So, I sit here on a bamboo chair in a thatched roof open air shop, mosquito central as sunset approaches. I get a Coca Cola Zero as there is no beer and a paper fan to shoo away the little flying critters that are ready for a sunset feast on my very pale foreign skin.
As people drive by on scooters, the shopkeeper asks if they want Coca Cola or water. Her stock comprises a polystyrene chest with some previously chilled soft drinks and a few tee shirts, half heartedly hung along a washing line at the front of the shack. This is really not the sort of place where you’d remind yourself you needed a tee shirt. There is a sugar cane extractor, no sign of any sugar cane though and I am not sure that I’d risk sugar cane juice as rumours that abound in India of the the cane being soaked in non-potable water are now in my psyche. First world wuss.
There is some music playing, locals hum along. Then some speech. Not sure who. And back to the rather anthem-like music.
A six year old, okay he may have been eight, drives by on a scooter with a passenger riding pillion. Cars and taxis deposit tourists near the temple that’s considered prime for sunset. More local looking sightseers pile out of a shared pick up truck, similar to a Thai song thiew. There are too many to count, but I estimate there were at least twenty people getting out of it and going into the temple precinct.
I am a bit of an attraction sitting here, but not sufficiently so for the herd of golden labrador coloured cattle to deviate from their route home. A man comes by for some betal nut. The shopkeeper goes to a little wooden stand that I had not even noticed, paints the paan leaves with a whiteish gum, drops a few crumbled herbs (or is it tobacco?) on the leaves, then crushed betal nuts. The leaves are rolled up into little cylinders and neatly packed into a small cellophane bag. A lot of people in this country chew betal nut, judging by the number of red stained teeth you see. In fact, dentistry looks like it is not high up the list of priorities here.
A couple of horse carts go past – these are a popular way of seeing the temples at Bagan. Then the tuk tuk laden with the twenty odd people leaving the temple. Some of the shopkeeper’s colleagues or friends sit behind – it smells as if they are eating noodles, enough to make me very peckish. A dog wanders towards me – it’s been thrown a crust by a tourist and wolfed into it nervously. It really could do with a good meal and, probably, some worming tablets. I am really cross with myself for having thrown a croissant in the bin earlier and not having thought to bring it with me to fling to a dog along the way. Or a bird – three jay like birds are having a scrap over a scrap.
The shack shops opposite are taking in their stock. Stalls are packed away, tee shirts are folded up, there’s a bit of what sounds like banter exchanged between traders – I suspect they may all be related or from the same family. Their stock is fairly similar.
I become an end of day opportunity, not the washing line of tee shirts, but a concertinaed set of postcards, some tourist DVDs and a copy of George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” appear from nowhere and I am given a sales pitch. I don’t buy, but now I wish that I had. The shack is in quite an apparently good location, but most people just drive up to the temple for the sunset view and then beat a hasty retreat. It is low season, it is a poor country for those without connections, me buying a copy of that book may have made a difference to them that day. But I did not.
Time to pay the bill and take a quick sunset look at the golden pagoda…..