Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bago? Bagone! Bawent!

Being a Caucasian person in SE Asia always involves a certain amount of stare factor.  People look at you. Sometime sideways. Sometimes as a double take.  Sometimes they just stare blatantly right at you, slack jawed, overwhelmed by the novelty of someone who doesn't look like they do, someone who looks like those folks on TV, stumbling into their otherwise foreigner-free existence.

Sometimes we foreigners complain about this reality. Yeah, it can have it's drawbacks at times. Being treated like you're some inherently amusing white clown has its negative aspects.  Show me the expat in SE Asia who says he's never somewhat enjoyed being treated extraordinarily, like he or she is someone special just because of the color of his or her skin, and I'll show you a liar.  

When I was 20 years old, due to multiple student exchange programs which spanned my high school and college years, I had spent more than 30% of my post-pubescent life living in Indonesia. I was living in a small West Java town and had pretty much 'gone native'.  I resented being treated differently because of the color of my skin (and hair).  I dyed my hair black and told people I'd meet that I was half-Indonesian, half-white.  I spoke the language better than a lot of the native speakers did, so I could pull off this ruse.

Fast forward 25 years, and now I live in Yangon, Burma, after a year living in Bangkok, Thailand.  One of the things I didn't like about Bangkok, to be entirely honest, is that I didn't like not being someone special.  There are about 200,000 people, folks who look like me, westerners, living in Bangkok proper, accounting for about 2% of the population as a whole.  That's a lot of white folk!

In Yangon, we're about 5000 people in a city of 3 million. We're about .015 %  of the population in the most modernized city in Myanmar. Even then, a lot of Yangonions are used to us. We're not that unfamiliar to most people.

Not so in the case of the next big town up the river, Bago.  Being one of the old capitals of Burma before the British came, it has a long history and lots of interesting pagodas and buildings, so it's on the tourist track for the relatively few foreign visitors.  That said, Bago makes Yangon seem like Bangkok.  Everywhere in Bago we went, we were greeted with hearty "HELLO"'s. People were amazed to see us, like we were movie stars in their midst. As you can see on the map, Bago isn't far away; it's about 60 miles away.  In terms of how different a place it is, it's a lot further than that.

About half of this first of two videos shows the train trip up there. The train was actually fun. We paid $1.20 for 'upper class' tickets, which were quite comfortable.  On our trip up there, it was early in the morning, so the weather was pleasant.  The car swayed back and forth almost making you feel like you were on a boat.  Occasionally, the car would literally bounce down the track, launching everyone a few inches off their seats.  The passengers seemingly enjoyed it, smiling like they were on a ride at an amusement park.

Remember this blog when I wrote about the hovel behind my building?  Sadly, the little shack is gone, replaced by a construction site.  I have a quick comment about workplace safety equipment at the start of this video. 


  1. It is always better to have someone to travel with. Looks like a fun day. Bbumpy train ride and all.

  2. Now I am green with envy... It ain't easy being green...

  3. Nice to have someone to share these adventures with. I enjoyed that tour.

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