There are so many ways to travel, to be a traveler/visitor/observer.
Not to worry. I will go on about being an observer before I forget what the last couple of days have looked like. We are in Bagan – up north in Myanmar with four others from last year’s Dalian American International School grouping two of whom are our host; Kay and Frank teaching in Yangon and showing us around for the ten-day Chinese New Year break. Thanks mates
We may feel like we are in Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club (that ridiculously silly show that we have watched five seasons of in a month back home in China; we even have our own VP (Narda) and I am sure the village people run into their huts in fear as we approach. Of course they would not hear our hogs because our choppers are electric and they go about the speed of an ox-cart.
It is old-people-like enough that we live in Campus Village, our assisted-living like environment back at work but this is really embarrassing. Not to worry we rode into the local village – New Bagan, then on to Old Bagan. The difference is that everyone who once lived in Old Bagan was moved to New Bagan by some passing government. It was a good thing though because governments only do good things. Well not China; they had that culture de-evolution period that wiped out anything old or of historical meaning at least from a tourist’s view, well, and to anything civilized all together, and replaced it then and still today with crap. I read in a paper in Korea on the way to here that the new head of China looks up to Mao and saw him as a great person. Damn! There goes any hope of China ever trying to save anything of its past. Could anyone ever do as much destruction as Mao? Oh wait; they are building ghost-cities and knocking down anything that remains of the past. Good on ya new China Head, you may outdo Mao yet.
Myanmar; not its real name, it was Burma until the 1980s when some passing government saw fit to change the name to something that would barely fit on a fridge magnet, did do something really right. They preserved their heritage and still are. How wonderful China would be to live in if they were not so hell-bent on wiping out of anything of value and replacing it with brand-name copies. See I am not a bit political and I have no opinions about running countries though if I were asked how to do it I could probably think of some stuff to make people happier, or at least fed and the generals to have fewer luxury cars and stop destroying the environment so a few people could be stupidly extremely wealthy. Like the destruction of mountains by Chinese land-stealers for jade (see “Myanmar suffers from curse of the jade scorpion” http://www.afr.com/p/lifestyle/review/myanmar_suffers_from_curse_of_the_yEBvn1gLsJ8cGXnYJEN6VI)
We went into lots of pagodas finding the one thing the couple of thousand had in common, a statue of their hero. One of their more famous and largest is a pagoda that has a replica of a tooth of the Buddha and the way they determined where to build it was by putting the replica of the tooth into a gold box on the back of an elephant and where the elephant laid down they said that was the spot. Of course in a place so hot and dry the poor beast probably died on the spot but why diss a sacred story? The story is more believable than the one that has a hair of Buddha beneath a huge rock that is now painted gold. For some reason Buddha lifted the damn thing and put a hair beneath it. I think he did it to keep the rock from falling down the hill and killing off life forms. I love religion. Everyone has such fantastic stories surrounding the hero. If the world came to an almost complete end now and all that could be found by a new set of people were some comics and videos about Batman a religion would emerge and Batman and the Son of Batman would become the heroes and worshiped. Good grief.
So the airport here in Bagan. What’s with these domestic airlines? We came here on Air-Mandalay which was fine – an old creaky prop-job but it found the runaway and stopped too so that was good. Their fleet is currently comprised of two ATR-72-212s and one ATR 42-320. If there was any doubt about how safe these things are we are completely reassured by their safety statement: “All aircraft in Air Mandalay’s fleet and the maintenance facility are inspected once a year by the Direction General de I’Aviation Civile (DGAC) of France.”. Of course being in Burma we know there is no chance of corruption. Once a year does not seem very often. I use to look under the hood of our car more often than that and I am surprised to this day we are still alive from our last car. Fortunately in China we do not have a car. We rely on the mechanics and drivers in China for our safety. Have I already said ‘good grief?’ The airport in Bagan is like the airport pre-when-I-got-there-1981-Adelaide-Airport or something in the states in the 1950s or to be generous, early 1960s. That is fine but now we are at the airport waiting to go back to Yangon and the flight was supposed to have left a couple of hours ago. No one is sure where the plane is…
OK here it is and on life goes.
