I sort of passed out on our second day in Yangon. After a morning spent at the dazzling inferno of Shwe Dagon Pagoda and lunch overlooking Karaweik Floating Barge on Kandawgyi Lake, I suddenly felt incredibly unwell. Here we go, I thought, mentally preparing myself for the bout of dysentry I’d been expecting as inevitable ever since my first meal in Asia. I made it back to the hotel where to the casual onlooker I fell asleep, but it was the kind of falling asleep that you have no power over at all, the kind that is just a little too sudden, the kind that makes it look as though you’re not breathing. It reached 41 degrees that day.
I woke up after the sun had gone down and lay in my bunk watching the neon glow from the street outside paint the walls in flashes of pink, green and red. I listened to the lullaby chanting from the Hindu temple next door for what felt like a long time and wonderd if it was tomorrow yet.
‘Get ready’, he said, from the upper bunk, ‘we’re going to Chinatown’.
Does every city in the world have a Chinatown?
The taxi driver drove ‘Yangon style’ using his horn as punctuation. ‘The government is very stupid’ he said. So much for not talking about politics in Myanmar as the Lonely Planet guide suggests. ‘Myanmar men are lazy’, he went on, ‘I am Muslim, I have lived here my whole life’. We nod politely wondering if he has a point and hoping he doesn’t get to it.
We met with three Myanmar girls, friends of a friend and ate at a crowded street cafe where you pick your raw food from a cabinet outside. There was barely room to pull out the plastic chair from under the plastic table and sit down, but the beer was flowing, the company was full of fun and I was famished. We ate dried fish and salted nuts bought from child sellers walking by, grilled fish and chicken from the cabinet with stir fried vegetables laced with chilli and steamed rice.
After drinking more beer than was wise in this stifling climate, our hosts bundled us into another taxi and we ended up at a club night at the French Embassy. All the beautiful young embassy employees of the world seemed to be gathered here, to drink and dance under strobe lights in the gardens of this austere government building. In the queue for the toilets we were quizzed about which embassy we worked for. ‘The Polish Embassy’ our friend said without hesitation. He is Polish at least.
We drank the free but warm beer until it ran out and danced to Rihanna barefoot on the grass, the girls from Myanmar singing out every word to every song.