So I’m in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Burma), sitting here in a cafe. There is a bus stopped on the street out front and many of the passengers are staring at me through the window.
I flew into the city yesterday morning and met a Dutch tour guide while withdrawing money from the ATM. We decided to split a taxi into the city and right before we got in the car, he saw his friend, DaZin, from Yangon who came along with us.
I was heading to a hotel near the home of Marianne, the sister of a friend of my Aunt, who kindly agreed to meet me. Before I got to the hotel, I wanted to get Marianne a gift, so DaZin came with me to the shopping mall to help find a nice scarf!
When I arrived at my hotel, I called Marianne and learned that she had arranged a private driver and guide for me for the day!! I did not expect such incredible kindness. Her relative owns a tour company here and they helped me book and plan my itinerary for the next week and a half.
Marianne was busy when I landed, but she invited me for dinner that evening. During the day was time for my private tour around the city.
The tour guide and driver picked me up at the hotel around 11:30am and we first went to get lunch. The original plan was to take me to a good western restaurant, but I insisted on going to a local place to eat. They took me to a great spot down the street that was bustling and packed with locals.
The food is always served with a vegetable soup, rice and a platter of pickled and fresh veggies and herbs. Entrees are served buffet style with a vast selection of meat and vegetable dishes. We had mutton, pork, shrimp and a dish that tasted just like American corn pudding.
Tables are traditionally set with a container of roasted, salted nuts/beans and bitter tea leaves. You’re supposed to combine the bitter and salty flavors in your mouth. There are also typically blocks of plum sugar to nibble on for digestion.
After lunch, we headed to the market downtown where I sampled some local fruits. I tried mango juice/puree for the first time and it was incredible. They take mangos, smash them by hand and pour the resulting liquid over a chunk of ice (made with filtered water).
After wandering downtown and visiting the central square of the city, we went to the ShweDagon pagoda. This is an incredibly ornate structure visible from all over the city. It is covered in gold and is lit up at night, giving it a magical glow that truly left me in awe the first time I saw it. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Photos cannot do it justice (at least mine can’t).
On a side note, I’ve taken up wearing the local garment called a longyi. It is a tube of cloth worn tied tight at the waist and worn as a skirt by Myanmar men and women. Men tie their longyis in the front and women tie their’s to the side. The first time I tried it on just for fun, but then I was told that the people here truly appreciated the fact that I was following their local custom, so I decided to continue wearing it.
The longyi is quite comfortable, although the major flaw in its design is a lack of pockets. I told my tour guide I would like to create a longyi with pockets and she laughed, telling me that it would not look good and people would not buy such a thing. Well, I’ll show her!! Currently, one sticks their phone in the waste of the garment. I thought this would make your phone prone to theft, but they said that pickpocketing is not a problem here.
Marianne met me at the hotel at 6pm and took me back to her house. She used to be a professor of History at Yangon University and is currently retired and spends her time on charitable endeavors.
Marianne is an incredible person. In her house are 5 other females. She cares for her old nanny who is now about 85 and suffers from arthritis. Marianne also provides for a woman with two little girls whose father died from cancer. The little girls are some of the cutest and nicest kids I’ve ever met. They live with their mother in the house and help take care of Marianne, who is getting on in age.
When I walked in, the girls were watching Dragon Tales! Marianne provides the girls with an English tutor and I was surprised to see that they seemed understand everything I was saying to them. They’re quite bright kids.
A fourth girl lives with Marianne. She seemed to be about my age and Marianne treats her as a daughter. I believe she was an orphan and Marianne took her in.
The meal we had was incredible and afterwards I ate some of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life.
I was truly touched by Marianne’s kindness and I really hope that I can repay her some day. She even invited me to her house for tea later this afternoon. I’m really overwhelmed by everything she’s done.
I’m heading to Bagan early tomorrow morning and I’m quite excited!