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The Lake

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This is Inle Lake in Myanmar, a unique world on water where roads are canals, houses are built on stilts, vegetables are grown on floating patches of seaweed and bamboo, and harvesting tomatoes or visiting a neighbour requires a boat. It is also a world where fishermen balance on one leg at the very back of their shallow boats, the other leg wrapped around the paddle – an iconic image reproduced on postcards and guidebook covers. And, it is a world where such fishermen pose for tourists and expect tips, and where many of these tourists hope to see a glimpse of the lake's tribal culture but mainly find hawkers, souvenir stalls, and other tourists. In other words, it is a fascinating, complex, and thoroughly contemporary world – one I would love to explore much deeper.

It is our second day on the lake and this time we have a guide – the very best we could possibly imagine. Her name is Yin Yin. She worked as UNDP community development coordinator for four years. Now, with rising trust in the new Burmese government, UNDP has outsourced their projects to local NGOs and Yin Yin became a tour guide. Her understanding of the communities, and her access to the people of the lake, is exceptional. Wherever we come, people know her or about her and she is received warmly.

We head for the southern part of the lake. A canal leads through seasonal marshes to Thaung Tho, a village that hosts one of the area's rotating markets, where lake-grown vegetables and fish are brought in boats, and hill-grown fruits and firewood in bullock carts.

The girl on the last image is my daughter in one of the houses we were invited to. When I struggle with my role as tourist, when I curse my total ignorance of any language spoken here, she makes friends. While I search for meaning, she just is. One happy traveller.

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