OK that is really old news as we are up up away on a propeller driven thing that too no doubt is pre-fifty years ago. Air KBZ ‘Flying Beyond Expectations’. I am not sure what that quote which is on everything from the vomit-bag to the packs of powered milk for the powered coffee. Their fleet is currently comprised of four ATR 72-500 and two ATR 72-600 aircraft – prop planes. I know it sounds like Air Mandalay’s fleet but I think they are older craft even though the numbers are higher.
I call it Air KGB and wonder why no one laughs but then I have been wondering that for years. When I wanted my students at uni to laugh after saying what I thought was funny and everyone looking at me like I was nuts I would say ‘not to worry my wife doesn’t think I am funny either’ and that would put them over the top with laughter.
We have discovered the main bank where we get our cash converted into cash or Kyats into US dollars is also KBZ. Below is a quick snapshot of their bank; the photo does not do the volumes of cash piled up justice. They bring in lots of metal crates stuffed with cash. The locals like US dollars and of course who doesn’t? However, the bills have to be perfect; no marks, no creases and look like they just were printed which possibly they were. No problems with the amount of hundred-dollar bills either. We set down our pile of Kyats; one-thousand equals one US dollar approximately. They had a pile of US one-hundred dollar notes with three tins of Red Bull on them. I tried to grab a photo but the bank-girl would not move and I had no real line other than ‘could you move over dear I want to take a photo of a stack of hundred dollar bills with tins of Red Bull on them’. US dollars and Kyats are treated as equal but on the day it was about one-thousand Kyats to one US dollar and one cent. We needed a few hundred US dollars for flights to Bagan as travel agents prefer US dollars to the local currency. Taxi drivers and shop keepers are happy with a US dollar so when paying three dollars for a taxi ride slipping in a US dollar is OK.
And talking about taxi rides. We use to think Dalian was cheap. Well actually it is as 6 RMB about a US buck will get one through town but we pay $20 to get to the airport which takes an hour. In Yangon we could get an hour taxi ride for 3 to four dollars; four if after dark. From where we stayed with our friends Kay and Frank who taught with us last year at Dalian American International School and now are at Yangon International School, a five-minute walk away, to downtown is usually half an hour away if there is no traffic but that is rare. We usually were caught in traffic.
Yangon is going through a bit of a change which is easy to look about so I will stick to my observations and not what the media or the web says. Yangon is like other Asia cities with too many cars. That is what I saw. Apparently just a year or two ago there were a lot less cars but as the country is trying on a bit of freedom stuff everyone seems to have a car. Back to Yangon shortly but I realised I was still talking about Bagan.
It is a bit better of a prop-plane than the one we came on as the seat is at least tall enough to rest my head on if I were so inclined. The Air-Mandalay plane was something designed as a child’s school bus if children were to fly to school. The fact that there is no leg room is just part of the package. We did get dinner; being that this is obviously the dinner cruise flight. We got a chocolate croissant and a piece of what could possible be sponge cake and then they passed out candies wrapped up. Three desserts for dinner; the diabetic special, but really I am happy. We all are. What a fantastic place Bagan is. The fact that my blood sugars are through the roof after a week and a half in Burma is something my body will just have to deal with. Really, after seeing tins of Red Bull atop hundred-dollar bills I started drinking them often in Myanmar with some strange psychological belief that the two were related and soon hundred-dollar bills would come my way if only I would keep drinking Red Bull which my fellow travelers could not believe I would drink. ‘You look so healthy, vegetarian, gym careful of what you eat and you drink that shit?’
We stayed at Ruby True http://www.rubytrue.com/, which had individual cabins/huts with little porches. The place is on a dirt road which no doubt is at the end of New Bagan town. Tourism is new I think in this part of the world. As I was going to talk about at the start of this section labeled, I think, ‘observation’, which I am full of but I lack in knowledge about what I am observing.
