Friday 14th December 2018

2016 Pathein Blog

2016

Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Saturday, January 16, 2016

I came to, aware of the hammering at the door and stumbled to open it.  There was Mr Toe’s son, another lad peeping at his side, asking if we would like breakfast.  What time was it?  Half past eleven!  All ideas of sunbathing and swimming vanished in a second with the realisation we were being picked up in an hour and a half.   We breakfasted of fried rice, egg, a delicious onion and chilli mix and apple.  One cup of hot Coffee Mix and I was addicted to this wonderful, and probably unhealthy, blend of coffee, powdered milk and sugar all over again.

Kate and I left the two cases containing what we have gathered for the Home of Joy with Mr Toe (with a clear explanation that there is nothing more exciting than toys and clothes in them), ready to be picked up in eight days before our flight back to Bangkok.

When our car arrived it was Marcellinus who came to shake my hand.  This wonderful young man so impressed Linda and me two years ago that, had he been able to get a visa, we would have hosted his stay in the UK to enable him to perfect his English.  Since then he has secured a job with a local volunteering organisation and coordinates groups of visitors (including our own) to enhance life for young people in Pathein.  It was wonderful to see how much he has grown in confidence and how good his English has become.  He and his driver John had driven the five hours from Pathein to collect us and we set off on the journey back together.  How much more comfortable and swift than the bus!  Thank you, Fr Henry Ehklein and Marcellinus!

We arrived at LaPyaeWun Hotel around six thirty and the front desk called Linda down to greet us!  We freshened up and then went out for old times sake to our beer and chips haunt (but they don’t do chips any more – boo!) then to the dockside to Top Star, where we had a fantastic mix of dishes and rice.  Linda, Barbara, Alex and Nicky have already been teaching a week and had a fund of stories to tell.  They have fallen in love with all their students and have been singularly impressed with their desire to learn, their support for one another and the improvement in their language.  Kate and I can’t wait to get started!

Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Sunday, January 17, 2016

We woke early to get to 7am Mass.  Yet again it was as if I had been transported back to the 1950s, with the women wearing mantillas and the boys and girls sitting in rows.  The singing was strong and throaty, though, and Mass very well attended.

Because we were being collected by Linda’s family, we went straight back to the hotel and Kate and I had a couple of the porridge pots I brought from Waitrose, having heard that our beloved Breakfast Hovel next door has now become a roller disco – no egg sandwiches and coffee mix there now!

Linda and the girls secured a large donation from family and friends and she and her Pathein cousin Hazel went shopping yesterday and bought fifty mosquito nets and blankets for each of the families in Chaung Zaug, her ancestral village.  These were waiting to be loaded onto the van in the hotel foyer.

We swept through the city in an open lorry, squeezed in beside the large bales of blankets and nets and food for the village. The roads were surprisingly busy for nine on a Sunday morning.  We drove to the rice mill, from where we left last time I went to the village.  Spotting the small narrow boat with its outboard motor in the channel, we all asked whether they felt the boat would take all eleven of us plus the bales.  Of course, was the reply.  However half way down the channel with its diverse flora and fauna (heron, egret, kingfisher – which of course I didn’t see, Katherine Hickey) it became clear that water was coming into the boat faster than we could bail.  Two years ago, I’m not sure what would have happened but today one of the young lads phoned the village with his mobile and asked for another boat to come and rescue us.  We waited for around thirty blissfully peaceful minutes until it duly arrived and five of us moved onto it.  The journey continued for a further thirty minutes when we made a sharp turn into a tiny, narrow channel up towards Linda’s village.  As we neared the village, the water was so low that the two lads jumped out and pulled us the rest of the way.

As last time we were treated like royalty and given the most sumptuous spread by the pastor and his wife.  Every time we emptied one dish another was put on the table to replace it.  Afterwards we were invited to go into the church and Linda (and I, to my astonishment) were asked to address the congregation.  Linda did really well, expressing her support of the village and her desire to help. Following on, the children sang and then Linda was asked to distribute each of the blankets and nets to the families they were bought for.  It was a lovely tribute to all her hard work.  Linda’s cousin Douglas got hold of Kate and the Sunday School Teacher and did a bit of matchmaking, saying that he was a bachelor and she was just like Kate Winslet in Titanic.  We could not look at one another!  He was a really sweet chap and Kate, as you would expect, was charming and appropriate in her refusal.

