December 13, 2015

I went to Myanmar!

It's not every day that you get to cross off a major life goal.

Today, I went to Myanmar. I walked across a bridge from Mae Sai, Thailand to Tachilek, Myanmar. I paid 500 Baht to the Myanmar government, and then, there I was--in Myanmar.

Life dream, check.
My post requires a short backstory of the job in Mandalay (that's in Myanmar) that I almost took in 2013. I didn't exactly chicken out, as there were legit reasons not to take the job, but I think I made a good choice to stay in Flagstaff that year to develop my relationship with Alan--the guys who would later become my husband. However, the allure of Myanmar had only grown in my mind since then, and today I got to experience it firsthand!

Tachilek, all things considered, is pretty similar to Chiang Rai, and really similar to Phnom Penh; however, there are plenty of distinctly Myanmar things. The Burmese script is full of circles and boxes. I loved seeing it on signs to remind me of the foreign place I was visiting. Many of the women were sporting a traditional, canary yellow paste on their cheeks to keep the sun off. They wore their hair in long ponytails dangling down their backs. The men had darker skin than Thais, more like Bengali or Indians. They wore flip flops and t-shirts at the tea shops and in market stalls.

I was once again a highly conspicuous foreigner worthy of a stare. In Chiang Rai, there are plenty of foreigners, so people are used to seeing tall blonds roaming the streets. Much less so in Tachilek. The cigarette dealers tried to get my attention, as did the counterfeit handbag sellers, and the watch peddlers.

The strangely familiar scent of roasted chestnuts and charcoal filled the market from the vendors churning the nuts in piles of blacked coal bits. Wares and goods of all sorts line the walkways of most Southeast Asian markets, so that wasn't new, but it was overwhelming as usual. I didn't buy much, except a couple of bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from a vendor who is friends with one of my colleagues. Wine is expensive in Thailand, and I got two bottles for less than the price I'd expect to pay in America. I passed on the counterfeit goods because I don't care about brands, I like high-quality things (and I'm willing to pay for them), and I'm scared of being caught at the wrong border with the wrong pirated DVD.

After round one of navigating the market, our group (consisting of me, Alan, a few Thai colleagues and the colleague's friends who run the liquor store) went for tea and a snack. Based on the number of different dishes that came to our table, it seemed like our host (liquor store owner) had said, "bring us one of everything." I can't tell you the name of anything I ate, but it was really distinctive cuisine. Among many things, we had a bread with bean spread that I'd expect in a Middle-Eastern country, a tea-leaf based salad, thick noodles famous in the region, and some fried tofu chips. I sipped a Myanmar milk tea and Alan tried the local Myanmar beer.

We took a second round of the market and then ventured out into the city to see a few temples and a golden Pagoda. I loved it.

The sidewalks were what I would describe as "developing country" in that they were uneven and full of gaps that dropped 3 feet into knee-deep water/sewage. I remember these somewhat fondly from Cambodia, though I am still paranoid of falling into a hole. The temples weren't different from Thailand, at least to my untrained eye, but the Pagoda was pretty cool. We had to take our shoes off to enter the complex. It contained a huge golden pagoda, probably 30 feet tall, overlooking the city from a hill. I found the statues corresponding with my birth day, Thursday, and my friends helped me perform the expected ritual of pouring water over the Buddha. The view of the city was excellent from that vantage point. Interestingly, the cross of a nearby Catholic church could be seen from the pagoda.

After the pagoda, I was pretty tired. A full day of market shopping, foreign-food eating, and group dynamics is enough to do me in. We went for one more snack. I'd like to front this story with my friend's words, "It's like wet pizza."

I don't really "go for" wet pizza, so I wasn't looking forward to the dish much.

Wet pizza...
I do enjoy trying new foods, but this one looked like someone had stacked a bunch of paper towels and gotten them wet. The rice-flour sheets were stuck together in a way that we had to kind of use chopsticks and fingers (dirty from a day out) to pull them apart for the group. There was a peanut-based sauce for dipping. My bite was too big, and I swear it was like eating lukewarm wet kleenex with peanuts. It was all I could do o get it down without seriously gagging in front of my friends. After that bite, I was ruined. I began to notice how dirty the shop was, how tiny my seat was; basically, I was ready to bolt. When asked, I confessed to my hosts that the dish just wasn't for me. I kind od wanted to disappear. I never want to disappoint a host.

More food came.

A hot version of the previous dish. Slightly more tolerable.

Eggs that had been punctured with a syringe (not a word you ever want to hear in SE Asia), the contents sucked out mixed with spices and then replaced back in the shells and boiled. Our host peeled one for me. It was ok. I ate it, wishing it had a yolk, because that's the best part!

Luckily, that was the end of the food, as my appetite was totally gone and we started back for the market. We had left our car on the Thai side of the border to avoid paying the car fees. The market was just steps from the bridge anyway.

I'd like to end this post by saying that our visit to Myanmar was wonderful, exotic, and refreshing. Our weird little dormy-apartment in Chiang Rai felt like home for maybe the first time today.