Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Myanmar (Burma) Inle Lake

The web is a vast enclcylopedia, so here's an excerpt from www.visit-mekong.com I'll follow that with a couple of quick observations and our "monk" story.

At 875 metres above sea level, Inle Lake is still surrounded by high hills that help to keep the waters calm and the lake area misty. The huge and beautiful lake does not only contain a marvelous microcosm of aquatic life, but is also surrounded by a harmonious blend of national races. 22 km long and 11 km wide, Inle Lake is home to 70,000 Bamar, Danaw, Danu, Intha, Kayah, Pa-O, Shan, and Taung-yo peoples, among others - roughly half of the areas population.

Of these groups, one of the largest is the non-indigenous Intha, who live in 17 stilted villages around the lake. They are said to have migrated from Dawei, in southern Myanmar, in the late 1300s. Most are involved in fishing for the local carp and other freshwater fish that are abundant in the lake with cone shaped nets. The Inthas are renowned for rowing their flat-bottomed boats from the stern with one leg, so that they can watch for shoals of fish, and avoid the large clumps of water hyacinth and low-lying islands that are scattered about Inle.

Inle Lake also supports a thriving farming community that produces a wide range of vegetables and flowers, and rice is cultivated at the northern end of the lake on extremely fertile floating islands. The local men also produce silver and brassware, pottery and lacquerware, while the lake's womenfolk are highly skilled silk weavers. The area is the second largest producer of silk products in the country.

Many of the garments produced by the local women find themselves in use at the yearly Phaung Daw U and Waso festivals, which run concurrently in September and October. During the former, sacred statues from Phaung Daw U Paya are rowed around the lake to bless the local monasteries, and bring prosperity to the hard-working local communities of Inle Lake.

Okay...that's the book part. For us, staying at the Golden Isles cottage "resort" on stilts on the lake looked like the perfect way to spend some relaxing time watching the water drift by and taking day trips to the local villages and stilt towns.

What we weren't prepared for was the "Wailing Mosque" or so we thought. Having lived in Qatar for 2 years at around 5 p.m. from across the waters we heard a blood curdling wail, which sounded like the call to prayers in the Middle East. Well, we know we weren't there, so maybe this was some chant from one of the temples. It shortly ended. Or so we thought.

Then we heard it at 9 pm. Then at 1 a.m. . Okay...it'll end soon. NOT. Then at 3 a.m.

The next time talking to a fellow teacher, Rachel, we remarked. "Gee you think someone would have told us about the noise from the village across the lake. How can they call this a "resort'?

During the day we were far away and about, so no "call to mosque".

Ah, but that night. Yup. at 5 p.m. Then about 9pm...1 a.m. 3 a.m. I slept with my BOSE sound deadening headphones on AND THAT DIDN'T HELP.

So off Sue goes to find out what the noise is about. "Oh that. You are very lucky. You are here during a monk's novitiation. This only happens a few times a year."

Seems that the village calls everyone around for miles to come and share in the celebration. Only happens when school is out. Or when we're at the resort!

Even with that this was a place not to be missed. Besides the friendliness of the people, seeing a completely different way of life was eye opening. Life is life no matter where you go......the trappings may be different, but you can see the same emotions that make us who we are.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Myanmar (Burma) Bagan

This was our first step back in time. Cue Twilight Zone music.

Okay, maybe the first step back in time was taking the flight from Yangon to Bagan leaving from an airport that should have been painted black and white and been in a 40's movie. Next was getting into a car from at least 30 years ago, which when I described it later to teachers who have traveled extensively, nonplussed they said: "Oh that sounds like Cuba." Our taxi dated to about 1970. And if it wasn't for the falling headliner, missing door handle, windows that rolled down but not up, most of the rear seat coverd..but only most, then maybe it would have been charming. Fun and unusual: Yes. Charming ain't gonna cut it.

Cue Starship Enterprise.

Warp speed back in time to I don't know oh maybe a 1,000 years ago.

Cliff notes from our faithful guidebook, The Lonely Planet. Bagan was a prime spot for activty for about 250 years dating from about 1,047 and ending with the footsteps of Kubla Khan raiders in 1287.

We stayed in Old Bagan, where the government relocated all the inhabitants away to create the Archaeological Zone, located on the bend of the Ayeyarwady River. Hotels are allowed as are a few local restaurants, but other than that it's an arechological zone.

As Lonely Planet says: "Imagine all the medieval cathedrals of Europe sitting on Manhatten Island --and then some-- and you begin to get a sense of the ambition of the Bagan kings who built as many as 4,400 temples over a 250 year period." Ayup, 4,400 temples.

After being overtaken by Kulai Khan and the Mongol invasion, the sites reamined deserted and untouched over the centuries.

The "why" is what I'm still trying to find out. All I can surmise is offering to the gods.

These pictures can't convey the vast amount of temples in this area. I kept looking for a great post card or aerial shot, but the best I could do was take a photo of a small area from the top of a temple.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Myanmar: Yangon and Schwedagon Temple

I keep wanting to say "Burma Shave". Well, that goes back in time, but near as far back as Myanmar, which was renamed Burma by the British.

During the van service to Pudong airport for our flight to Myanmar another teacher asked: "And where are you going on spring break." I was tempted to say Fort Lauderdale, but Susan answered: "Myanmar...ever been there." To which the other teacher replied: " I wouldn't go there for political reasons." I was so tempted to say: "Umm..you're living and working in China and you won't go to Myanmar?" But I bit my tongue....

You can read all about the political problems in Myanmar, but then again name a country that doesn't have something wrong with it. Right now a world poll has the U.S. in an ugly light with close to 60% saying the U.S. sets a bad example.

Bush's embargo sometime ago caused a number of banks to leave the country. There is not an ATM machine to be found and you can't use your credit card in most places.

Guess what they want: U.S. Greenbacks. We took a pile of George Washingtons, Abraham Lincolns, and pretty much ignored the other presidents.

Only one day was planned in Yangon and that was to see the Shwedagon Paya Temple. Well worth the trip. These photos are only a sampling and don't near at all show the size.

Posting these now. Will be back later to tell you about Miss LaLa, the Three Season Hotel, and my flirtation with a drag queen...well I didn't flirt.. I was flirted "at".

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