Pyin U Lwin: Riding Shotgun

Pyin U Lwin, Shan State


Sunday January 16, 2005


Dear Family and Friends,

This morning I am having a hot cup of real coffee.

Most of the coffee in Myanmar has been "Coffee Mix." A packet of instant coffee, sugar and powdered milk. Just add hot water.

Thankfully, coffee is grown in the hills nearby. Pyin U Lwin, an old British "hill station" in the mountains is just 67 kilometers east of Mandalay.

And hot is what I need. This morning I could see my breath! Man, it's cold. Osama was good enough to make some vegetable soup for breakfast. I dined out in the sun, with several layers of clothing. I remembered to bring along my scarf and hat, but I neglected to bring my woolen gloves. Why in the world did I pack them if not for mornings like this?


Mandalay: "The River Cruise"



January 11, 2005


Dear Family and Friends,

Today was a day for a quiet stroll. After breakfast at the hotel, I strolled over to the main market - three floors of dozens of small stalls selling dry goods, and clothing and cosmetics, house wares and electronics.v I bought a small piece of red and gold threaded floral design fabric to add to my collection. Next I strolled out to the street for a coffee under the clock tower.

Then I strolled towards Strand Street which could only mean the The River. The guidebook says, "There is always something happening there." Mandalay is very spread out so I strolled about half way and hailed a tri-shaw.

Mandalay: Mandalay Hill, the Royal Palace

January 18, 2005


I did not take The 'Road' to Mandalay. The distances are long; the pavement uncertain; the bus and train schedules, uneven. The flights are short, on time and the service personnel. . . .

I arrived in Mandalay, set out on my stroll, and soon asked myself, "Jan, what the hell are you doing here?" Dusty, noisy, unattractive city streets. Can't find a decent restaurant. Then I remembered, "Jan, this is Asia. Patience. Patience."

I hired a taxi.

I love Mandalay.


Nyaung Shwe: Bike Ride to the Hot Spring

Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar


January 8, 2004


Nyaung Shwe Dear Family and Friends,

Yes. You read the title of this piece correctly. A Bike - as in Bicycle - Ride. I was persuaded by the hotel staff that a trip to the Hot Spring would be a pleasant activity for the day. Since I was planning a rest today anyway, as I anticipated a travel day tomorrow, I agreed to a test drive.

Given my recent history, I approached this event with reluctance and apprehension.

Inle Lake: "White Socks, Jumping Cats"

January  15, 2005


From Yangon I flew north to Heho, purportedly the smallest commercial landing strip in the world; taxi to Nyaungshwe to visit Inle Lake.

Nyaungshwe. A busy little town with several shrines, monasteries and stupas to climb. I chanced upon a workshop - women weaving bamboo mats. And the staff at my hotel were the most hospitable, generous, gentle: "More tea, sir? More tea, sir?" And local food specialties so delicious I dare not describe.

Impressions: "A Bouquet in My Boat"

January 14, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

"Min gala ba" . . . Hello, I could begin my long letter

THIS WAY: "Jan, an American man, is sitting with Nori, his wife, Nana, and their friend Yumi, all from Japan; and Lorenzo, from Switzerland. We are watching a young waitress debone a Peking Duck in the Western Park Chinese Restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar."

OR THIS WAY: "I am sitting at a small café at a busy intersection of downtown Yangon (Rangoon), dizzy from the dust and the teeming traffic, munching on breaded, deep-fried greens (don't ask) and washing down my oily snack with an energy-boosting glass of juice, freshly squeezed from a stick of sugar cane. Add a splash of fresh lime."


"I am eating an Indian dinner across the street from The Unity Hotel in Mandalay: Chapati, freshly kneaded, rolled, and grilled by an assembly line of men and women, chicken curry, potato curry and Chinese tea."