Backpacking through Myanmar [part 1 of 3]

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I’ll give you 5 seconds to answer: What is the very first thing that comes to mind when you think about Myanmar? Let me guess – Aung San Suu Kyi, right? At least for me it was. When I got around to think about what I actually knew about this nation before travelling there, “not much” sums it up, I’m afraid..

Now, let’s take this from the beginning. My two childhood friends, Jørgen & Martin has got two parents (as one commonly does) with a slight taste (read: huge appetite) for the Pacific Ocean and all of its remote, tropical islands. So, last winter they left Oslo to spend a couple of months in paradise (look up Rarotonga – no, not on a physical map, …yes, use Google image search, … and yes, that is actually the place, …no, that is not photoshopped (you get the point now, I figure)). Accompanied in part by their children; these two young boys wanted to do a sweep across Asia, before returning home. A part of that exciting quest was exploration of Myanmar. I was invited along – and gladly accepted!

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Flight DY7205 from Oslo through Stockholm to Bangkok. Appropriately named “BANG-kok!”, a complete opposite to “The sound of Silence”. However, it felt strangely familiar, having been to some of the great, busy cities of India. A picture of traffic in two-three elevated “channels” feels appropriate:

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Flying to and from Myanmar is restricted to some chosen destinations, and for that reason, we used Thailand as a springboard to its neighbour in the west.

Here’s a portrait of Martin before we move on!

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We spent two days exploring, and amongst other things, joined in on a trip into the backwaters of the city; a web of interconnected canals – with “swarming” wildlife… at least a couple of laid-back lizards or two… (pictures to come!).

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I’d like to call the next picture “The river captain, and his wife”. Strangely, he is not the one doing the dishes at this one instance in time.
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There are no longer predators around that hunt the water monitors. Thus, with a steady supply of food available around-the-clock, they have become lazy and “fearless” of humans, and human activities. We could almost touch it, – that’s how close we could come.

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According to our guide, a lot of the traditional way of “slow(-er)” living is vanishing at an accelerating rate. This can perhaps be seen by the brand new buildings that are mixed in with the old canal-side houses.

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One thing you don’t escape (in Asia in general), are temples. Literally everywhere, and with an astonishing amount of gold and glitter. However, the golden tan doesn’t come naturally, someone has to paint them shiny…

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Back to the backwaters again!

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…where we found an orchid farm:

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…and an insane amount of fish (carp, I think), that was used to being fed white bread lol. When we started to feed them, the water literally turned into fish. H-Fish-O2. The battle was ON!

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Back in the city, this stray dog caught my attention between two parked, colourful buses.

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The air quality is plain awful, no surprise here. The drivers try to be cautious, and most use a facial mask.

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The next day, we swapped out Bangkok with Mandalay. It’s situated on the banks of Irrawaddy, in the heart of Myanmar. (This is a good time to hit play on Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece “Waters of Irrawaddy”, to really set the mood!). We got a small bungalow all to ourselves, – left our belongings there, and went outside. Our first impression of the people of Myanmar was that they were very friendly, polite – and by no means accustomed to tourists. This is of course a big plus, as it means not getting ripped off in taxis, restaurants and most stores.

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Jørgen and Martin posing in front of our accommodation. Award for being the easiest to recognise person, goes to Jørgen, for his exemplary orange shirt.

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The first image of this blogpost, was taken just outside our hotel at night time. Same night, some sort of festival were held in the streets, with loads of exotic food and fun activities, mostly for children.

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We got in touch with some locals – or more correctly, Jørgen spotted a guitar. They were nice, and we sang along. No english though. But guitar. Fun!

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We rented bikes the following morning, and went out at the crack of dawn. First stop was the local marked, were we got to try out a few tasty sweets and meet some of the people that worked there; which to our surprise was (almost) women only! Here are some of them:

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I leave you with the following image from the marked entrance, which I really like – may even go as far and say that I think it’s the best picture of this blogpost! Until next time (part 2), cheerio!

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First week in Michigan

In the very unlikely case that you, the reader, are in fact not Norwegian, consider this your lucky day! I’ve decided to write this in English, just for good exercise!