Later we visited the school, which is in a sad state of repair, and the children milled round playing while we talked to the teacher.  Tired but very content, we left around 4:45 and to our delight they had saved our dignity and bottoms by putting plastic seats in the bottom of a much more substantial boat which whisked us back to Pathein, having waved everyone goodbye.

Once returned to the hotel we visited Top Star once more for our meal and then dashed back to our room to … prepare for tomorrow and our first day of teaching!

Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Monday, January 18, 2016

Kate and I got up early, anxious to be on time for our first day and also just anxious.  We arrived to be shown our classroom and set up shop.  To my delight, John Paul, Elizabeth, Charles and Anna from two years ago came to greet me all looking so lovely and mature!  And it turned out that Anna and Charles were also in our class which was fantastic.
We had prepared some activities to get us started but the first we had to do involved their visit on Friday to the umbrella factory.  I collated the material they gave us orally and it immediately became apparent that there is a large spectrum of ability within the group.  We have asked for ‘thumbs-up’ feedback each time we give instructions to try and ensure that they do understand what we are saying before we tackle tasks.  We did a lovely range of activities and, what’s more, have a pile more to do tonight, having seen what we want to work on!
The church provided us with a delicious lunch (with lots of veggie options) and Marcellinus and two girls served us – I could get used to this.  We managed to get time to buy some longyi (Burmese skirt)  material from the cloth shop before we went back to class.
We asked the class to go our and find times and timetables for our Time and Place theme, then when they came back surprisingly early we provided them with games I had brought from the UK and a game on my phone.  By this time we were getting to know the students and they to trust us.
At 4 o’clock we dumped our heavy bags at the hotel and went our looking for a tailor.  Linda has already commissioned one to make a couple of skirts for her.  She was very busy so Kate and I found another tailor directly behind the first.  To our surprise she took our material from us and made up both of our skirts within around half an hour, all for the cost of 1400 kyat, about 79p, which was embarrassing.
We went back to the Social Centre as the church is also providing dinner – meat dish, creamy bean dish and fried potatoes with rice – before heading home to do preparation.  I tell you, the teaching lark isn’t all fun, you know.  It’s 11pm and Kate and I have just finished prep and are raring to go tomorrow again.  Night, night.
Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

An easy 8 o’clock start after our marathon preparation evening last night saw us rushing like mad to get to the centre on time, stuffing breakfast bars in our pockets instead of having our porridge pots as previously.Of course, best laid plans!  Marcellinus has to deliver water to a rural village and is not around today so I can’t get my printing done by him.  Kate held the fort showing the group our Edinburgh tea towels and talking about Scotland while I faffed about trying to use the centre printer to find that the toner had run low and the print-outs were only half visible.  Curses!  We winged it for the rest of the morning, doing the chair game I introduced last time and doing some of the material I had prepared last night on the whiteboard.  We were delighted that the students’ homework was exceptionally well done.  They really are very conscientious.After our usual delicious, Myanmar lunch Kate and I went to the bank, the words ‘We’ll never use all these kyats’ ringing in our ears as we exchanged more.  We then visited the shop which opened opposite the bank two years ago and had posh, upmarket material for sale.  Fatal, of course.  We bought a gift for a certain small fairy and I got light cotton material for a light longyi to wear in the Home of Joy and Kate got, well, lots!  We took all of our material to the magic tailoress in the market to make up with a promise to be back at 4pm to collect and headed back to the centre for our afternoon session.Tuesday afternoon Linda allocated for a visit to Pathein Museum which we discovered two years ago and which many of the young people have never visited.  Opened in 1990, it has a truly fascinating range of displays and artefacts relating to the Ayerwaddy district.  What a mannerly bunch of young people they are, with many insisting on holding umbrellas to shade us from the sun and one carrying Kate’s bag (no mean feat) for the afternoon!  We then hit a local cafeteria for drinks – I had Shark energy drink which certainly had a bite, it was like liquid sherbet – and snacks which was such a lovely opportunity to talk to young people from the other two classes. Today I had a letter from lovely Christopher from our previous class, who is studying to sit exams to enter senior seminary.From the cafeteria, Kate and I walked to the tailoress to collect our made-up longyis and Kate found material for a couple of jackets too.  I have strict instructions that she has to be physically prevented from entering another material shop or stall.  We went back to the hotel and actually wore longyis to dinner.  We haven’t quite got the knack of tying them yet but they are certainly very cool and comfortable to wear.  As long as they don’t fall down!Dinner was delicious and we have had papaya, grapes and watermelon today after our main meals.  We then had some coconut sort of pancake things for the princely sum of 100 kyats each (8p or so), from a street vendor, which were gorgeous!Marcellinus is back tomorrow so hopefully I will get my materials printed out. I have also done a certificate trial run, which I will have printed out to check it works.Kate and I are sampling our medicinal brandy again tonight.  We wouldn’t like to think it had gone bad in this heat!  Night, night!

 Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Wednesday, January 20, 2016

For some reason we have no hot water and some sort of flooding issue in our bathroom this morning.  We have had a drainage problem outside the hotel, so much so that Kate bought a couple of incense sticks from the pagoda and burned 5 of them at once!  You can imagine that going into the bathroom required breathing apparatus and an iron lung.  I sometimes burn one upstairs in my bathroom where the cat litter tray is and it pervades the whole house!Kate is sporting her longyi to work this morning and looks very fetching.  Walking along the street just before 9 is taking one’s life into one’s own hands, though.  Cars and motorbikes beep constantly and weave in and out of one another fairly indiscriminately.Lovely Marcellinus came and got my flash drive and took it all off to have it printed out and copied.  We went through our museum feedback, which was actually very good, and did some work on pronouns (he/she, him/her, his hers) and a/an, which is another problem for our students.I gave them the report I collated on their visit to the umbrella factory and we went through it sentence by sentence.  Their reading and writing is really very good.  As to be expected, it’s the listening and talking we have to work on.  Talking to us native speakers is a challenge but very necessary. We did the chair game, which Sacred Heart pupils and parents will all recognise as an ice-breaker, and they love it and have even managed to perfect, ‘Please move if you … are wearing black,’ for example, whereby those who are wearing black have to move to another seat (but not those either side of the one they’ve been on) and because we make it one seat short the one left standing does the next ‘Please move ….’  It can incorporate family, travel, pets, beliefs and anything really so is really good for speaking and listening and often end in mayhem and madness – great fun!  We even played I Spy and I was amazed that one knew ‘fluorescent light’.Lunch was rice with chard and beans, very tasty, and Fr Henry came to join us from the Karen Culture Conference he had been part of upstairs in the Social Centre.  He seems very pleased with what we have been doing.We went back to the hotel to leave off our teaching materials and I quickly did the certificates for our group of students so I will have fewer to do tonight. We returned to the centre to collect the young people and wait at the Social Centre for Marcellinus to bring the bus to take us to the pottery.The pottery was fascinating but positively Dickensian in its surroundings and environment with people pounding and sifting dirt to get the clay soil before it is moistening to make the pliable dough.  The man and woman we watched, said they made 20 pots a day.  He was 69 and she a similar age.  I hate to think how little they are paid.  However it was fascinating to see the whole process.  The completed pots are sold both in the market and from the factory.  The area around the pottery is dirt poor with wee children wandering round naked in vests, one with a shaved head.The bus dropped us back at our hotel in time to have a hot drink and prepare for tomorrow.Later we went back to the Social Centre for our meal and wonderful little Kyu Kyu Hmwe (pronounced Choo Choo Mway) who is Marcellinus’ cousin or sister, she said sister, he said cousin, a cheery, wee sixteen year old who looks after us for our evening meal came to serve us egg soup, vegetable stew and rice with lovely fruit for pudding – hard Chinese plums, which are more like small apples, mandarins and rather sour grapes. Linda asked if we would like to go to the orphanage near the hotel where she had handed in some things she had collected.  I have certificates to prepare but was sure I would be able to fit it in.On our way back to the hotel we stopped for more coconut pancakes – delicious and a bit of a new addiction.The orphanage is directly opposite the hotel and sometimes we see the girls playing and hear them singing or saying the rosary from the hotel balcony.  It is run by the same St Francis Xavier order from which the aspirants and noviciates come to our classes.  On entering the gate we were grabbed by the girls who pulled us into a large bright hall where girls, big, small, tiny, beautiful were milling around, playing, laughing and chatting.  Bright-eyed Sister Irene introduced herself and sat us down.  One by one, we had to stand and say our names and the girls shouted back greetings in English.  One by one, the girls filed up to introduce themselves individually.  Three other sisters eventually appeared as the little girls prepared to entertain us.  Linda had popped in exactly two hours ago to say we would visit and they had got together some dances and songs since then.  The orphanage currently has around 75 girls and they educate and house them until they are grown, finding them employment and inviting them back as helpers if they need support, even after that.  Wow!  What a fabulous atmosphere.  Sr Irene said, ‘We are a big family,’ and that was obvious.  The big focus is on education.  The accommodation is palatial compared to our beloved Home of Joy and a complete contrast.  And indeed a complete contrast to the poor, undernourished and ill-clad children we had seen earlier by the pottery.  Some of the girls you will see, in the photographs, wearing thanaka on their faces.  It is traditional for girls and boys to wear this white paste on their faces and sometimes on their arms and legs and serves both to protect from the sun and look beautiful.To our complete astonishment, Sr Irene then pulled out her iPhone and plugged it into the sound system and the little ones, in their nursery uniforms, began to dance to Barbie Girl.  My thoughts immediately went to Sheila Laing – this was her alter ego for years!  The bigger girls danced with parasols and did some pop song video-type dances, exactly what our girls would be doing in the UK.  They did one big communal dance to a Myanmar pop tune and I tried to catch on film Sr Irene and one other sister doing the moves for the wee ones to copy.  They then GAVE US gifts of little table-top Pathein umbrellas and thanked us for coming.  We were completely undone!  After saying goodbye we were escorted to the gates and hugged and kissed.  Kate and I have, of course, promised to come back.  I need a bigger bankbook!Kate, Alex and I went to have a beer to the corner, former chips and beer haunt so that Alex could show us some of the gentle physical exercises she had brought to pass to local therapists and which will be helpful in working with the babies with Cerebral Palsy in the Home of Joy.  We were bitten to bits – I’ve been rubbish at remembering to apply my anti-mosquito stuff this time but really good at remembering about my doxycycline, which is better than nothing.We spent the rest of the evening typing reports for our certificates and preparing passports for our class getting to bed just before midnight.  This teaching malarkey is no holiday, you know!

