. I woke up this morning slightly disoriented, for a moment I thought I was in Mexico. Chiang Mai reminds me of a trip I took to Cancun several years ago. True it is a foreign country, but the parts I’ve seen have been so heavily tourist-ed that if you could be in any vacation city in almost any big city. Every third store front is a local travel agent ho will gladly sell you a package tour to see monkeys, elephants or a zip-line. The animals change from place to place, the temples change, the zip-line and bungee jumps remain the same. I was afraid that Thailand would be too ‘discovered’ for me, and I really think I am right. If you haven’t traveled many places out side your home country, please come to Thailand. Yes, you’ll get culture shock, but it will only be 9 volts, not 220.

Cooking class took longer that I anticipated. I was away from the hotel from almost 9am until after 3pm. I got my money’s worth for the time I spent, plus some really good food. I came back to the hotel and washed up and cooled down before venturing out into the wilds (?) of Chaing Mai.

It was a trip with the biggest surprise of the entire trip, I met a French couple and they were very nice. Now that was a surprise.

I went back to the food court, because I liked the atmosphere kind of hipster, kind of funky and kind of comfortable. In the center of it all is a covered stage area where a band could play, but the times I was there it was a D.J. Well worn groups of 4 theater seats were places around and brightly painted oil barrels were cut in half and used as chairs and tables. A comfortable area to sit and have a drink and listen to the music or just have a drink with friends. I opted for the music and since we all know that Quinine helps ward off Malaria, had a vodka – tonic. The bartender filled a plastic cup with ice, poured a shot and a half in and poured about the same amount of tonic water in. I drank it slowly and stood up, deciding then that maybe I should have something to eat and kill an hour, before walking back to my hotel. The sidewalks here are pretty uneven and the way I was feeling would make them even more uneven.

I ordered a pita bread thing, a cousin to a burrito. The meat came from one of those vertical spinny grills where the cook slices off the meat was the sideways BBQ spins. The man gave me mine and I thanked him is Turkish and he got a big smile and said you’re welcome in Turkish. It was very good, but a little messy, I can show you my shirt if you want to see it. I know it wasn’t the drink.

In the morning I decided to take Sunday mass at the Temple of Coffee down the street. I entered the Starbucks and who should I meet? The Mossad. Yes, I knew it, they are following me. Yesterday they were picked up after me, today they were lurking at the one place they knew I would go. See I told you they were Mossad. I wonder what I know, that I don’t know I know, that they are so interested in? They left, to spy on me from a distance and I sat and sipped a taste of home and listened to Christmas Carols.

The sun is out!! First time since I got here. When I was in Macedonia I was with some people from Florida and they could tell you how many days it had been since they saw the sun. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I wondered what the big deal was. Today I understand.

I might have a cigarette or two a day when on a tip. Today for some reason I was Jones’ing hard for one and walked past a woman and smelled smoke. She was setting up a blanket with her goods on it in front of a closed store, hoping to catch a few tourist fish during the day. I asked her if I could buy one from her and she insisted I take one. She said it all evens out, if she needs a cigarette and doesn’t have one, someone will give her one. So I asked her for a light. Since I had bummed the entire process now, I asked her is she would smoke it for me too. She got a good laugh from that, but left that up to me to do. I made sure to return her way and buy something from her. I picked up a nice key fob for my guesthouse.

One of the places I missed on my walking tour day before yesterday was the Chaing Mai pillar location. A huge brick crumbling monster of a temple that is the city’s religious center. There was a 20 Bhat temple I saw on last walkabout, his was a 40 Bhat temple ($1.20). There is a huge cathedral sized temple on the grounds, but the actual pillar is housed in a very small one. No girls allowed, because they might defile the whole thing by being on their period. Never mind that they might be 5 or 75. The sign on the steps to enter it said No Shoes. Men Only. An Asian woman I was standing next to said to her friend “They should give us a discount !”

The large temple as filled with chairs today. I don’t know if it was a sermon or chanting, but a man was talking over the loudspeakers, and seemed to go on and on. Down one side of the temple were 50? 75 ? 100? Lotus position seated monks.

I listened and watched for a while and then left. Outside there were rows upon rows of young monks sitting in chairs facing the temple and listening. Well some were sleeping an a couple were sprawled on their chair – but – none were playing video games on their phone.

Behind the temple was a long row of pop up tents. You’ve seen them at fairs. Four legs that expand and hold up a plastic tarp. There was a row of these that probably stretched the length of a football field. Cheek to jowl they were set. Everyone of them was giving away food. One had noodles, another curry, one had doughnuts, another ice cream. Rice over there, and even bottles of water. I’d seen something similar in Delhi, but that was the various temples, and predominantly saffron rice. These were from various businesses and it really covered a wide range of different foods. I should have avoided the Mossad and Christmas carols and come here.

I left after about an hour, and that guy was still talking. Some of the young monks had left too.

The walk back to the hotel was routine, except for picking up the key fob and stopping for a smoothie. I have no idea what was in it. Banana and yoghurt for sure. Some ice and funny little round blue things that I sucked up though the straw. They were like gelatin spheres. Chewy, not a lot of flavor. Heck they didn’t even taste blue. It was an interesting mixture chewy and cold and sweet in the same sip, but I wonder what they were.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lunch with the Mossad and assorted others

November 25 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

After a power nap yesterday I killed time in the room until around 6pm. I tried television but unless you are an all action all the time kind of watcher, or all news or business, you are kind of out of luck, TV wise. I can get NetFlix on my phone, but not on the computer. I think it sees the Thailand IP address and thinks I must be pirating it. Maybe I should have bought that VPN. Funny It likes my phone though.

I left the hotel around the appointed time, hit the main street and turned right instead of left. Left takes me to the old city, right takes me only to the night market, but I’m sure it takes you places further than that. I walked and was beginning to wonder if it was all a myth, this night market thing and at the “Just one more block and then I’m heading back” point I found it. It wasn’t so much a market as I had envisioned, but a series of stalls on the street side of the sidewalk, peddling everything you need to fill out your already over packed suitcase on the way home. Textiles, lamps, dinnerware, clothing, stuff to put with your other trip’s stuff to keep it company. None of it for local consumption, purely for personal export.

