“I’ll probably never go to Asia, it’s just not at the top of my list,” said an idiot that was probably you during one of these silly conversations about le monde du voyage that you’d definitely mock if it was taking place at the table next to yours, but it’s taking place in your own living room and you’re doing a lot of the talking.
That’s why when a wee card pops in the mail from your boyfriend’s mother, proposing a trip to Myanmar, you’re shocked that said-boyfriend is unsure of whether you want to go or not. “Of course I want to go! It’s fuckin’ ASIA!” Consistence and coherence are just not your thing. Bon voyage!
Fly from Montreal to Toronto to Hong Kong to Yangon; it’ll only take a few hours and a few tears spilt during your mid-air viewing of Amy and The Intern. Land in Yangon at 1AM, tired, groggy and immediately sweaty. Try to make out buildings, people and street names from the darkened windows of your taxi, but all you see are neon bank signs and a giant golden pagoda, brightly lit in the middle of the night. “It’s like an Asian alien spaceship,” you mumble, but both the taxi driver and your boyfriend don’t hear you as you pull up to the Beautyland II Hotel, tucked into a small alleyway, amid rubbish and the remnants of a Buddhist celebration.
Awaken to a plethora of strange smells and sounds, but don’t worry, the Buddhists put down mats so you can comfortably walk barefoot directly into traffic. Let your jet lag carry you to the busiest little market where smiling Burmese women with cascading raven-black hair wrap you up in colourful fabrics and insist that you look beautiful in your lady longyi, even though you’re hopping about like a chubby sausage and you can’t breathe. Walk out laden with a new passion for ethnic textiles and make your way to a cozy little resto where you can Instagram a blurry pic of spicy noodles. Wander through the streets that you’ve renamed according to what wares are being sold: Rusty Tool Avenue, Knubby Veg Road, Raw Meats with Eyeballs Street, and whatever else your illustrious imagination invents.
You’re George Orwell, Paul Theroux and Norman Lewis wrapped into one very red-faced girl package, dreaming of Rangoon, stomping about and commenting on the general eccentricity of it all: the new and the old, the traditional and the modern, the giant mansions being built and the tattered colonial remains at the bottom of town, overlooking the Yangon River. You’re a Westerner in Asia – all further commentary and observations will be mostly silly and cliché, keep them for your workmates back home, they’ll be slightly interested for about 15 minutes. “Look how they squat!” you muse, while simultaneously trying to take a sneaky pic of monks and exit every room backwards, because someone told you not to show your back to the Buddha and you’ve really taken that advice to heart. Duck into a seedy lounge to cool down and shit down a hole. It’s New Year’s Eve, ask the doll-faced boy receptionist where the party’s at. Follow his instructions and head to Inya Lake. Wave to Aung San Suu Kyi’s walled-off house and stop to be photographed by a group of giggling girls. Sit next to countless drunken Burmese teens, strumming guitars they can’t really play, singing incredibly off-key and wearing silly hats, distorting your vision of mad military juntas and monk protests from that time you watched the news a couple years ago.
Cheers to 2016 with cheap rum, while a DJ spins Justin Bieber somewhere in the background, because Where Are U Now is globally undeniable. Start the New Year by escaping the hustle and bustle of Myanmar’s biggest city and let the seaside merchants push you into a giant ferry packed with yelling locals trying to sell you quail eggs and slices of pineapple. An entrepreneurial boy named Coco awaits you on the opposing shore, wearing expensive sandals and speaking 5 languages, because he knows how to get your attention, ask for a couple thousand kyats and shove you into his friend’s taxi. Zigzag through Twante’s country roads at high speed, as the driver takes you from small-town weavers to a toothless man shovelling dirt to a snake temple where 27 snakes slither around Buddhas and threaten to fall on your head, or so you imagine. “I’m like Indiana Jones,” you keep repeating to anyone interested, like that guy who started following you around “to give you a tour.” Head back to town to enjoy high tea at The Strand, an old colonial hang-out, where Europeans can still get a taste of the glory days when we were kings munching on cucumber sandwiches.
Pathein & Nwe Saung Beach
Rise and shine, you’ve got diarrhea! After a violent time in the bathroom, get a lift to Nwe Saung beach and drop into Pathein on the way. Pass out from weird digestion sweats, but don’t worry, a family of friendly umbrella makers will kindly place a pillow under your head and serve you orange juice in a wine glass. While you doze off in the shade, hear the word “Canada” being repeated, perhaps to explain how weak and useless you are, lying on the floor of an umbrella factory. Arrive at Nwe Saung hours later, where the Nouveau Riche are blasting terrible music and swimming with their jeans on. Check in to your quaint hut run by the fat Burmese equivalent of Don Corleone and buy a hat made of palm tree leaves from a lady who’s laughing, but surely not at you. Find a stretch of abandoned beach where you can sit for hours, burn bright red and sometimes dive into the Andaman Sea to float about on a rubber tire and be generally content. Comment on how you love the beach, beach life and all the new life philosophies it tends to inspire, as your boyfriend looks at you quizzically. “You only choose to travel to where it’s grey and cold.” Shrug off your ambivalence and straddle the back of a motorbike, bumping up and down sandy terrain, as Burmese boys confidently zip past you on tiny bikes with giant piles of coconuts somehow balancing behind them. Wrap up your day at a restaurant run by a man eager to speak fluent English: “with English, I buy house.” Munch on delicious fresh seafood and sip on a very boozy and lukewarm Singapore Sling, as a repetitive pop singer serenades Burmese families getting shit-faced on local whiskey. Watch the sunset until you’re tired and ready to do it all over again the next day. Imagine that the handful of German tourists, the rich locals, the cute beach-front huts and the small fisherman’s village will all soon be invaded by cheesy resorts and North Americans “finding themselves.” Strut back to your hut in your elephant print travel pants with the least self-awareness possible. Veni,Vidi,Vici.