Within two years Yangon went from almost no cars to enough cars to make any trip a traffic jam. You watch old colonial buildings pass by. Graffiti on walls. Holes in the sidewalk. Barbed-wire on every fence. For a country that is so safe for Americans (they worship Obama) it is a little surprising.
You stay with your professor who proves she’s a mother by her hospitality and worry by wanting you to call to check in when you are out. You get to watch a movie on a couch, something you haven’t done for eight weeks.
You leave your shoes at the bottom of the Shwedagon Paya and look up. The gold incrusting everything makes it shine in the drizzle like a sun. You take an escalator to the top, passing a cat as tranquil as Buddha himself.
The Paya shoots into the air in holly grandeur. The slick marble floor makes you slip a little as a progression of child pristesses walk by chanting.
You take a taxi to the market. Unlike Vietnam people don’t harass you to buy everything. One woman even points out the inferior products. You buy jade for your mother. You have a coconut soup with noodles that makes you quiver with its deliciousness. Dodging potholes in the sidewalk you walk by a Mosque and Hindu temple. Finding that the travel agency you were looking for only books flights you go to the cafe at the top of the skyscraper. The city just ends, there are no suburbs, just metropolis then nature. The Shwedagon glimmers in the near distance.
The next day you go to a local tea house. The tea is only matched by the delicious coconut pastries. You are yet again the only white people. You are early for the national museum so you step into a mall where you are transported to America. The museum is nearly empty and with almost nonexistent lighting. Nothing in English. The pieces are so spread out you wonder why there are four floors when it would all fit on two. Your professor calls a taxi for you and you fall asleep as you drive to an animal sanctuary.
Peacocks great you at the entrance as you roll up your windows quickly to stop monkeys jumping in. Deer graze everywhere. You spot an ox. You stop to see a Hippo that came here by way of Titto years ago.
Afterwards you go to the mini zoo where you count four animals and an unexplained whale skeleton that is more white than the chained up white elephants you saw the day before. You go back into town to meet up with your professor at a hotel that makes you feel dirty and poor. The electricity goes out twice. You walk by black-market jewel dealers as you buy blankets. Next you meet up with another student of your professor who just came from the conflict intensive Rhakin state. You do not discuss Islam here. You four get grilled street food and talk Myanmar over beer. The student was offered a job at UNICEF but doesn’t know if he should take it. His heart is with a man in Seattle. Your professor goes home as you three go to an expat bar for whiskey.
It is an easy ride to the floating pagoda. You stop at another pagoda on the way where they sell toy guns. You take a boat to the floating pagoda and feed catfish of mythical size. On your way back you stop at the Ethnicites Park. Model homes of various ethnic groups makes up the tour. As with all the non religious places you’ve been this park feels like lover’s lane as teenagers walk by hand in hand, something not kosher in the city. You get a coffee back in town and celebrate at a toilet you can use toilet paper with. At a bar you watch Burmese hipsters walk the streets.
Myanmar is part frozen in the past, part hurled into the global world and part of a grey in-between. You feel a draw to it all.