The last time I wrote we had just gotten on the boat from Mrauk U back to Sittwe, where we’d catch a flight the next day to Yangon, where we’d get a bus to Bagan. We took the government boat back because it was cheap and we didn’t have to think too much about it. I think we imagined that it would be a slightly more crowded version of the leisurely and pleasant trip up from Sittwe? It was not that. It was an enormous ferry boat that threatened to sink under the sheer weight of the mounds of cauliflower loaded on to it. Because we had the expensive $7 tickets, we got chairs; however, just before we left the boat, a couple of policemen came onto the boat and chained a prisoner to the seat next to ours. He was a very well-behaved prisoner, and the policemen treated him decently, even if did seem like they were trying to extract a confession from him on the overly long and boring ride. But he got plenty of pan to chew on and they unshackled him for lunch. I’m sorry we don’t have a picture of this; but we thought that might be testing fate. The boat was also extremely cold, but a solid citizen took pity on us and let Harriet borrow a blanket, so nobody froze to death.
We’d barely seen Sittwe when we went through it last time; this time, we had basically far too much time for it. There’s not very much going on in Sittwe! Our hotel was opposite the Rakhine State Cultural Museum, which is pretty good, and though it prohibited photographs, I took a couple so you can see what Rakhine Man Folk and Rakhine Women Folk look like:
Also, here is a diorama of Rakhine wrestling:
There’s also a big market and a vast a smelly harbor which will soon contain all the rocks from the rivers around Mrauk U:
The single most exciting thing about Sittwe – still not really a reason to go there – are the trees on the main street that are absolutely full of enormous fruit bats. In the late afternoon every day the bats are attacked by crows and there’s a ruckus. We were understandably excited and tried to find a good vantage point to watch all of this; so we wandered into the back streets. And that’s where the trouble started!
Here are two bad photographs:
We stumbled across this old mosque, which we thought was abandoned; and without thinking I took a couple of pictures because I thought it looked nice. But! A lady at the food stand behind me noticed this and called over a policeman who had been inside the building on the right. He seemed unhappy with me. He only spoke Burmese, but made it clear that I was being detained. I do not, alas, speak any Burmese and tried to explain that; he did not understand English, not that there was any reason that he should. Reinforcements were called in! A bench was found for Kim and Harriet, who were not being detained. More policemen showed up and I told them I didn’t understand Burmese. Calls were made on telephones; finally, I was asked in English where I was from. “America,” I said, and that seemed to satisfy them because they let me go.
There’s some backstory to this: in 2012, there were anti-Muslim riots in Sittwe and a number of them were killed. The main mosque in town, considerably more splendid than this one, had armed guards around it, so we didn’t photograph that. But there is some sensitivity in Myanmar about the issue, partly because the government denies the riots happened. There presumably are western journalists interested in the story wandering around; however, going after that story with a three-year-old in tow seems like it would be too much work.
Our flight didn’t leave Sittwe until the next afternoon, so the next morning we wandered out of town to the point where the Kaladan flows into the Bay of Bengal:
Harriet played with the local youth:
And then played in the rather unlovely beach:
And we went back to Sittwe where we once again tried to get pictures of the fruit bats. These trees contain hundreds of sleeping fruit bats:
And if you squint you can see a couple of flying ones in this picture.
They are really big. After that we left Sittwe. Next time: Bagan.