Egg and Noodles Sounds Good, But You Lost Us With the French Toast
Vermicelli in Old Bagan
Surveying the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Old Bagan, I pick at the only things not covered in flies: rice vermicelli, a freshly fried egg, and a piece of French toast. I skip the crusty pot of congee and its little bowls of condiments altogether, though I really wanted congee this morning. It would have been some semblance of home in Burma, where not a lot makes sense to me.
Burma bewilders me, with its missing sidewalks and the occasional abandoned shotgun propped against a pillar at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (who abandons a shotgun in a public place?). And there’s the obsession with crisp, never-creased Euro and American bills: withdrawing cash from Wells Fargo before I departed, I had to tell the tellers to give me bills with which you could cut soft-boiled eggs. They looked at me as though I had three heads. I have also never been more grateful for the new bills in the lai see packets I received from relatives in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year, where I stopped on the way to Yangon.
There are two ancient pagodas behind me and the Ayeyarwaddy river stretches out in front of my breakfast table. No one tells you to not touch the pagodas in Bagan. There are no guards. No one there to tell you not to do things. I’m tempted to tell off people climbing up precipitous walls outside pagodas, to tell people running their hands over wall paintings to stop, but it feels futile, sort of like scolding someone else’s children.
A bowl of congee would be nice. But on the buffet, I can hardly see the diced hardboiled eggs in the bowl beneath the quivering black sheath of flies. The staff is gracious and attentive, but their languid waving arms cannot prevent the flies from descending. The coffee is bitter and terrible, idling and evaporating in a pot on a warmer, accompanied by a bowl of sugar and packets of cornstarch-based creamer.
Every meal I’ve had in this country has been glorious, until this one.
But as I start eating, I decide that a fried egg with a runny yolk, noodles, and French toast are the perfect breakfast, and the views in front and back of me make for a perfect day. I turn away from my plate for a second and take a step toward the pagodas. A dozen or so crows descend upon my table, swatting each other while trying to get at French toast scraps. I abandon breakfast.
Escaping the crows and the flies, I go back to the temples, leaving my shoes at the gate. The pagodas are small, but the golden Buddha figures inside are well tended to. Since these temples are on the hotel’s property, there are gates surrounding them, which is a greater attempt at preservation than I saw elsewhere in Bagan. Carpets cover limestone floors. Fruits, flower garlands, prayer beads, and bottles filled with sona flowers and water are laid out on chairs and low tables that serve as makeshift altars.
Two weeks after I’ve left Bagan, I read news of a ban going into place, prohibiting visitors from climbing pagodas. Then a couple days after that, another notice is quickly issued, reporting backpedaling on the ban.