Over dinner we had agreed to leave from Lashio after 9 am since the drive to Muse would take just about three hours and the hotel check in would be only after noon. That gave me enough time to complete all my chores and be at the breakfast table at 7 am, again as decided last night. However, I didn’t find the others there. The young man who waited at the table set my portion which consisted of fried rice and a sunny side up egg on top of that, soup, n watermelon, cake and coffee. I noticed that a portion of fried rice and egg were placed in front of the Buddha image that was placed in the dining hall. Later, Htoo told me that it is customary for a portion of the cooked meal to be first placed before the Buddha image in every home. After a while a member of the family may consume that portion.
Lashio has been colder than the other places that I had been in Myanmar this time. The coconut oil also froze up. The water was quite cold too and hence, it was natural to look forward to a hot water bath. The taps, however, refused to yield anything close to what could be termed hot. I spoke to the girl at the reception and immediately a boy appeared at the door. He toyed with the taps for a while and came back after some time with another guy. After some time he declared that one of the taps yielded warm water. To me it was just cold and colder water. I knocked at Htoo’s door to find out if he had a similar problem. He said that he had hot water in the tap and I went into the bathroom to inspect. Then I realized the definition of what is warm water. The less cold of the two streams ‘should’ be deemed to be ‘warm’!
The departure was an hour later than we had planned; actually we were not in a hurry at all. Before the leisurely departure I requested Htoo to direct Hnin and Pyae to affix the sticker against Lashio, signifying that the journey through Myanmar was coming to an end. We pulled out of the parking lot of the hotel that was right in front of the Lashio University and a prominent pagoda in the town. Htoo told me that he had been penalized $15 for losing the key to his room!
“… He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. He will cover you with his wings, you will be safe in his care..” So it says in Psalm 91. Many years ago an aunt got me into the habit of reading this Psalm before I leave for my daily work. I carry the Bible with me and read this portion before setting out on the day’s journey. And I experience the protection at every step of the way. What more proof is required that HE watches over you than the news that Htoo broke in the car that a storm had ravaged Kale the day after we had left from there on 20 May. The photos were of landslides and road blocks that held up traffic all along the way. The storm was moving behind us by a day and was expected to strike Mandalay this day!
The three who accompanied me on the journey from Tamu to Muse have been very good company. I discovered that their combined ages was 85, the reversal of digits of my age. What a coincidence. Htoo is an ever smiling, cheerful and gifted guide. The 23 year old has been freelancing as a guide for the past two years. The nuggets of information that he supplied helped me understand the country and its people better than the previous two driving visits to Myanmar. When I posted his photos on Facebook friends who had travelled with him in Myanmar made welcome comments about him and now I understand why. Hnin has been with the government for the past nine years. She is interested in trekking and mountaineering and is a member of that society too. She quietly goes about her work without any fuss and contributes with her ready smile and good cheer. Pyae had been in Kokata for over four years helping her sister out in her business. Bollywood madness consumed her since then. The first day of the trip she asked if I had Hindi songs, which I had. She was very clear that she did nt want to listen to old songs and most of my collection was just that. But I had a few of the recent ones too. As the first beat played she would say which song that was and start singing along! She is head over heels with Salman Khan who she thinks is the ultimate human. She also believes that if she slims a bit she will look like Deepika Padukone and wants to be her in her next life. Htoo told me that Pyae believed that if you cannot be a star in this life you should be a star in the sky!
At the entrance to Muse we found a large fuel station and turned in to tank up. It tuned out that the owner is Chinese and the fuel station had many promos to attract customers. They were handing out fruit juice and free water. Later we realized that there were so many fuel stations along the way because of the large freight trucks that plied from and to the border town. Many had parking and resting places prominently advertised.
It was 2.30 pm before we reached the Sien Yadanar Hotel and checked in. I was given a large room, the air conditioning of which I later found was dysfunctional. I requested for a change and I got one. On either sides of lunch I reorganized the entire luggage and got ready for the ten day drive through China. I also called up Andy, the guide allotted to me by Navo Tours, and arranged to meet up at the Chinese Gate at 9.30 am, Beijing time which is an hour and a half ahead of Myanmar time! Andy was indeed surprised to know that there was a change in the time zones of the two countries.
Htoo came over at 4 pm to say that the Immigration officials would like to meet us in advance to go through the papers. I accompanied Hnin and Htoo to the Immigration office and presented the papers before a friendly official who went through the papers and said that all were in order. From that office I got a good look at the Chinese border post I would have to cross tomorrow. From that vantage point the country across the border looked like one flowing with milk and honey, for the infrastructure looked top class!
The Champion had taken a lot of dirt roads and was in urgent need of a thorough cleaning. Fortunately, there was a service station just by the side of the hotel and I left the car there with instruction of what had to be done. When Htoo and I returned from the Immigration office the car was ready to be collected. The service station had done an excellent job for the equivalent of about Rs 225.
Later in the evening Htoo and I took a tuk tuk to the market. I was amazed at the wide display of all things Chinese. There is even a super market that sold only Chinese articles and food and payment had to be made in RMB! China has unobtrusively become the major trading partner of Myanmar. They came in at a time when the Western powers had imposed an embargo on trading with Myanmar. China never asked Myanmar to pay up for the help in building the country; they asked for mining rights and more projects. Htoo told me the story of how the Chinese business offered to buy back oxen for tractors. Myanmarese farmers were happy for the exchange. Later they realized that they had to reach out to the same business interests for inorganic fertilizer as they did not have cattle for organic fertilizer. The servicing and maintenance of the farm equipment further wedded their interests to Chinese business. An example of how the Chinese think long term sacrificing business investments in the short term!
Htoo and I had dinner at the White House, a popular restaurant. Htoo told me that he had read somewhere that there was a huge public toilet complex in China of the same name! We had quail, quail eggs, chicken wings and grilled fish for dinner. And naturally, a bottle of Myanmar beer too.
Ten days of the expedition were over - a quarter of the expedition in terms of days was done. I look
forward to the next ten days in China.