Pathein, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday morning dawned as bright as the others have.  We walked to work, stopping off to leave the flash drive with Marcellinus so he can print off our certificates and passports.  The young people had a good sense that the pottery we visited yesterday was not a safe, healthy or lucrative place to work, which was reassuring.  Later in the morning we extended this talk to equal opportunities and it was interesting to hear how differing the views were, how the more traditional young people thought that women should stay at home and look after the children whereas the others felt that couples should have equal responsibility for the family.  Most of their fathers are able to cook and some of their mothers work outside the home.

After our usual delicious lunch, Kate and I walked (we would have preferred to taxi but he insisted) to the bus station with the hilarious Cyril (who could run the world) and quiet Gabriel to get our bus tickets for tomorrow’s journey to the beach.  We stopped quickly at the hotel and I created two more certificates which had been missed off the list.

In the afternoon we created fake passports with the young people, showing them ours and getting them to complete their details.  The tricky part is that most do not seem to have family names as such, indeed many only seem to have Christian names in the villages.  Charles insists his father has no name other than Francis.  Anna said they do have birth certificates but was not sure whether father and mother’s names appear on them.  We completed the task by asking the students which country they would most like to visit and why.  They then created a fake stamp for that country to place in their passport.  Kate wrote many facts on Scotland for them to use and tomorrow we would like them each to present a short report, collating these.

We then went round to the Social Centre to have a small gathering.  We had intended to have an evening ceilidh as they had the previous week but they missed an evening class to attend and this week their teacher would like them to go to class.  The young people danced the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant and sang and danced for us before we had Auld Lang Syne and dispersed.

Kate and I went with Anna to the Aspirantate for a visit and I met the wonderful Aay Si Nah who  used to copy me saying Beayootiful two years ago!  It was just lovely, lovely to see her – she has not changed one bit – and then Cecilia came in from working and was as shy and smiley as last time.  What a privilege to have met these young women who are all still in the convent working towards being sisters.

We went back to the hotel via the seamstress and Kate’s blouses were ready, which saves us rushing to get them tomorrow before we leave.  Around six, Linda came down to tell us that Marcellinus and his boss, Ezero (no clue how to spell but that’s how it sounds), were taking us to dinner so that put a spanner in my packing works as I scrabbled to find something smarter to wear.  Kate and the others wore lovely clothes they have had made here.

