Friday, June 12, 2015

Yangon & Singapore

I apologize in advance for this scattered thoughts post.  My recent trip is taking up so much of my consciousness, I have to fight to get these older memories out.  

The poverty gap between Myanmar (Yangon and environs) and what I saw in Cambodia was significantly noticeable. Thought I would be better prepared to witness poverty having been quite affected by Cambodia last year but I was still quite taken back.  There are great struggles there and the society is still fairly closed.  A lot of anger lies beneath the surfaces of the people.

I hadn't been "chased" out of a wet market yet but there's a first for everything and I indeed was, at a village market about an hour outside of the city, by the sour smell and flying insects.  It took some willpower not to run screaming -- Was too busy trying to keep the bugs off my face.

The grey colour of the raw meat hanging, the colour (Hersey's milk chocolate) of the pond water that people were filling their drinking/cooking pails with, the colour (pale chalky grey, white...) of the farmland irrigation water (complete with run off from adjacent garbage dumps), the chicken poop being swept into the ponds to feed the fish...

After the above observations, I stopped eating vegetables and fish.  I drank tap water in Phnom Penh but did not in Yangon.  I even rinsed my mouth with bottle water after brushing my teeth, which was a first.

At least I could afford to eat it.  If we were at a small local restaurant, we would pay about $1.50 for a plate or bowl of noodles.  We would be asked whether we'd like chicken or pork.  When the dish arrives, the meat is cut into small cubes, of about 3 mm.  It was honestly hard to tell what type of meat by looking at it.

The amount of meat you'd get was about 1 tablespoon placed on top.  I would have to eat 2 plates to feel full.  That could be more than someone eats in a day there.  At very local, side of the road spots, the serving size is half of what one bowl of plate I had was.  Life is super practical there.  Anything trendy is aimed at the expats.

I had one incidence of corruption at the ferry terminal where 4 guys seemed to be working together to shuttle any foreigners into an office, rather than the official ticket line so that they could show the price sheet for foreigners.

I knew going in, what the price was going to be but was taken back by the overt greediness I witnessed.  My goal that day was to head over to Dala and hire a trishaw driver for a few hours (1 USD an hour) to take me to some local villages.  The people living across the Irrawaddy are even poorer.

A dollar is a big deal.  When 5 year old kids were working 9 hours a day picking chillies, earning maybe 80 cents, charging 4 USD (65 times local price) for a 7 min ride, when compared to 10 USD (including tip) to go 15 km (over 1 hour journey) from the airport to downtown is ridiculous but they know we can afford it.

When you witness small children who will refused a 1 USD tip, with the explanation that they did not work hard enough to earn it...and Mother - Daughter teams carrying sheets full of concrete pieces back and forth for maybe a dollar a day...such inequalities just infuriates me.  

Then the ticket guys had the gall to refuse my dollar bills and wanted a larger bill so that I could get the smaller bills as change.  You see, they get a better exchange rate with larger bills.

At that point, my patience just snapped.  I said I didn't have any other bills to give (a lie) and to their surprise, I thanked them and left.  I will try and find a different way to get to those outer villages next time.  But I wasn't going to play into their greed.

I spent my entire time based out of Yangon, which if you do some preliminary research into travel itineraries of Myanmar, would be rare to find.  Most people gloss over the capital city, just staying at the beginning or end of a trip, for flight purposes.

I felt that my time in Yangon wasn't long enough.  I could have easily spent another week there.  With the heat, I wasn't able to cover the entire city by foot.  There are so many interesting streets.  I loved the old colonial buildings.  You just have to watch your step as below a lot of the sidewalk tiles are 3 ft drops into dirty water...

Despite my best efforts, I did get heat exhaustion twice, where I literally passed out after showering for about 10 hours.  It was like I was drugged.  I decided maybe I wasn't ready to do a Habitat build located in the summer in SE Asia just yet.  Thing is, right now, I'm not sure what more I could have done.  Will have to look into it further because I do not intend to stop.

The irony is that I got my mild case of food poisoning in Singapore.  Anyone recognized the supertrees?  I could have spent all day there.  Found them to be so beautiful and the smell of the air around them was delicious.  And it is free! 

Singapore.  The most expensive city in the world to live in, known for their rules, order, cleanliness.  I decided to do a short 3 night stopover to get a feel for the city.  Cannot say I felt captured by the city nor their airport.  Although their skyline impressed me more than Hong Kong's did.

Was taken back by the obvious prostitution.  And by how people were quite shocked, apologetic and literally jumped back when approached politely for help.   Also was pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was to eat at their hawker stands.  Five dollars will get you a large meal.

That photo I posted previously of a salted caramel chocolate tart?  Was taken at Plain Vanilla bakery, Tiong Bahru branch -- Completely worth it -- Was Paris good.  It, and the raspberry lemonade alone cost almost 2/3rd what I spent on food in Yangon.  Obviously the above paragraph does not apply to this place.

Finishing on the topic of food, discovered the avocado shake in Yangon.  Was it ever delicious!  We are making them at home now, along with milk tea -- Different variations in Myanmar, Singapore and Malaysia.  Enjoyed them all. 

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