Wednesday, February 24, 2016

the circle line

So i had a friend from berlin visiting Yangon and we were on the usual downtown tour of tasty shan noodles, followed by weird stinky chinatown markets, ending with fancy toilets and drinks at the Strand Hotel (good to have contrasts) when it was 3:30 and we were considering what to do with the remaining daylight hours. The options were poolbar, the bogyoke market (so that i can feed my fabric obsesssion and also get a shirt tailored - i bought one of these cool traditional chinese style shirts with round buttons assymmetrically down one side, but one of the buttons falls right on my nipple. Gotta fix that), when we instead started talking about the circle line - the vintage old train that puttputts around the city, it's supposed to be a cool way of sightseeing. So the problem with my friends who live here is that we're all just incredibly lazy. Whenever i bring something up to visit it's like, ohhh we have to go all the way there, why not just sit by the pool instead? So my berlin visitor was clearly a bit more ambitious with his 72 hours in Yangon.   
So we went for it - walked to the central train station and bought some water and beers and tickets for 20 cents. My friend was all nervous like, hurry up stop taking photos we're going to miss the train! And i was like, we're not catching the ICE, you know this is burma right? The train moves about as fast as you can walk, so you can always catch it. As he double and triple checked with everyone on the platform "is this is the right train? Is this it?" Clearly worried we could end up on a 29 hour trek to Mandalay.

all aboard the japanese train!
Unfortunately, this wasn't one of the wagons with all the open doors and big windows, but a recycled Japanese suburban train which despite being from the 60s was actually quite modern, and my brother will be pleased to note - still decades ahead of Amtrak or WMATA. I can only imagine what this was like back in the day and quite advanced. I liked the old school fans mounted on the ceilings which gave a nice fresh breeze and all the lights and knobs with japanese text. We found some green velour seats and waited for the scenery to pass by. Except for the small family of french people we were the only tourists. And you can imagine what the locals were thinking. It's like, here you are riding the same bus you ride everyday and a slew of chinese tourists get on and touch everything and take pictures of everybody. Though, if a chinese tourist is reading this and you want to get an amazing cultural experience in the USA - take any bus that rides from Benning road, washington DC down Florida avenue to Adams morgan. That will knock your socks off. If you don't get shot at, you will see a rich tapestry of modern american society at every wonderful stop. Anyway, I had to kneel up on my seat to reach the window to watch the world go by - people hanging out and sitting along the side of the tracks, flying kites along the rails, little solar panels set up on plastic chairs, houses with large communal kitchens, a string of auto shop shacks and all along the way, people pointing at my face - look! And waving. Even the conductors from passing trains. Really amazing. I hear you can go all the way out to rural areas where people live in huts, but as this thing really doesn't go that fast and it started filling up with folks carrying all these giant packages of rice and food and selling apples we decided to get out at one point. I don't even know where it was but it was a sort of deserted station, and on the other side all these fun kids pointing as us and showing off, i saw a baby with totally red hair and everyone just smiling.

We exited the station and it was this delightful pedestrian street market. Now i already know from chinatown that even when you think it's pedestrian it's not - the cars will go through but not here. There were lots of rickshaws though, and they have rigged these extremely loud bike bells that are in fact quite annoying but otherwise the market was totally pleasant. Not a single tourist in sight and everyone totally friendly and wanting to get their picture taken. I bought 10 huge eggplants for 25 cents. And he threw in an extra ear of corn and another 2 eggplant. These ain't no downtown prices. 

Everyone was just so wonderfully pleasant and fun and there was even a little breeze to slow the sweating.  and down one side street i saw a guy with 




Written on his ratty t-shirt. I pointed to it and said great shirt, bro, and he showed me the rest that was tucked into his longgi which read

baby face covered in thanaka

always collecting money for the buddha

happy veggies
they are obsessed with bike bells drrrrrrring!
eat shit fuck that's alll i do bro
Right on, man. His wife proudly presented their kids for photos too. Further down we saw a Hindu temple, one of those really complicated and colorful things with a giant gate with peacocks framing either side. Then we noticed everyone was very indian looking. We sat at a little cafe to drink a coke and this guy had a straight up tandoori oven and cooking fresh naan. he would flatten out of the balls of dough and slap them against the inside and they stuck and cooked and then brought them to us for 10 cents and it was so good i took some to go for sunday brunch. sitting in the taxi home (which cost about 1000 times more than the train) i realized we didn't even go a quarter of the way around the circle line but it was definitely a wonderful little excursion.
I guess the touris all stick to the same 4 points of interest listed in the lonely planet but it's totally mind boggling how much cool stuff there is to see in yangon without even trying so hard!