At seven, Marcellinus and his driver George came with profuse apologies because they were unable to get the minibus but had a truck to take us to dinner in.  We clambered aboard and were whisked off to the River View, overlooking the bridge which will take us to Chaung Tha tomorrow and near the junior seminary.  We had very nice food including a very spicy seaweed which was delicious (but actually this morning seems not to have agreed with me)!  Marcellinus and Ezero were very chatty and attentive and we had a very pleasant evening.  It was interesting to hear about their work with KMSS Pathein, which is part of the Caritas organisation we donate to, through SCIAF and CAFOD.  They have most recently done vital work supporting people through the 2015 flooding in the Ayerwaddy Region.  Marcellinus said that Father Henry is worried about Kate and I taking the bus as it is dangerous – we’re not clear as to whether they feel it is because the buses are unsafe or the people on them are threatening – and we are happy to accept if only because we will be taken direct to our hotel and will not have to humph our luggage around.

We packed most of our belongings which seem to have expanded and poor Kate was forced to listen to the latest episodes of The Archers and some Cadfael on BBC Radio 4 Extra, about which she was very forbearing.

Chaungtha, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Friday, January 22, 2016

I made a mistake when with Anna and Aay Si Nah yesterday.  When I was talking about the orphanage and they said they go to Mass there at 6am every morning, I said that sounded lovely and we would go too.  It just kind of slipped out.  So after packing till late, we were up at 5:45 to stumble across the road and into the chapel behind the orphanage, which was busy with nuns sitting in chairs all round the room (one immediately jumped up to give me her chair) and the girls and young pre-postulants kneeling on mats.  The wee ones were there in the front in their hoodies, waving to us.  Mass was incomprehensible of course with a long sermon but it was a nice gesture on our part.

We went back to La Pyae Wun to have some breakfast – our porridge pots are gone but the breakfast bars Kate brought are holding out – and I wrote Thursday’s blog and we then wheeled our luggage out into the foyer and went to the Education Centre.  To my delight, lovely Christopher, one of the students from two years ago had taken a day off from studying for his exams to join us for the morning.  So mature, smart and sensible, he joined in with all the activities, even doing the quiz we had set whose prize was a British Wildlife Calendar and which featured questions from the activities we had done all week.  Charles won and was pleased to take home the calendar.  Their presentations on Scotland were mostly excellent.  Some had really thought about which aspects they wanted to talk about and we could discern the progress they had made in terms of pronunciation and confidence – very pleasing.

At 1030 we went round to the Social Centre, steeling ourselves for the Closing Ceremony.  A stage and chairs had been set out.  Marcellinus and Anna were the MCs.  The Aspirantate girls were dressed in beatiful pink longyis that Reverend Mother had given them for Christmas.  The seminary boys did an impressive, handkerchief danced dressed in traditional blue Karen costumes, the Aspirantate girls did a folk dance,  Anna sang Only There which I had transcribed for her two years ago.  George did an address on behalf of the students.  We all struggled to reply.  Marcellinus gave a speech and had difficulty speaking too, lovely man.  It was all beautiful but rather stressful and emotional.  Mr Ozeero (whom they seem to call Ayeceedo or something) also spoke, handsomely dressed in Karen costume about the value of having native English speakers.  Then the whole group sang Christ be Beside Me, which Linda has been using as an opening prayer for her group and which we sang with our group.  We gave the young people personalised certificates and were then presented with beautiful Pathein umbrellas and longyis.  We all had lunch together and Marcellinus shyly came up with a package in which was material for a further six longyis for us. We all had lunch together – a lovely touch – and then rather than people going home (though Alex and Barbara had to go for their bus to Yangon) everyone crammed onto a minibus to go out to the Junior Seminary for a visit – Buddhists, Baptists, everyone.  And who should climb onto the bus but lovely Raymond from two years ago too!

Out at the junior seminary, Christopher took charge -‘Now, Mary, quickly – this way!’ and we tried to be as efficient as possible visiting everyone and then having a snack both in the Postulants’ house and in the dining room – it’s impossible to refuse.  Clare, another student from two years ago, RAN to meet me and was anxious to know everything.  She occasionally looks at Facebook and says the twins are very happy babies.  She looks wonderful and is well on her way to becoming a sister.  We met the fabulous Sister Teresita who teaches the boys English (her English is beautiful too: she spent time living in the convent in London) and is quite infirm now, into her eighties perhaps.  The boys are simply gorgeous with her, taking her arm and helping her round the garden which is her great love.  Kate, of course, has fallen deeply in love with everyone!

