2015
06.02

DALAH

About village life in Dalah, across the Yangon River.  Getting to know the area via trishaw.  About a fishing village, a market, a cemetery and some funerary rites.  About poverty and wealth.  About business manners. 

I am not known to be a wide-hipped woman, in fact, quite the opposite.  But as everything else, hip sizes are relative.  Today I crossed the Yangon River on a local ferry and found out about that when I hired a trishaw for sightseeing.

A trishaw is a man-powered bicycle with a side cart attached to it.  On the cart there is a front and back area divided by a wooden board, typically used for a person and cargo but also usable for two people or cargo only.  The change is done by the simple addition of a cushion.  When I finished the day after a few hours in a trishaw I was bruised black and blue from climbing out of and squeezing into the tiny seat which according to Western sizing at best is fit for a child.  Yet… I have seen monks, mothers, old and young in these seats.  Either those trishaws come in different sizes or it just goes to show how petit the Myanmar really are.

The ferry ride is an experience in and of itself.  As one man on the boat told me, after the disastrous typhoon struck in 2008, one of the worst natural disasters ever hitting Myanmar, the area south of Yangon was hardest hit.  People lost everything, from housing to boats to infrastructure.  The Japanese donated two large ferry boats, which since then have carried local passengers across the river for nearly free.  Foreigners pay $4 for the ride which is more than some people can earn in a day…

The ferry boat is like a little market filled not only with travelers but with merchants who loudly and frantically offer their wares.  They have exactly 15 minutes to strike a deal, then the ride is over and the excitement starts anew with a fresh load of people.  You can buy anything from hats to T-shirts, from post cards to chewing gum.  The noise that goes with it is deafening.  And if I can manage it, I will insert a short video clip here for you to see:

I was apparently the only foreigner on the boat, quickly joined by a young man who started to talk to me in English.  What was I going to do “over there”.  Well, truth be told, I had not given it much thought.  I was going to “explore”.  But as it turned out, things are not exactly in walking distance unless I have all day.  So, the young man hired himself out to be my trishaw driver as it just so happened that he had one available.  😉  I have to hand it to him — he knows where to look for work.  He reminded me of the vendors who just happen to have raincoats for sale when unprepared people loaded the truck to go up to the Golden Rock or of the drivers who are right at the hotel where tourists will be looking for a ride.  Clever and a win-win situation for all parties involved.

We agreed on price per hour and took off.

I have not seen outright poverty in Yangon of the sort I had expected in Myanmar.  Yangon is a major city, people have apartments some have mansions, many seem to have work, there are cars and buses, some of them run down, others rather fancy.  It is a city like any other in the developing world.  I have not seen a lot of beggars either, except a few at the large pagodas.  But there are some homeless people and you will see them near the train station or in parks.

Today, I saw the other side of this world.   There were straw and bamboo huts in these villages that would suffice at best as animal sheds.  Some people seemed so poor that even to obtain bamboo was too expensive. Their tiny huts were pieced together from an eclectic range of materials including cardboard, corrugated metal scraps, or discarded billboards.  Yet not far from these shelters you could find brightly painted two-storied houses poured out of concrete, and lined by shiny metal fences. There does not seem to be a class segregation of the sort we are used to in the States.

Here as in Mawlamyine, religious buildings of all the major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity) can be found.  The ones constructed out of stone had mostly survived the typhoon, but one Hindu temple brought it home how poor this area is, as it was entirely constructed out of corrugated metal and looked more like a shed than a house of worship.

Yet no matter how poor people were, they welcomed me, the Queen of Sheba being driven around in a trishaw to look at their world.   Kids waved enthusiastically, adults greeted me with big smiles.  I can’t tell you how uncomfortable I feel in a situation like this.

We passed a cemetery.  A huge chimney is the center of operations.  When wood and an incinerator are available, cremation is practiced.  But the burial of bodies is also acceptable as a row of full-sized graves attested to.  We passed a house in which a  person recently had died.  Dozens of seated people filled the house.  In front of the house stood a little cart with a loudspeaker which seemed to alert the people in the vicinity of the event.  The funerary procession would happen within hours.  When we passed by it again on the way back, several people lined the way shaking alms bowls accepting donations.   My guide’s English was not good enough to explain much about these rituals to me, but up to a point they were quite self-explanatory.

When our round came to an end, my guide declared this a four hour trip.  I might not have a watch, but I do have a camera that keeps time.  I rolled back to the last photo I took off the ferry boat and the last one I had just taken a minute earlier and counted out time for him.  It was military time counting out 24 hours/day and he claimed not to understand that…  The price he had quoted me per hour was a steep price.  I knew that and had agreed to it.  But I was not being tricked into believing that we just had spent twice as much time than we actually had.  And so we parted, I think, each a bit disappointed.  Bargaining is part of this culture.  So far, cheating is not.  I hope that the increasing number of tourists who can quite literally be taken for a ride, will not change that.

Good night.