Today Virginia and I went to the pharmacy for the kids’ medicine, and did a little more shopping before retiring for lunch in the home of Jonathan’s sister. She lives in the middle of town, in her husband’s family’s old electrical shop. The shop no longer operates but she has a business making mango pickles. They are sold all over town. I think mango pickles are a uniquely Burmese thing, but I can’t be sure. It is different than mango chutney from India: tart and tangy and sweet. I was the first foreigner to her house and she was nervous, but she is a great cook and she was delighted that I scarfed down everything, including my fair share of mango pickles!
During my visit I learned more about the backgrounds of Jonathan and Virginia. Like my father, they come from a mixed background. Virginia’s father was ½ Shan and ½ British – just like my father. Her mother was ½ Karen (another Burmese tribe) and ½ Sinolese. Jonathan’s father was Burmese, English and Indian and his mother was ½ Shan and ½ English. The stories about War World II (just “the war”) are fascinating. I think in sharing our stories we felt an affinity – even though we grew up in different worlds, we do have something in common (besides our love for orphans!)
On my way back to the hotel we stopped to load up on dahl fritters and Burmese-style eggrolls for the kids’ special dinner treat. 60 pieces for $3.60 – you can’t beat it. So some things are the same here – cheap, excellent food. But I got the shock of my life today when I actually pulled money out of an ATM. Virginia was laughing at me because I was absolutely flabbergasted. This is new since February. Gone are the days of carrying in all the money you need in crisp $100 bills. Even a small fold on the corner would cause a money changer to reject the bill (still does). It’s a pain, and I always feared not having enough so I would bring heaps of cash – not the best practice for third world traveling. But that’s done. Another one of the quirks of entering Myanmar is gone.
I had already been a bit shocked this trip when I turned on my cell phone and had 4 bars. It didn’t work in February here. But in the far west, delta region of the country I was receiving text messages on my birthday over the cell network. A far cry from 2008 when entering the country equated radio silence until you emerged. (I didn’t even mention that in February we discovered wi-fi everywhere, in cafes, guesthouses and public spaces. Also, I was able to use Mastercard many places I couldn’t before).
So the roads are still lousy – even the new one linking Yangon and Mandalay – and the traffic in Yangon has gone from bad to standstill, but it is getting easier.
Time for the rest of you to visit!