Not Even Scratching The Surface


Burma, it seemed, was out to kill us. Towards the end of the trip, Sean turned to me on a particularly hellish bus ride and said "is it bad that I'm thinking 'I only have to stay alive in this country for four more days?'"

If we weren't throwing up and running a fever, we were bracing ourselves and reciting the bits we remembered from the Lord's Prayer, waiting for our tiny airplane to crash. If we weren't on the constant lookout for snakes---Burma has one of the highest incidences of death by snakebite in the world---then we were slapping away the mosquitoes (it also has one of the highest incidences of death by malaria.) And if we weren't convinced we were about to die in a fiery automobile crash at the hands of a kamikaze taxi driver, we were certain we'd probably meet our demise during the aforementioned bus ride---which, by the way, took twenty four hours, six more than it was supposed to take. "Look on the bright side," I told Sean when we woke up the next morning and were still on the bus, the goddamn bus which had been playing Burmese thrash metal all night. "At least you only have to try and stay alive for three more days now." He turned to me with a sigh, and the kind of weary eyes which belong to a person who has somehow chosen the only seat on the bus which doesn't recline. "Yes," he said. "But I never considered death by my own hand to be one of the options."

(Oh, and by the way, the only thing worse than Burmese thrash metal? The guy sitting in the makeshift seat in the aisle next to you SINGING ALONG to Burmese thrash metal.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself---and, really, I'm giving a bad impression of our trip. Truthfully, we had an absolute blast, the kind of blast you're not sure how to start writing about because, really, how could you do it any justice? We started in Mandalay, where we befriended a pair of handsome Argentinian boys and an aging white-ponytailed hippie from Florida, whose name we never learned and so whom we just referred to as Jerry Garcia, and then just Jerry. There are very few streetlights in Mandalay, and the first night we arrived was the first night of the three-day Full Moon Festival, the core of which seems to involve young Burmese boys throwing firecrackers into the streets, aiming in particular for the ankles of unsuspecting female tourists. British ones named Holly, mainly, who give just the reaction they were looking for by screaming and jumping several feet into the air, before providing them with a few more English language expletives for their arsenal.

It felt like there was a war on. That's how it felt. It was a shock, coming from civilized Chiang Mai, where every other face is white and well-fed and attached to a body carrying a large backpack, and where you recognize at least two thirds of the things on the menu. We were surprised at first, at how different it was from everything we'd seen of Southeast Asia so far. It was like things hadn't changed since the 50s. The 1850s, in some cases.

But oh, it was brilliant. From the elderly man teaching his wife to ride a motorcycle, to the "Hair Saloon" outside our hotel, to the groups of boys singing in harmony as they sped by on their bicycles in the dark, Mandalay beguiled us. Kids called hello to us wherever we went, daring each other to do it first and giggling when we called it back. We were charmed one night into taking a tri-shaw with from a funny young guy named Sunny, whose English was good enough for him to tell us all about his obsession with vampires---"but why do you like vampires so much, Sunny?" "I just like them. I just like vampires"---but not quite good enough to stop us biting our tongues to keep from laughing when he regaled us with a full-length version of Alanis Morrisette's "Ironic" while peddling us through the Mandalay streets at dusk.

And then that damn song came back to bite us on the butt in Inle Lake, when we were both on the cusp of a fever, in that horrible stage where you don't feel quite right---you're hot, you're cold, you're hot, you're cold, wait, screw that, actually you're going to throw up---and you know something's wrong, but you're not quite sure whether it's going to get worse, like malaria worse. "That song," said Sean as we lay motionless in the hotel room, periodically feeling each others' foreheads to see who was warmer. "It doesn't make sense. Those things aren't ironic. They just suck." "I know," I said, sipping weakly from a bottle of water. "Like rain on your wedding day. That's not ironic. I mean, maybe it would be ironic if, like, you'd told everyone for months that it wasn't going to rain on your wedding day and you made a big deal about it and everyone was sick of you talking about it, and then it did, then it would be ironic. But if it just rains? Then, so what?"

