30.01.2015 - 30.01.2015
After delaying our trek a day, we were finally ready to depart, not until after one more tasty breakfast buffet. They had veggie tempura this morning to add to their selection. Five of us set off on a trek with our guide Kham Lu who was from a nearby Shan village. One man in our group was from Edinburgh, Scotland and the other women were from the Netherlands.
Kham Lu explained the shrines once our tuktuk reached the rural roads. Every village had a Buddhist shrine and a Nat shrine. Nats were spirits and could be guardians of the village. People worshipped there twice a month and to the Buddhist shrine twice a day. The nat shrines often had horse and elephant statues because the nats also liked to travel.
We passed a fair amount of agriculture including corn, soya beans and tomato grown by the Shan people. Two woman picked herbs by the stream for cooking. Some farmers would rent out their land to Chinese farmers so that they could grow watermelon to ship back to China. Some village women would get married off to the Chinese men and move to China. Some visited afterward but Kham Lu couldn't tell if they were happy or not. Another foreign initiative was an oil pipeline that stretched from China to the Yangon area. It was still under construction, going through the fields and near the road.
Kham Lu taught us hello (mày sǔng khaa) and thank you (possibly: sǔng khaa or ngín cóm) in Shan which both ended in ka like in Thai. The two languages were similar as Shan people (known as Tai elsewhere) also resided in Thailand. There are also some faint similarities to Cantonese because it's a Sino-Thai language.
As we passed the villages, we noticed small hydro operations to power a few houses. They also had cheap Chinese solar panels they'd connect to a car battery to power their lights and maybe one other device. For a country many claim is like a time vacuum, they're using alternative energy well enough.
The road we walked on had just opened and Kham Lu expected it to be paved one day. The bridge was new as well. The villagers had collected enough money to finance it, likely using profits from selling a big teak tree whose trunk we saw. There were few regulations on cutting them down unlike in Thailand where you needed official permission.
We stopped at a small shop and shared spicy chips, some kind of corn puffs and dried noodles. In the home/store, the owner had pictures of her visits to important sites like Shwedagon in Yangon and Golden Rock. A kitten came to sit on our laps and was quite reluctant to let me leave.
There was quite a bit of uphill trekking in the harsh sun that followed. We went through plenty of water and took our own breaks since no one else was stopping. It didn't help that I was feeling a bit sick like I was catching a cold. Ryan offered to carry my bag for part of the trek.
Finally we made it to Pankam village for lunch in a wooden home/homestay that Kham Lu said that Mr. Charles hikes used a lot. He also had a few negative things to say about them that we weren't sure we believed.
Lunch was pretty good and vegetarian friendly after I asked about the dishes. There was an egg dish, green leaf dish, mixed fried veggies and some dried and spiced soy bean that wasn't my favourite. The rest and tea were nice to have.
We explored the town including the tea steaming and drying area that most farmers used as it was the Palaung's primary crop. They could harvest each plant every fifteen days then process it. Dry tea fetched the highest price, but during wet season they couldn't dry it and it fetched a lower price. The average farmer earned about 3,000 kyat a day, equivalent to $3 US, which is sometimes the price we pay for a meal out here.
At the school, we greeted some children with another greeting we'd learned "Chumsa!" In the small rectangular room, four teachers occupied the corners with their uniformed students. One taught English vocabulary, another Math and Burmese. They had white boards and paper booklets to write in unlike the slates of the South. There were a few English posters on the walls too.
The children ran up to question us with stock phrases: where are you from? Are you happy in Burma? How old are you? Kham Lu brought me over to speak with one of the teachers who had moved her classroom outdoors. When I asked her if she was from this village or another one, she froze up and couldn't speak. I should have just asked a simple question. Kham Lu translated for me and explained they got quite nervous.
Kham Lu insisted that I teach the students something. The Scottish man jumped in with Ring around the Roses which had a different tune and lyrics than the one we grew up with in Canada. I got an idea and taught the students If you're happy and you know it as well as head and shoulders, which they'd done before. Interacting with them, it was easy to see their learning had be rote as they didn't respond to questions or prompts, just repeated what I said. It was still fun and they kept wanting to repeat the songs.
The afternoon walk was shorter and we arrived in Tungsan before nightfall. Another group including the German and French guys from the waterfall were there. We even got rooms to sleep in with floor mattresses, walls and a door that we could lock, no lights though. The wash station was a bucket but it was still nice to rinse off a bit.
We went on a walk through the village to the monastery. Many homes had metal roofs and some thicker walls. At the monastery, one American man quite adamantly defended his belief that road lines created inefficient and worse drivers. He wanted the freedom to pass when he wanted no matter any of our arguments.
The Dutch women gave their cameras to some of the village children to take photos with. They said that they'd done it in Vietnam and it was great. One of the woman had done her international development studies placement out there, working at times as a teacher. She'd travelled Vietnam after that too.
Supper was tasty with two pumpkin dishes, one regular and the other white and a touch more bitter. We also had some kind of tofu chip with tasty tomato garlic spice dip and tea leaf salad that had more crispy goodness than bitterness. Of course we had tea as well.
We played cards the rest of the night with Kham Lu, the guide from Mr. Charles guesthouse and a man from the house we were staying at. Kham Lu didn't like losing and some funny rules would pop up only to be vetoed by logic. It was still quite fun. The guides were a bit sad when they realized they wouldn't be able to purchase Uno games in their country. I almost wanted to pick one up in Malaysia and mail it back to them, if only it would get to them.