July 27th, 2015

happy girl

Myanmar, Part 1

I will write about Myanmar in a bit. Before that, I'm going to write a bit about the quick coffee chat I had with G, a guy that I met on OkCupid.

(I've decided not to use full names just in case...actually, I'm not sure just in case what either. If they googled this, they would know it's them anyway; if it's someone they know, that raises the question of why would I be worried that someone they know would give enough of a crap to google me? Anyway, I have no real reason for not using full names. Let's just leave it at that.)

G is Greek, a couple of years older but I forget his exact age, and is a young professor at the new university in Singapore. His field is computer science. He finished his PhD 5 years ago in an American university (I forget which one). It took me a couple of weeks or more to reply to his initial message, and the reason I put it off for so long was a really, really stupid and superficial one. It's so stupidly superficial that I'm genuinely embarrassed to say it, and so I won't. I eventually replied though, and I wasn't shy at all in saying, 'Hey we should meet for coffee one of these days!'

He was about to go off to the US for a conference, and so the chat was postponed until today. He had a meeting in the main NUS campus, and when he was done at about 5pm, I said that I was feeling kind of sick and that I was about to head off soon. But he offered to come over to the Bukit Timah campus which obviously suited me just fine, so I agreed.

We eventually sat down at Da Paolo; Simply Bread is under renovation until August and Relish is closed on Mondays. He was very chatty. The entire time was pretty much him talking 90% of the time. The catch is, he wasn't one of those boring people that talk only about themselves; he was delivering a deeply intellectual soliloquy on the topic of (basically) thinking. It was actually very interesting; the only issue was that I'm under the weather and it was the end of the day and I was a bit tired, so I didn't follow all of it. One concept that he talked about was a bit difficult to grasp, something about a dream within a dream within a dream by a philosopher whose name I didn't catch.

Actually, I lied when I said that the fact that I was a bit tired was the 'only' issue. There was another issue: I was a little bit distracted a few times by my deeply un-intellectual thoughts, which were along the lines of, Hmm, he's quite cute. He kind of looks a bit like Iker Casillas, but even cuter. He reminds me a bit of Antonios [LSE classmate] but that's just because they're both Greek; am I being racist? Yeah he really is quite cute. He just said that he goes running at 2AM and that he works out...hmm, how can I discreetly verify this in an ocular manner without looking like a total perv? His accent is Greek but he speaks American! Oh my god, can't compute! Ok yeah he's definitely quite cute.

All in all, it was enjoyable even if I felt like I was on the receiving end of a lecture. I didn't mind because it saved me the trouble of thinking of things to say; my brain wasn't quite working then. When I said that Yalan 2.0 (in reference to the dream within a dream thing that he brought up) would be a Christian because that's totally not who the current Yalan is, he was about to go into another discussion on religion when he checked the time and realised it was already 15 minutes past 7. I had dinner waiting for me at home so I had to go, and he had to go too.

We reached vague agreements to hang out. It would be fun to see him again because he's a total geek and I like it when someone else challenges my way of thinking. Have I also mentioned that he's cute? I figured as much from his photos but he looks better in person, so it was a nice surprise.

Anyway, it was nice. We'll see what happens next.


On to Myanmar!

Yangon is chaos personified. The traffic is totally unpredictable: it took me at least 45 minutes to get to my hotel from the airport with half that time wasted on random traffic jams, but only 20 minutes to get from my hotel to the airport on Sunday. It was probably because it was a Sunday morning, but I'd already experienced other random traffic jams in my short stay in the city that I wasn't about to risk missing my flight and having to spend even more time in Yangon.

It's not just the traffic jam, though. It's the traffic. It's the utter lack of traffic rules. It's the completely non-existent traffic lights for pedestrians. Needless to say, there's no point in even talking about taxi stands or proper bus stops (or proper air-conditioned buses!). I woke up every morning at 5am to the incessant sound of car horns as my hotel is along a main road in Chinatown, and the honking goes on throughout the day. This is entirely due to the lack of traffic rules there. It takes some serious skills to drive a car in Yangon because nobody gives way, nobody gives a shit where the lane markings are, everyone just does what he/she (mostly he) wants. Sometimes there aren't any lane markings to speak of. I would be in a taxi and the driver would be chugging along, and suddenly there would be a car turning out to the main road from a side road, and half of the car would be already turned out of the side road; if the taxi driver keeps going, he'd definitely crash into the car. What does he do? He taps his horn and swerve to the left. This horn-tapping goes on throughout the day. It's a warning to other cars to let them know that there's another car in their way; it's not so much utilised to vent anger on an errant driver. It's actually necessary in Yangon.

