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« January 13, 2005 | Main | January 11, 2005 »

January 12, 2005

Tanai Guesthouse, 6:57 AM

Am out on the front porch sitting on the steps. Have added another layer of shirts to fend off the morning chill. Tanai has long been awake. A loudspeaker from the local temple is broadcasting chants, one of the stores is playing Burmese pop music as a counterpoint to the chants, and the roar of a badly tuned tractor engine provides the final notes to the morning symphony.

A little boy in longyi, worn sweatshirt, and green stocking cap with tassles has taken an interest in what I am doing and is making shy, furtive glances my way. The ladies with baskets continue to stream down the road on their way to the market.  A lot of people are milling around, rubbing their hands together, slapping their sides, and trying to warm up. Many of them are in flip-flops. There are a lot of World War II vintage trucks here.

Restaurant in Tanai, 9:26 AM

We have just finished breakfast and are chatting with some colleagues from the University of Myitkyina Botany Department who are here with a crew from Myanmar 3 TV to film the Naga festival on the 15th in Shimbweyeng.  The Naga are the people who make the fantastic suspension bridges out of rattan. A lot of the breakfast conversation is focused on rattan, and we learn that rattan is used to make elephant bridles and to ward off evil spirits.

Breakfast was a diverse assortment of food with tea or instant coffee.  There was black sticky rice with curried peas, fried tofu, a shredded beef and onion salad, fried fish, and little fried balls of mashed beans. Myint Maung has gone to make a telephone call [NOTE: They have a satellite phone facility here and in Shimbweyeng, but you can only make calls inside of Myanmar], and we are waiting for him to return before we go to the market.

Tanai Guesthouse, 6:00 PM

I like the way that everything unfolds from the front porch of the guesthouse.  It's dusk and there is a thin band of color on the horizon; the moon is a perfect sliver. The trip to the market this morning was wonderful (see Shopping for Supplies).  Buying all of the supplies made me appreciate what an expedition this really is. It also made me appreciate how important markets are, any markets, but especially remote, small town markets. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the market chains that brought sheets of plastic made in Korea, Chinese cigarettes, and palm oil from Indonesia to this small corner of northwestern Burma. You could buy almost anything in this market.  There was a meat section, a vegetable section, a dry goods section, a hardware section, a salt fish section, a flower section, a tool section, etc.  Like an open air WalMart.

After lunch we went to the forest around Tanai in a "tolagyi", one of those funny, Chinese tractor/trucks that is essentially an exposed tractor motor, a seat and steering wheel for the driver, and a pick-up bed in back (see Tolagyi Tour of Tanai). It is very bumpy and has a top speed of maybe 10 or 15 miles per hour. We collected two new species of rattan (I'll skip the details). On the ride back, we stopped at a house to buy some tangerines.  A young boy scampered out with a basket, climbed the tree,  and proceeded to fill it up with the biggest, most delicious tangerines that you can imagine. We bounced back to the guesthouse as the sun was setting over the Tanai (see Tanai), joking, and eating, and spitting out tangerine seeds. Plants were pressed again by flashlight on the porch.  The work went much faster now that everyone understands what is involved.

Tomorrow we head north to Shimbweyeng in four-wheel drive trucks with all our food and camping gear for a four week survey of local rattans.

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