September 21st 2015, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
As we go out of the airport I see wide communist spaces and short women in uniforms crossing the street together.
I am somewhere around the South part of the rhombus that is made between the tongue of India that circles Bangladesh and China, going down to the Bay of Bengal, where another stripe of Burmese land goes South pairing with the Thai land.
The local writing characters are impossible to read, even for someone who is used to different alphabets (Cyrillic, Arabic, Japanese), but cute at the same time, those Ss and birds that appear in Microsoft Office when there is an error. Their wheel is on the right side and from the window of the bus I see overcrowded buses with around 70-80 people crammed together, most of them standing. It’s 7 AM and there are 26 degrees Celsius, even though I hear it’s raining season.
I already see the local temples circled by walls with Burmese inscriptions on them. Men wear a sort of skirt made of a cloth wrapped around their hips/waist and flip flops. All men, even the 70 year old. I find again the dala-dalas from Zanzibar as a means of transportation.
A tree has grown around a wall and the faces of the people on the street are painted with some cream color paste on the cheeks and forehead. This turned out to be Tanaka, a sample of which we got as we arrived at the hotel, which the locals use for the skin and it looks like a mask when applied, but it is common to be worn in public.
Yangon does not look like anything I have seen before. The streets, the buildings, the people, the gatherings, their writing, the temples, the way they dress is different than anything I’ve seen before. It intrigues me and enchants me at the same time.
World Health Organization building looks like a colonial style building I would love to live in once. A mirror water lake doubles the park nearby and it looks like picture now at dawn.
Youngsters look like I would call before punks. New flat buildings make their way up in the city. Tourism has opened up and no democracy should follow starting with the upcoming elections in November this year.
Huge trees, window covered office buildings between old living buildings painted in white, sometimes in bright colors – green, blue. A Novotel and an interesting design building right next to it. Yangon does not seem so “stopped back in time” to me. The cars are Toyotas and I haven’t seen any fancy cars.
I’m curious what adventures are to follow. People seem relaxed. I love the columns of the buildings. There is a lot of green nature wise and a lot of yellow, green and red in the landscape – flag colors – on the buses, by the streets, on the buildings.
People exercise in the park and a guy with a triangle hat cleans the grass of garbage. We pass by another lake in another park. We should be close as I see the huge Swedagon Pagoda.
In my hotel room, looking at the pool while enjoying tasty mangos I think of far away places and people. I open my suitcase and take Fuego by Anais Nin, the book I’m reading now and start reading, but the nice weather outside is calling me. Spicy cocktails by the pool and pouring rain.
September 21st 2015, Yangon, Myanmar
Godfather theme in the ultra-luxurious breakfast restaurant of Royal Park Hotel.
I eat palana with sticky rice.
Everywhere I go I feel the sense of belonging. Isn’t this weird? Such far-away places…
I look out the window and I see postcards, I see travel magazines. Live! Each moment, each second became a postcard from far away, drenched if emotions, thoughts, comparisons, more and more love for people, for their scars, hunchbacks or wrinkles.
This matches what I have seen online before I came. Ravishing luxury between people pushing small carriages in their skirts/aprons.
I cannot evaluate how poor they are because of what I’ve seen, they’re not doing bad. I mean, when I arrived in Zanzibar, I knew. They are poor! Here, the new airport is shining and the way to the hotel showed new buildings, offices, showrooms, some industry. More city life. Zanzibar is essentially rural.
Yes, I always go back to Zanzibar…
“I Dreamed of Myanmar” (allusion to “I Dreamed of Africa” movie which I strongly recommend) for four months and now I only think about Bagan.
In the lobby there are a lot of people, all aligned as in a ceremony. I walk in the middle of them as if they are waiting for me. Obviously they are not. I ask and they are waiting for the Japanese Embassy delegation.
On CNN there’s a documentary (African Start-Up) about fish leather products in Kisumu, Kenya, where my friend works. The world became so small. Guess where next start-up is from…Zanzibar! Really, it is haunting me…
In America if you see on the menu fresh peach something, it comes as a chemical, whereas in Africa or Myanmar, when you ask for peach Crioc it comes regular vodka with freshly squeezed peaches.
Instead of shortening my travel list, this job only makes it longer.
September 22nd 2015, Park Royal, Yangon, Myanmar
I am up and ready to start the day. How do you recognize Middle East based cabin crew? Are those that at breakfast get one plate of bacon.
The people in Myanmar are extremely friendly. Indeed, I am in a 5 star hotel, but they all seem like they love their jobs and seriously, they cannot all love their jobs.
