Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taunggyi lantern festival

During the November full moon each year, the Burmese hold a lantern festival to trump all lantern festivals - at least in size and ammunition.

Giant hot air balloon-sized lanterns carry gondolas filled with enough massive fireworks to put on a 20 minute show. The lanterns, painted with images of Buddha, are sent off with symbolic intentions requesting him to shower the people with blessings.  In actuality, the people are showered with firework debris.

The thing about Myanmar, though, is this: as a third world country, all things are done manually. Take ferris wheels for instance.  The majority of the world is accustomed to power operated ferris wheels.  The ones in Myanmar are 'man'-ually operated. Sprite young men jump up the wheel like monkeys, climb to the top and hang down making the wheel spin.

The balloons aren't far off. Once the fireworks filled gondola is attached to the floating lantern, the fuse is ignited.  And from the amount of fireworks that go off as soon as the balloon is released in the air, that fuse is not a long one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

up to our ears

Lha Sow, our trekking guide, is a sprite 26 year old family man. He sees his wife and son in incremental spurts, on his occasional day off and on the first night of a three day trek; as the top floor of his house is designated for overnight guests.

The second night's stay is in a house quite similar to his. The upstairs is an open floor plan. Laid out on the wooden planks are enough single 2-inch thick sleeping mats to accommodate the whole of us, feet always facing away from the Buddha wall shrine.

The outdoor toilet is strategically placed next to the pig-pen. Both have outdoor showers, Lha Sow's containing tarp walls for the common westerner who doesn't wrap themselves in a sarong as they shower.

And the hospitality is bar-none.

Bonding with Lha Sow's family came naturally, as he was the binding link. Plus his wife spoke bits of English. It was the second family that took a bit of effort to find something to bond over. The effort came as I walked down the stairs from our temporary room into the common area. There a few of the girls in the family sat on a massive pile of dried corn shucking them with their bare hands. I was intrigued. So I sat down beside them, picked up an ear and with hand gestures and English words they didn't understand, asked if I could help. They laughed and I took it as approval.

Within minutes, the lot of us sat atop the corn laughing with the host family as our thumbs hurt from popping out kernel after kernel.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

a wait in Kalaw

The Burmese government holds a monopoly over its people in regards to tourism. What that means is the following: taxes imposed on hotels and guesthouses are astronomical. Think above 150%. Rooms that in other South East Asian countries would cost between $5-8 US dollars a night, cost $25-35 USD.  And home or monastery-stays are strictly prohibited. All but in one 30-mile narrow stretch of land, that is.

That stretch of land covers vast green rolling hills, tiny villages, and fields as far as the eye can see.  And we thought there would be nothing better than to walk every last inch of it.

So together with Matt and Ruth, a couple we met in Bagan, we hopped a bus bound for Kalaw. Greeting us at the bus stop in the early morning hours of 1:30 was a little energetic old man nick-named Dance. He jumped and skipped as he spoke, excited to lead us to the hotel of our choice, and did a little jig every time we said his name. He said he was a trekking guide, and we wanted him to be ours.

"Dance? No. You don't want Dance to guide you," was the response we got from nearly every person we spoke to in the tiny town.

He's a drunk. An observation we failed to recognize on first encounter. However, his intoxicated state was easy to see every subsequent encounter.

"He'd have been fun for one hour," we all agreed after he approached us a second time asking an unintelligible question with slurred speech. But the other 50+ hours may have taken their toll.

Instead we hunkered down, waiting for the return of the most reputable guide country wide. And in so doing, came across gems easily missed in an otherwise sleepy town.

Take this mammoth grasshopper for example:

Or the super-sized tea they serve in soup bowls:

Then there's the random parade jam session:

And cave temples in which to worship:

But most especially these women, who have garnered our full respect... and then some:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

friendly barter

Shwedagon pagoda

Esther and I left Yangon with it's pilgrimage inducing Shwedagon pagoda to see ones with a little less shine, but no less the historical significance.

Temples dot the land of Bagan in the thousands. Although thousands less than what it once could claim.

Seated in the back of a small horse-drawn carriage, our driver lead us to the most renown of the bunch.

But with fame comes people trying to cash in on it. Namely, vendors.

They line the pathways leading up to the largest of temples selling clothing, post cards, small statues, paintings, lacquerware and other nicknacks.

On one such pathway a vendor called out to me as we walked by.

"My wife says she likes your shirt."  A blue sequined number I had bought a few years before.

I glanced over to his smiling wife.

"Where did you get it?" he asked.

"In America," I told him.

"How much was it?" he prodded.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe $25."

"I'll trade you some lacquerware for it."

I laughed. "What?"

He began explaining how hard it is to get modern items - any item - without it costing the equivalent of an arm and a leg.

So on the temple grounds I strip off my shirt, replacing it with another provided to me, and hand it to the woman. She was left wildly happy while I was one piece of lacquerware richer.

"Maybe I'm more jaded than you," Esther commented as we walked away. "Because I would have never done that."