November 19, 2016
We are told to never judge a book by its cover.
Personally, I have always liked the onion analogy better. The outer skin might be a little rotten, but beneath that outer layer is a perfect onion.
In my opinion, Houston, Texas is like that onion. So many people talk about the heat or the traffic or the lack of zoning, but it does not take long before you realize that it has exceptional restaurants, great arts and major sports teams. Also, the people are lovely. Beneath the layer of humidity, there is a wonderfully livable city.
But sometimes you find an onion with a rotten outer layer that simply has more rottenness within.
Welcome to Yangon.
I am not saying that it is an unappealing city because it is dirty, hot, loud and employs questionable electrical practices. Certainly it is all those things, but I have found charm in congestion and trashiness in the past. Kathmandu is a bit of a pit, but it has an intriguing vibe to it. We also saw a Buddhist stupa and a Hindu shrine that were unlike anything we had seen before.
Yangon is somewhat devoid of redeeming features.
OK, it has one. The Shwedagon Pagoda is quite an impressive sight, but I will say more about that in a separate blog.
I really wanted to find the charm of Yangon. We walked the streets and markets hoping to see something unusual. Almost every sidewalk is lined with venders, but you could not imagine a more pedestrian assortment of items. For example, in our neighborhood, they are selling underwear, white t-shirts, parts for electric fans, pipe wrenches and copper wire. In other cities, sidewalk venders might sell exotic fruits or butcher chickens in real time. Others feature colorful silk scarves or indigenous crafts. No such charm or surprises here.
Yangon was like walking through a giant, dirty, cramped Wal-Mart with no air-conditioning.
We went to buildings that were listed as Sites of Interest and saw them covered with black mold.
OK, my next moved shows a stupid optimism. I was looking at the map and noticed a large green park nearby. Looking closer, I saw “Yangon Zoological Park”. “Hey,” I thought, “We could go see some animals!” We love animals. As a child, I loved the Houston zoo. When the kids were young, our visits to Disney’s Animal Kingdon was always a kid favorite.
Yep, a zoo would improve our opinion of Yangon.
If you have never been to a zoo in a poor country rule by a corrupt government, consider yourself lucky.
A country that is not fully able to provide for its human population certainly does not have the inclination or resources to create a healthy or animal-friendly environment. The cages were small and dirty. The animals looked sad..
The elephants looked underfed and the zoo sold pieces of sugar cane to guests for them. I wish I could say this was cute to watch them feed, but it looked more pathetic than adorable.
But the zoo was packed with families having picnics and enjoying time in the park. Perhaps this was the place to find joy, but that failed as well. Not only were the facilities poor, but so was the behavior of many of our fellow guests. Susie saw a pair of monks throw pebbles at a white tiger to see if they could get a rise from it. Another person used his phone light to taunt a snake.
The worst was the chimpanzee area. At first, we fell in love with the playful babies and adolescents.
But once again our fellow patrons threw a wrench into the moment. Actually, they did not throw a wrench, they threw trash and half eaten food at the chimps. The chimpanzee area had at least 5 sings that told us not to “feed or taunt” the animals (written in multiple languages). But within 3 minutes, we saw one man toss a watermelon rind that almost hit a small baby and a family throw a plastic potato chip bag that appeared to be empty.
The chimps would grab anything thrown their way and try to eat it. The same family that threw the potato chip bag then tossed a plastic bag with some form of crispy street food in it.
Before I knew what was happening, I saw Terrill walk to the group tossing the trash in. She touched the arm of an 8 year-old that was about to throw in more trash/food. She then shook her head “no”. The child’s grandmother looked at Terrill with a combination of surprise and disapproval, perhaps expecting her to back down.
Not Terrill. She stayed there for a full minute and then watched them for another 5 minutes. I am certain that she reduced their fun at the zoo, but her inner animal lover and camp counselor simply could not stand to see the disrespect.
After the zoo, we headed home.
As we walked, Wiley shared his thoughts. “I really loved the sites and beauty of central Myanmar, but this place kinda sucks. I have loved our visit here, but and ready to leave.”
I think that sums it up for all of us.