We lay there for a while, contemplating this. "Or maybe," said Sean, "if you'd specifically chosen a place where it's only ever rained, like, two days out of the year, and you'd consulted special charts and stuff, to ensure that it didn't rain on your wedding day, then that might be ironic. Don't you think?"

Later that night, the fever spiked and I hallucinated that I was an Avil. Did you get that? Not that I'd taken an Advil, that I was an Advil. I was sweating profusely and I worried that my red outer shell was going to come off because of all the sweating, and that the hotel would be angry with me because I'd dyed the sheets pink. If that's not the sign of a fevered mind, I don't know what is. Luckily, we both recovered in a few days, put it down to something weird we'd eaten on the 13-hour ferry---oh, I can't wait to tell you about that one---and were able to carry on with the rest of the trip, decidely malaria-free and rather pleased about it too. I'll tell you something, though, contracting a third world parasite sure beats the hell out of the South Beach Diet. Want me to come over and breathe on you?

I have photos, I have videos, and I have a hundred more stories, but mostly I just have a bus to catch---yes! another one! we never learn!---so they'll have to wait for now. And thank you so much for all the potential taglines you suggested while I was away; Sean and I laughed so hard, one of us may have accidentally snorted publicly in the Internet cafe yesterday. Oh, to hell with the anonymity: it was me. Like you didn't know that anyway.

Oct 18, 2006

I'm so glad you're back.

And alive.

Well, alive when you WROTE this anyway. Who knows about that next bus ride. : )

Oct 18, 2006

After your culinarianally-inspired illnesses, you might change the title of your blog to...

Nothing Butt Bonfarts!

Oct 18, 2006

Welcome back! We can all relax now...

Oct 18, 2006

So, you were all torn about Burma, and then it goes and tries to kill you. It's like the Burma part of the adventure was the black fly in the chardonnay that is your southeast Asia travels. Isn't it ironic?

(Yeah I really do think).

By the way, now that it's tried so hard to kill you, I applaud you for insisting on referring to it as 'Burma'. I hope, for consistency's sake, that you always call Turkey "the Sick Man of Europe" and refuse to have any truck whatsoever with Burkina Faso.

Oct 18, 2006

Hey! I think I had that same illness when I was in Belgrade last summer. The only good thing about it is that the fever-induced delirium eventually makes for good story tellin'.

Oct 18, 2006

Yes, I totally knew the snorter was you.

I'm glad to hear you guys are still alive and making arrangements for mediocre bus rides. And you're right: This post didn't even scratch the surface.

I can't wait to hear more!

Oct 18, 2006

Hear more?

Read more.

Oct 18, 2006

The best riff I've heard on the "Ironic" song: "Like rain on your wedding day . . . and the groom is Apollo the Sun God" or "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife . . . and your surname is Ginsu" (from a Minneapolis newspaper sometime in the 90s).

Loved the Advil dream! Glad you're back.

Oct 18, 2006

I had a dream once that I was a NyQuil GelCap, but that I was just going about my everyday life, and no one seemed to notice. And the funny thing is, it wasn't NyQuil-induced. It was the freakin' Percosets.

Glad you're safe enough to write. Stay that way!

Oct 18, 2006

Ooooh. Chiang Mai to Burma to Ko Thao. I can see it, I can smell it, I can remember it so vividly it hurts. I'm glad to know the circuit in Burma (Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan) hasn't changed, and that the bus rides are still excruciating. Did you climb Mandalay Hill? Did you go to Mingun? Tell all.

There was this great bakery on Ko Thao, at a bay called Ao Tien Og on the opposite side of the island from the main harbor. You ride your motor bike (well worth the rental cost!) over there and sit in this aerie high above the sea and eat tuna sandwiches and drink iced coffee. I hope it's still there. Also, the Sensei Paradise hotel had a really nice restaurant. Whitings restaurant was good too. I wonder if they're still there.

