Sush and Carol at ‘THE STRAND’ Yangon. 2014
I never dreamt that I would ever be walking through the messy crowds of Yangon with my friend, Sush. After all, Sush lived in Florida and I was in Sydney, Australia. Who thought our paths would cross. But cross they did, when we met in Singapore one Sunday in April. It was a wonder we recognized each other! I had last seen Sush almost fifty years after our university years.
And here we were, bound for an adventure into the past to explore, not only the wonders of the Sri Vijaya empire but to troll through our own lives as they had panned out in the interim years.
Siem Reap was heaven, as familiar as recalling the words to Gaudeamus, when our art history notes came to life in lyrical stone and wood.
Yangon was a surprise to Sush. Especially , when I took her to what I believed was the most wonderful colonial building with some of the old world charm and grace that was once the Rangoon of Kipling as he penned ‘Mandalay’…. yes, The Strand Hotel.
This gem as built in the mid-1800s by the legendary Sarkies brothers, Michael, Tigran and Aviet, and run by Tigran Sarkies in the style of the European hotels that were inns of luxury dispensing hospitality and exquisite service. The first of these luxury caravanserai was the Eastern and Oriental, Penang, the Raffles in Singapore came next and the Strand was the last great Sarkies hotel of the nineteenth century to be built in this manner. The recently refurbished Strand still manifests some of that old world charm and iconic symbols of Colonial Asia: tall columns, wide verandahs, elegant sitting rooms, teak doors with meticulously crafted woodwork and wicker chairs .
Sush and I sat in ( hopefully,) those same the wicker chairs trying to imagine Kipling, drinking a warm beer or possibly downing a whisky in the only way imaginable… with an overhead fan whirring noisily, and live music of the era being played in some alcove close by.
We were doing the same. Better still, we were enjoying a multilayered salad of picked tea-leaves, vegetables and nuts called LA Phet Thoke. It was Sush’s first authentic Burmese meal, one of many, including snacks bought from a green mango pickle hawker we met on the road. I had overcome Sush’s American reservations about tasting hawker food reminding her that we had survived on these same foods as children. Luckily ( for me!) Sush survived , and we went on to a couple more hilarious adventures….
But that’s another story. Stay with us!