I am trying to learn here though. This is different than going to Krabi, Thailand like we did a month ago and spending weeks going swimming, riding motor scooters and living a relaxing life. This is different than going to all the other places; China, what do I know about the place after three years? Really little to nothing. I know the Chinese are having another culture revolution to destroy whatever heritage and culture they missed the first time around and that they are building empty cities but that is from looking and seeing and interpreting usually from my own thoughts.
Here. Burma, it is different. The pace is slow at least up in Bagan.
We had dinner along the Irrawaddy River, rode our motor bikes (e-bikes), Narda bought material to make longyis, those long dress-like pants that men wear there. See our youtube video at ttp://youtu.be/tmni8aPnHMY. Frank and Sean wore theirs to dinner but unfortunately I forget where in our hotel room mine ended up. Luckily we found them the next day, after photos were taken and now they are in a box with lots of material Narda will make lots of dresses with. Kool.
Along the way we came across what I thought was a wedding – we had heard it for hours as we toured around New Bagan and took a bit of footage when it began its trek down the main road. See http://youtu.be/O4FeilB7_QY I have been corrected on that – it was children becoming monks.
Back in Yangon where we stayed with Frank and Kay we continued to explore and spend money as one does on holiday. For some unknown reason four of us when we were out and about; Kay and Frank were at work as they do not celebrate Chinese New Years like we do (ten days off from work), someone said ‘oh look lets look at glasses’. It is more of a female thing I think, to get more glasses. I think Kay has about a dozen or maybe less, Narda just bought glasses in Hong Kong which she really like for a day or two and I got glasses three years ago in Dalian. I actually was the only one who needed glasses as mine are a bit scratched and I need stronger glasses because I got really old the past couple of years. To make a tedious story shorter we all went in and bought glasses. We are all happy that we can see and with designer-type glasses that cost half the price as they do in China. Mine are titanium frame scratch-resistant tri focal progressive and so are Narda’s and mine includes magnet attached sunnies. Sean mentioned that it was like getting eyes tested 40 years ago and it did look quite basic and yesterday and I only hope that I can see a month from now. At the moment they are stronger than what I had so that is good.
Narda and I had one of those life changing experiences whilst in Yangon. We had several meals at Monsoons downtown (85-87 Theinbyu Road in Botataung Township) and one day after lunch we went to the Yangon River and took a ferry at Pansodan Terminal across to Dala. There are two government-owned ferries, the Kyan Sit Khar and the Anawyahta and we did one going over and the other coming back. Youtube video = http://youtu.be/iVIZ1nUQmxA. The ferry is incredibly noisy and very crowded with a handful of tourists or at least western-styled ones and laborers and vendors who sell at Kyimyindaing Market, the major wholesale market for fishery products in Yangon.
We met a fellow on the ferry who was a trishaw driver (rickshaw in other places). Narda does not mind talking to strangers and often seeks them out whereas I would rather swim across the muddy terribly polluted Yangon River before talking to someone. Narda actually asked if he could drive us around Dala and I in my usual doubtful way about humans being little more than hustlers after something for themselves at our misfortune was trying to remember how much money we actually had with us. I think we had recently drawn out 300000 Kyats which is $300 US. It is easy, just rub out the last three zeros. The trishaw driver said he would charge us 2000 Kyats ($2 US). Narda said we were too heavy for both of us to go with one person so he lined up with another driver and off we went. The roads are wide enough for two passing bikes or motorcycles.
Before going on here: help us find these two trishaw drivers, we want to help them;
They drove around for a couple of hours. At the end instead of 2000 Kyats that they had asked for we gave them 15000. $15 to us is so little but to someone who earns a couple of dollars a day it becomes a week’s earning. Both had lost family during Cyclone Nargis the second deadliest cyclone of all time which wiped out most of this town in 2008 including killing off the family of the boys giving us bike tours. Aung who has four daughters lost his parents and brother in the cyclone. Of course what people say could be anything so I base what I know on what I observe.