I did find a fun area though. In an alley off to the side, opening behind the buildings was a food city. Maybe 30 vendors, each with a different item for sale, there was the beer guy, next to the bar guy, next to the Northern Thailand woman, across from the Phad Thai place, the burrito joint is just over there, want ribs ? Go to that corner. Want something exotic? $3 for a fried scorpion. I ate well for less than $10, and that included a vodka tonic, but no scorpion. They were just too small for the price. Ya, that’s it ! They cost too much for their size. Of course if they were the larger ones I’d have gotten a couple.

I got to bed at a decent time and set the alarm for 6. I’m not sure why I set the alarm, my internal clock s set to check the time for 5 am, o I got to doze until six.

The cooking school’s mini bus picked me up and another woman and young daughter were already on the bus. We drove around looking for the rest of the team and eventually ended up at the market where all the ingredients we would be using today were shown to us and explained the differences there are between some of the similar ingredient. I didn’t know the Turmeric was something like a ginger. I’d only seen it as a powder. Lots of rotted fish stuff that came in sauces, that sounded yucky but eventually tasted down right good.

Then back to the bus and a quick jaunt to the school itself. A lower floor on a townhouse apartment. Set up with a table for eight and gas burners and woks for eight. The brochure said the class topped out at six, but we had seven. The lady I met on the bus, from Singapore, via Perth, via Manhattan. Nice lady, one of those people who know how to bring groups together. The woman from Korea who’s English was better than my Korean. A young couple from Portland, who really reminded me a lot of Jacob an Emilee. Both couples on the cusp of 30. Intelligent, quick, funny with responsible jobs. Then there was Boris and Natasha, the Mossad couple from Israel. He spoke pretty good English, she not so much. She was a bit of a princess and he was the Sphinx. I couldn’t even find out what city they were from. Ya, Mossad for sure.

In the class we chose six dished and one curry to learn. Portland Tom, must have looked up the recipes before the class and chosen the most difficult, time consuming ones. He had one rice dish that he had to constantly stir for I think a total of 20 minutes, It came out wonderful, but that is a long time to shepherd one dish. Most of the dishes followed the same basic pattern, wok the protein until cooked (except the shrimp. Overcooked shrimp = tough shrimp) the add the vegetables cook til heated through with the hard veggies (carrots, etc) start to soften. Pour in some fish sauce, and oyster sauce, some yucky smelling stuff, a little sugar and then add the leafy herbs. All easy to make when the ingredients are there, the work goes into getting the ingredients at Safeway. But I’ll certainly give it a try once I get home. The food was all good, nothing I didn’t like, though by the end I was really running out of room for another dish.

I’ll have to ask my Indian friend how she makes her curries, because both here and in Cambodia we had to crush and pulverize the vegetables into a paste. I wonder if a blender would do the same or if the crushing breaks down the cell walls better. Pim the instructor must have been in the Army as a drill instructor, she was pretty adamant that when it came time to pound something, you better be pounding. No getting away with just doing the motions, you better be sweating.

Now I’m full and it’s 5pm. Though a drink and a smoothie sound like a good way to finish the day. Maybe a stroll back down to the food court from yesterday is in order.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Yangon to Bangkok to Chiang Mai - All pictures from Chiang Mai

November 24 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Well there went Thanksgiving. Some of you are still digesting the annual turkey feast as I write this. My Thanksgiving yesterday consisted of a pretty good club sandwich, soggy fried and a vodka tonic, on AstroTurf amid a flock of mosquitoes.

Last time I wrote it was in the middle of a down pour in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). The hotel in Yangon was pretty plush, kind of expected to see some British guy in khakis, handlebar mustache and an elephant gun. It is one of those places that has been there since God was a child, but has been maintained and upgraded as the years passed. Keeping that original colonial standards and feel.

I slept forever, instead of waking at 330am or 4, I slept until 630 and then stayed in bed until seven. It was the first time in a while I didn’t have to be up to meet a ferry or see a sun rise or climb a temple. The morning routine was relaxing, like a vacation should be.

Breakfast was wonderful. There is always a good assortment of eggs and an egg station and breads and bacon or ham, plus a bunch of Asian dishes. This one had all those and fancy cheeses, smoked salmon and – and --- sushi. Instead of the run of the mill coffee, espresso. I should have stayed another night.

During breakfast, this man walked up and said, “I’d like to introduce myself..” I interrupted him and said “We have already met. You managed a hotel I stayed at in 2014.”. He didn’t remember me, but did do a fair job of faking it.

My plane was scheduled to leave at 1pm with a two hour layover in Bangkok before going on to Chiang Mai. My morning’s email said the plane was going to be delayed by an hour. Grrrr… an hour to stand in Immigration line and then get to my plane in time to not sleep in the airport? Looks like something new to bitch about next time I write.

I killed time by writing hotel reviews for TripAdvisor. Some good, some neutral and one scathing.

The plane arrived as expected, an hour late. Air Asia s a great turn and burn, no frills airline. Extra leg room, that’ll cost ya. Same for a Coke or bag of peanuts. The flight attendants not only are charged with our safety, but being a vending machine, and cleaning up the trash from the bathroom.

I showed my ticket to one of the FA’s and she had me move from the middle of the plane to the front of the plane along with five or six others. The plane landed and we were personally escorted off the plane to a waiting van and driven away before the other passengers even saw their bus. Then a long walk to our own Immigration officer. Then to the gate. I imagine the time from door opening to gate side was less than 30 minutes. The plane to Chiang Mai was on schedule and so no bitching about planes tomorrow.
Yes, THAT guy !
The hotel I choose was not the best choice. Other guests on TripAdvisor complained about the noise and they were right. The bed was okay, but the bathroom was really small. If you don’t include the shower area I have actually been in larger commercial aircraft bathrooms. I farted and the door slammed shut ! (not really but it was too good of a line not to use)

I spent much of the evening searching the internet for a different hotel. Which is where I am now and it is lovely. The except is they put a rose in my room and I am now sneezing and it would probably be rude to flush it.

