From Mandalay, Nick and I headed northeast, to Kyaukme (Shan State). We boarded the local train at 4:30 am and began the journey. Within 10 minutes our seat mate, Las Ihio, handed us a large bag of small fruit (most comparable to apples). This was the beginning of unique friendship and fun journey.
Throughout the next 10 hours Las Ihio would buy us water, tea, coffee, fried vegetables and Burmese snacks. Our favorite was a plastic bag that contained raw ginger, raw garlic, a chili pepper, fermented tea leaves, roasted peas and oil.
He would point out which train station we were at, our elevation and where we could finally repay him and buy him breakfast (burmese pea chipatte). As he didn’t speak English, Nick showed him our collection of foreign currency and after, he showed us his jade collection. He ended up giving Nick a piece of his jade which was too generous. He massaged my ankle with tiger balm while trying to read Nick the news in Burmese. His facebook feed made our hearts heavy, as he showed us photos of those who have died in the civil conflict.
Las Ihio physically looked, hard. He had paint stained pants, he didn’t smile and when he wasn’t chain smoking he was chewing betel nut. But his heart was enormous. The people of Myanmar are extremely special, their curiosity and compassion are eye opeing. They give, when they don’t have the means to give. My travels have taught me to be more open, accepting, trusting and giving.
Oh, did I mention our train crossed the the Goteik viaduct? When construction in 1899, it was the largest railway trestle in the world. It was constructed by a Pennsylvania and Maryland architect and the components were made by a PA steel company. Our train ride included some beautiful views, fun people and delicious food.