Are you going to dive? We dove with Big Blue and were pretty happy with them, but they are, or were, a big outfit. People said they liked the smaller ones better.

Sorry to sound like the LP. But I am all bouncing up and down with envy and excitement and information. Glad you're back!

Oct 18, 2006

Wade and I have that EXACT SAME DISCUSSION about Alanis Morisette's misuse of "irony" ALL THE TIME.

Welcome back.

Oct 18, 2006

Hi. I just found your blog. I would like to say thank-you-so-very-bloody-much for getting that asinine song stuck in my head yet again. No really.
Also I live in Africa, and I love the parasite weight loss plan. My dreams so far haven't been nearly as interesting though. to read some of your old posts... v curious about day-of-the-week knickers

Oct 18, 2006

yay! holly and sean survived burma! can't wait to hear more stories and see the pix.

Oct 18, 2006

My friend Beth downloaded the iTunes exclusive Alanis Morrisette album and there's a part where someone is interviewing her and brings up the Ironic song and how she misused the word and she says "Yeah. The only thing ironic about that song was how stupid I was." I liked that she could laugh at herself.

I am really enjoying your tales but I have to say I saw a preview for The Bachelor yesterday and thought "Damn, I wish Holly was back. I could so go for her recaps."

Have fun. Feel better. I once had a fever induced dream that the banana cartel was after me because I wasn't using their bananas at my really great job at Orange Julius. That was very weird.

Oct 18, 2006

So glad you're safe! And also that you can find internet cafes again!

Oct 18, 2006

Speaking of taglines, "May have accidentally snorted at the Internet cafe" has a certain ring to it...

Oct 18, 2006

I try not to think abouthat song too much. It really annoyed me. But it was good for something. I teach middle school reading. We actually study irony, and I used to use it to point out what was not ironic. My favorite was the part about the man who was afraid to fly and won the lottery or a trip or something and then the plane crashed. How wrong is that? If he was afraid to fly and his ship sank that would be irony. Apparently Alanis never made it through middle school language arts!

Oct 18, 2006

Hair SALOONS! They had these all over the place in Kuwait. And it was very sad because there is no place that sells booze and so it messed with my head. OH SALOON, ooh saloon. Damn!

Oct 19, 2006

I have a very clear picture in my mind of Sean's face - waking up on the bus with a non-reclining seat and 3 days left to survive. To quote an old TV program you probably never saw - but which has an oriental theme "You did well, grasshopper."

By the way, while you were MIA in Burma, I had a baby! Decided on the name Honour....Honour Zoe Richards is 2 weeks and 5 days old and gorgeous. Although currently must dash.

Great to have you back.

Horrible Warning
Oct 19, 2006

Speaking of babies, it just occurred to me that you requested someone email you when Emily had her baby, and I know I forgot. So if everyone else did too, go immediately to her blog and check out her beautiful boy.

So glad you're posting again! Sounds amazing.

Still have not thought of a tagline, but with all the brilliance of others, I doubt you need it anyway...

Oh, congrats, Adele!

Oct 19, 2006

I am clutching my monitor and weeping. Not because you're back -- although that's damn awesome and I was irrationally excited to see the new entry, which did not disappoint -- but because every fiber in my body is so envious of you and your great adventure. Wah. I don't want to be at my desk anymore! I want to be a body attached to a backpack in Southeast Asia! (I'll pass on the Burmese thrash metal, though.)

Aside from Burma and Cambodia, you are continuing to track my post-bar trip, which now seems a thousand years ago. I spent a blissful week on Ko Tao, diving and swinging in hammocks, and eating mystery meat cheeseburgers and Ovaltine milkshakes at the Big Fish.

{wistful sigh}

Oct 19, 2006

Yeah well who the heck sings songs about things that are ironic anyway? And WHO has ten thousand spoons? Please, tell me, I'd like to know!

Oct 20, 2006

I'm glad your back...can't wait to read all about your adventures. Take care.

Oct 23, 2006

Gotta quit reading these at my desk...gonna give myself a hernia trying not to laugh out loud.