The first few days here at Michigan State University (from now on, MSU) are coming to an end, – and what an eventful week it has been! It all started with me actually getting my VISA back from the embassy in less than 24 hours (rather than the specified 10 days, thanks to a lovely lady (caseworker) at the consulate). I packed my bags, slept perhaps an hour or two before rushing to the airport, way to early. Dropped off my bag and went straight through security in a matter of minutes. When arriving gate 50, at the end of the hall, I had roughly 2 and a half hour before departure. Yeah. Well planned and all that. The sun was slowly rising and with nothing better to do, I tried to get a somewhat good picture of it.

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I put on my headset, turned the volume up quite a bit and set the alarm to go off some 90 minutes later. ZzzZZzzZZz. Finally boarding! Kygo was there! Kept staring like a starstruck moron. Walked onboard, found my seat and was in a good mood thanks to amongst other things, an empty seat right next to me! Yey! Over the speakers we got notified of a 30 minute delay, so we started waiting. Little did we know…

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…and waiting… and waiting. You get the point. Flight cancelled. Back off the plane, get the luggage back, try again tomorrow. Orientation weekend in Michigan, out the window unfortunately.

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New day & better luck. First a short flight to Arlanda, (Sweden) before flying back over Norway, and then crossing the Atlantic. Couple of hours waiting in New York. Got through U.S. Customs and Border Protection smoothly!
The bag tag printed by SAS was actually headed towards New Orleans, but thankfully I was made aware of this by the individual scanning my bag. I got a new tag and managed to get it with me all the way to Detroit. At that moment, not a whole lot of happy thoughts about SAS went through my head.

The weather was foggy, or perhaps misty is more correct. I had some time to kill before my bus to the university was leaving, so I sat down at a local bar and asked for a Coca Cola Light. That did not go exactly as planned… I forced down a god-awful Corona Light and said good bye, ashamed. DIET COKE GOD DAMMIT! Lesson most definitely, learned.

When I finally arrived at MSU, I was met by my awesome Norwegian prof. Morten Hjorth-Jensen (the mastermind behind the exchange agreement where I don’t have to pay 10400 USD in tuition…) and a couple of Ambassadors from the university (also awesome!). I got safely escorted to Owen Hall, all the way to the door, 323, where I moments later fell asleep.

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The following morning (middle of the day actually) I woke up to a quiet and slightly foggy university. I can honestly say that I’ve had no problems whatsoever with jet lag. Easy. 6°C was something completely different from the -18°C back home. Oh boy, little did I know…

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The semester didn’t really begin before Monday, so the campus was awfully quiet. Not a soul to be seen anywhere, except for the occasional oversized squirrel. The Ambassadors helped me get some necessary supplies, and also set me up with an American number (+1-(517)-708-xxxx).

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And if you wondered what my dormitory looks like, here’s a photo of the hallway at least:

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I was invited out for dinner – burger & local beer of course – by Morten, which was precisely the kind of food I craved, and precisely as good as one could possibly hope for! Not to make you jealous, but, yeah, the food here is nothing short of amazing, – just beware of the portion sizes (or you’ll quickly end up in some trouble…). Asking for a miniscule amount, tends to be just about perfect, in the cafeterias all around campus.

And by the way, don’t expect to find the tap for water at your first try. However, vividly blue Powerade or any other flavour of soft drink, not a problem.

The weather changed overnight and suddenly I found myself in very familiar surroundings, – the kind of weather one usually (only) experiences when going skiing in the mountains of Norway (and you are so unlucky as to have no shelter from the wind). The kind of cold that will freeze you, balls to bones in a matter of minutes, if not extreme measures are taken. (Btw, can you spot the Matrix-quote?)

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The Red Cedar river splits the campus in half. As can be seen here, it started to freeze right after the temperature dropped.

The campus is situated in the small Midwestern town called East Lansing. The closest city is Detroit, while Chicago isn’t that far away either.

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We also got a cool looking museum, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum:

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…with this creepy little mascot in front:

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With all the snow and the warm light, the campus looks quite beautiful in the evening / during nighttime.

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Coming up, the very last photo of this blog post –  where I once again present to you, the Red Cedar river.

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