Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Shopping in Myanmar

Two markets in one day, equal to about three hours of shopping. I think that for most people that was pretty good. We started the morning by going to Keng Tiong’s morning market. Fortunately, they had left the generator running all night, so we were able to shower with the lights on in the morning! Breakfast at the hotel involved the most elaborate and symmetrically laid out drinks and food that I have ever seen. Everyone who arrived early took a photo of it before we messed it up by taking our juice classes (guava or passion fruit).

The market was already abuzz when we arrived. We saw the first non-Asian’s there since our arrival in Jinghong (China). They were a group of about four with a guide. We changed Chinese currencies to Myanmar Kyats (pronounced “Chiats”), at K1100 to Y100 (which is about US$12.50). It was a large and interesting market, with just enough ethnic clothing, bags and other items to keep our tour group happily shopping away. By the end I had decided to just hang out near one of the entrances and take photos of the locals in their colorfully dressed ethnic clothing. We stayed there for about 1.5 hours, but most of us could have easily stayed longer – shopping there turned out to be a lot of fun! Other than photos and Kyats, I got a map of Burma for myself.

From the market we made the three hour drive to the border town of Tachilek, passing rice paddies, mountains, toll booths, and road checks along the way. The largest road checks were going out of Keng Tung and entering Tachilek. We also passed through Special Region 2, which is another autonomous region – with the strongest military and a very strong economy (according to our guide). It was a long drive Tachilek and the mountains through which we drive slowly got smaller and smaller as we approached the river plains of northern Thailand.

After lunch and checking in to our Tachilek hotel, we were taken to the Tachilek Market, which is located adjacent to the bridge that connects Myanmar to Thailand. We were let out just next to that bridge and were able to take many photos of the river and border area. Tomorrow we will walk across the bridge to get a new bus, bus driver and guide. I did not like the Tachilek Market nearly as much as the Keng Tung Market. I was constantly swatting away people trying to cell me cigarettes (mostly local brands repackaged in western brand boxes), porn VCD/DVDs, and a variety of trinkets that I did not want.

The selection of ethnic clothing was about the same as in Keng Tung and the preces were about the same, except that everything here was in Thai Bhat – the preferred currency over Kyats. Apparently the Thai Bhat is seen as a stronger currency here than the Kyats, just as the Chinese RMB Yuan is considered the stronger and preferred currency in the north. On the bus I read about crossing into Myanmar from Thailand in Thor’s lonely planet guidebook, which was published in 2002 and described a highly regulated currency situation in Myanmar in which foreigners were required to buy and use “foreign exchange certificates” instead of local money (a scheme that China used until the sometime in the 1990s). That is not seem the case today (except that Dallen says that the official online exchange rate is 6 Kyats to US$). At least in the border areas, Myanmar appears to have opened up to its neighbors in a big way.

After circling the market twice and not seeing much (though we did get my daughter a Golden Triangle t-shirt, and a dragon and phoenix collared shirt for my son, plus a DVD and music CD for them), we wandered away from the market and on to the streets. There we found a place that sold Myanmar license plates, which w thought would be a good gift for a friend of my kids who collects license plates. We learned that not only does this fellow sell the plates, but he makes them, too – and he can place any number on them that we might want. We ended up getting two motorcycle plates that say, in Burmese, “Tachilek” and the month and day of the friend and my daughter’s birthdays. This was a truly unique souvenir, as we watched (and photographed) the young man as he pounded the Burmese numbers and painted them with great precision!

After the market we boarded the bus and our driver decided to turn the bus around on an incredibly narrow and slightly slanted road. Personally, I thought he would never make it! A pick up truck full of soldiers was stopped as he jerked the bus forward inching his way around. I thought for sure we were going to get busted when one of them came over – though it ended up that he was just trying to help along with another person. We did make it, however, resulting in a big round of applause from all of us.

Because we did not eat lunch until about 1:30pm (due to extra shopping time in Keng Tung), we decided to delay our dinner at the hotel until 7:30pm (Myanmar time, which is 1.5 hours ahead of China, and .5 hours ahead of Thailand). After the market we went to see a performance by Akka and Paduang (long-necked) women. The site was on a hill leading up to the Regina Golf Resort, and was owned by the resort. The performers lived in thatched houses, similar to what they would occupy in the home villages. The wome were colorfully dressed (theAkka, or Aini, in black with colorful beads, and the Paduang in white with the gold neck rings. One Paduang woman did not have the rings, but still had a long neck from wearing them in the past.

The willingly posed for us, allowing us all to get pictures of them, and pictures of each other taking pictures of them (for tourism teaching purposes -- as the tourists also became an attraction). The dances were performed on a very simple outdoor stage, with each group doing two songs/dances. The small children then posed for photos (for a small fee) with some of our group. We bought a shoulder back here that had a made in Myanmar label, written in Burmese. There were a few men in the “village”, but they were not in traditional dress, and there were some other women who were also not in traditional dress.

After the dances, we went to the nearby Tachilek Shwedegung (SP?) Pagoda – a smaller replica of the famous Shwedegung (SP?) Pagoda in Yangong (Rangoon). There, I paid 50 Bhat for a basket containing small birds which we would release as an offering. China had the honors of undoing the basket while I video taped it using my digital camera. Later, Tina cam over asking how to release her two birds. Her basket was different, with only a round opening at the top. As I was holding it trying to figure it out, one of the birds popped out of the opening and flew away – much to our surprise. The other soon follow.

The view from the pagoda was quite spectacular, as it overlooked the city below. In addition, the stamp and postcard collectors in our group were finally able to purchase stamps and postcard – neither of which were we able to find anywhere else in Burma! Perhaps some little birds help bring their wishes to fruition!

In the photo below a youne Bhuddist nun receive an ear of steamed corn in her begging bowl. After this photo I gave her some Kyats and she said a short prayer for me.


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