February 3rd 2017
Yangon is easy to fall in love with, and, yes, in less than 24 hours I am smitten. It is a walking city, as the whole population proves by spilling onto the crumbling sidewalks as soon as the sun goes down. Yangonis are swarthier and their resting face more stoic than the twinkly Thais, but in their long skirts and flip flops (men and women) they waft rather than walk. I feel cocooned rather than confronted, unlike Delhi, which it most closely resembles in terms of urban decay and the smell.
First order of business, crossing the street. Yangonis don’t hesitate to glide into six lanes of traffic (there are no crossings and few traffic lights) but I am still at the stumbling on the sidewalk stage so my strategy becomes to identify someone waiting to launch and then attach myself to their left shoulder. I am then tactfully herded to the other side. Since expressing my gratitude in Burmese would require deconstructing gender and social distinctions I can’t begin to fathom, and the tonality of the language, makes it unlikely I will ever say what I think I’m saying, I stick to a cheery ‘Thank you!! Though I have yet to see evidence of English or even the English alphabet, I am always rewarded with a quick twitch of the lips.
Next order of business, dinner. The night market snakes along the riverfront and into Chinatown for over a mile, stunningly illuminated with red lanterns in honor of New Year. The thousands of food stalls are packed elbow to elbow and, like most Yangonis it seems, I am set on barbecue.
There are two versions: In number one, 6-10 people sit in a circle around a wok. Skewers of esoteric organ meats are lined up and inexplicably, what seem to be whole eggs are bobbing in the hot oil. The competition ends when all the skewers are finished (it is OK to leave the kidneys). This isn’t going to work. Not only can no-one take the time to tell me what I’m eating but I’d likely be plopping myself into the midst of someone’s engagement party.
Number two causes less social anxiety. A cart is loaded down with skewers some I recognize (identifiable vegetables, hard boiled eggs) others I don’t quite (is it morning glory or lotus root, and what do either taste like?) generic meat, seafood and fish. In one case, enormous multicolored lobsters have collected quite an audience. I figure out the drill is to fill a plastic basket with the skewers of your choice, hand it to the grill master and then grab a plastic stool even if the rest of the table is related to each other. I randomly choose a stall where a huge number of families are eating staggering amounts of food. I choose myself broccoli, okra, two kinds of mystery fish balls, a normal looking kebab and a whole fish. The home brew seems a bridge too far and I settle for a Myanmar beer. It is simply stupendous and sets me back $8 with tip. I skip dessert and someone thankfully herds me back in the direction of the hotel.
It is pitch dark but the vegetable sellers still squatting on the street have illuminated their trays with candles.