The Spicy Road to Burma Part 1

As I lie here on my bed at the Green Hill Hotel in Yangon, Burma, I can just make out the Shwedagon Pagoda, hovering above the dilapidated colonial roofs and coconut palms like a shimmering reflection of the setting sun. Yangon is the golden city.

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset from my hotel window.

The Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset from my hotel window.

The Spicy Road to Burma actually begins with our stay in Beijing, a city that now feels a million miles away. On Saturday we were up early to visit the Great Wall of China. As soon as we were out of the conjested downtown traffic, our driver floored the gas pedal and hurdled around bends in the road, passing cars on the left and right, and generally making us feel like he had a death wish. After a long night of Baijo drinking, singing, and feasting on Mongolian lamb dishes, this was an unwelcome surprise. By the end of the ride we were all a little shaky--but at least all the adrenaline and sweating helped kick our hangovers. 

We had a fine time on the Great Wall, which is one landmark that truly deserves its name.  

 

Hiking the Great Wall, you feel like you've risen above the smog and pollution of Beijing. 

Hiking the Great Wall, you feel like you've risen above the smog and pollution of Beijing. 

That night we played a great show and had our final Chinese banquet, an outstanding meal that included two kinds of Peking Duck.

 

There were two types of Peking Duck. One was in a sweet sauce, the other was crispy and dry and came with rice buns.

There were two types of Peking Duck. One was in a sweet sauce, the other was crispy and dry and came with rice buns.

By the time we finished dinner and made it back to the hotel, it was well after midnight. We were up about three hours later and on our way to the airport. 

We arrived in Yangon, Burma in the afternoon. After traveling within China for two weeks, we were immediately struck by how different this place feels. A colonial city, planned and occupied by the British for many years, Yangon is full of open spaces, lush vegetation and grand, albeit dilapidated, buildings-- a stark contrast to the severe and conjested architecture of the Chinese cities. 

After a great Thai lunch which included my favorite hard-to-find noodle dish, Mee Grob we were brought to a hip art gallery space in a downtown building where the embassy was hosting a jam session and informal party. We drank cold Myanmar beer (a relief again after China where all the drinks are served luke warm) and jammed with some local musicians, including a raging bluegrass fiddler who came up to the stage and immediately called the Orange Blossom Special.

 

Amigos Noah and Justin at the jam session.

Amigos Noah and Justin at the jam session.

Sunday was our big performance  in Yangon, to be held at an incredible old Art Deco cinema. The building has been unused for years and the embassy saw it as a good opportunity to reopen it to the public. The night featured The Amigos along with several ethnic performance groups from around the country. Burma is home to a large number of distinct ethnic groups, many of whom don't always get along. The show was aimed at celebrating the diversity of the county and the audience responded enthusiastically.

 

A dancer adorned with golden wings whirled to the rhythm of huge drums and gongs. 

A dancer adorned with golden wings whirled to the rhythm of huge drums and gongs. 

The night was a success but The Amigos were exhausted from the previous 36 hours which sort of unbelievably began at the Great Wall and ended in the 100 degree heat of the Burmese tropical night.

Today has been our first full rest day. We walked through the large lakeside park near our hotel and had lunch at the Strand Hotel, famous for being George Orwell's local haunt. 

 

In the middle of the lake is this wild dragon boat building which is actually a fancy restaurant.

In the middle of the lake is this wild dragon boat building which is actually a fancy restaurant.

 

Tea Leaf salad at the Strand Hotel is made of fermented tea leaves, peanuts, crispy garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, sesame seeds, lime juice and more.

Tea Leaf salad at the Strand Hotel is made of fermented tea leaves, peanuts, crispy garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, sesame seeds, lime juice and more.

Tonight we feast again Burmese style before we fly to Mandalay tomorrow for our second performance in this beautiful country. The Road to Burma Part II will follow shortly with many more tantalizing food pictures.