I love this place…unless it kills me.

I have no pictures of it. The alley was too dark, and the only time I could see the piles of garbage rotting in the eternal puddles was when cars would drive by, their headlights shining straight into my eyes where I sat on a child’s tiny plastic chair.

The streets are lined with vendors like this.

The streets are lined with vendors like this.

I am in Rangoon, Burma, which is all grown up into Yangon, Myanmar. It is nothing like anywhere else I’ve ever been. Taking Kathmandu and adding large spoonfuls of Guatemala is a good start, but not the whole recipe.Ā Off limits to tourists for a long time, they are just starting to tap into the mana stream that is tourism. They seem impressed with the number of tourists they get now, and hotel prices have spiked relatively sky-high as a result, which I normally wouldn’t complain about here, but there’s another feature about Myanmar I didn’t know until right before I came.

 

Apparently you can’t use your bank card here. Foreign cards are not accepted.

This means you have to bring your US dollars with you. Good thing I was more prepped for dollar usage on this trip than previously, but I still had to withdraw a stack of rupees in Sri Lanka then change them into dollars at the airport. That was fun, walking across Colombo with a phat wad of cash in my pocket.

Once you’re here you have to find a black market changer on the street, since the banks give you a crap rate. So I got to change that wad of rupees for a slimmer wad of dollars, which I converted on the street into a ludicrously large roll of Burmese kyat.

Ludicrously large. If I wore it in my money belt I would look pregnant.

So now I have what I have, and can’t get more. That’s why I walked around in the rain for nearly an hour when I got here, looking for the cheapest place that didn’t look likely to give me leprosy. I found a place for $10 a night that will only give me cholera, so I count it a victory

But the street food is still priced for locals, so that’s what I eat.

 

And it’s amazing.

 

The first thing I had was a fried banana for $0.10 and two weird fried-corn things that looked like either peanut-butter-brittle or dog barf, depending on your frame of reference. $0.15 for each dog barf.

A miso-based soup of well-boiled noodles that was sweet even before she added condensed milk.

Samosas chopped into pieces and served with a thin lentil gravy, with shredded cabbage, yellow radish, fried chickpeas, and mint leaves going off like bombs every now and then.

For about $0.30 various people have grabbed handfuls of noodles, tossed on chili powder, an assortment of mysterious red sauces, and sliced fried tofu with scissors into a bowl which they then stirred with their bare hands. Frickin delicious.

I had basically the same meal for lunch.

I had basically the same meal for lunch.

 

Dinner just now, back in the unlit alley where stray dogs nosed around and a guy stopped to pee across the street from my tiny table, I had a bowl of rice with a few pieces of pork, more than half of which were pure giggly yellow fat. It came with a small bowl of fish & vegetable soup, a plate of bizarre veggies, and as always, there were thermoses of tea to pour into the tiny cups which sit in a bowl of water on each table, the only washing they get between customers. $0.60.

The vegetables included leaves like spinach on steroids that were somehow spicy, pieces of cucumber as translators, and things that looked like pickles but tasted like… Okay, imagine there was a Russian vegan with a fridge full of hardcore Russian vegetables. This Russian lives next to Chernobyl. Chernobyl is as Chernobyl does, and soon you have a squishy vegetable monster that oozes up through the shower drain to attack you. Chop off one of it’s slimy fingers, and that’s what the pickle-things tasted like.

There was a dressing for the veggies, but it tasted the way the gutter outside a fish market smells, so one try was enough, I had the rest of my vegetables and monster fingers naked.

People speak less English here than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and ordering consisted of pointing and nodding. The owner guy was gruff and unsure about me at first, but once I’d cleaned every dish I seemed to win his approval.

He smiled at me from around the cigarette he was puffing on while he cooked up the next batch and I think his gestures were an invitation to come back tomorrow.

 

I think I love this place. As long as the street meat doesn’t kill me.