Marcellinus was beginning to get anxious about time.  The girls from KMSS were going to visit the beach with us and time was getting on.  It was so late he decided not to accompany us and we said goodbye outside the hotel.  I am so proud of everything he has achieved and the tiny part Linda and I have played.  He seems happy and very fulfilled by his role supporting various projects.  Linda is to be hugely congratulated in setting this wonderful Pathein ball rolling.  She has found this morning hard and was more emotional than I have seen her.  Kate and I said goodbye to her and Nicky and were off in the car with George the driver, Kyu Kyu Mweh and three other girls.  We felt guilty for starting off so late but they said they didn’t mind.

The journey took a good couple of hours and the latter part was over very dusty rough terrain on a new piece of coast road I hadn’t been on before.  We eventually made our way to Hill Garden Hotel and said goodbye to the crew, hoping their journey home would be safe.  Kate and I each have a bungalow, very decadent.  Once we had unloaded our cases we went for dinner, had a beer and literally went straight to bed, the late night last night, the early morning, the emotional ceremony and the long, dusty journey (and really the very busy and full-on week teaching) having taken its toll.

Chaungtha, Ayeyarwady, Myanmar
Saturday, January 23, 2016

I woke after 12 hours straight sleep and felt drugged.  Kate was up and organised and we went for breakfast in silence, both of us stupified with the long sleep after so much work, really over the last ten days if we include the preparation for getting here.

The hotel has built a second dining area since I was last here and a breakfast buffet was set out, offering hot and cold dishes. The setting of the bungalows is beautfiul, in a banana plantation with paths winding from one to another.  However the wifi is non-existent, there is electricity only at night, there is no hot water and we have been told that, since I booked over the internet via Agoda, we are not entitled to AC (and the huts are hot at night). So, all in all, disappointing and I wouldn’t be back.

We went back to tidy up and then walked the short distance down to the ocean, the Bay of Bengal stretching out in front of us.  From last time, there is definitely more traffic on the little road, more motorbikes making their way to the next beach and some building work but the place looks sad and run down.  We walked to the same bay and chairs, Linda and I used last time and settled down to enjoy the sun and to bathe cautiously as the surf was up and the waves almost Hawaii-like and there was a fair pull on the outgoing tide.  It was wonderful to bathe our ravaged feet in the salt water.  The dust of Pathein has made my feet look just awful and no amount of scrubbing seems to improve them so this is much needed.  Barbara actually brought a scrubbing brush for that purpose.  What a great idea!  Definitely on my list for next time.  (Yes, dear daughters, I fear there will be a next time!)

There was a fair old breeze which made sunbathing very pleasant but we were both careful to use sufficient suncreen as it covers how strong the sun really is.  I read Kate’s book, David Baldacci’s The Collectors.  I love him as a holiday read, having discovered him when on holiday with Katherine on Iosla dei Pescatori on Lake Maggiore and I have undoubtedly read this before but had forgotten the plot so it was a pleasant way to spend a day by the beach.  The little shack nearby offers cold drinks and we even had noodles and rice at lunchtime, so quite decadent, relaxing, idyllic.

At around four we made our way back along the beach to the hotel, a lovely little brown bitch with six puppies gambolling around ahead of us.  There are dogs everywhere here but they seem to be reasonably well nourished and looked after for the most part.  What I did notice this time, though, was the litter from the ocean which seemed much more evident than last time.  Fabulous Myanmar must do something about disposing of rubbish.  It’s a growing problem which must be tackled responsibly so that people begin to think of doing something other than dropping or throwing their used bags out of the window.  Many lovely rural places are spoiled by the growing mound of plastic strewn around.

We had an early dinner, both had sweet and sour vegetables which was very nice.  We had cashew nuts as a snack too – delicious.  A little (pregnant) cat played next to our table with what I feared was a mouse but turned out to be a lizard and then I jumped up as something moved under my table next to my feet and it was a frog, which managed to avoid the cat and escape into the undergrowth. We shared a third Myanmar beer and headed back to our respective bungalows to repack – what else do we ever do?  I listened to Schindler’s List, as I did so.  What beautiful, haunting music!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