I went out for a tour of the local neighborhood and found the old city with ease. The old city are now just the city walls and millions of tourists and all the things tourists need. Thankfully the Starbucks and McDonald’s are just outside the city gate.

There were a myriad of shops to look at and trinkets and textiles to buy. A few temples and you didn’t have to climb a series of uneven steps to enter them. The walk was city street flat, and chaotic, but controlled chaos when crossing the street. Even I succumbed to the temptation of picking up a trinket or two.

In one of the temples there were three very realistic looking renditions of I assume past monks. Three of them in a sitting n a row, with their hands in their laps next to the Buddha. It was kind of creepy in a Madame Tussauds'  sort of way. I got the picture of the altar I wanted and bowed slightly to the wax figures. The one on the left gave me a slight smile. No wonder they were so realistic!

Back at the hotel, waiting for the heat of the day to lessen a bit then off to the night market a short walk after 6. Cooking class tomorrow. I found this in the hotel packet. 800 Bhat is about $25.

This is boring, just blah - blah - blah and no pictures

November 22nd 2017
Yangon, Myanmar

And I said I was going to avoid this town. It’s not Hotel California, at least you can leave here, but you can’t avoid here. I decided to go back to Bagan for the sunset photos I missed and make sure everything is Jake with Bobo. I have a week too goo and really no real destination since Mrauk U in in the rear view mirror.

The alarm was crying at 315 am this morning to send me to Bagan. A three hour drive from Mrauk U to Sittwe at 430 for a 730 check in and a 9 am flight outta town. Well that was the plan. The three hour drive worked out to three hours and eleven minutes. Yes, I timed it. I was absolutely amazed the driver said he could do it in three hours and he did. The darned mini bus took an hour and a half longer. You know? There isn’t much scenery to see for the two hours before sunrise. It was a pretty quiet drive, I was still asleep and didn’t hold up my end of the conversation very well. I know it is the passenger’s job to keep the conversation going, and I flat failed this time. We somehow crossed both those rickety bridges, built in 1954 by he British, and no repair since then except perhaps when a hold big enough to let a bus fall through occurs. Then they might put a new board down.

At the airport I looked for that thieving scum of the earth, but he probably was home getting a massage on my mini cab fare. The police probably wouldn’t arrest him on grand theft anyway.

I checked in and was told that the plane might be an hour late. I was going to say that I could have slept in an hour longer, but what is the real difference between 315 am and 415 am? That hour turned into two and a half hours though, and that would have made a difference. Always buy travel insurance for the medical evacuation clauses. They also come with other stuff. Like if your luggage goes on a walkabout, or if your plane is delayed. I’m going to have to pull up my policy and see what it says. I’ve never put a claim in on a flight, we’ll have to see what happens.

The plane went through three takeoffs and landings, to get here to Yangon. As we are descending into Yangon, I look to the east and all I see are clouds and rain. This ain’t looking good for sunset photos. I know I am good as far as the ‘Horse money’, as far as Marmar’s money that is a matter that I didn’t factor into anything. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t want to offend her hospitality, so I paid Bobo more than he gets from the regular tourist. At least that is my justification. I checked the weather in Bagan, rain and thunder showers the next two days. I canceled the rest f the trip to Bagan, if I get really lucky I might see some f that plane ticket back, but I’m not optimistic on that.

I stayed here before and knew of one hotel, so I told the real taxi driver to take me there. Similar to the Princess in Mrauk U we did the price dance. List is this --- is this – Oh, I can give it to you for less than that. REALLY ?!?! Yes, please.

I got to the room and settled n and went idea shopping. He plan now, and plane tickets bought is to leave Myanmar tomorrow and go to Chiang Mai Thailand. I only know it is supposed to be the eating capital of Thailand and I’d like to take a cooking class and see what it is all about. If I get bored there is always the beach towns, but I don’t think I am into the Thai beach scene, I just don’t drink enough to get the full experience.

Yow if today is any indication of the rainy season, no thank you very much. The rain was coming down so hard that I couldn’t see two cars in front of us and so loud that we had to speak loud to be heard. Right not the rain has stopped and it is muggy, but it always is muggy so nothing new there.

I’m closing now, sorry this hasn’t been as exciting as previous trips.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Boats and spider women

November 21st 2017
Mrauk U, Myanmar

Today was the planned trip to the Chin villages. Eight am meet up. I had showered and done all those morning things and was a bit early to meet, about twenty until eight. Then something said, you better go back to the room now. Walk regally like the princess you are, don’t hunch, and don’t run, Just purposefully stride back to the room. Keep repeating, there is no hurry, there is no hurry. There was a hurry. Damned chillies!

We got on the road on time and I wish the guide would realize that 8 is too late to start, but his is a railroad like timetable he has to keep. Rutted roads, paved roads, roads under construction, rutted dirt roads under construction. We got to the landing to pick up the boat. To get to the boat we had to walk down a near vertical ladder If vertical is 90 degrees this one felt like 85 degrees. Not steps but 2x4s.

The boat is about a shoulder wide, well … okay two shoulders wide. Long as a Winnebago. Powered with a lawn mower engine with a propeller on a stick. The deck chairs are lined in a single row and are only good for one thing that is to lean back and take a nap. If you want to take a picture you have to lean up. If you want to take a decent picture you have to scoot up. If you was to stand you have to really scoot up and then lean forward and rock for momentum. If I had my way I’d burn everyone of them, and send the smoke to Hell to torture those souls.

The river was very wide and must have been shallow until about the middle of the channel. We got going and cruised along at 2 miles and hour for about an hour and a half. All the time the river banks were closing in on us. I know it is the wrong country and the wrong river but if I had seen Colonel Kurtz I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We set ashore at a small village and I asked what the deal was with the Chin. He said it was the ladies with the spider faces. This didn’t sound optimistic. First the mortuary for dinner, now spider women. They weren’t really spider women, only tattooed with intricate facial designs. They stopped the practice about 50 years ago, so the women would all be grandmothers by now. Around age nine they would get their tattoos. A five day process of a full days having the tattoos made. They would wrap the girls in a bamboo mat and tie is around her, to keep the girls from squirming around too much. At the end of five days she would be puffed up like a basketball and had to drink special ju-ju (okay, I missed that part) for a month.

