Myanmar (Burma)

Off the beaten track in Taunggyi

Taunggyi doesn’t attract many travellers. Most pass by in their hurry to get to the much more famous Inle Lake, an hour away.

On Inle those tourists who manage to drag their eyes away from the exotic beauty of the lake, look up at the Shan hills and wonder at the town clinging to the cliff top. From that distance it looks not much more than a village. Actually, it’s a thriving city of around two hundred thousand people.

We discovered busy streets,

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Easy to guess the most popular form of transport in Taunggyi, although it might not always be easy to find your motorbike.

 

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Like elsewhere cell-phones are a sought after item here.

a large market,

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There were many stalls selling fireworks, perhpas to celebrate the election which was the very next day.

 

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A woman knitting -a reminder of home

and friendly locals keen to help us out.

One, Mr S, overheard us wondering where to find a money changer (He was one of the few people we encountered who spoke English) and offered to show us the way.

There are many, many places in the world where I would rebuff an offer like this. Where, I would assume we were about to be scammed, or worse*.

But Mr S, a small man not a lot taller than I, with kind, twinkly eyes, struck me immediately as trustworthy. He escorted us to the moneychangers, discouraged the beggars who appeared from nowhere as soon as we approached the counter, and then bid us farewell.

We invited him to tea. What a treat that was, for us.

On the way  to the tea house he told us about his city, about the must see places to visit, and about the ordinary. I’d noticed all the buses parked across the road and assumed it was a bus stop.

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Exam time at the temple

It wasn’t. Mr S explained the buses had brought novice monks from all around Shan State to the temple for an exam. Yes, monks have to take an exam. They gathered outside waiting nervously, many with their books open and their foreheads creased by the effort of concentration. Last minute cramming looks the same all over the world!

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Exam time

At the tea house we learned from Mr S that the the green tea was bottomless if we ordered food. That when the tea boys brought us food we only paid for what we ate.  Best of all, Mr S  introduced us to all sorts of delicaces. From then on, in every tea house we visited I looked for a  a type of fried bread, like a donut, that is delicious dipped in sweet tea.

Mr S told us a little about his schooling, that’s where he learned English he explained, making a joke about John and I being like Romeo and Juliette! He told us a little about his family and how hard they work, manufacturing cheroots.

I wondered what he thought about the election. But he avoided our tentative questions on that subject. In the days leading up to the election people were cautious about discussing politics in public. It was different once the results started coming in.

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This sign appeared on election day. I think it might be pointing to a polling booth.

Mr S  told us that if we needed any help while we were in Myanmar we were to call on him. I found that incredibly kind and generous, and reassuring. We had made a friend.

A few weeks later I  came across this passage in  Emma Larkin’s acclaimed Finding George Orwell in Burma

He was one of those courtly old Burmese gentlemen I met from time to time in Burma who spoke a quaint old-world English and had an air of sadness that lingered around them like cigarette smoke.

It made me think of Mr S.

He likes to collect calendars from around the world.  I hope he has received his New Zealand calendar safely.

*As a side note, it’s not a good idea to change money on the street. I don’t recommend it.

Who helped you when you were last in a strange town?

WP Photo challenge: Alphabet

17 replies »

  1. We were lucky enough to visit Taunggi for the balloon festival last year and it was incredible down on the field with all those balloons and fire. Sounds like we visit a lot of the same places. Right now we’re in Prizren, Kosovo. Love your site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Steve, Thanks for the follow. We’ve just arrived in Bolivia and are coming to the end of fifteen weeks travelling through seven countries in the Americas. Our thoughts are already turning to our next adventure and it just might include the Balkans; nothing finalised yet though!

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    • Hello Book Club Mom, with Mr S I knew he was trustworthy, it was all in the way he conducted himself around us. But there’s always risk involved. Sometimes it’s a risk worth taking. Generally, in SE Asia, and Myanmar in particular, we have found that most people are eager to help us. They want us to have a good time in their country and go out of their way to make that happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a delightful story. I ‘m sure it will become one of your most vivid memories of this trip. It is the people encounters that, to me, are always the highlight of a country. It warms my heart when in a strange town and trying to work out on a map where we are and a complete stranger stops to ask if they can help. I was surprised to learn that the monks have to take exams too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely. My grandson was teaching in Indonesia and told us similar stories. Everyday people are so often compassionate and open to people from other countries. Would that our governments could be the same.

    Thanks for taking us on another delightful visit to a fascinating foreign world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoy your stories and you always have colorful, vibrant photos fo share Jill. My daughter and I both seem to have a knack for being asked for directions when we’re out in cities, even cities we are visiting. The amazing thing is that we have often been able to help the people asking. My favorite bit of help that I received was from a hotel clerk who agreed to tell my boss that he forgot to give me a message telling me to come home (instead of going on vacation) after finishing an assignment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That has happened to us, too.Sometimes we’ve been of help, and othertimes we’ve been so fresh off the plane I, for one, haven’t known which way was up! I must say, that hotel clerk knew how to do a brilliant job!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It enjoy hearing about the nice people and things you encounter in other countries.
    Too often people and the media empathise the negative.
    I have found if you smile, are friendly and respect to them they are helpful and kind to you.
    Nice photos and story Jill, Mr S will like the Kiwi calendar I bet you picked a good one?_/\_

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    • Hi Jack, I guess the sad thing is that bad news sells. The great thing about travel is that it challenges all those bad news stories, and metting Mr S was certainly a highlight, if not the highlight of our time in Taunggyi.

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