It’s surprising how events have turned out. In February, alarms were being raised about COVID19 but few countries seemed to have heeded them seriously. And now in March through April, half of the world is on lockdown, planes and ships are mostly grounded, travelling is virtually non-existent and almost everyone is confined at home. So here is a trip made just before Stay At Home became vogue.
While this was a working trip, here is my personal commentary of what went down when we visited a typical fishing community in the remote area of the Irrawaddy River Delta in Myanmar. This isn’t the typical place that tourists will visit but it does offer a glimpse of how the local villages go about their lives away from foreign eyes.
As we approach the coastline where the Irrawaddy River empties into the Andaman Sea, it forms a rich delta where rice farming and fishing are the main source of living for the villagers here. They supply most of the seafood caught here to Myanmar for local consumption and export to nearby countries.
Finally, we arrived at our destination village with sore butts from driving over gravel roads in various stages of construction. I got to see first hand the village industry of making and selling the raw ingredients for prawn paste. If you never heard of prawn paste, here is a Wikipedia link that will bring you up to speed on it. Primarily used as a seasoning and marinating condiment in South East Asian cooking, this also goes into a lot of Singapore’s favourite foods like rojak and belachan.
We were told that this village exports it’s produce to Yangon, Thailand and South Korea. It’s quite a feat for a remote village to have international buyers. The conditions of making the prawn paste definitely looks primitive and unhygienic to me, but this has been a centuries old way of life and it isn’t going to change much unless modern development arrives here. Just the sight of shrimp being dumped on the bare floor, stepped on by bare feet workers and mixed with their sweat is stomach churning (and not forgetting the smell of fermenting shrimp), but it still won’t put me off hungering for my prawn paste fried chicken, or belachan kangkong, speaking of which here are some recipes using prawn paste for home cooks during your home quarantine period to try out: Prawn paste fried chicken, Belachan Kangkong.
It was another long drive back to Yangon, but this time it was in the night on dark roads and we arrived back at our hotel just before midnight. The Irrawaddy region isn’t exactly a place for the casual tourist to visit, but it does hold raw and untouched beauty.
And as I now stay home along with the rest of the world in quarantine while waiting for the COVID19 pandemic to pass, travelling seems like a distant memory.