We end up staying five days in Yangon, happy to walk around the city and adjust to a new place and a new pace. There's a faded charm about the old city centre. Clapped-out crowded buses tear down the dusty streets, the broken pot-holed pavements are alive with bustling food and clothing stalls. There are trees everywhere and tea-shops cluster around huge banyan trees offering welcome shade. We are immediately reminded of India and Sri Lanka. There are paan sellers everywhere and blotches of red spittle cover the ground. Maybe ninety per cent of the men are wearing longyis, and the women also with fitted blouses. Dotted around are old colonial buildings, remnants of the British occupation. Side streets are lined with mildewed concrete appartment blocks, washing is hanging everywhere. Oh and there are plenty of Indians here too in Yangon - descendants of immigrants who turned up with the British to build and run the railway, to trade or to work in the administration. We read that in the 1920's there were more Indians than Burmese in Rangoon, as it was called, and it's not hard to imagine.
lives, or is it dead?
Christmas Day is a low-key affair for us. We have superb biriyani for lunch and then go in search of a decent internet connection to phone home. In an undeveloped country where the internet is restricted by the government and the electricity supply is erratic, we're not too hopeful. Sure enough, our phone calls home are full of empty pauses and swallowed sentences - all very frustrating. In the evening we find a cheerful 'beer station' selling draught stout. Gayle prefers a glass of Shiraz, but they've none in. We join the patrons sitting on toy plastic chairs at toy plastic tables - like furniture borrowed from a kindergarten - spread out across the pavement. There's a nice atmosphere in the cool of the evening, and Christmas turns out to be rather merry after all.