I got so irritated with the honking on the morning that I was glad that I was leaving.

There are also hardly any pedestrian traffic lights; in fact, I don't remember seeing a single one. Crossing the road in Yangon was one of the scariest experiences of my life. It was made worse by the drivers' complete nonchalance to desperate pedestrians who just want to cross the fucking road, dammit. They don't even slow down; you literally have to run out of harm's way. Crossing at junctions is still okay because you can cross when the perpendicular traffic light is red; even though you still have to look out for turning vehicles, at least you know that most cars have come to a stop.

When it's a massively long road with no junction in sight, and you have no choice but to cross, it is freaking scary. The first time I was with Julian and Pieter; we were crossing some busy road to get to the main pagoda. I was scared out of my mind. If it weren't for Julian's presence, I would've been stuck there for a good 10 minutes. The cars just kept coming and coming and coming. We were in the middle of a two-way road and the cars didn't care. I think I breathed a sigh of relief when we made it safely to the other side.

There are also many open sewers. The pavements are quite new and still a work in progress. Walking around at night is actually quite dangerous; there are no street lights in some places and the only lights are those from cars and restaurants. On the second night, we were walking around this road in the rain; none of the street lamps were working. I was staring at the ground because I wanted to see where I was stepping, and I was sharing an umbrella with Pieter. There were a couple of large puddles that had formed in some depressions in the road due to unevenness, and so when we walked just a few inches from what looked like another puddle, I didn't think anything of it...until I took a closer look and discovered that it was a fucking hole. It was a hole, an open sewer, that Pieter very narrowly missed stepping into by a sheer stroke of luck.

It was just crazy. There was also no pavement on this road at all so we had to battle cars and the rain that night.

And then there's Yangon's infamous random power outtages. I didn't get it that bad; the power just went out for a few minutes when we were having dinner at a Burmese restaurant. It quickly came back on...but still. But still.

I'm going to cut this short now because I'm tired and this is taking longer than I'd expected. So Pieter met me at the airport and we took a very long taxi ride to my hotel, where I discovered that I couldn't pay for it with my credit card. I'd changed 80 Singapore dollars' worth of kyat at the airport and I gave all my cash, and some spare cash that Roy gave me, to the hotel. I had no money left. Thankfully I activated international roaming and I could remotely activate overseas withdrawal on my OCBC ATM card.

We walked around a bit. It was fucking hot. There were many street food stalls and makeshift market stands (they weren't even stands; they were just people laying out produce on the narrow sidewalks) and the umbrellas were so low that I had to keep crouching while trying to make my way through them. I was really fascinated by the food though; on Saturday morning, before Pieter picked me up at my hotel at 10.30, I went out to explore the food scene. I was a bit worried about getting food poisoning so I restricted myself to a cup of coffee at a local place (I was the only non-Burmese) and a plate of beehoon:

I thought it was just standard fried beehoon, but they eat it with sauces - some sweet sauce, some oil, some chilli. It was delicious. The vendor used her hands to take the beehoon though, but I put that out of my mind as I enjoyed the food - and promptly packed three tubes of baojiwan (some Chinese anti-food poisoning medicine that works like magic) when I met Pieter, Julian and his Burmese friend for our day trip.

But back to Friday. We saw the synagogue and some colonial buildings. It was basically very hot and insanely humid. We met Julian at the German embassy and he took us for lunch at a local place that he goes to. He recommended some Shan noodles:

It was actually really good but I stupidly added too much chilli without first trying it out for taste, so it was too spicy for me to finish in the end.

We visited the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Julian and Pieter at the entrance

Pieter and I had to buy sarongs to wear because I was in short shorts and his shorts didn't cover his knees.

It was hilarious. Pieter had difficulties walking and took these tiny, dainty steps that had Julian and I in stitches. Pieter is a good sport though; he didn't complain about it and took it in good stride.

Julian got in free on his diplomatic pass. I was very jealous.

The whole temple complex was actually quite gorgeous and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Okay, I'm too tired; can't write this anymore. I'll continue this another day.