The lady I met here was more than willing to let me photograph her, I felt like I was intruding and popped a quick snapshot. We walked to the end of the village to the school. Both primary and more than primary were both teaching English in some way. The primary ha milk, cake, bread written on the blackboard. The more than primary was taking a quiz. Written in English on the board “What is – name – eating, What is – name – riding?” It wasn't much of a test, I knew all the answers right away. Schooling goes until 5th or 6th grade and then if you want more you need to go to the city, and that costs money. So most of these kids are going to top out on Mar-ling riding a bicycle and Hello and good bye.

On the way out of the village who should we run into going in, but that obnoxious group from yesterday. I tried Good Morning, Gutten Morgen, Bonjerno, Ces’t Va - nothing in return. Maybe Shalom, Salam or Aloha would have worked, but I think more than likely they were just being poops.

Back to the boat and came and closer to Colonel Kurtz we come. We get to the end of the road for powered vessels and only bamboo rafts coming down to this point. Small rafts of bamboo, get tied to other rafts, to other rafts and after a bit there is a floating barge of bamboo to the big cities down steam. We walked this village and sat with a woman and her eighty year old sister. The lady we were sitting with was one hundred and three. She was deaf but told the guide she was just waiting to die. It sounded like she wasn’t eating enough to keep a bird alive and her kidneys may have shut down. I’d gotten a little less shy and took a good picture of her. I haven’t looked to see what is on the memory card yet. I hope I did her right.

Than came three hours of torture, back down the river, and not just to where we got on, but further still because it was easier on the car. The sun was low in the sky after the first hour and even on the water a flipping oven. I’m chanting to get off and we pass the stating point and keep going and going. At about 430 we land and guide wants to climb a pagoda to watch the sunset. I wimped out can came back to the hotel. Just too much fun for one day for me.

.. and I didn't even get kissed

November 20th 2017
Mrauk U, Myanmar

Well I got here. A bit more adventure than I prefer but I’ll try to remember to be smarter next time.

The big bird got us from the beach to Sittwe like clockwork. Luggage in hand I step outside and someone says Taxi?. – How much ? (Too much, no matter what the cost) – So we negotiate from private taxi a/c to mini van. – You will drive me in the van? – Oh, yes! – OK, let’s go!.

We start walking away from the taxis, off the airport property. Alarm bells tinkle in the background. He throws my bag in the back of a multi passenger tuk-tuk.. Whoa dude !! I take you to my car. CLANG ! CLANG ! CLANG ! Alarms, and I keep on going with it. We go way the Hell onto town and he dumps me at a shared taxi stand. This is not what we talked about, but now I’m stuck. – then the price negotiation begins, Mr. Lying Sack of Shit inflating the price as the driver and conductor just sit back. Finally a price at least 4 times what the locals pay is agreed on. Then Mr. Lying Sack of Shit demands $3.50 for driving me there. He’s getting his bite out of the taxi fare. Finally I toss two bucks at him and tell him to fuck off or call a cop, and sit my Princess ass in the front seat.

Then the driver start hunting for one more passenger and I look at my co-riders and tell the driver, Let’s go, What I paid I OWN this taxi. The other agree with me and we are off. Different countries, different rules of the road. Here it has a method, until the sun goes down. Then the rules are drive with your high beams on, or dive with no lights at all. When you first get your new bike, be sure to remove that little red reflector in the back, and wear the darkest clothes you own. This will insure that the other drivers are paying close attention to the road.

The road was muchly paved. I wont say mostly. Lots of construction and mucho dust. We crossed two bridges that scared the heck out of me. I’d be leery of walking across them, and we are in an overloaded mini van. The three hour trip took four and that was with diving crazy fast on the paved parts.

We finally pulled into Mrauk U a little after seven and after dropping off everyone else got to my hotel. I’m not sure if that was because it was the last stop or they didn’t want the other passengers see how much they gouged me. (I found out today it was 10 times)

The Vasselli is the best of the worst in town and there is no middle. By saying that I am being generous. One look and I knew I was only staying one night. Low twin beds on homemade frames. The a/c behind the window curtain . No dead bolt or even chain on the door that you had to close and latch then lift got the tongue to fall into the hole in the jamb. The a/c didn’t work and the fan was good, except the bugs ate your exposed skin because it was too hot under the covers. I want to say I’ve stayed in better jails, but I’ve only stayed in one and it wasn’t.

The guide I chatted with arrived and we left the hotel and I told him to take me to the best (only) hotel in town. As I said there is no middle ground. It is a palace. I spoke to the manager and he said walk in price is this, but I can give it to you for that. I said has it for such and such, he said okay. So new home after one sort of sleep. Then we went out for dinner. The guide said he wanted to go to the Mortuary. Okay maybe they have converted the old British mortuary into a plush eaterie. Not sure about the atmosphere, but if the food is good, why not?

Turns out it was a local restaurant called the Mo Cherry. I ordered the Cashew chicken and it was eatable, but nothing special and certainly not nearly as good as MarMar’s.

Dawn came, breakfast came, I tossed money to the desk clerk in a snit (not my proudest moment) and guide with car came.

Today is the city temple tour and tomorrow is the Chin village tour. I’m not sure why I need to see the Chin villages but the guide says, see them now before they disappear. Okay, I’m not sure if there are only here this week, or getting flooded out by global warming or too many tourists, but they are going to disappear soon and this is my last chance so there it is.

Mrauk U is one of those fr from the center of power. A small forgotten backwater on the map of modern Myanmar. I it wasn’t for the temples, and the light tourist presence I’m not sure there would be a hotel or restaurant certified for foreigners. The streets are unpaved, full of potholes and not wide enough for two vehicles to pass by.

