Yangon not Constantinople

March 28, 2010

Unsurprisingly the people at myanmarwebcensorship.com are a none too keen on allowing access to wordpress. Here’s hoping their reach does not extend to being able to block the post-by-email function. If anyone is reading this maybe you could let me know that – and particularly whether the photos have appeared (I doubt it).

I got into Yangon / Rangoon yesterday morning and I was hoping to post, for their friends in England, pics of Min Thu and Moe Naing whom I was able to hook up with almost immediately. They are both very well. Today I went with Min Thu and others to Moe Naing’s house for lunch. It’s the first time I’ve been there, the first time I’ve met her elder sister, her brother, her dad and her nephew. The middle sister (the fishball entrepreneur) was there too.

The lunch was great. Of course there was too much of it even for five of us to eat – pork curry, fish curry, prawn curry, crab, chicken, watercress, a salad and a huge soup. The house is great too, certainly the newest and finest on the street; concrete-built to replace the wooden house they lived in before. Moe Naing misses some things about the wooden house. It was warmer when it needed to be, cooler when it needed to be and she thinks healthier – but it was not big enough for the whole family to live in together.

When Cyclone Nargis hit almost two years ago the house was under construction and lost its roof. Many of their neighbours lost more. Moe Naing talked today about how awful the damage in her part of town was; she imagined they had been hardest hit but once she saw the total devastation in the delta area she knew differently. She spent a lot of time in the delta immediately after the cyclone providing what help she could, not least with our friend Ashin spending wisely the money that we all sent from England. She was clear about her gratitude for your generosity. She has spent a lot of time in the delta since accompanying many tourists and other visitors who are welcomed there by surviving communities. She describes a place where things are almost back to a normality but where fisherman still lack for boats and where last year’s rice harvest was ruined by a growing rat problem. We may make a visit.

But before then it’s time for a bit of R&R with a trip to the beach. I have been to Ngwe Saung before but just for the day. That was the first time Moe Naing ever saw the sea. On the way back we saw an accident; a truck had gone off the edge of the road. Down below a man was shouting. I asked Min Thu what he was saying – ” he’s saying, ‘get the fucking truck off me’ ” came the instant translation that is just one one of the many upsides of visiting a country where you have friends to travel with. They will not be coming to the beach this time as they have business in Yangon but I’ll be back in a few days and we’ll make a trip together then.

Ashin will be here then too; he’s currently away at a novitation ceremony making new monks. He is apparently doing quite well for himself, having made an investment in a dried fish business, and has his own mobile phone now – apperently he is to be described as a businessmonk. I spoke to him today; uppermost in his mind was that Kevin Phillips’ late equaliser for Birmingham against Arsenal makes it a two horse race for the Premier league title with seven-goal Chelsea all that his beloved Man Utd have to worry about. He is as confident of victory now as he was at the start of the season. Pretty confident about the Champions League too. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

Min Thu is as charming, laid back and funny as ever. His self-taught French is pretty damn good and he’s making a bit of cash teaching Burmese to foreign workers now. (He’s much less pleased by the Arsenal result.) He as moved apartment – within the same block – to somewhere in a slightly better condition. Not that you get much for 25 dollars a month. You certainly don’t get decent drinking water; he fetches that in a drum which he carries up the stairs to the flat. His Mum is still OK but her eyes continues to give her pain. Hopefully I will see her again before I head home.

So what of Yangon? If you’ve been here you know. If you haven’t I’m not sure anyone could properly describe it. It’s a sensory feast and full of surprises even on my seventh visit – this morning I bumped into a guy carrying two buzzards and a parakeet. Everyone here is as welcoming and friendly as ever, though they do describe the security situation as a little tense. Tomorrow’s journey to the beach will begin with a seventeen hour overnight boat trip to Pathein – Ordinary Class, $7, sleeping on the open deck with the locals. It’s so warm I’m told I won’t even need a blanket. I can’t wait.

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