I got up unwillingly at five am to find breakfast ready and waiting. The taxi driver who took me to the station did not abandon me until he had found the platform I needed and handed me over to a porter who delivered me to my train and found my seat (which was a great seat until we moved and it turned into a bucking bronco!)
At first I sat waiting alone in the carriage. Then the vendors found me and came to goggle. Half a dozen of these young people sat themselves around me. One pointed to the scar on my arm and raised her eyebrows in query. It looks strange to others I guess, but now I never think about it nor realise that it is curious to have a zig zag decorating the length of my forearm like the mark of Zorro. I pantomimed cutting and removing an object. Sarcoma and malignancy were beyond this means of communication. Wide-eyed, she absorbed this information and then proceeded to exhibit me, explaining my interesting bits to the others. More vendors of chips and biscuits drifted along to join the fun. When some of them tried to muscle in on me she gently shooed them off. Get your own foreigner, this one is ours.
Unfortunately, no more of my breed showed up to relieve me of the responsibility of providing entertainment for the station’s population. I was the sole foreigner on the train. Once again I wondered if there was something I should have gleaned from this.
Burman Mountains Map Photo Gallery
The carriage was decrepit. The seats, although large and reasonably comfortable, were torn and broken, the linoleum on the floor was stained, grubby and worn through in large patches. Everything that could be was cracked or damaged, walls and windows were stained and beyond help. After a few hours the resident rats summoned the courage to come out to play. They chased each other from one side of the carriage floor to the other. Mind you, these were only small rats. Now I saw how I could have been badly flea bitten on the night train from Mandalay to Thazi on one of my earlier visits. The seats had been fabric but I had wondered how an animal could have got into the train to infest them with fleas. Now I knew. Rats! And rat fleas carry typhus. The only thing I am not vaccinated against and it’s deadly. Surreptitiously I sprayed my seat with repellant.
The train journey began on time and ended only an hour and a half late, taking ten and a half hours, something I was told is perfectly acceptable. We gently edged out of the station with much blowing of the whistle, very necessary in light of the absence of automatic gates at road crossings. We chugged through lots of housing surrounded by piles of rubbish. I am nonplussed by the fact that the Burmese are such clean and beauty-loving people and yet they can live in a house and not notice the mess in the streets around it.
Soon we were in the countryside where everything was lushly green and there was a great deal of water either simply lying about on the ground or in ponds, rivers and canals. We passed over many bridges and stopped for the first time at Bago.
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