A day bicycle touring in Asia, is a day of encounters, exchanging greetings, waves, smiles. You cannot get away from them. They happen all the time, no matter the scenery, the temperature, how sweaty you are, how tired you're feeling, or what time of the day it is. Here's 24 hours of "encounters", not counting the many, many toots, waves, smiles, and shouts of "hey you", "hello", "byebye" that come at you from so many directions.
Therese, is from Switzerland. She has been volunteering at the Lei Thar Gone for a couple a months a year, for three or four years now. Her background is in Hospitality, and the kitchen and restaurant have resulted from her efforts. So this morning I was greeted, at 7am, onto the deck above the Irrawaddy River Valley, by one of her trainees. In beautiful English I am ushered to a table for breakfast. I am asked how many eggs I want, and offered tea or coffee. All this from a young, previously unemployed, and uneducated, local girl. The cook, also previously unemployed and uneducated, produces wonderful eggs, and the most amazing toast, home made swiss bread, easily the best I've had in Asia.. Yum yum yum is an understatement. Therese is heading home to Switzerland, her husband, family and grandchildren on Wednesday. I congratulate her on her amazing success here in Myanmar.
As I ride back through the village of Yenangyaung, retracing my route after yesterday's little deception by the temple ladies, I can't help but notice the amount of rubbish lying about. It's there every day, but in the morning it seems more apparent, as locals sweep in front of their shops, businesses and homes, (it's an obsession in every Asian country I've cycled in). Once swept, they put the sweeping in a box or basket, carry it across the road, and dump it in the drain. Today, I was following a tuktuk up a hill. A well dressed, middle aged, seemingly respectable businessman, was sitting at the back of the tuktuk. Quite calmly, without any fuss, he threw a full plastic bag of rubbish into a dry waterway as he passed. My jaw dropped, he noticed, but didn't blink an eye. Later, in another town, a rubbish truck was loading all the rubbish baskets from a village on board. Not much later, it passed me on the road. Then I caught up to it while the guys on the back were emptying all the baskets into a dry riverbed. Lots of cheers and "Hi" calls from the boys. They're just doing their job. I guess the rainy season will sort the mess. Wouldn't like to be down river.
About ten guys were stirring some huge woks over pit fires. I needed to have a look. They were tipping what looked like pink flower petals into the fluid bubbling over the heat. My thoughts were perhaps some sort of alcohol, but no. One of the guys grabbed me and gave me a tour. Small red onions. First you wash them. Then you put then into a chopper, that had my eyes watering, then dry them for a short time in the sun. Next, they get cooked in the woks, before being mixed, by hand, with some herbs and spices. A very tastie side dish to eat with your beer or whiskey. Yum.
Stopped for a drink, and a guy wandered over to chat. He bought with him a bowl of potato chips that he insisted I share. Oh boy, they were spicey. He was very keen to ensure I had enough food and water, because it was going to be hot again, 39°C, and I had some hills to climb.
There's a fire burning next to the road, which is not unusual, but this one has some unusual fuel. Nope,it's not fuel. What's on the fire is brand new potterybowls, being fired. Dad and son, 10 or 11 years old, are doing all the work, and excited that I've stopped to look.
Many in this area are very poor, and I've got some small packets of biscuits that have been sitting in my pannier since Laos, (they're pretty horrible). I've decided I will give them to some of the kids....probably not really a good idea. So two kids, obviously living in a very rough woven hut are standing smiling at me. I stop, they run away. I get out a couple of packets, and the lad reluctantly approaches me to take them. A few kms later, another couple of kids. I stop, dig out the biscuits. Suddenly there are 10 kids. I've only got five packets. Damn. This is not a good idea.....but it's all done now.
It's Monday, midmorning when I stop for a break at a cafe. About 30 guys are drinking coffee, beer or whiskey, and watching a movie. I am a huge distraction. After a couple of shy minutes, one guy delegates himself as spokesman. He questions me and relays my answers in Myanmar to the group. They call out questions for him to ask, while still watching the movie.
Three young lads vie to be my waiter/host. They watch my every move. They rush forward to refill my glass as soon as I sip from it. They bring me a box of napkins, and fold several for my use. They want to talk, but don't know the English. I am brought unwanted water, cakes, sweets, condiments, chopsticks, menus. I take their photo and show them photos, and a map showing where NZ is. They are totally fascinated by Fiona . I offer them a chance to take her for a spin, but they're too scared. Finally one of them does so. His grin is enormous. A second is about to have a go, when his boss yells at them. Now they're scared again.
The folk on the road are so honest. I stop for a sugarcane drink. 300 kyat. I only have 400 kyat. The host can't find 100 kat note for change. I tell him not to worry....it's 10c. No he's adamant. He crosses the road to ask a Policeman for change. Can't get any. He gives me 200 kyat change, and will not take it back. Later, at another stop, I spend 500 kyat, but only have 1000 kyat. She can't find change, so she gives me a sugarcane drink. On the other hand, some of the Guesthouse owners are totally unscrupulous. They know foreigners have no choice but to stay with them. Tonight I'm paying $US30 for my room. I beat them down from $US45. Then he told me because I didn't have dollars, I had to pay at the new exchange rate....another $2.50. He then charged me three times the street price for a cold Sprite, and couldn't find any change. Tomorrow. I won't hold my breath.
This evening, my waiter was astounded that I'm 60 years old, (love these people) and taking on such an amazing adventure. He was very concerned about some of the countries I'm intending to cycle across later in the trip. "There are some very stupid people in some of those countries sir. It will be very dangerous. Are you being wise?" I counted with, "I was told not to come to Myanmar, because it was dangerous".
Wow, so many encounters, and I know I've forgotten some, but mustn't bore you. One of my mates keeps telling me...."You're writing a blog, not a bleeding book....". Catchya soon.