Today was a temple tour. The temples here are a few hundred years newer than the ones in Bagan, and absolutely totally different in style. In Bagan the Buddha’s are maximum of four per temple, at each or the cardinal points on the compass. Here there are a zillion of them one says it had forty thousand and another ninety thousand. You walk down long cover hallways lined with Buddhas, little ones, big ones tiny ones. Some carved into the stone, some varied sized statues posed from knee high to over your head. The hallways are all well lit, but if the lights were to go out, you’d be in a hard way to find your way out. This is not a temple tour for the claustrophobic.

In Bagan all the temples and pagodas are on this large flat plain. That is why the horse cart works so well there. Here we are in the mountains and everything is up. Guess what, it isn’t any cooler here than it is anywhere else in this country. Want to see that temple, climb up those stairs. Want to see that stupa? Do the same thing you did for the temple.

Eventually temple overload landed and it became a bunch of meaningless names and dates. The temples began too merge into one overheated set of stairs and the date ? Well crap, I can’t keep American history straight Burmese history from the 1500’s might as well be spoken in Chinese for as much as sticks with me. Maybe when I look at the pictures it will clear up a bit.

A break at noon until 330. Got the new room, in the new hotel, it will do nicely. Wash up a little, power nap and back at it at the appointed time. This tie it was just a few temples. Where this morning I saw perhaps a total of six other tourists, this afternoon they were in abundance. At one checkpoint in a temple there was a covey of them, maybe six. They wanted to shoot down this hall that was lined with Buddhas. First aunt Martha took her two shots, then cousin Wilbur, then sister Betsy, brother in law Pierre had to shoot with cell phone, SLR and iPad. They wouldn’t let anyone behind them and it was beginning to back up a bit. I am sure glad I didn’t say something like Dude, how about giving the rest of us a break ? Oh, shit ! Maybe I did. Either way it wouldn’t / didn’t make any difference, until Sophie got her’s too. Perfectly framed don’t you know.

The problem with the guides is they seem to all run on the same track as the other guides. We’d run into this group and the stink eye would fly, in both direction. Did it do any good, of course not, but it did feel good.

We ended the day with a mid sized hill climb to watch the sunset. I may have tweak them a bit, but I think the photos should be nice.

Now at dinner I ordered a salad and just got a five alarm chilies. Gawk! One of hose small teeny green ones. I’m going to need an antacid.

Time to close. Chins tomorrow

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Green Umbrella

Sunday November 19th
Ngapoli Beach, Myanmar

Well shit! I just hit the wrong key and an hour’s worth of typing just went into the ether.

The past two days have been a welcome respite from temple crawling and tomb raiding. Now the last hour or so and back on he road and back to the heat and dust of the countryside.

Off to the main reason I came back to Myanmar, to see Mrauk U. Locals would ask me where I wanted to go and I would say “Mur-ack-Oo” they would look at me blankly. Finally a woman at the desk her said “Oh ! Meow Oo !” how they get Meow out of Mrauk is beyond me. In wanted to catch an early flight from here to the closest large city this morning, but that flight was canceled, and the next one isn’t until mid afternoon. That kind of kills my plan of arriving at Mrauk U in daylight since it is a 4 hour boat or taxi ride from Sittwe, and absolutely kills the boat ride idea. Oh, well it will work out --- or not.

Yesterday was mostly smoothies and Coke Zero at the beach side bar at the hotel. It was just too hot and muggy for much exploring. The weather report said 88 and feel like 100. I believe it.

Around 430 I took a saunter down the beach to one of my favorite all time restaurants. The Green Umbrella. A little place that I walked by three times before I realized what it was. Maybe four low tables and eight reclining chairs. Only marked with a bamboo stake in the beach topped with a green umbrella. Great cheap drinks served in a coconut and three guys and a grill to cook some fish if you wanted it.

I really have noticed an up tick in tourism in the last 3 ½ years. Well now The Green Umbrella has 6 tables and recliners, a dozen dining tables, a kitchen, electric lights, a roof and actual glassware. Also four other other small semi permanent restaurants have sprung up next to it. The Green Umbrella has grown up. I ordered a Mojito and sipped and munched some peanuts and watch the sun set for the day. The three Asian men next to me went trough ¾ of a bottle of Johnny Walker, I don’t think they were there for the sunset.

After the sun cleared the horizon I mover to a dining table and ordered the mixed grilled fish, a tomato and onion salad and the rice that was included. Oh ! And another Mojito. I don’t know if it is the location or the spices or what, but that tomato salad was among the best I’ve ever had. The fish was good too, octopus and prawns and fish and some really chewy stuff all with a nice grilled flavor. There was a crab there too but it was so tiny I couldn’t figure how to eat it. All in all a really nice meal for $9 drinks included.

By now it was fully dark and I ad to walk back to the hotel. The beach or the road. The road and I might get hit my a bus or a truck. The beach, well … there was a stretch of about 200 yards that was totally undeveloped and so very, very dark. I’ll was as close to the water as possible and as far from the trees as possible and it will make it more difficult for someone to walk up on me. The smart thing to do would have been to trail behind a couple as they walked the beach, but smart does not always come to mind until later.

I get to the dark area and I an verry, verry sneaky and alert and still out of nowhere a woman appears about 20 feet from me. I grip my bag and camera strap, my knuckles so white I am sure they glowed in the dark and step a little closer into the water. She follows, not closer, just there. Eventually I look back and she’s going back the way she came. I made it back to the hotel unscathed and unmolested, washed the sand from my feet and locked the door behind me.

This morning I was asking the hotel’s manager about the woman of the darkness. She thought about it a bit, I could see she was working through a few things. Finally she said “There is a Lady-boy down there and she has followed me a few times too”. So the dark area is the Lady-boy stroll of Ngapoli Beach.

This morning at 530 I hopped on a bike and peddled down a couple kilometers to the village to watch the sun rise and the fishermen unlade their nightly catch. Nice ride in the dark, no cars or trucks I pretty much had the road to myself. I followed the scent of rotting fish to the bay and waited for the sun to come over the hill. No one was unloading fish today. Not sure f I am late or last night was no fishing. The sun came up, I sent a few instant message of the sunrise back t the USA and I pedaled back to the hotel and beyond. I totally missed the hotel and was well on my way to China before I realized I was off track, I go turned around and back in time for breakfast.

