Saturday, January 3, 2009

20 minutes in burma

This morning we made the trip to burma to have our visas extended by 2 weeks. We walked to the outskirts of town to catch a saung thau ( a roofed pick up truck, which serves as a bus ), abacus was asleep by the time one came along that would take us to the border, it only cost 15baht, which is less than a dollar. It dropped us near the immigration booths at the entrance to the friendship bridge, which connects the two countries over the Moei river. The wierdest part of the bridge is that in Thailand they drive on the left, while in Burma they drive on the right and I'm not sure at which point they cross over, I wanted it to be the middle of the bridge. Leaving wasn't hard, we just filled out a departure card and walked over the pedestrian part of the bridge. Below the bridge, on the Thai side, we saw two shacks made from sacks and tarpaulin draped over some sticks. A mother held her naked baby outside, while the father used a red plastic bucket to pour water over it,  the baby screamed the same way abacus does taking a bath lately. Along the river, people use giant innertubes to cross from one side of the river to the other, to illegally leave and enter each country, but there is no one to stop them, no one really cares, in fact it seemed like the concrete footpath on the thai side of the river was designed specifically for them. The bridge descended into the bustling streets of Myawaddy. We were ushered towards an arrivals office and while the Thais and Burmese lined up outside to talk through the familiar little windows, we were taken inside, to the insidiously smiling immigration guards, who all smelled of stale tobacco and whose teeth were stained with beetle nut, so familiar amongst the burmese population. And were they as creepy as I thought ? Had i coloured them in with my previously learned knowledge of Burma ? They charged 500 baht each for our passport "processing", about $25 each, which was expected. Then they retained our passports to be returned on our departure.

Burma is surprisingly distinctly different from Thailand, even this border town, which is about as representative of greater Burma as Tiajuana is of mexico, but even the smell, of possibly cardamon mixed with some other familiar scent, was so reminiscent of India. Then a bicycle taxi driver who cycled beside us, refusing to accept our nothankyou's, was an almost carbon copy of a guy in Agra, but not quite as annoying. The heat was baking by now, and a dog whose furless skin clung to its shaking bones, looked as though it had crawled its way out of the pet cemetary, the walking dead. The streets were busy and full of people, the one thing separating it from being a complete facsimilie of India being the presence of women on the street. We walked to find a tea shop, though we were still overly-full from breakfast. We walked passed tables stacked tall with Burmese currency, organised into large bricks. There was nothing really to do, nothing much to see, we abandoned finding the tea shop and decided to go back, our time in Burma equating to about 20 minutes. We went to retrieve our passports. The immigration officers smiled and thanked us, they knew why we'd come and why we'd left so soon, there was no questioning, all truth exposed and unspoken. We returned over the bridge, filled in arrival cards, which I realised we didn't need for Burma, nor departure cards, just cash. 

We found a saung thau, there were two people waiting inside, by the time we left it was full to capacity, with three guys hanging off the back. We tried to have Abacus become friends with the burmese 10 month old boy beside her, they held hands and abacus squeezed his hand and wouldn't let it go. We were dropped at the central bus station, our first point of arrival in Mae Sot, but now we knew our way out of it. We walked through the huge market area of town, which we'd never been to before. Meat was left sitting outside for sale, pigs snouts and skin, baskets of shrimp buzzing with flies, a huge basket of water beetles, net bags of huge live toads, stacked on top of each other, tubs of water snakes and eels slithering over each other. The warm air smelled of meat and the maze of stalls seemed endless, but finally it led us back to the main street. 

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