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Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The mother and daughters started to get busy since they saw many customers.
They depended on their resources. Since they were by the river, they mostly used fish and shrimps in cooking.
A few large white fish were bubbling in the pot, and on the grill, there was a small, palm-length fish with flesh was so thick that bits of skin soon turned brown.
Li Du sat on the edge of the river, looking out at the water.
The river was clear and billowing, and boats of all sizes rose and fell with the waves. As it was lunchtime, some of the boats were docked.
On both sides of the river, there were many man-made shady spots. A few pieces of wood held up black nets to serve as shelter from the sun. There were a few tanned locals with their tea jars talking underneath these improvised awnings.
It was the first time Li Du came to Myanmar, so he was curious about everything and could not help looking around.
At this, the local people nearby shed turned pale, and several young men pointed at him and shouted.
Godanwei got up quickly and smiled kindly at the young people, and said something.
Big Markelov translated, “The guys asked what you were looking at and the tour guide told them that we were foreigners and that this was our first time here.”
Li Du did not want to make trouble, and when he heard this he withdrew his eyes from the men, then disdainfully smiled and said, “These locals are quite a handful.”
Young Markelov spat and said, “I see that they are not afraid of death!”
Big Markelov stared at him immediately and said, “Don’t mess around here, idiot. We’re on the front line. No logistics, no supplies, no support, nothing. Be reasonable.”
Godanwei sat down after he placated the people on the other side. He said, “They are the local gold-diggers, so they hate it when people look at them. They misunderstood your intention.”
Li Du suddenly realized that there must be gold in the river.
The roast fish were ready first. These fish were skewered with bamboo sticks so that one could eat them without getting one’s hands dirty.
The fish was tender and fresh, with no earthy smell of freshwater fish, but a sweet taste, with spices like cumin and paprika, that the group enjoyed.
The cost of living in these places was very low. Their group spent less than 200,000 Kyat on the meal. According to the exchange rate, one RMB was equal to 200 Kyat.
They were all very big men, and they ate a lot. For a meal like that in the United States, Li Du estimated they would spend more than fifty dollars each.
Before leaving, Li Du gave the landlady a little tip, which was a hundred dollars.
The lady laughed with joy when she saw the piece of money. As the gold diggers would occasionally trade in dollars, she knew the value of this currency.
This hundred-dollar was worth hundreds of thousands of Kyat, and the landlady hid the money carefully. She took some baked fish wrapped in oiled paper and offered them to Li Du, motioned to him that it was for them to eat on their way.
At last, the road became better, and the desolate mountains were replaced by hills riddled with mines.
They had arrived at the Hpakant district!
When Li Du looked out, he could not help marveling at the destructive power of man.
A rock mountain was mined ruthlessly as if some angry giant had torn it in two.
“There was a mountain there, no, there were many of them. And look, they are now all gone, reduced to rubble,” Godanwei said pointing to the potholes in the distance when he saw Li Du amazed expression.
As the cars continued to move, Li Du saw motorcades appearing ahead.
The road condition there was better because many heavyweight vehicles had to drive there, including some heavy machinery such as excavators. If the road condition was not good enough, it would be impossible to transport the ore.
The trucks that came out of the mine were loaded with dozens of tons of ore. It was obvious that most of them overloaded.
Driver took stock and turned around. “That’s some mighty heavy stuff,” he said
The further they went, the more lively the area looked, and villages and pedestrians appeared by the roadside.
The villages here were small and shabby, just a few thatched mud huts that had existed in rural China in the 50s and 60s. Myanmar was a region with heavy rains, and Li Du felt that the houses would be washed away if it rained too heavily.
The people in the villages were very poor. As the weather was still hot, many of the villagers wore a pair of shorts without a top. The children were running around barefoot and naked, a dozen of them fighting for a shabby football.
Some people were sitting in the shade, many of them elderly or disabled, with missing legs and arms. The number of cripples was astounding.
Li Du was shocked and said, “What’s going on here? Isn’t Hpakant a very rich place?”
With a sarcastic smile on his face, Godanwei said, “Yes, very rich. You could take us for example. Boss, you might have a billion dollars. That’s five hundred million on average for both of us, so doesn’t it mean we’re both rich?”
Li Du frowned. “I know what you mean. I know there are many rich businessmen and mine owners here. Are the miners poor? Aren’t they well paid?”
Godanwei, who was still grinning sarcastically, said, “Well paid? It depends on what you consider well paid, I suppose. Besides, the bosses always have a way to get your money back. The miners eat, drink, gamble and spend too much money.”
At this, Li Du shook his head. Godanwei was very clever, and clearly had an intuitive understanding of what his companion was thinking.
He said, “Boss, you must think that the people here are disappointing, right?”
Without waiting for Li Du to reply, he sneered and said, “The people here have not received your education and their self-control is not as good as yours. The local environment is like this and there are many temptations. Wouldn’t you want to relax and have some fun when you leave the mine exhausted every day and don’t know if you’re going to stay alive tomorrow? In a word, hell is empty and the devil walks on earth!”
Li Du said, “You’re right. It seems that the resource curse theory is also applicable in Hpakant.”
It was Godanwei’s turn to be confused. He blinked. “What curse? Who cursed this place?”
Li Du said with a smile, “The resource curse theory states that the richer in natural resources countries and regions are, the more likely they are to be poor overall.”
The situation in Hpakant was similar to that of the diamond-rich areas of Africa. The indigenous people in these areas have not become rich thanks to the resources. Quite the opposite, they had become little better than indentured servants working for the mining industry.
As the car drove between the villages and approached the town, Li Du saw more and more to make him apprehensive.
Like a sad caricature on the Los Angeles metropolitan area, many villages sprang up around the town of Hpakant, and the traffic was heavy as they got closer to the center.
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