Saturday, February 5, 2011


Went off this morning at nine with Fern and Robyn and Dave and Mizuho to visit a remarkable monk south of town. This is the third year we’ve been to see him, to ask for help and receive a blessing. Each time I’m struck by his earthiness and penetrating attentiveness. And each time I feel buoyed by his blessing and the sense that I have been well launched into the new year. How lucky.

I’m due to catch a plane tomorrow afternoon, the direct flight from Chiang Mai to Rangoon. In that forty-five minutes the plane flies over the steep green treed ridges of mountains that mark the Thai-Burma border, over the Salween River and its tributaries, and finally over the flat rich rice-growing lands of the Irrawaddy Delta, before descending into Rangoon.

I’m booked into a different hotel, in a different part of town this time, slightly west of Sule Pagoda, the landmark that is the point of reference at the centre of downtown. Until now I’ve been staying east of Sule, about a mile east, and have come to know the area. I’m trying to take myself in hand by breaking pattern and getting familiar with a part of town I know less well.

I’ve got two weeks in Burma this time. What to do? Apart from seeing friends in Rangoon, I want to get out to somewhere, and haven’t figured out where. I may end up back where I started, on my first trip in Burma more than thirty years ago, in the summer of 1980. That would mean flying into Heho in order to spend time around Inle Lake. When I was there first there was only one place for travellers to stay. Now there are guest houses and hotels galore, and it’s a very popular tourist destination.

So why go there? you ask. Well, it’s beautiful, and it’s also relatively rural, so there’s a chance to be out in fields and to see daily village life and foodways. And there’s something rather wonderful about returning to a place, even if the return is disappointing often...

Until recently I had hoped to get to Dawei this trip, but I’ve been told that flights there are scarce. It’s on the coast well south of Rangoon. Road access by car or bus, as well as train travel into the Dawei region, are forbidden to foreigners. And why Dawei? Well, the food culture in southern Burma is quite different from that of the centre or of districts further north. Also, I’d just love to see that Andaman Sea coast and taste the different takes on mohinga and other dishes that I’ve been told there are in that region, known as Tenasserim. The name alone is enough to entice the traveller!

Tonight I headed out with Robyn and Dave (of EatingAsia) to eat Teochiuw rice soup with delish side dishes/accompaniments (pork various ways, greens, delicious pickly things that were a cross between vegetable and condiment) and then go on to listen to music. We went to Boy’s Blues Bar, on a side soi in the Night Market. Boy plays guitar and for a long time his band was the opener at the Brasserie. Now he’s got his own small bar, a pleasant place that is open-air at the back and cosy, with good acoustics and un-deafening sound. A nice place to check out if you find yourself in Chiang Mai. I pooped out at midnight, but the others were planning to head on over to the Rock Palace, upstairs above a Pizza Pizza in the Night Market, where a local band that does a great job on covers, a band called Nyok, was due on at 1 pm.

I have run out of steam; I don’t have much stamina when it comes to waiting around for a set to start! Instead I’m sitting here in the cool night air writing this blogpost. I’ll find some wi-fi tomorrow and post it up before I go to catch my plane.

In between, other visitors, Jacob and Tanu, are planning to turn up in time to have lunch... Not sure where we’ll head, but perhaps to the woman who sets up her grill until a tree at the southern end of the plant market. She makes astonishing grilled pork and grilled chicken, as well as great som tam (green papaya salad). It’s all best eaten with sticky rice, with good friends, under the shade of the giant tree, as motorcycles and trucks and tuk-tuks pass by on their way to and from the plant market, often carrying stacks of plants, or trailing trees.

And yikes! one more thing to cram into tomorrow: I haven’t got enough books to read for my Burma trip. A friend has lent me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Will I like it? Hope so. Everyone else seems to find it very engaging. But apart from that and my basic “Learn Burmese” book, I have no other reading material to take. Backstreet Books, a great huge used bookstore few blocks away, is the solution. The only trick is going to be finding a moment to get there.

That’s tomorrow’s problem. For tonight, I need to get to bed. And I’m heading there happy that this year’s immersethrough group was wonderful, and that the whole week went well, with good energy. Everything is cleaned up and bare again in the kitchen apartment, so that it’s hard to remember how full of food and conversation and life it was just yesterday. Thanks everyone!

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