Monday, 22 February 2010

Around Nyaungshwe

After all these days of exertion, it was time to live by one of THE most important travellers’ rules: have a day off! Breakfast was a leisurely affair, taken on the balcony of the Joy Hotel: great coffee and tea, oranges and fresh papaya, together with a tasty tomato omelette. Each reference we make to fresh fruit and vegetables here in Nyaungshwe is unique to this area: everything is grown on the lake in the floating gardens and is brought into town by the characteristic longtail boats. Tomoatoes this fresh and this unusual are very special tomatoes, and we can’t get enough of them. Watching all the farmers bringing their produce to market on the canal right next to the hotel is absolutely fascinating. This just goes to prove that the agricultural economy here is booming, and day and night the lorries loaded with fresh produce bound for Mandalay and Yangon bear witness to this. It’s refreshing to see that a place which could so easily have become a tourist trap can also maintain its true heritage.
Jörg took us on a stroll into the countryside to the south east of the town, exploring some ruined stupas and a fascinating monastery which had a number of novices. Here the prayer-hall was also their schoolroom, complete with blackboard, exercise books and cane. A large collection of cats also lived alongside these monks, but this time there was no jumping for the tourists!

Working up quite an appetite, we called in for lunch at the Pancake Kingdom. Their tag-line on all the signs in town was “Are u bored of rice?” Far from it, the rice dishes here can be fantastic; but we are a little bored with the inappropriate use of text-speak… The pancakes were good, but the star of the show was a fruit salad with yoghurt. The generous portions of apple, papaya, pineapple, banana and strawberry were all grown right here, whilst the yoghurt had that zesty tang which characterises the lassis we had last year. The strawberries were tiny, bursting in the mouth with a massive punch! Over lunch, we planned dinner!
The afternoon brought one fascinating shock to the system: the local dentist. There buried in the warren of stall of the Mingala Market was the most basic of dental surgeries we have ever seen. Really, it’s a junk shop, but pride of place in the centre of the lock-up was an antique, 1940s army field dental drill, operated by pedal power. The dentist told us that his grandfather used it, then his father. Today he was giving one proud gnasher-owner a bit of a polish. His mouth red from years of pan-chewing, he grinned and nodded, setting his seal of approval on the proceedings.

For our last night in town and to cement our friendship with the knowledgeable and articulate Jörg (who, incidentally, has travelled in Burma numerous times and in Asia in general frequently) we visited Shan Land Restaurant. Good move! The mains slanted towards the Chinese border with Shan state: hot and sour pork; sweet and sour pork (with carrots, tomato, sweet and sour sauce and little crispy cubes of pork which had been battered and deep-fried). The sides were amazing: a hot cauliflower salad with chilli and peanut; a tomato salad heavily laced with coriander. Chicken fried rice and steamed rice completed the order; the table groaned under the weight, whilst the grateful diners munched contentedly, speaking the odd phrase in English, the rest in German.

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