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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Myanmar, day 2 -- Marubin, Inya Lake

One of Annie's fish ponds
At 9:30am, we set off for Marubin in our minibus. The town is about three hours away from Yangon, but for one-third of the journey, we travelled on second gear (at most) due to the many potholes in the country road. We also passed several run-down buildings, small roadside shops and public transport vehicles packed to the brim with passengers.

(Potholes are repaired by placing small rocks into the hole, then covering up with a layer of tar -- by hand. Inevitably, new potholes will form.)

Scenes from the drive: open land, another open area, a house, the same house, roadside food seller

We passed a toll booth that had security personnel there. I figured that they were there just to keep the peace. But at another security post, we were ordered to provide our passports so that they could record our particulars. It was quite a frightening moment because I'd never encountered such heavy-handedness before. I decided to take a photo to record this moment for posterity. But a guard saw my camera and waved "no". When he turned away, I snapped my pic!

Marubin looks like a typical Third World village. The town centre has one main road with vehicles and pedestrians streaming up and down. Trishaw riders waited patiently for their next fares. And I was amused by the trucks with their exposed engines.

Annie, a friend of my aunt and uncle's, wasn't at her house, so we went straight to her fish farm. She rushed out to welcome us. Apparently, having guests at one's house is a joyous and honourable occasion. She served us a sumptous lunch with five different kinds of fish cooked in several ways.

Although it threatened to rain, fortunately it didn't. In addition to the good weather, we also enjoyed the fresh air and peace away from the city. But times are tough. Annie earns 1,400 kyat per vis (about 1.6kg), a slight increase of 100 kyat from last year. However, she has five ponds and is working to buy another two to expand her offerings.

Pics from Annie's fish farm: a pond, another pond, her cat, her cat again, the farmhouse entrance (from the second floor), a bed, the same bed, her mum's garden, farmhouse entrance, hall

Interestingly about all of the villages, beside every road are narrow rivers on both sides. I noticed this while in the plane and thought that I was seeing things wrongly. The villagers use these to ride their sampans, bathe and swim. Such simplicity! Not a care for hygiene! Also, it's rude to cross a bridge while a boat is going under. Myanmarese don't like to have people "over" them, especially if they're women.

We stayed at the farmhouse for about three hours, then returned to Yangon. By 6:30pm, it would be dark out. We passed another toll booth. Drivers simply stick the kyat bill out the window and the toll collector collects it. Very easy and painless.

Scenes from our return journey: Buddhist pagoda, public bus, Yangon suburb from a bridge

Scenes from Yangon: passengers hanging from a public bus, roadside fruit seller, traffic jam!

Our uncle took us to Inya Lake, which is situated within Yangon. I'm not sure of the exact geography of the lake, but from what I could tell, it's fed by at least one river/tributary. We arrived in time for the sunset, which made for some great photos. There was no one else there, though a hotel is right next to it, so it was a peaceful evening for us.

Dinner was at Grand Royal Restaurant, where we had Chinese food such as beef kway teow, fried rice, sambal kangkong, sweet and sour pork. Total cost: 39,000 kyat (plus tips).

Over dinner, we "interrogated" our driver (all in good fun, of course), and got a few insights:
  • he's a Chinese Myanmarese, his grandparents were from Fujian, and he can speak Mandarin
  • he holds a degree in geology (my uncle later revealed that almost everyone has a degree for family pride, and degrees like geology and zoology rank at the bottom (i.e. for the sake of having a degree) while engineering and medicine are at the top)
  • government civil servants earn 60,000 kyat a month, private employees earn 30,000
  • therefore, it's more worthwhile to work for yourself, like as a driver
  • vehicles appreciate in price!
One thing I started to notice, initially from the waiters: things like money are exchanged with the right hand, while the left arm is bent across the chest at elbow level. By contrast, in Western societies (and in Singapore), it's polite to use two hands to hand over items.

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