my first day in myanmar
the day after receiving my visa where i was declared an F.I.T. (Foreign Independent Traveller), i was flying into myanmar's capital city of yangon (aka. rangoon), piercing the cloud cover on descent and seeing a green-and-brown patchwork of farms with a large muddy-brown river meandering between them. dense forests are surprisingly close to the city, interspersed with buildings. arriving at an international airport with a single baggage claim that was backed up with at least 3 prior flights' worth of baggage. but this turned out to be a great conversation starter with the (few) other independent tourists who were also waiting for their luggage at the airport.
in myanmar, unofficial currency exchanges with random people (the very pale shade of gray market) are the only way to exchange money at a reasonable rate, since the country's one "official" exchange booth at the airport gives rates 30% of what is standard. this means i ended up first changing money at a t-shirt shop negotiating rates over the screen of an oversized casio calculator. ironically, most major transactions are still paid for in US Dollars, and 1 USD can replace 1000 myanmar kyats in almost any transaction (although you get closer to 1,200 kyats to the dollar by exchanging USD into kyats).
with my newfound kayts in hand, i then promptly headed to the outdoor market next to t-shirt store to purchase a tasty lunch of noodle soup and bbq pig entrails. mmm... slices of pig intestines!
a friend from the hostel and i were out at the night markets later that evening, enjoying some tasty samosas, and stumbled across one of myanmar's many "beer stations" -- the country's equivalent of the western bar/pub. they're basically small restaurants that have beer banners hanging in front of them, and people are there drinking late into the night. the USD $0.40 cost of a glass of myanmar draft was an excellent price, and we ended up having many drinks with the manager and working on chatting in a mishmash of english, myanmar, and chinese.
the highlight of the evening was our return from the hostel -- we'd unknowingly made a wrong turn, and were having trouble finding our way home. suddenly a myanmar local stopped us, started urgently pointing in the other direction, and pantomiming the name of our guest house. he then walked us back several blocks to the hostel, and refused to accept any gratuity for his help until we insisted several times.
this amazing hospitality from individuals was repeated many more times during my short stay in myanmar. in most countries, getting stopped by a stranger in the street means that they're preparing to run you through some sort of scam (and we did have a few people try that in yangon, but only a few). in myanmar, it usually means that they honestly do want to help you... amazing.