That should bring us up to date for now. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Seriously lost in translation

November 17th 2017
Ngapali, Myanmar

At the beach, at the Hilton. Really. Still expensive at half off, but at half off it’s pretty sweet.

Okay, so here is the situation.

At the conclusion of the first day’s ride with Bobo, I asked the price for the day and he gave me a very low price and smiled. I doubled it, and he said it was too much. I told him, I’m good.

Second day after dinner I go to hand him the packet of bills equal to yesterday, plus a hint more. He waves me off. Tells me No. I’m not having that, so I hand the packet to Marmar (Mrs. Bobo) who does take it, smart woman that she is.

Third evening, I just bypass Bobo and go straight to giving the cash to Marmar.

This morning Bobo tells me when he got home Marmar asked for the horse money. Ha-ha. Then when we get to the airport, in all seriousness Bobo brings this up again. Obviously, not joking. Now he’s thinking I’m trying to stiff him. I explained day 2 and day 3 with the horse money going to Marmar.

I’m now thinking that the cash I handed her she thought was for her alone, not horse money. I could have easily done and had briefly thought about doing something like that, but I was afraid that she might take offense to it. I know I would, if I invited someone to dinner or to stay in the guesthouse and they offered to pay me. They are a guest, not a customer. I am the customer of the horse.

Now I’m feeling like a rat. I should have thought quicker and realized the situation and given him to amount yesterday’s fare would have been. So here I am feeling rat like and my nose isn’t even pink.

Well back to our normal bitching and moaning, and today is going to be a lot of both of those. Since I will be around my peers most of the day I expect I’ll find lots to complaining about.

After I left Bobo and feeling under a cloud instead of sadness I pulled my bag to the right counter among a dozen on them in the gymnasium sized airport. Did the passport and ticket dance and was given a sticker to place

on my tit. I chose left. This sticker hows where you are going and on what airline. A green sticker with a black border means Yangon on KBZ, Yellow and pink means something else. I was told to sit over there and followed her directions.

I was sitting at the end of a four seat row. Instead of walking to the next aisle this woman (she was probably French) steps over me to walk to the end of the row and sit on that aisle. Then Mr. Probably French does the same thing, instead of using the aisle and stepping over his bride.

The tourists this time are a great deal different than they were three and a half years ago. Then Myanmar had only been open to tourists a short time. Then it seemed to be mostly kids on a gap year and older people with time. People looking for a hint of adventure and knowing to value their experience. At one airport a guy came up to me like we were long lost family. We had been on the same flight (different rows) two or three places before, and he wanted to say Hi. Small world sort of thing.

This trip I seem people I saw and made eye contact with on the ferry the day before and can’t even get a grin. The kids seem to be using Myanmar as a different Thailand, not so many bars. When it comes to bars, the number on their phones are the ones that count. Don’t think that there are real people who live here. Rent and E Bike and let the carts and taxis find their living off of some other sucker. Then there are the tour groups. Where there were 5 at a temple there are now 20. All 40 on each bus trying to get that selfie in the 10 minutes this stop allows, so don’t get in my way !

Pretty soon my sticker indicated I move to a different room for departure. This is one of those bus airports, where you get on a bus to get to the plane not a ramp. Now let me tell you the secret to plane buses. Wait until the bus is almost full then get on. That way you are first off and first to the plane. There were people pushing and running their suitcases over my feet to get on the bus first. Really! When we got to the plane one of the guys was actually pulling his girlfriend through the people like Uncle Tom pulling little Liza across the ice flow. She hanging on looking embarrassed. The plane was two rows of two, so he wasn’t going to get stuck in a middle seat, and if he did it was a whopping 45 minutes.

The plane got us to where we were going. A document review and we were back in the real world. I saw my hotel sign being held and made a bee line to him. He carried my bag to the van and we were off to the Hilton. A real Hilton. The room was on special on from out-fucking-rageous to just plain exorbitant. I walked into the lobby and knew I made a mistake. It was nowhere near the location I wanted. Oh, it is plush, the plushest I have been in in years. The room is the size of a small town and it even has a huge jetted tub. There is no sandy beach, only rocks and so the light stroll to a small stand to sit on the beach and sip coconut drinks at sunset is not there. It is a great place, just not my place.
I told the clerk that I would be staying one night and moving to a different hotel, and told her, It’s me, not you.

I called the hotel I wanted to stay at and was told they were totally sold out. Okay. I checked and made a reservation at that hotel for tomorrow. I don’t understand the workings of hotel management. I’ll be honest it’s going to be a step down from the Hilton.

I didn’t do very much today. Went for a short walk near the hotel, had dinner wrote this, got a few nice sunset photos. Nothing of any consequence. So instead of rambling I think I’ll close.

p.s. I'm going too be in an internet iffy location for a bit

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Everybody laughs at farts

November 16th 2017
Bagan, Myanmar

Before dinner yesterday we went out to climb yet another temple to get a better view of the sunset. I don’t know what it is with these vacations that require seeing the sun set. It is just in the vacation laws I guess. I what people do when they go to Alaska in the winter for the required sunset viewing, or worse in the summer!

Of course the only way to properly see a sunset here is to climb as high as possible in a temple. The designers of these temples must have had stork legs and mice feet. The steps inside a temple are sometimes a six inch rise and then you’ll hit an 18 inch rise and the steps are never wider than the ball of your foot. Of course they also failed to put any sort of windows or port holes to let in some light. I’ve taken to climbing up feeling my way with my hands, both up and down. It isn’t graceful or appealing to look at but it is better than teetering on your heels gong down, hoping there is a fatter person in front of you to cushion your fall when you all act as dominoes and fall.