Until now I’ve seen only paining luxury. I’m looking at the girls working in the restaurant. One tried to put more make-up and looks nice. Another admired my outfit yesterday. We live in different parts of the world and carry different lives. Some were luckier than the others. Some were born in Chanels other work a lifetime and spend during their whole lifetime how much one purse costs.
I’m so happy I brought the clothes I don’t wear anymore to leave them in the room.
In the reflection of my face on the window facing the Yangon street, looking at two 15 year olds walking to school, I see my core, my eyes, the eyes that can tell the stories, I see I’m not a girl anymore.
I’m not “scary young” anymore as one relevant man used to call me. I’ve become a woman and not just with the body. I don’t know when exactly this happened, but I am and feel a woman with all the force and strength one can carry. Who does not put up with shit and minds her way. Good morning!
Today is sightseeing day and we start with the Botataung Pagoda meaning 1000 Military Officers, near the Yangon River. Yangon is crowded and hectic, but it’s small and for sightseeing you don’t need more than half day. It is around 25 centuries old, same as the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the oldest in the world. We drive past by The Strand Hotel, of which I read is one of the best, former colonial building.
We continue to the Karaweik Palace Floating Restaurant in the Kandawgyi Park, close to the Schwedagon Pagoda and booked tickets for the Burmese dances night show.
The city is spectacular as it is, colorful and disorganized. A little dirty, but appealing.
We finish at Sule Pagoda, close to the City Hall. Pagodas are extraordinary, but at some point it becomes boring since they’re mainly all the same, just different size. However, the atmosphere next to the temples is the one that matters – pleasant and peaceful. People are humble, helpful and don’t seem to pay much attention to the very few tourists.
Back to the Karaweik Palace for the Kinnari and Kinnara Dance, Oil Lamp Dance, Shan Traditional Dance, Aung Mingalar Dance and others from different corners of the country and time frames, for some Burmese wine and acceptable buffet. If you are in Yangon for more than two days, it’s worth spending one night here.
The sunsets and sunrises in the park are inspired of stories, of the calm one imagines when thinking of Burma. With birds flying just to make the hundred shades of purple and light blue picture complete.
I left The Shwedagon Pagoda last because it is the most important attraction of Myanmar. It is considered to be indestructible, as it survived fires and earthquakes, it is the oldest pagoda in the world at around 2600 years. The dome is plated with gold and embellished with topaz, diamonds, sapphires and emerald. The Pagoda is visible for almost all areas of the city and reflects the sun in a special way.
Back at the hotel. I had heard that there are some good clubs in Yangon, but we are here right before the upcoming November 2015 elections and everything closes down at 11 PM. At least we have room service. I sip some mango vodka and the guys drink local beer.
I ask the people at the hotel if they like The Lady and they all nod affirmatively. The Lady is Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, the party which was going to win elections later. Held in hose arrest for more than 15 years, married to a Brit and Nobel Prize laureate, now almost 70 years old, The Lady seems to be gathering all the hopes of the Burmese people for democracy, after 50 years of military rule. And how wouldn’t it be so since she is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San, assassinated when she was two years old, in 1947. A strong woman and a tragic personal history, a lifetime sacrificed for a greater good.
A visit to the Bogyoke Market is also worth a visit. It’s fun to walk through the streets and it feel safe. You will notice similarities with neighboring Thailand, but as opposed to it, Myanmar is not invaded by tourists yet and the specialists say this is the best times to visit it. Myanmar just opened its borders after tens of years of isolation. For sure you need a visa and things are not stable. For example expats here told me that it’s very difficult to work as sometimes the internet or the electricity just stops and there’s not much you can do about it but wait. Then there’s the poor infrastructure and complicated bureaucratic processes for almost anything. Yet, many foreigners seem to move here and I’m wondering how life is here for them. A couple from South Africa tells me they come here since he works most of the time here and I met someone who is building the electrical system for new hospitals here in Yangon and in 9 hours away by car Bagan (Pagan). Myanmar is a country that is worth following in the next decade and one that is worth exploring the laid back way. Their way.
September 23rd 2015, Yangon, Myanmar
There’s one last place I want to go to and since I’m hungry I take the elevator to The Thiripyitsaya Sky Bistro in the Sakura Tower, right next to the Shanri-La Hotel. From here you can see the whole city, the nearby train station, the Shwedagon Pagoda and the most beautiful sunset.
For some kind of reason Myanmar was my top destination when I became a flight attendant. I just knew I want to go, from the first month of flying. Even before all-time favorite Moscow. At first I was invited in a trip to Yangon, but did not make it, so I guess things happen when they have to. Wake me up when September ends or better when the year ends…