The sounds here remind us we are in a different place, and it sometimes feels like a different age. In the early mornings before sunrise, there is a Muslim call to prayer. It is sung by a man over a loudspeaker and it is full of haunting minor notes, otherworldly and ancient. Later in the dawn and after, vendors sing about their wares, sometimes melodious and sometimes sharp songs. A few times daily, we hear someone ringing ‘goooonnngg’ on a large bell, like when a clock rings the hour but it does not match the hour. People sing to themselves as they work in shops and out on the sidewalks. There are many crows and we hear them calling individually and in groups. Once we watched three men toss bricks to each other from truck to building; we did not hear them but their movements were like a graceful song or dance. We always know when a sugar cane juice vendor is near because there are small bells on the grinding-machine. The bells dance and jingle as the grinding-wheels turn. In the evening, again we hear the call to prayer, and after that we have heard children singing in the mosque.
Our first week here was filled with finding hotels, homeschooling, dealing with one of our party’s GI bug, and filing for documents to cross overland to India. While doing these things, we had the immense pleasure of dealing with some if the gentlest, nicest people we have ever met! Just this evening, we enjoyed a couple of hours talking with a local young woman with excellent English. July is her name, she is Muslim but not strict (she wore jeans and a t-shirt and no veil), she is 21 but looks Fiercely’s age. She was born here to a Chinese mother and Indian father. She educated us about the delicious products, mostly Indian, at her family’s ice cream store as we ordered and devoured them. She loved talking with the twins and, like most people we’ve met all over Asia, she smiles and laughs genuinely and frequently. She ordered us a custard dessert, no charge, and insisted we take her tube of mosquito repellant she had shown us from her bag (we had been discussing mosquitos) despite our protests. I suppose there are people this nice in Philadelphia, but we meet them here multiple times a day!
I also have to describe our hotels. They are more expensive here and there are less vacancies than in Thailand, but we have landed in two really great ones. I had written a list before we left our Bangkok apartment, and we chose one to show the cab driver as we entered Yangon. It turned out to be the most comfortable and best priced (2 rooms, a bit under $50 total) of the 5 or so we looked at for comparison the next day. It had small, windowless, low-ceilinged rooms that were made wonderfully cozy with recent renovations and excellent design. The bathrooms were gorgeous, the towels and bedding were high quality, breakfast was included and it was quite good. Due to our unclear schedule, though, we could not reserve more than a day in advance and they had no vacancies after 3 nights.
We had to scramble for other options, so we looked at the rest of the list and any others we came across. All except one were either too expensive, had no breakfast, had no wifi, and/or had kinda shabby rooms. And so we ended up on the top floor of the 8-story, airy, mosaic-tiled quirky hotel where we stayed for several nights(above). Every level had many openings to the outside streets, and it was full of fresh air and muted street sounds. We had two rooms, one kind of ordinary and one with four levels, its own bathroom, and four beds. The staff doted on the kids, giving them presents and spending time drawing with them. Here’s the big room:
We did manage to see the famous Shwegadon pagoda, the National Museum (excellent), Botataung Paya, and we stayed near Sule Paya so we saw that every day. We also took the ferry across the Yangon River to Dalah, though we didn’t make it to the town of Twante as I’d hoped. These places were wonderful and I hope to add pictures here soon. But I think we will more remember the people and the sounds and the general atmosphere more than the structures.
An interesting note to Myanmar temples in general is that, though they may be thousands of years old, they are usually restored and do not look like ruins. It appears that they may frequently or always be under some sort of renovation. We noticed several parts of structures covered with woven grass mats, yellow primer while being painted gold, and workers actively restoring as we watched.
And it was time to leave Yangon. We had our Indian visas, and we decided to get on a night train to Mandalay…