Even after spending a few days there, I’m still unsure how to say or spell this city. Each time I’ve typed it up I’ve had to look up the order in which the letters go. It’s spelt something like Myitkyina, and It’s pronounced something like “mitcheenah” which makes ZERO sense to me based on how it’s spelt! But that aside, I do know that it is a city in the North of Myanmar that is known for its multiculturalism and diversity. And going up there, I knew that there wasn’t much else going on up there for tourists other than that – a 100% true fact.
When I was in Mandalay I was doing some research on the places that I wanted to go next, and I came across this place. It just so happened to be having a state fair in a couple of days! This was to be a gathering of all the tribes and ethnic groups from the surrounding areas; celebration of their diversity! That was right up this anthropologists’ alley! This is where the 24 hour train came into play. It took a
To get there. I was sure it was going to be worth it. In one sense, it was. But I will admit that the actual fair was really quite disappointing. I mean, everything I had read about it led me to believe that it was going to be this huge two-day ordeal with lots of activity and markets and street food! In actuality… it was only a 9am-1pm very small event. It was still nice to see, but I guess my expectations were a bit inflated.
I was welcomed by a huge crowd of women all dressed up in their traditional tribal wear as they handed me a snack, a bottle of water, and a flag, and stuck some stickers on my face. Everyone was so nice! There was a soccer game and a volleyball game going on, and two stages. The smaller of the two had a super strange dance competition thing going on, where little girls in super tight leotards were basically doing workout routines to music. It was quite comical! And impressive… they are so flexible! The larger stage had a bunch of different things going on. There was dancing, singing, poetry readings, skits and speeches. Absolutely none of it was in English of course so I mostly had no clue what was going on, but there were a couple very kind English speakers that helped me understand the overall gist.
What I found really interesting about the performances – and what was talked about afterwards – was how nationalistic it was! They were even dressing up as military in the skits! While the military was around the grounds!!!! In a country that was oppressed for so long, their free-speaking was a really profound thing to experience. These people continue to amaze me with their resilience, passion, strength and love.
But other than that, the fun that I had at the festival was the ridiculous amount of people that wanted to take pictures with me, or of me. When one person came up to me, that just seemed to open the door for a flood of others. It was verrrrrry funny. And naturally I started to get in on the fun and take pictures too. It’s always endearing when young teenagers get excited about me, but it always cracks me up when older women, or mothers with their children want pictures of me. There was one guy who complimented my stickers (they were all over my face at this point) and asked – through very broken English – for one of them. And then of course he wanted a selfie. Nice guy!
So, it was definitely a nice experience, but not reallllllllllllllllllllllly worth the 24 hour train ride up there and then the $142 flight back down. But, in addition to that, I had met to Aussies that I had a BLAST with. They definitely made my time up there worth it! While passing ways in the afternoon they suggested a place for dinner for me. While I was there watching the sunset, having the beer and doing some writing they showed up and joined me! Naturally, the one beer turned into many and (for them) the $2 a bottle mickys of whiskey were irresistible. Soon enough we had the attention of all the locals in the bar and while these two men were doing shots with some of them, a group of men from Nepal wanted to take a thousand pictures with me. The loved the fact that I have my septum pierced and said I was like a Nepali woman! It. Was. Hilarious. The night ended with James lifting one particularly short local man and Jeremy dancing around. I was being smothered with hugs and selfies and handshakes, and even a few uncomfortable pecks on the cheek. I think we all went to sleep that night a little bit drunk and a whole lot happy.
After writing this post, I changed my mind: It was worth it. Those were a couple of really nice moments. The ridiculous and expensive journey to Myitkyna was definitely worth it. I think that’s the thing with travelling… you can appreciate things a bit more in retrospect. The bad things become a bit of a funny story, the funny things really become hilarious, and the quite moments become entirely full of peace and contentment.