Trishaw philosophy, meat, and travel

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Saturday, February 3, 2007

A few random impressions today...

Passed by women picking bugs out of one another's hair. We've seen this frequently throughout Southeast Asia in cities as well as villages. It no longer surprises us.

The trishaw - a three-wheeled bicycle taxi with two passenger seats - is a nice way to get around Mandalay. It also feels like you're paying a slave to pedal you somewhere. Next ride, I've decided that I amd going to pedal and the driver can give me directions to where Im going. I'm looking forward to this. They are going to think I am crazy. Perhaps I am.

"Chicken curry" is a small bowl of sauce with a measly bone-in leg of meat.

Meat dishes in general here make you much more aware of their source. None of this antiseptic ground up plastic-wrapped reddish substance. Uh-uh. You get skin, fat, grease, heads, necks, bone, sometimes entrails, bone, and more bone. And that fish you just ordered is going to arrive whole and you're going to spend half the meal picking out lots and lots of spiny bones. Mmmmmm - meat.

Tap water is a big no-no. Next time you take a shower, county how many times you open your mouth, then try showering while always keeping your mouth closed.

Silverware, cups, and plates often arrive dripping wet. Did I mention tap water is a big no-no?

It's funny to watch a group of monks in burgundy robes finish with lunch, then all get up for a smoking break.

Locals see no issue with throwing their refuse anywhere - out the bus window, onto the street, into the river.

Life for the people here is very difficult. Still, it gets wearing when every single "authentic" contact you make wants something from you, whether it's small gifts (pen, pencil, balloon), money, or to provide a service. I find myself wanting to meet someone here who wants nothing from me. This got me to thinking about relationship and friendship in general. How ofte do I offer my friendship without expecting anything in return? Or how about that volunteer opp that I'm always fantasizing about? In return for my help am I hoping to get something back? Something for me to think about next time I get a little crusty with the tenth taxi driver who pulls up alongside me and shouts "Hello! Taxi!"

I met a traveller who is only seeking what he perceives as authentic stuff - trekking through protected areas, villages off the beaten path where women pound rice husks by hand, cook over an open fire, beat clothing clean on a rock in a muddy river, and men weave bamboo strips into tables, make fishing nets by hand, hunt and gather. If the villagers had their choice would they continue to live in this way, or would they prefer to have an oven, a washing machine, a shopping mall, and a grocery store? Some may and some may not. Which one is more authentic? What is it we seek on a "hill tribe trek"or a "village homestay"?

Today we took the boat to Mingun, one of Burmas ancient cities. It was a tourist trap - pagodas and temples intermixed with trinket shops and restaurants. Twenty minutes before the return boat to Mandalay, a group of school kids waves us over. Like all of the Burmese that we've met, they're surprised and delighted when I use my tired old Burmese phrases on them. One of the girls says, "You are very handsome." I reply, "You are very hla-dey (beautiful)."And the group goes crazy, laughing hysterically that I know how to say this. The fun interaction with the kids is far more interesting than the 800th pagoda I've seen in three days. But there are groups of schoolkids everywhere, so did I really need to come to this destination to have this experience?

I start to consider how many of the sights we've seen actually have any personal significance for me. And for every one site I visit there are thousands more I will never see. So if the goal isn't to see everything, and if laughing with the kids is as good as or better than the big pagoda... I suppose what it gets down to is that travelling just to see cool stuff isn't really my style.

Talking with the locals, laughing with the kids, getting caught off guard and reacting spontaneously, slowing down and just observing - that's the way for me. Like off-the-cushion meditation in another language and culture. Yeah. The rest of it is just eating different foods, buying different goods, seeing different sights, all of it just a way to fill space and entertain myself.

What is travel? Is it only a way for me to acquire nice memories and experiences for myself? How is this "great world adventure"meaningful to anyone beyond me.

Are all of these places and locations really a springboard for diving into the culture, which at a basic level is just the people who are right in front of me? How is this any different than how I interact in what I think of as "home"?

Whew, lots of self-referential philosophy. It's time to go meditate at the pagoda down the street so I can watch my mind rather than indulge it with this blog. But before I do, a quick rundown of what we experienced in Mandalay -

Some pagodas (too many to mention), the crazy food market outside our hotel, the gold leaf factory, Mingun, Sagaing (nice chat and English session with a monk), Mahamuni Paya (happy full moon!), Moustache Brothers (go, you wacky daring voices for freedom!), Marionette Theatre (funky traditional 5-piece Burmese orchestra), awesome Nee Chapati (the BEST chapatis - 27th and 82nd street), taught English at Eindawar pagoda (how do you help someone to physically form the sound of "v"instead of "b"- a funny challenge), and our fantastic trishaw driver who, over 3 days, helped us avoid paying a single government fee and whose name shall forever remain unmentioned so that he doesn't wind up in prison (again) or dead.
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csimpson on

trishaw experience
Thanks for the nice note and the link.

We ended up hiring the same driver three days in a row. He had fantastic insights into the country, directed us to the best places in town, and turned out to be a good friend. We're on our way now to stay with his family in the village he grew up in. I mentioned to him how hiring a trishaw driver felt uncomfortably close to having a 'slave' and he replied that I was offering him money for his energy - an interesting perspective. He also mentioned that he makes far more money driving a trishaw than he would in a government job.

Anyway, good luck with your blog!


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