HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, August 31, 2013

True Travel

The following day's trek was just as amazing as the previous one. One thing we had noticed in Kalaw was that every dog in town seemed to start barking, howling and yelping around 10pm every night. It was madness, and we asked July what was going on. She replied, in that wonderfully frank way of many non-native English speakers, that it was "the season of dogs, you know?" We didn't know. She seemed reluctant to explain further, but she finally said, "Night time is the time of the dogs. It is the relationship season." Ah, now we understood! It was just a massive canine orgy.
We found out more about July, and she shared an interesting anecdote. As a child growing up in one of the villages in the hills around Kalaw, she would cry whenever she saw a foreigner. Her loving mother began telling her that if she kept crying, the foreigners would take her away to their country. Apparently that tactic worked, as she now guides foreigners on treks almost every day of the week. We also learned that she likes Jack Sparrow and Eminem.

The hike took us through some fairly tricky terrain, as everything was muddy and we did not have proper shoes on. We also had to keep an eye out for leeches, which became tough once the mist moved into the higher elevations.


Lunch was at the home/restaurant of a Nepali family, who cooked up some excellent chappati served with incredibly fresh pineapple, mango and orange.

Shortly after lunch we had an absolutely fascinating experience. Hiking down into the valley pictured below, we came upon a lone wooden house sitting in the middle of a tea field. We were invited inside by the owner of the house, an older man who was a member of the Pa-O tribe.


The oven used to dry tea leaves under the house.
Raised on stilts, the house had no electricity. The only light inside came from two windows, the doorway and a fire burning under a kettle of tea. The fireplace was set in the middle of the one-room structure, with the firewood surrounded by dirt to prevent the flames from spreading. Smoke filled the blackened interior, and my eyes began watering immediately. I can't imagine how bad living in such a house must be for your lungs. The man sat us down around the fire, while a grandson sat by one of the windows smoking a cheroot. A plate of fresh jackfruit picked from trees outside was set down, and we were each given a cup of bitter tea. Then, through July's translation, the man told his story.

He had lived in the house his whole life. It was the only one in the area to survive World War II, when bombing by the Japanese air force destroyed the rest of the village it once belonged to further up the hill. He has seven sons and one daughter, and countless grandchildren. He asked if there are Buddhists in America, the type of question that always gives me renewed appreciation of the diversity of the U.S. I asked if he considered himself part of Myanmar, or if his tribe was more important. He answered, tellingly, that "my tribe has been here for a long time, even before the British," making it clear where his sympathies lie. With the mist outside diffusing the natural light and the smoke from the fire creating halos around us, this tableaux had the sort of atmosphere you usually expect to see on TV or in a movie, not in real life. We thanked the man for his gracious hospitality; for providing us with food and drink even though he lived in what most of us would consider squalor, and carried on.

As we hiked up the other side of the valley we came across the village which replaced the one destroyed during the war. Here many of the houses were built from cinderblocks or concrete, as opposed to only wood. July said the Pa-O name for the this place was 'New Village', but she had never known why it was called that until the man from the house talked about the war. There were many children here, though for the most part they weren't anywhere near as rambunctious as the boys from the previous day.






The rest of the hike was, unsurprisingly, beautiful. The area around Kalaw is just gorgeous. On the way into town we passed some shockingly upscale houses, and July explained that rich people from Yangon and Mandalay, as well as generals from the nearby military university, use the town as a holiday escape. We thanked July for an awesome couple of days and said so long. Our next stop was Inle Lake.

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