The pigs jockey for position in the mud, the winner loudly inhaling the smattering of food placed in the box. The less fortunate contestant trots off seeking spoils elsewhere. A woman stands in the background holding an armful of coloured fabrics. Three children crowd around her next door neighbor, focused on the subject at hand. Whether from a marble-lined mansion or a mud-splattered shack, parents work for the same universal goals, hopes and dreams for their children.
Your feet flitter incessantly about, averting the deep mud slicks scattered in random fashion, your eyes darting from ground to horizon, curious of the surroundings, cautious of the path. A motorbike parked in front of a group of children smiling, providing the perfect amount of space for a handful of piglets who sleep near their mother.
You look the other direction to find a very familiar pig—the very same one that victoriously battled for food earlier— has found another food stash and is transfixed in merriment once again. Behind the jolly soul, a mother calls out to her child from her house. Wide gaps show clearly between each board. A satellite dish affixed to the roof.
You start to follow the perimeter of a brick wall, animals on either side. Trash is everywhere. Perhaps they can’t commit the energy or time to its management or perhaps it isn’t deemed a problem to address. Seeing all the plastic bottles submerged in mud and tossed about make you think twice about plastic bottles, and plastic in general. But despite the trash, life goes on. People fall in love. People raise their children. People work for their families.
What if everything consumed here was biodegradable, what would Chaung Tha village look like? Perhaps the smell of decaying matter would still reign large, and maybe more so, but it makes you wonder. Yet with the prevalence of plastics of consumer goods, you note its absence in much of the construction. The houses built with wood and palm leaves, fences made with woven wooden strips.
A dog is eyeing you menacingly, and you aren’t overly inspired at the thought of being bit. You expedite your walk and exit from its territory successfully. He loses interest and lays back down. As you continue along, you notice a wonderful respite from the mud, a long wooden walkway.
Climbing atop the walkway, you notice a large structure made of woven bamboo. Further investigation reveals it to be full of chickens, a chicken coop. You watch the birds wander about, pecking at food, spared, just as you, from the mud below.
The sun has now given way to dark. You are very thankful not to be poking your way through the random muddy paths now. You are now on a dirt road just beginning in the direction of Chaung Tha’s relative opulence: the tourists, the jet skis, the resorts with in-ground pools.
From the dark, there is a light flickering, a confirmation that it is past 6pm; the daily 12 hour cycle of electricity has arrived. Emanating from a lone TV and an overhead light, the combined glow illuminates a mother and child focused on the entertainment being streamed in from the sky. Her house perched over pools of litter-laden stagnant water, the walls bare and no furniture to be found yet outfitted with a television.
You continue a couple houses down and pause to watch a man feeding a rooster. It has a lean build just like the one at Inle Lake. Is it a cockfighting rooster, or just a villagers important growing investment of future food. You continue to watch the scene, an arm visible each time he throws food to the bowl, and then it disappears. The rooster is busy in the doorway.
As he flips more morsels into the roosters bowl, you notice that shoes lay at the door’s entrance. Even if the village is filled with litter and mud, the houses are kept clean. Dirt might be everywhere, but it isn’t tracked inside. Just because the mud is so prolific doesn’t mean the villagers adore it by any means. Like the woman taking the time to teach the children on the front porch, there are certain universal goals that are all the same no matter where you are.
As you continue to walk along this road, passed by a man on a bicycle and a woman carrying a basket on her head, you can’t but help to appreciate everything going on around you. There is something so refreshing about wandering a place like this. There are no ticket booths, hucksters or guesthouses around here, just true people going about life in the most authentic of ways. It doesn’t matter if you are trampling through mud or inhaling the perfume of dead fish rotting in the sun, it is the ability to observe a place without the film of super-modern society which colours everything else. We all come from the same place but are just at different points on the time continuum.
Here you are, witnessing the adoption of the television into the home. You can see the fascination on the faces. You are witnessing what it was like before 24-hour electricity was taken for granted. You watch how the people use iceboxes and other solutions to overcome the 12-hours when electricity is not being generated each day. And you see how electricity begets television, for as soon as the electricity starts to hum, the televisions click on and many households stop what they are doing to watch whatever programming it is. You realize that the presence of restaurants is a sign of development or luxury at the very least, there are hardly any that you see in this area. How was Myanmar before tourism? You find it in a small microcosm of a place like this, even if tourism is bustling about just a walk away.
It isn’t often that you bump into a time machine hurled next to the muddy river bank, but it was one of the highlights of Myanmar.
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