“When in Rangoon, you have to eat lobster thermidor at the Strand Hotel!”
I receive a lot of advice when traveling around Asia. “You have to stay at this hotel,” or “You have a drink at that bar.” But the one recommendation I hear again and again without fail is to eat lobster at the restaurant of the Strand Hotel in Rangoon (now called Yangon) in Burma (now called Myanmar). The place has an almost legendary status among travelers on the “backpacker trail”… which means, of course, that I have to go there, right? What kind of traveler would I be if I miss out on this particular backpacker rite of passage?
To visit the Strand is to get a whiff of the old British Raj. There’s just something so English about the place – an air of musty colonialism, perhaps — of starched shirts and stiff upper lips. The Strand’s restaurant is straight out of a Graham Greene novel: the white table cloths, the cutlery that is “just so” and the waiters who look like they’ve been here since pre-independence. My own waitperson, a middle-aged Burmese gentleman with slicked-back hair, is wearing black pants, black formal jacket, and a neatly-pressed white shirt. If you look closely, however, you can see there’s a brown cigarette hole in his shirt and stains on his jacket. That pretty much sums up the Strand and Rangoon in general – a former British colony that, although keeping up appearances, is a bit threadbare around the edges.
Although on a strict, shoe-string budget, I decide to splurge on the lobster thermidor, setting me back a whopping $11. It’s good but not great. “Thermidor,” in English, apparently means “Fancy name-but-not-so-special taste.” Still, it’s VERY fun to be dining in a time capsule of the Raj, a pocket universe where time has stopped sometime around the 1920s, eating lobster-bloody-thermidor. Wow.
(What is life, really, but a series of experiences? It’s certainly not just about stockpiling stuff. In the end, though, you can’t take anything with you, including stuff AND experiences. Given a choice between material items and indelible memories, I vote for the latter. At least experiences don’t require a garage, or worse, a storage space!)