|While having breakfast outside we were joined by Thura Naing, a local young guide, who spoke very good English. He chatted with us and wanted to guide us through the area. He had a lot of energy and was keen. He suggested that we take our bikes, while he would follow us on his scooter. The scooter part didn't really appeal to us, but we agreed to meet him for lunch later that day to discuss other possibilities.
We went to check out the town street market. Judging by people's reaction to us, they see very few foreigners. The town wasn't lacking in tea shops, which was just the thing we were seeking. We decided on one right away, as it had some cute tables and chairs outside. It turned out to be a great choice, as we had an unobstructed view of a festival parade happening on the street. Tonnes of school children, dressed in white and green uniforms, marched alongside brightly decorated bicycles and trishaws displaying donations for the local monks and monasteries. Right before it started, we saw a couple of very young novice monks, checking out movies playing at the local cinema across the street. The young boys working at the tea shop were watching the parade with uninhibited enthusiasm, as were many patrons.
Meeting Thura at another tea shop gave us the opportunity to sample a tasty pickled tea leaf salad. We talked about possible ways we could take through the mountains and some of the villages we could reach on the way. Since Thura didn't have a proper mountain bike, we had to settle on him taking a scooter - a little strange, but could be fun, we thought. We ended up having lunch at a local Shan restaurant which consisted of a mustard leaf dish, vermicelli noodles in a sour tamarind sauce and raw peppermint leaves, rice noodles in a spicy tomato sauce, as well as a hot and sour soup with a dark, herbal flavour, and mushrooms. Not only was the food excellent, but we ended up paying a local's price for it, thanks to Thura. For a split second, we felt like locals.
Later Thura took us to a little shop/someone's living room for some local rice beer. The owner came out of her bedroom, looking disheveled. The beer was cloudy, with white residue, and quite sweet. Myles learned the hard way how fizzy the beer gets while attempting to open a bottle. While we were sitting there, drinking our rice beer, and chatting about the 'lady', prohibitively expensive phone lines, government censorship and paranoia, and the somewhat pathetic state of the education system in Myanmar, the owner was sitting outside on a bench reading local comics (very popular in Myanmar).
We learned that sending anything from Myanmar, if you are a local, is futile. Mail coming in is routinely opened and tampered with. There is often a sticker on letters and packages that you receive apologizing for the 'unforeseen damages'. The internet is heavily controlled, and certain sites are completely blocked. You can purchase an email account from the government if you can handle the cost, and don't mind having your sent mail proof-read by someone.
We've noticed a type of quiet revolution happening all over Myanmar. It comes in the form of little portable radios. Many people, even monks walk around with them, listening to various outside stations, some reporting recent and relevant news happening in Myanmar. Many people stay connected to the outside world this way. There is nothing that the government can do about that.
We heard an interesting analogy comparing a little child controlling a massive water buffalo, to the Myanmar government and the people of Myanmar. It wouldn't take much for the water buffalo to swing it's big horns, but it is not fully aware of its size and power, just like the people of Myanmar are not fully aware of their human rights having been manipulated by fear for so long.
It rained in the evening. We walked down the dark streets of Kyaukme, huddled under a large umbrella. Darkness, except for the occasional light here and there reflected in the puddles on the streets. There was just one light at the soup stand where we headed for dinner. A few folks were huddled over comic books, trying to make out what they were reading under the dim light. The soup was hot and tasty. Myles got a second helping. The owner offered Myles a cigar. There was a steady line of clients, mostly waiting to get their soups to go, packed in little plastic bags - including some eager, wee customers. We really liked Kyaukme.