The Moped Diaries with S Sorrensen
On one hand, Yangon is my type of town.
The Myanmar people wear longyis - a type of sarong. I am a great fan and wearer of sarongs and to come to this sophisticated city and see that the longyi rules over trousers, pre-aged jeans, skirts, cut-off denim pants and cargo shorts is a beautiful thing. I'm in un-panted heaven; no-trouser nirvana. Couture-wise, I have been looking for this city all my life.
The men look elegant in their business shirts, longyi and thongs as they sit in a teashop sipping tea and smoking a cigarette that billboards show promotes health and sexual contentment. The women move gracefully, their longyis swaying to that swinging, splay-footed, Asian gait.
The longyi becomes a sheet covering mother and child sleeping the night in a shop doorway. It is a mini-tent sheltering a drug-addled man shivering in the monsoonal heat.
Longyis are even part of school uniforms.
It's hot and humid here and the longyi keeps you cool and comfortable.
I know this because today I wandered into a street market, found a longyi-selling man and bought one. He showed me how to tie it. The men tie the longyi with a tassel protruding at the front (that is so man-like); the women keep theirs flat-fronted.
I'm not sure whether the locals wear anything under their longyis but I saw a teenage boy with Tommy Hilfiger undies showing above his longyi. He may be wearing undies as a modern fashion statement, but lacking further information and having been trained in the hippie way of the sarong, I'm not committed to the undergarment...
Not that it matters right now. I'm wearing my longyi not in public but in my hotel room in central Yangon. When I say hotel room, I mean a concrete box with a bed and an air conditioner that I fixed.
(Air conditioner units in cheap Asian accommodation do not get maintained. The air filters get filled with dirt and the air conditioner becomes emphysemic. What I have learned to do is this: Take the front of the air con off, remove the filters, take them to the toilet and spray them hard with the bidet hose. Replace. The air con's performance will improve dramatically.)
My longyi is cool and comfortable for sure, but I'm as sick as a three-legged Burmese cat with mange and am lying sweating on my bed. (Despite the aircon.) Something I ate no doubt. That's understandable. This town has some of the best eating I have ever come across. No wonder Buddha is fat.
But in my gluttonous euphoria I may have accidentally eaten something dodgy. (Maybe the deep-fried savoury doughnut...) So now, while my travelling companions are out exploring this old city with its mouldy buildings (decaying reminders of a dead English empire) and its mixed population of Burmese, Indians, Chinese, and dozens of ethnic groups; of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, I'm lying on a bed harder than a rifle-toting soldier's expression, listening to the call to prayer from a nearby mosque, drinking Chinese green tea and throwing up in the bathroom.
I love travel.
On the other hand, Yangon has a serious downside.
Motorcycles were banned from this city by the generals a few years ago. Incredible - an Asian city without motos. Consequently, the streets are gridlocked, parking is available in Thailand, the buses are packed like sardine tins and I'm doing a lot of walking in this most exciting, cosmopolitan and tough town.
Or I will be when I recover...
PS: I later discovered the cause of my illness. Betel nut must be chewed and spat, NOT swallowed.