Well, on the first morning of our time in Inle Lake, I was sick. My Lonely Planet guidebook says that 60% of people who visit Myanmar get tummy upset, and I did not escape that statistic. There was one nice benefit of being up a lot during the night. I got to see a most lovely sunrise. The sky was a robin’s egg blue, with lovely pink puffs of cotton clouds layered in the sky, and all this was reflected in the crystal clear water of the lake just outside our door. Beyond the boundary of the water was a long stretch of green marsh, then mountains on the near horizon. It was really lovely. Unfortunately, it was also cold, I didn’t know where the camera was, and I didn’t want to wake up David. I decided to wait until the next morning to get a picture, but the next morning my alarm clock failed to wake me in time. I missed the photo op! Oh well.
By the time Koh Zan arrived at 9 AM I was feeling better and very tempted to go along with the family, but it would have been risky since we were scheduled to spend all day in a longtail boat out visiting places on the lake. Thus, my family went to the famed floating market without me. I, instead, took both western medicine and also the traditional, tribal medicine that Koh Zan instructed me to drink. I thought to myself, "When in Burma, do as the Burmese do." The medicine was a bitter powder that one mixes with water or juice. I just put it in as small an amount of water as I could and gulped it down. I wasn’t sure that my tummy would accept it, but it did. Koh Zan later told me that it’s what one takes for "poison". He also gave me some electrolyte drink, but I wasn’t actually all that sick and didn’t feel I needed it. I just didn’t think I needed to take a chance of being out on the water a very long time.
The family really enjoyed seeing the floating market. They told me that it’s a primary social outlet. The market moves to a different village around the lake on each day, so once per week people come from all around that vicinity to sell their produce and fish, buy things, get their hair cut, or catch up on the gossip. David told me that the ground around the hair dresser chair was thick with black hair. It has a reputation of having become touristy, and David says it is touristy if you only stay on the outside, but if you go inside the market, past the tourists, it becomes more local in flavor. David also bargained for a couple of little items — a silver necklace for Munchkin and something else to surprise Sarah later. The prices there were better than any we could negotiate later during the week.
I would put photos to go with this blog entry, but I’m afraid they are making the blog really bulky to load overall. Therefore, I’ll create a separate photo album just called "Inle Lake" and you can look at the photos there. I think in that way the blog loads much easier.
At lunchtime, my family came back to get me. The rode in the boat just over an hour, and disrupted their itinerary for the day to do this. I felt pretty bad about that. But I was surely grateful to be out in the boat, on the water, under the sunny, blue sky. The sky was just so wonderful, and the weather so perfect. We wore sunscreen and got a bit burned even with that, but it was nice just to see sunshine again after living for so long in the grey skies of a polluted city.
We went for lunch to a restaurant alongside the lake, and then to a shop where a family of silversmiths were making jewelry. They demonstrated the method they used of heating the silver over a hot fire, then pouring, pounding, and finally working it into intricate jewelry. I was amazed at the intricacy of some of the designs and chains. Clarissa got a little silver necklace with matching earrings, which she really loves. It’s her main souvenir from Myanmar. There were happy children playing games outside, and David tried to get a picture of them, but as soon as they saw him taking their picture they became more interested in him than in playing their game. Too bad.
One thing that struck me about Myanmar is how happy the children seemed, in general. I saw a lot of children playing. As Beatrix Potter described Tom Kitten, Mittens and Moppet, they were "playing in the dust." We saw many children playing in their dusty yards, with very little in the way of toys, but playing happy games with each other and having fun. Likewise, we saw many games of soccer (football) and volleyball being played among the teens. As we passed by many schools during our trip, with children studying in them, we asked our guide about them in each place. He said there was universal public education. Another notable thing I will mention is that I did not see children with the malnutrition symptoms of marasmus or kwashorikor. I’ve read that one child in six in Myanmar does not reach her sixth birthday. I’ve read that counterfeit drugs are prevalent and that there is lack of access to adequate medical care. I realize that I only saw one side of four distinctly touristed locations in Myanmar. However, we had no difficulty gaining access to medicine. Another notable thing was that I saw many, many women breastfeeding their babies. What a lovely sight and hopefully indicative of / conducive to maternal and infant health.
But on with our journey.
After leaving the silversmith shop, we went to a shop staffed by "long necks" (the Pa-O tribe?). These women begin putting copper coils around their neck at puberty. They say the neck doesn’t get longer, but actually the shoulders get pushed down more and more. The appearance is of a very long neck. At first I felt a bit awkward going to this place, because it seems as if tourists go there to gawk at them, but then I realized that they don’t feel this way at all about it. This is their culture, and they are happy to share just as I enjoy sharing my culture. In the end, two women offered to pose with us for photos, and we accepted. The lady in the photo with us, the one I have my hand touching, is 65 years old. She showed me the copper foils and how heavy they are, and let my children handle some of them. The legend behind the origin of people lengthening their necks this way goes thus: there once was an emperor (or king?) who went around the kingdom choosing brides from among all the most beautiful young women in his kingdom. One man couldn’t bear the thought of losing his beautiful daughter to the king, and so he put this copper foils around her neck to make her appear odd. Sure enough, the king passed her over. Thereafter, this habit was adopted by all the people in the village. These people were the Pa-O people. Interesting story. When we asked the young girls why they chose to wear the jewelry, they said because it was their custom and because it was beautiful. They also wear copper foil jewelry around the tops of their calves, along with a distinctive dress. During our time at Inle Lake, we saw members of this tribe at various locations going about their daily business. In Myanmar, people mostly dress in whatever distinctive tribal dress they prefer.
Well, my family had spent an hour going to get me, and then an hour getting back to where they were. There wasn’t much more time left in the day before sunset. We headed back to the hotel, very much realizing that we were a captive audience for their restaurant food. Fortunately it wasn’t too bad. The main irksome point was that they stated prices in U.S. Dollars but we didn’t have any U.S. Dollars, having exchanged them all for Kyet, and they gave an "exchange rate" of Kyet to Dollars that was about 10% less than what we had gotten in Yangon. Other than this little sleight of hand, we were happy with our hotel. The service and staff at all of our hotels in Myanmar was excellent.
For dinner that night, we abided by the lessons learned the night before. I refrained from eating the tomato salad (I was told this was likely to be what made me sick, because the tomatoes had not been peeled). Munchkin refrained from ordering spaghetti bolognaise (her favorite, but she learned the night before that it was awful at this restaurant). We enjoyed sharing fried rice, a fresh fish, and the local specialty, vermicelli in soup, finished off by some fresh fruit. Then it was grab your hot shower while the water is still hot and get in the bed before the electricity goes out. From the night before, I had learned that I would need both blankets on my bed. I nestled in and slept very well, but not until first admiring the stars on the clear, moonless night.