Monday, 22 February 2010

Our Return to Yangon

Sadly it was time to say farewell to the magic of Inle Lake as the tuk-tuk sped us at 06.45 towards the train station at Shwenyaung. We eventually managed to set off on the slow train to Thazi at around 10.00, in the relative comfort of Upper Class. The long wait at the station flew by, aided and abetted by the delights of MRTV. Here the tv monitors on the station don’t show train times, but traditional and folk music from Myanmar. You should try watching or listing to some: it’s both excruciating and entertaining all at the same time!
We said ‘auf wiedersehen’ to Jörg at Kalaw, and were in Thazi in next to no time: a mere eleven hours after pulling out from our station of origin! Journeys such as this are made special not only by the breathtaking scenery; it’s all about the people you chat to along the way. The language barrier doesn’t matter one jot. A young guy with an Abercrombie baseball cap came to join us bearing quails eggs and handfuls of oranges. “Eat, eat!” he bade us, and eat we did. And grin, for that was all we could do. He grinned and grinned. Later an elderly man made a sterling attempt at engaging us in conversation, but the more whiskey he drank, the more tricky it all became. Across the aisle from us a large party of women were going on a pilgrimage to Mandalay to pray at a large Buddhist shrine. How did we glean this? Well, mainly from mime, since our Burmese stops just after “Mengala-bar”. We gave them a big fat cigar which they promised would become an offering in their ritual; they gave us oranges. Finally, our longest and most fulfilling chat came with three soldiers. Yes, the wicked government with its army…it’s full of really nice people, just like you and I. The eldest of the men was 53, an ex-soldier. We talked about many things, perhaps the most shocking of which was the divided Germany between East and West. He had no idea of, and was bemused by the reunification. Some news doesn’t get through here, does it? The other two soldiers were electrical engineers, and although both 20, looked much younger. They were proud of their uniforms, their families whom they showed us in photographs, and their graduation diplomas. They smiled, laughed and grinned all the way to Thazi with us, thrilled to be connecting with two English guys!
We only needed to doss down on a station bench at Thazi for three hour’s sleep before we made it onto the express train bound for Yangon, once more in the luxury of the reclining seats in the antique Chinese Upper Class carriage. As the train bounced through the night (sometimes so violently that we feared a derailment) we drifted in and out of sleep. At around 07.00 we were woken by the steward offering tea, coffee and fried rice. Now this fried rice was sensational, flavoured with paprika and fresh, green chilli. What a great breakfast! We pulled into Yangon on time at around 13.30, in time to find the Whitehouse, where we are to stay for just two nights. Our visit to Burma is drawing rapidly to a close, and we wish we had more time to spend here. The scenery is stunning, the local practices exotic and the people shy but totally endearing.

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