My new old traveling partner

Nyaung U market 04I was insanely lucky that traveling with K was not only doable, but actually an upgrade. It’s a rare thing to find a travel partner who doesn’t drive you crazy. On this trip I’ve had a very different partner. I just don’t understand him sometimes! At first he was so undemanding, taking whatever came along without any complaints. “It’s so hot, I’m just going to relax, you choose what we do” he’d say.

We’d have breakfast, then exist in companionable silence all day until dinner. Through Turkey, Israel, and most of Sri Lanka, that was how we worked.
What changed? I don’t know. But in Myanmar, suddenly two meals a day isn’t enough, and he’s grumbling for lunch despite the stifling heat.

Sometimes it’s hard to travel with one’s stomach.

The first day in Bagan, 250 degrees, and he wants lunch. Are you crazy? But he was petulantly persistent, so we got back on the bike we’d rented for the day and pedaled down to the market in search of street food.

Nyaung U market 06Tarps shaded the narrow alleys where goods cluttered tables and hung on strings in air so still and hot it seemed ready to preserve our bodies for future generations. There were stalls for tourists and stalls for locals, but no customers of either type. Women slept in low sling chairs with their fans over their faces, squatted behind stacks of spices and chili peppers, or sat at old metal sewing machines, no mistakes nor pauses in the rhythmic pumping of their bare brown feet on the platform foot pedals.

Burmese people don’t seem to eat lunch though, so there were no wood fires lit below the woks which had cooked so many meals for me. A helpful lady accepted that I didn’t need another pair of shoes and pointed me towards the restaurant. Inside, the tables and chairs were pushed to the sides so the dozen bare-chested men in skirt-like longyi could play some sort of gambling game on the ground.

They were startled to see me. No food, sorry. Try next door.

Nyaung U market 01Next door looked empty, but a woman in the back doorway gestured me forward into the covered kitchen area at the back. It felt like a long-term campsite, rays of sun coming through the high roof of rough boards onto the dirt floor far below, where half a dozen women were preparing for the night, shredding carrots, scrubbing pans, and cleaning out the fire pits. They were startled to see me too, but agreed to my “food?” gesture with nods and an inviting hand sweep to an empty table.

I sat. They looked at me. I looked back, smiled. They smiled. I kept sitting. They kept looking. We smiled some more.

The elderly matron snapped something in Burmese and the youngest girl dragged over a big stand fan and set it blowing straight at me. I was ready to propose marriage. Either one, I didn’t care. I’ll take the fan as a dowry.

A woman over by the sink started holding up produce, and my smile was largest for the tomato. Tomato salad it is.

Nyaung U market 05But they weren’t going to let me off that easy. The salad came, tasty with a tangy sauce and soft noodles. And a plate of rice. A bowl of cucumber pieces, then one of raw cabbage bites. They love their fish sauce in Myanmar, so next was a bowl of super-fishy soup. Then a super-fishy paste. Then another fishy sauce. Fish sauce dishes smell like the gutter outside the fish market at closing time, and taste worse. I tried a bit of the sauce on some cabbage and barely hid my gag. What now?

Smile at the cook. She smiles back. Set the fish sauces slightly aside. Hope they believe the explanation that it’s too hot out to eat soup. Eat the salad, cucumber, and cabbage. As always, evaluate the meal in terms of what a certain vegetarian could eat.

The stomach was feeling appeased after the tomato salad, but apparently my thoughts are a bad influence, and he was complaining again at the end.

Apparently I’m traveling with a stomach and a brain. We all got along better before.