After sunset we clip clopped back to Casa Bobo. The horse got the rest of the night off and we went to dine with the family. Well that was my plan. Their plan was a table set for one with a candle and mounds of food. At east this time Bobo sat with me while I ate. The food was again outstanding. I found out that the meal was prepared by his daughter and supervised and tasted by his wife. Some crunchy things that reminded me of bacon was chicken and I didn’t ask any further questions about that dish. Some pork in oil, and chicken in oil, finely chopped vegetables, and a spinach type green leafy dish. Of course a heaping helping of rice. I may need to buy two seats on the plane home.

Since the horse was resting we motorbiked back to my hotel, after securing from me a confirmation of dinner the next night. Cripes I haven’t paid for a meal here since the first night. I did tell them I wasn’t the queen and would not be eating and served alone. We will see how the seating goes tonight.

Morning came early, 4 am wake up for 5 am saddle up and a 530 temple climb for – yes you guessed it – sunrise.

I think that 5 am is early for anybody. This morning’s ride was no exception. If it wasn’t for a big cup of Starbucks instant I’d have been asleep n the ride out. We got about two blocks down the main road and the horse let out a thirty second stream of farts. Not only was it loud it was also long. I looked at Bobo and we both laughed. I hope we didn’t embarrass the mare too much.

I looked up at the stars, totally clear and bright. Not much light pollution once you got outside of town and my sunglasses slipped off my head. Do yo know that the light on your phone is pretty worthless to find dark glasses, on blacktop, on an unlit country road? I did find them but it was shear luck

Today’s climb was on the outside of a temple. The first tier was a little easier angle and much more even steps up to the first landing. I mean you could fit half your foot on them even! Now the next tie they decided that your foot must have shrunk on the way up because it was back to the ball of your foot only steps. A hand rail was never considered, at least when you were inside to had the walls to used as a touchstone, here was good old Myanmar air.

I ladder climbed up one more tier and decided it was good enough. There was another tier and a half but I assumed the next tier would be big toe wide and the last half toenails only.

The sky was still back lit by starlight and just a toenail of a moon in the sky. Slowly the sky lightened and began to change colors and the temples in front were back lit with reds and pinks. Off to the left were large humpbacked things off in the distance. One of them lit up and I realized they were the hot air balloons getting inflated for their morning flight over the temples. I’d love to try them sometime, but am too cheap to pay $300 for a ride, even if it does include Champagne at the end of the ride.

The sky became brighter and the balloons came closer. I was alternating between shooting with my Nikon and sending instant messages and photos with two friends back home. That still astounds me.

Then it was face to the temple and butt to the world as a monkey climbed down the tier I was on. The main set of steps I sideways crab walked down them and back to the cart.

We haunted a couple more temples, by now one was running into another and we stopped at one and I was going to tell him we had already visited this one, but Bobo was working on the horse so I decided to go look at the darned thing again. Whoops! This was a totally new one to me, well the outside looked like we had been here before. I knew then it was time to end my temple raiding and return to camp.

I had given some thought to staying here another day and going out of town to see what was around, but started counting days left an factoring in travel time I am not so sure that time would allow for that. I came here this time primarily to see Murak U and it is one o those places “You can’t get there from here”. One travel agent said I’d have to go to Yangon (Rangoon) and then fly up to the nearest big city. That would be like flying from Chicago to Dallas to get to Helena Montana.

I knew that a flight went daily from a beach resort town and that town was just over there, just over that mountain. Well maybe a little further than that, but a flight there would bypass Yangon and I could spend a day drinking Mojitos on the beach. That sounds like a nice reward for getting culture for three days.

A stop at a travel agent on the way back to the hotel and plane ticket from here to beach tomorrow morning was secured.

I read a tale or saw a television show where a woman was attacked and when her lover found her she said she wanted revenge on the attacker. She could remember him clearly. They drove around and she yelled “It’s Him !” and pointed at a man. Then guy stops the car and kills the guy. On the drive home she yells “It’s him !” and points at a different man and then another and then another. Day Yesterday someone picked up and walked off with my Lonely Planet guide book. As I was sitting by the pool today a man carrying a Myanmar Lonely Planet walked by. It’s Him ! I sneak past him to see if he has left my bookmark in place, then I leap on him and wrestle it out of his thieving hands. He’s too smart for me he’s already ditched the telltale bookmark. I ask him if he picked that up in Myanmar and he explained he got it for his birthday, and his wife said “It cost like $35 and now I see them around here for $10, being sold outside the temples.” Hmm. Maybe this isn’t the miscreant I thought.

Loafed around much of the afternoon and then went out for a last sunset cart ride. Nice and simple and easy. The clouds killed the light for sunset pictures. I may have to return after Mrauk U if I want something good at sunset’s golden hour. We had a few laughs and the horse had a nice slow easy afternoon too.

Back at home we had dinner, I again ate alone and the family watched me eat. You know after a couple nights the food should have slowly merged into the sameness but every time it was new and exciting and fresh. I don’t know how they do it with an open fire and inexpensive ingredients.

They both walked me back to the horse cart. She put my arm around her shoulder and we walked down the lane. I offered a tentative sideways hug but it went unanswered. Probably isn’t the thing here. Back at the hotel I packed and listened to my book before lights out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Making friends, new and old

November 15 2017
Bagan, Myanmar

Sorry for not writing in a couple days time and tide waits for no one, and me least of all.

When Last I wrote it was the end of the day in Mandalay. In the next morning at the ungodly hour of 530 I met the taxi to go to the ferry from Mandalay to Bagan. Between 9 and 12 hours depending on that height of the water and how many times the captain ran us aground on the sand bars. He must have done pretty well because we made it in 8. I think we only ran aground once, based on the lack of motion and all the yelling coming from the front of the boat. Pretty good by my standards.

I as actually the first on the boat, except for the crew. I picked out the best deck chair. Front row rail side. My hat and Lonely Planet book got the seat next to me. Yes I am THAT person. But we all know that I am special, an it seems my hat is very special.

There really isn’t too much to say about the trip. Sit your ass down and wait until it is time to get off. The deck chairs were among the most uncomfortable chairs ever Not long enough to lay on with out your feet and half of your calves hanging off the end. Then if you scooted up enough to rest your feet on the deck then there was no back support. When you lay back your your feet akimbo you had to thrash about like a turtle on it’s back to get up and slip forward enough to plant your feet. My hat and book seemed to fit just fine.

