Monday, February 20, 2012


It’s hard to admit how much the shape of my days is affected by technology, but here goes: I am in Rangoon, a fascinating, rapidly changing, seedy place that has been shaped, both built and battered, by war and politics and colonialism and commerce. But now there’s decent internet access, wi-fi in my hotel, and I have my laptop, so that means...

It means that I get up early to get internet stuff done before the connection slows to bogged-down around 9 am, and then stay up late to catch the other end of the day’s good access. And that set of bookend timings of being indoors means that I miss the best light in the morning for photos. I am not getting rested and sleeping in (the usual only-possible-excuse-for-missing-morning-light). I am online.

How wasteful and stupid, I think to myself. But does that mean I shift gears and break pattern? It seems not, from my first three days here.

What is the urge then, to go on reading online from the links that come in on Facebook and Twitter? For that’s what keeps me here. It’s not a wild cruise through the blogosphere or the net, but a quite limited set of excursions, most of them initiated by some posted link. Part of it is that I hate to miss out on anything. If I don’t click now on the link I see on Twitter (and I follow well under 100 people, so they’re quite carefully selected and generally put up fruitful interesting links) I will lose it, never find it again, as the next tweets come in by the dozens and more. That’s one urgency. Another is the pure pleasure of having all this access to the diverse mysteries and curiosities out there in the world. I feel greedy. I want to see and know them all - yes an impossibility I know, but that’s the impulse.

And so in Rangoon for three days I have closed myself away from life in the street and in the teashops for hours at a time, and instead been awake to the e-world, or at least a sampling of it. (I admit that I've also been out every late morning to late afternoon eating huge meals at various places around town, with a good friend. Maybe my computer time is just necessary to digestion??)

The olden-days equivalent of screen-time I suppose is having my head in a book. I did that for years as a kid, was chastised for it by my mother and frowned at for it by her father my granddad, an extremely judgemental guy. Even that didn’t dissuade me, it just made me hide, find a corner to tuck myself into where I could read and hopefully not be discovered.

Another explanation then, that covers both the book and the electronic situations, might be that all this is an escape. It’s a way of not being stuck in the present with all its demands to pay attention and cope. But wait, I find myself thinking, when I am traveling I am choosing exactly that: the demands of the daily unknowns of travel, and the thrills too. If I close myself off, I miss out on the serendipity of travel, and the wonder of it.

Perhaps I’m just tired and needing a break?

I wrote all that earlier, and it seems to have acted like a purge. I spent almost the whole day out and about, with no thought of the internet, I started with an early morning excursion to Bothathaung Temple, by the river, and the action down there. Every morning commuters arrive in long narrow boats from across the river: school kids in uniform; labourers; young women working in service industries, selling clothes or washing and cutting hair, for example; young men working labour jobs; and a collection of others that are hard to place. They come striding up the wooden planking that links the dock to the river’s edge, shirts white and crisp, ready for a new day. It’s a great sight, with the golden dome of the chedi at Bothathaung gleaming behind them in the morning sky.

And as for the rest of my time here, I now have a plan: I fly to Myitkyina in the far north of Burma tomorrow, leaving at noon. I have four days there. I went three years ago, and I want to see how things are there now. In the centre of the country people are now so much more at ease and optimisitic about the future. They feel free to talk and have discussions, and to talk openly with foreigners because of the huge changes in government policy since last summer. But in Kachin State there’s been fighting between the army and the Kachin Independence Army. Many people have been displaced, and villages burned and fields destroyed, and many deaths. The army was ordered to stop, and did not. All that is down the road from Myitkyina, towards the Chinese border mostly. How will town feel?

Markets and teashops are the best place to judge the feel of a town. Food does link us all, daily. And on the food end, I have a very practical interest too: I want to cross-check my memories of Kachin dishes and make sure of some details, for the book.

It will be a lot colder there than steamy Rangoon. I’m glad to have a wool cardigan as well as a shawl to snuggle into...and some books to read on the cold dark evenings.


Robyn said...

This hits home. I often have the very same thoughts in Turkey, where in even the most mediocre hotel in the most off-the-track town you've usually got (free) wi-fi in your room. I need to be online to deal with editors and to not miss opportunties to make a living (requests come in, unbidden, occasionally). But I like to get that done first thing, as you do, which means ... well, you know what it means. Travel used to be a time for early bedtime and catching up on sleep, and in hot climates naps during the scorching part of the day or perhaps some writing or reading in the room. It's become something to fit in between work and obligations and just keeping up with what's online. I'd like to figure out how to change that.

sarah said...

We honeymoon in burma next week! any eating suggestions please?i would be so grateful!

naomi said...

Well the first thing is to eat in tea shops and out on the street when you can. Mornings are a good time for that. And the main meal is eaten at noon or a little before, so if you want to eat trad Burmese style: rice with lots of side dishes of all kinds, plan to eat that at lunch.
The exception is a resto called Feel Myanmar in Rangoon, which deals with so many foreigners as well as locals that it does a full service fresh and good Burmese mrice meal at supper, with ltos of choices.
Bus stops, on long distance rides, often have a huge number of choices too, and the food is usually very fresh.
Try to find the noodle shop called Osaka in Rangoon, about five blocks north of Yegyaw market, in the east end. They have great noodles - pork in a light coconut sauce, and great condiments. In Bagan look for the noontime resto under the big tree by the old city wall gate in Old Bagan - spectacular.