Kalaw to Nangshwe

I had a lovely time in the dusty town of Kalaw. It wasn’t quite as physically demanding (i.e. trekking) as I had hoped as I have picked up a cold which has knocked me for six a bit. Today I had a 3 hour nap at midday – not like me at all. But when you’re surroundings are like this, who cares about a cold?…

I read a hell of a lot in Kalaw. I read Letters from Burma by Ang Sang Suu Kyi which which a beautiful account not just of her time after being released from house arrest, but about this wonderful country, its people, their customs and the hardships of everyday life. I’d highly recommend it. I then moved on to a book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, recommended to be my the lovely Jennifer. It’s about a guy – Randy – who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is asked to deliver ‘the last lecture’ as his university – apparently a custom in the US where academics deliver what they would say if it were their last lecture. In other words, they are supposed to distill their knowledge into the most important lessons. He delivers his on fulfilling your childhood dreams. The book is an extension of the lecture, and is an important reminder of the importance of focusing on what you really want – not what you think you should want or others will expect of you – and having the courage, drive and focus to achieve it. Corny in parts, but very uplifting. He quotes Walt Disney, who said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’. Couldn’t agree more.

Two everyday things have struck me about Burma. First, there are dogs everyone – that makes me happy, although I want to take all of them home with me. Second, I hear sweeping wherever I go. At times, I wonder if I am hearing things – doesn’t matter where I am, I will always hear the familiar sound of a woman with an old fashioned broomstick sweeping away. Strangely comforting.

First thing this morning, I caught a bus to Nangshwe which is the town nearest Inle Lake. The bus journey was a traveller’s delight – watching the mist rise through the trees and over the hills. I saw so much of Burmese life on the way there – going through small hamlets and villages, women selling their wares on the side of the road, having to stop while a herd of cows crossed the road, a bull striding down the side of the road on his way to knows what, men and women working together to build a new road, and dozens of young children playing on their way to school.

My hotel in Nangshwe is beautiful. I have a small bungalow with its own veranda – there are just 8 at the hotel and we have a swimming pool (the only one in the town apparently). I have visions of playing the guitar on that veranda later. Shortly I am off to see a traditional Burmese puppet show before dinner and tomorrow I have booked a boat ride for one on Inle Lake. I love being on the water and apparently it’s really beautiful, but cold first thing so my trusty blanket will be making the journey with me. The following day may well involve a bike ride and some hot springs – both of which might just clear this darned cold…

Guitar Hero

So, I come all the way to Burma and the highlight so far? It naturally involves guitar.

I had heard a rumour that there was a bar in Kalaw where the owner is prone to impromptu guitar playing, so it seemed like the natural place to grab a Myanmar Beer. After he’d played a couple of songs I asked if I could play – his face lit up and for an hour or two we took it in turns – one from England, one from Burma. It was fantastic fun.

The following night (last night) I went back and took my own guitar (it can be difficult playing someone else’s guitar as it just feels different. For instance, his strings were raised more from the fret board than mine, so I had to press down firmer as I was playing. Workman and his tools, and all that.

We played for the whole night – who needs food when you have music? There was a really nice group of French people in, too, who joined in with the singing and dancing and some Brits and an American woman I had met the previous night dropped by after dinner and I sang Fields of Gold for Sasha as a special request. I also had to dig deep to revive my French skills, but one of their group spoke Spanish so I got by with a mix of both. And a number of the local guys spoke reasonable English. It was one of those nights that I will remember forever.