“You want to see long necks?”
I stared at Makai blankly. “What?”
“Long necks. You want to see?
“Yeah. Okay. I guess.”
Kupa revved the motor and steered our long boat into one of the other canals. So far we’d seen the Floating Gardens, the Phaung Daw Oo Paya and the Pa Don Mar Silk, Lotus and Cotton Weaving shop. I’d passed on the cigar rolling demonstration. ‘Long necks’ meant nothing to me. As of yesterday, Inle Lake meant nothing to me. It was an add-on. I’d been given an extra week in Myanmar and tacked a lake visit to the intinerary.
I was coming to Inle Lake fresh but arrived stale. Lakes were fine for cottage idylls and languid summer days but unless they sourced the Nile, were packed dense with salt, or sat high in the Andes with cheeky names, they evoked a feeling of ‘meh’. They’re not oceans. They’re not boundless and mighty. They’re not exotic. Tell your friends you’ve seen the Arabian Sea and they visualize turbans and serpents and palaces. Tell them you’ve seen a lake and the eyes glaze over. Lakes have no snob appeal.
We rounded an embankment on which several boys were clinging to a fence and waving - some kind of school I guessed from the youthful chatter and laughter behind them. Kupa cut the motor and Makai picked up her steering pole and moored us along a large teak hut on stilts. Another craft shop I was guessing. While they secured the boat, a little old woman floated by in her tiny skiff and smiled at me and gestured. She had crafts of her own to sell. I politely declined. Makai helped me to the dock and I walked up the steps to the entrance of the hut where a young woman greeted me and took me inside the shop. I stopped dead.
Two women were staring back at me. They looked like sisters, twins I thought after a cursory glance, although their features were quite different. The commonality was the rings, at least a dozen golden circles around each extended neck. Long Necks. I see. I couldn’t look at anything else. I found it difficult to look at them. I turned to the young woman who’d brought me in.
“If you would like to take their picture that is all right,” she said.
We’d left the great temple plain at Bagan two days earlier in a small twelve seat tourist van, then transferred to a taxi truck for the last stretch of tree-lined road, stopping by a ticket booth at the edge of Nuang Shwe, the central town on the north end of the lake. We surrendered our passports. We surrendered ten dollars – this bought the entry ticket for the privilege of “lake looking” and, I assumed, the attendant activities.