Where to even begin. The last week or so has been nothing short of magical. Burma (or Myanmar, if you prefer) is absolutely stellar. Yangon was wonderful, but spending time in Mandalay has really sealed the deal for me. I could totally be an ex-pat here. I’d live in one of the gated homes on the residential streets, or rent a top floor apartment to watch the sunrise over Mandalay Palace every morning.
There’s something about Mandalay that ends up feeling much more accessible than Yangon. Maybe it’s the “cafe culture” (Lonely Planet’s words, not mine) or the pubs on every other corner. Maybe it’s just that the residential areas seem more middle class so it’s more familiar.
Last night we travelled to U Bein Bridge for the sunset. It’s just about the most stereotypical tourist thing you could do here, but so worth it. And it’s important to keep in mind that “tourist” is a completely relative term in Burma. We’re just about the only Americans wherever we go, and I’m certain there are plenty of Asian tourists, both from within and around Burma but unless they’re wearing a “Greetings From China” shirt it’s rather hard for me to tell.
But back to the bridge. It’s a wonder. It stretches across the Amarapura Lake, which then goes on to connect with the Ayeyarwady River. The bridge stretches over crop-bearing land and water. It creaks when you walk. You can understand how it sways in the wind and bends with the weight of its travelers. There’s a funny mix of tourists, fishermen (but mostly fisherboys), boaters, and shopkeepers. Several small beer gardens and noodle shops have popped up in response to the arrival of tourist buses every evening.
We chose to watch sunset from the bridge itself, but many choose to hire a boat to watch from the water. The boats themselves resemble colorful gondolas, a la Venezia. Derek, Minnie & I, accompanied by our pseudo-bodyguard/personal paparazzo (Thurmore on that later) drank cold-ish Myanmar beers and snapped photos. What was unexpected was our own popularity.
Minnie & I were approached a countless number of times by young Burmese women and men, requesting photo-ops. Apparently we’re just that freakishly tall and white. But the bottom line is that it’s rather flattering and underscores those silly universal similarities. How many times have I wanted to snap a shot of a monk, or a fisherman at work or a woman selling bracelets. But you have to have the balls to ask. My travel style has typically been live & let live. I don’t hide in my hotel room, I’m rather adventurous, but I rarely participate in the day-to-day life. Minnie, on the other hand, throws herself in. She asks to take pictures, she plays rock, paper, scissors with groups of children.
I live behind my lens a little less than Minnie does though. I used to fear missing out on something. What if I can’t share this? What if I have no proof? But I’m a little less concerned now. Certainly there may be a twinge of wishing I could have snapped a shot, but then I have a story to tell. Lizrom. Again.
After the sun had dipped below the horizon, we strolled back to the foot of the bridge. We paused to browse some watermelon-seed jewelry. Our bodyguard negotiated 7 bracelets for 4000 kyat (about $4.50) plus a bracelet each for Minnie and me. Minnie snapped a picture of the woman selling the bracelets. “My face could scare a mouse!” she exclaimed, upon seeing the digital shot. She then whispered something in the ear of our bodyguard (our translator too). As we wandered back to the van, he translated. “She says you are both Young, Cute and Lovely.”