A boxed breakfast was serve and a cooked lunch of rice and stir fry for lunch. I need to write the previous day’s happenings so went into the main cabin where there were tables to write. Upon my return a F’ing French cow with Klingon wrinkles between er eyes has without the honor deserved tossed hat and book onto my seat. Then she laid the Evil Eye on me. I immediately got some salt to sprinkle around me and hat the ward of the eye. Then she invited a French cow and her neutered steer of a husband to pull chairs in front of us and pontificate on the price of beef or some crap like that. All they while they gave me Stink Eye. I had to get up for more salt and second cow couldn’t even slide her feet to the side to let me past her size 12’s.

We docked in Bagan around 3 and ran the taxi, horse cart gauntlet into town. Of course there was the taxi pest. Taxi pets don’t have a car. They latch onto you and then direct you to their pals and I assumed get a little nibble later, because the cost of the taxi was three times what would be normal here in Burma. Even though he promised me he had and drove his taxi, I somehow ended up in a friend of his’ taxi. Funny how that worked out. And I only had to say “You are beginning to fucking piss me off!” twice for this to happen.

The hotel (Number 3 in T rip Advisor and starred in Lonely Planet) is not one of those quaint ones. It is a room renting machine. Come to Bagan for 2 days with your mates, sit by he pool, E Bike to the temples, drink a bit and never leave the pseudo Myanmar your entire time.

My room was a reasonable size, with not working hairdryer, not enough plugs for a phone and computer at the same time You couldn’t sit on the toilet and open or close the door. Toilet that ran continuously unless you jiggled it’s handle. I ordered a bite and went to sign it to my room and was told cash only, even though they had insisted on a $50 cash (not credit card) deposit. Worst of all, twin beds. One night and ta-ta, adios.

I wanted to find the horse cart driver from last time, knew his name and his horse cart number and where he generally hung out trying to get a fare. On my way I found myself talking to a different driver and he knew Bobo and where he lived. He side he’d take me there. On the way Mrs. Bobo passed us and we followed her home. I waited in silence for Bobo to come home as they chatted among themselves. Pretty soon he came home and looked right through me, he didn’t recognize me. I mentioned 2014, still nothing, then I mentioned my hotel and I think he put it together. A pick up time for the next day and it was back to the hotel.

In he morning I packed bags to leave and asked the desk clerk to to keep them for me and I’d be back later to pick them up. The day manager came over and I told him see you later. He asked what was wrong, I told him the bathroom was too small. He said well take a look at our balcony units for $10 more. The balcony turned out to be the exterior walkway with a chair or two. The room was the same size, with a larger bathroom, which made the living area smaller and still with the twin beds. Thank you, no. Take a look at our next step up for $10 more than that. I told him I wasn’t going to pay that. He suddenly lowered the price by five bucks. Okay I’ll look.

Big room, big bathroom, plenty of outlets, king size bed. I caved in.

Yesterday is kind of a blur as far as temple crawling. It was hot and I was hotter. WE started out too late for goo light and the heat had started to rise before we left the hotel. Then the pick up in the afternoon was too early, and it was still hot, and we ha to kill time before sundown. The sundown location as not the best seat in the house. Maybe Photoshop can make it look right.

Bobo had invited me to dinner at his home and I had accepted. I’d brought along a big bag of Hershey Mini bars in case this happened. We arrived and there was one place setting and a wonderful array of food. Rice and seven or eight side dishes. Uhh……… This was not what I signed up for. I was expecting dinner with the family, not my private restaurant. Well better to just go with it, instead of embarrassing myself and offending my host and hostess. I sat down to a large helping of rice and then took a spoonful of each dish. Enough to be polite and get down in case it was awful, but not so little to look picky. There was chicken in an oil sauce, some fresh water prawns in a vegetable mixture. An unknown other meat and several vegetarian dishes.

Okay, time to put up or shut up. The first bite, I couldn’t help myself. I let out a moan with pleasure. It was wonderful. I can’t remember the last time I had that reaction to food. I was totally shocked. God it was good. The rest of the meal was the same. Great flavor, made with love and care. One of the dishes must have had peanut or cashew in it based on the crunch. Turns out it was pounded chicken bones. The shrimp were teeny and I assumed to be eaten in their shell based on their preparation. They kept wanting to put chicken chunks on my plate and I kept opting for the other dishes. I can get chicken at home. I have been fighting a light cold for a few days and my nose was drippy. I asked if they have any tissue. No, but In was welcome to use me napkin. I am not going to my snot on your napkins. What about these other napkins, they are smaller. No, you are not going to have to was my snot. I’ll be fine. Five minutes later a new package of travel tissues arrived.

I ate until I couldn’t fit any more in and still food was left. I figured out they ate in shifts, ladies and kids while the men were working and then the men when they got home for the evening. I guess I was dinner 1.5.

We killed a few minutes after I finished, but lack of language for in the way both ways, so I begged off. Thanked the hostess and her daughter for everything and instead of the horse cart, rode the motor bike back to my hotel.

Bad night at the hotel. Room was great. Runny nose raw from blowing. Headache. Gross. Maybe I just meet Bobo hand him a couple bucks and beg off sick. No, what you miss out on, you’ll never experience. Take an Advil and be an adult.

Well if Jesus was a Buddhist he would have a fit with the temples here. On the temple grounds and in some of the temples they are lined with trinket sellers. I needed a small clutch to hold walking around money and y hotel key card. I found what I needed and made the exchange and she took the bills and started slapping them in the rest of the goods. What did my money do to deserve this punishment? She said it was Lucky Money, first sale of the day. I guess it is showing the other goods what they need to bring throughout the day or else get smacked around tomorrow.

At a different temple, one of the women was good to be a sort of guide and I handed her enough to buy many of the things in her kiosk. I already had a full suitcase. She was offended. Maybe I should have bought something with that money from her. I’ll know next time.

Dinner at Bobo’s tonight, again.