At 4:45 I was wakened by a wee wake-up man at my door.  Kate followed him shortly having already taken one of her cases up to the reception desk and having not had much sleep.  We assembled with our luggage at 5:15, to be taken down to the main drag to catch our bus to Yangon. ( The hotel had provided us with coffee and a hard-boiled egg and some bread for breakfast which neither of us could really face.)  Kate went first her case balanced precariously in front of her on the young man’s motorcycle.  Around ten minutes later he was back for me.  I had my backpack on my back and he put my case in front of him while I clutched my Pathein umbrella and him, around his waist.  He sang gently while we whizzed down the road, laughing as I said, ‘More slowly’ and then eventually, ‘Stop looking at the ocean, for goodness sake.  Look at the road!’  I did arrive in one piece and he kindly waited while two Pathein buses passed us by, the Yangon bus eventually arriving twenty minutes late.  We got on to be told that this was only the bus to get us to the bridge.  This was news to us, the minibus having brought us on the new, dusty road on Friday afternoon.

Indeed around twenty minutes into our journey, we approached the Chaung Tha river to stop by a bridge which had been washed out either by the floods or disrepair.  We got out and began to lug our bags down to the shore, while those who had got there before us boarded the smallest, most precarious looking wee boat you have ever seen in your life to cross the river, which is a fair-sized piece of water, maybe twice or more than the Thames at Tower Bridge.  We started to laugh whether out of disbelief or hysteria, I don’t know.  Possibly wearing my cream linen trousers and white linen shirt and Kate her white and navy trousers and white top was not the cleverest plan.  We had to kneel on our boat whilte we were transported across and then scramble off onto the red soil which liberally covered both us, our luggage and especially our feet.  Where we disembarked was a shanty town, the backside of the universe, with dogs and puppies everywhere and half-naked children wandering around.

The bus was a decent, express coach and, especially once we’d negotiated the hairpin bends and steep hills of the coastal range of hills and were on the Ayerwaddy Plain, we made a good  six hour journey to Yangon, stopping twice for comfort stops.

We completed our bus journey at a Yangon Bus Station that was new to me and did the usual haggling to get a half reasonable taxi fare to take us to pick up our bags from Mr Toe at the Yaewaddy Motel.  We got him down to eight thousand kyats and then some other girl who had been on the bus jumped into the passenger seat, going in the same direction, getting a hurl, who knows?  We had a beer at the Yaewaddy, while quickly checking emails to ensure there was nothing urgent, and then asked for Mr Toe to transport us to the airport which miraculously was only five minutes away.  Where had the bold Wanei taken us when we arrived nine days before, before he eventually got us to the motel?  What a rogue!

The airport was incredibly busy with people everywhere.  We discovered that there was a Priority Pass Lounge but only airside, so found a wee quiet spot to try and repack our luggage and weigh it to try and ensure that we were not over our 30kg limit.  By the time we had finished repacking a whole group of about eight other people had their luggage spread out on the floor doing the same thing.  Talk about starting a trend!

We went through security but were not allowed to leave off our baggage until three hours later and the check-in staff were grumpy and officious. We could feel a surcharge coming on!  We were now trapped in a kind of holding area, hungry and thirsty.  Nightmare!  We decided to go back out though security again and wandered around looking for food before happening on a kind of Singapore Fast Food place which was outside the airport building.  We could not go up the three steps with our luggage trolleys so sat outside – only to discover hours later that we’d been bitten to bits.  Kate had a burger and chips and I had the only veggie option, a potato curry sandwich which was as delicious as it sounds disgusting.  We then had an ice cream at another eatery and I tried and failed to get good enough wifi to email folk and do my blog.

Eventually we were able to book in and avoided any surcharges by the skin of our teeth, remarking how lovely the girls’ uniform was and distracting by asking about our subsequent flight to Phnom Penh.  Our three behemoth bags went away and we were able to skip through security and immigration, my fears about having to stay in Myanmar forever because I had lost my departure card (can I stay with you, Marcellinus?  Fr Henry?  Aspirantate girls?  Minor Seminary boys?) fading to nothing when I signed a simple disclaimer.  We were very sad to be leaving Myanmar and our lovely class – goodbye Augustine, Mary, Marina, Hedda, Orchid Phaw, Medard, Charles, Charles Bo and Anna!  Maybe, hopefully see you next year?!

The flight to Bangkok was pleasant and short and our luggage arrived quickly around midnight.  We found a row of seats on which to lie and settled down to sleep till we were ready to face the next set of hurdles at 4am, a bottle of water each and some Pringles to sustain us.

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