Tag Archives: shan state

An exchange

A roadside stall in Kalaw, displaying dozens of dust bottles, gleaming in the dwindling sunlight.  The sky is grey-blue in the east, cinnamon in the west; it is a gloomy, but dignified wet-season sunset.  I screech to a halt in the slush, position the front doors of my beige hatchback over dry, rather than wet, mud and hoist my longyi.  Albert follows as I assess the area.

“Pineapple wine? Apple wine? Plum wine?” I ask, pointing to the array of bottles.  A young boy scurries out from the gloom within the stall nodding.  “What’s that one?” I ask, pointing to a bottle with more dust than usual, obscuring the writing and image on the label.  The boy replies with a word I don’t understand.  We go back and forth until realisation dawns: damson.

“Do you know who makes this wine?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Where do you buy these from?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Is it a company or a family?” I ask.  The boy stares at me.

“Is this all you have?” I ask.  The boy hesitates, then ducks inside.  He is gone twenty seconds.  Yes, that’s all they have.

I ask Albert, my partner in wine business, which he would prefer.  An enthusiastic drinker, he declares that they all sound wonderful.

“We’ll buy one of each.”

The boy calls out and is joined by another, older teenager, who looks around for something.  He pulls out six gleaming white cardboard bottle bags, the kind ubiquitous in Australian and high-end Yangon bottleshops, and carefully puts each of the dusty, dirty, aged bottles into their own crisp, clean gift bag.  As he does so, I go through the basics.

“Do you drink wine?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“Do you drink beer?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“How about cigarettes?” I ask.  The boy thinks for a moment, and then says no.

A motorcycle splutters past.  Then another.  Kalaw’s rhythms are foreign to me, but it is a town of domestic migrants, of opportunity and of tourists.  I can categorise it: and Albert and I at least fit in here, there is a role to play, unlike many other idiosyncratic villages and towns across the country, down potted roads and one-lane “highways”.

The sun descends.  Cinnamon turns to peach.

We load the boot of the Kia up with our mysterious wine, pay and leave.