In my experience so far in SE Asia, you can get a cheap, tasty and filling breakfast at local food stalls or small bars almost anywhere. For 0.5 to 1.5 euros, you can leave behind the banana pancake/inedible toast and bacon trail and eat sweet bean filled pastry or chicken soup accompanied by green tea instead.
Another advantage of going local at the start of the day is the opportunity to peoplewatch shamelessly. No one is going to question your sleepy presence, staring into the void at 7am. That’s late already by the way, I have frequently seen people getting up at 4am and having three course meals at 5.
Sometimes you get the worst of the worst in terms of drinks, because all they have is instant coffee or Lipton’s black tea, two things that I simply cannot stomach any more.
Ideally though, there is never ending fresh green tea in a retro thermos, the mugs are tiny, the colors bright and everything mismatches in a very stylish way.
The best breakfast experience so far has come for free, in the shape of the nice lady preparing an elaborate meal every morning at my first homestay in Yogyakarta. Incredible. The food could have been enough for the whole day, had I been able to eat it all.
There hasn’t been any real culture shock so far but I do miss the good old bread and butter sometimes. The last chance to get that was in Penang, Malaysia, where I discovered freshly baked German sourdough rye bread at a local bakery and was instantly in heaven. Oh well. Off to Cambodia and Lao now, let’s see what the mornings serve there.
At the Botahtaung Jetty, lookin’ lazy at the river,
I wonder about many things small, medium and bigger.
Cocktail sizes are what really matter now,
the sun is setting, I’m late for happy hour!
Myanmar, Burma, call it what you may,
it’s been a thoroughly lovely 25 day stay.
From the wooden vessels in dusty little Myeik,
to the fishermen posing for shots at Inle lake.
From Lashio town where mainly Chinese sell,
to Yangon capitol, where the burmese hipsters dwell.
By bus, by train, by bike – I saw many a site:
The pagodas so golden the rice ever so white.
I’m off to Cambodia tomorrow but will have to be back,
Burma, I love you, off the beaten track!
I noticed them the very first day I entered Myanmar – the owls. As you guys know there is a global owl craze going on and I always wonder where these movements come from. Did some trend scout come here years ago to discover the potential of these cuties on everything from mugs to smartphone cases? Was it the invention of a desperate Greek entrepreneur to build on their long history of owl symbolism for an exit out of the crisis? (Think Greek one euro coin.)
Or was it simply Harry Potter?
I don’t know. But I found a pretty good summary of humanity’s obsession with owls as symbols of wisdom, philosophy, good luck, bad luck, you name it, on a jewelry website of all places. (Selling personalized owl rings, of course.) In Myanmar they are supposed to come in pairs and are considered the lucky bird. I bought mine at a stall for temple gimmicks but have seen them everywhere since.
Do you have an owl at home? Do you support the global owl craze?
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
This is the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “Mandalay” that he wrote while in Mawlamyine back in 1890. He was 24 and I can totally see him represented as the guy in the background of the first picture, lookin’ lazy at the sea, possibly thinking of a blonde girl in Rotterdam. Kipling never made it to Mandalay by the way and I don’t know if I will.
Mawlamyine, called Moulmein by the British who like everyone else had difficulty pronouncing it, was nothing special for me. I skipped the pagodas and hung out at the waterfront all afternoon, hoping to get a better feel for the poem and the atmo. It worked!
People often ask me what camera I use to take my pictures. Well, it’s been an iPhone 6 since this year, before it was the older model. For me, the best camera is the one that’s always at hand. I bought a fancy one back in the US, in the best electronics store of New York – and have never used it ever since!!! I schlepped it all the way to Fiji but it just wasn’t there quick enough when the light was perfect at sunset.
So here I am, traveling only with an iPhone, no other gadget. No e-reader, no tablet, no go pro, no shiny stuff that you fear to lose. It’s the best. I use the VSCO cam app sometimes to crop pictures, adjust the horizon line or add a little bit of contrast, but not much.
Here is the latest fare from this morning’s farmers market in Nyaungshwe, yummy.
Burma Inle taván, a világ végén igazán,
áll egy villanyhorgász tétován.
Messzi földről hozza az áramot,
vele együt csapot, papot, maszlatot.
Most már van tévé, akár botmixer,
férfi szoknya helyett kék farmer.
Az éttermekből szól a regi,
de a villanyhorgászt ez nem érdekli.
Amit kértek, küldtek, ő hozott.
A világ mindig is változott.
… don’t look like this. At least not for me typically. Because the reality behind such pictures are the crowds, the noise, the pushing, the souvenirs made in China surrounding you at major sights like the Golden Rock in Kyaikto. No doubt, the light was perfect. So was cellphone reception: I received a skype call from my parents just after I took this pic! At least the locals heard some Hungarian probably for the first time in their lives.
Usually I don’t have a photo of my best travel moments. The unexpected encounters, the great views, the deserted beaches and jungle sounds, the conversations that stick with you. Like my all time favorite chat with the Ghanian farmer back then.
Or I do have a photo but because I am somewhere remote, it takes several days to have internet again, so I don’t write about them, digitally forget them. Here are two recent exceptions that I was able to document and I can’t believe I haven’t written about them so far.
Diving in Raja Ampat
This is where I started my SE Asia round trip and I still can’t believe it. It was so beautiful that I am pretty much avoiding the beach ever since. Experienced divers I meet everywhere confirm that it won’t get any better than that. So why bother? I have hardly swam in the ocean (except for scuba or freediving) since Raja Ampat because I have above imagine to compare it to. Crystal clear, warm, calm waters with fish soup underneath and manta rays swimming up to the surface to greet you. I feel extremely humbled and privileged for the fact that I was able to stand there knee deep in the South Pacific and take that picture and I think it will fill me with joy for the rest of my life.
Talking about the South Pacific. I was sitting at this bar in Taveuni, looking out towards the west, watching the tide roll in with Vanua Levu island in the distance. Everything was so vast. And I had this constant loop in my head: I am here, now. I really did make it to Fiji. I really learned how to dive. In Fiji. I am looking at the South Pacific ocean. Me. Here. Now. Here. Now. Herenowherenowherenow. Wow.
I must have been sitting there for hours. I started to cry. It was dark when I realized I will have to walk home along the highway. I didn’t mind. This picture is the background wallpaper on my phone since then.
The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
My last story is old and without a picture. This must have been around 1996, on our family trip to Israel. I was fifteen if the year is correct, and actually very sick. Walking through the winding streets of old Jerusalem, exhausted in the scorching heat, I suddenly glimpsed The Wall! Shining bright, almost blinding it is in my memory. I had seen it so many times on the news, usually with angry young men throwing stones from both sides. And here I was. It was a symbolic, magical moment for me, despite the crowds.
And then there is the story of traveling on my own for three days in northern Ghana, something I will have to expand on again in a separate post. The memory keeps coming back now that I am in Myanmar, with flashbacks to rural life around 50-100 years ago elsewhere or now, here. To discover a world “without 90 degrees angles” as I usually summarize it, was most likely a once in a lifetime experience in retrospect. I am sure it is not like that anymore there and it is not like that anywhere I am likely to go now or in the near future. But who knows, maybe I will see that somewhere again some time and it will be one of those unexpected, magic travel moments.