We rode through incredibly impoverished areas along the Twante Canal which connects the Irrawaddy River and the Yangon river. If we had time we would have taken a boat ride for an hour but it was already afternoon. They took us to a village with no roads and we walked along the footpath with children running up and wanting to have their photos taken. It was not like in India where they ask for money or expect gifts. They genuinely seemed excited to have visitors in their village. There is no running water in the village but then again we did not see running water anywhere. We did see people with pails of water in the late afternoon. There are only two times a day people can collect water so when we were headed back to the ferry about five pm we saw a lot of water being carried. There are a few pumps along the way nearer the ferry terminal. The pumps were put in by some United Nations organisation. There were no pumps near where the village we visited was.
Koko’s dream is to go to university which he said he could do for $25 a month. If we lived in Myanmar we would have tracked down the uni and set up an arrangement where we would pay for his schooling based on his attendance. Perhaps one day we will. We have read that the government often bulldozes these shanty towns away leaving the people to start again. We were told the Chinese are buying up all the land which is what is forcing the people off of it. I would suggest reading The Irrawaddy Magazine which is online at http://www.irrawaddy.org/ for more about what the Burmese government is up to. We have the latest issue and have been reading how China is raping the land for jade.
We stopped at the one internet cafe before ending our trip. The computers were pretty dirty and old but we had to check our email and find where we were going for dinner with Kay and Frank and off we went. If I lived in Yangon I would go on weekends and teach internet usage. I think if I could set up our two drivers with email accounts and promoted them on Trip Adviser they may get more business. They were really fun guys and we had laughs and just a great tour.
Koko’s dream is to go to university which he said he could do for $25 a month. If we lived in Myanmar we would have tracked down the uni and set up an arrangement where we would pay for his schooling based on his attendance. Perhaps one day we will. We have read that the government often bulldozed these shanty towns away leaving the people to start again. The Chinese are buying up all the land which is what is forcing the people off with no where to go. I would suggest reading The Irrawaddy Magazine which is online at http://www.irrawaddy.org/ for more about what the Burmese government is up to. We have the latest issue on how China is raping the land for jade.
We visited Yangon International School where our hosts work. I went to Frank’s 7th grade class twice as I am making some clips for my in-house news show, DAISlive, back at Dalian American International School. One of the things I have started to do on the show is to have a bit of movement. For house points the students are supposed to move to about a minute and a half dance thingy. So we had Frank’s class do one that I will put on the first show when we get back. I have middle school moving about but the high school students just sit and watch and some will say ‘we moved our eyes’ so my movement portion is not quite the success I had hoped for as of yet but we still have another semester to go and I am determined to get students up and moving so we will see.
We did not see any of the cobras that we have heard so much about. Maybe not disappointed but footage of at least one would have been nice. Frank said they found three at their school last week. We were visiting at the best time of the year when it was not too hot and there was no rain. When it rains the walk to school or anywhere is pretty gruesome with water past ones ankles and always the chance of having a cobra winding up your leg.
We took taxis everywhere and one of my favourite times was when we offered a puppy to a driver. Frank and Kay have some dogs and one had puppies that are now two months old and they are looking for homes for them. The puppies are from Bonnie of the Bonnie and Clyde street dogs they have adopted. I had never seen so many street dogs anywhere as I have in Burma and they are almost all brown. Kay and Frank have set up a bit of rescue street dogs situation where they clean them up and look for homes for them. At the time of our visit there were a dozen brown dogs but five were puppies and Bonnie and Clyde live outside the gate as they are street dogs and only come in to the house on occasion. So long story short it was good a taxi driver took a puppy. We drove into town with him and he had the puppy on his lap the whole way and he was quite happy. He said he had three children and they would like it.
We did the usual visit to pagodas including The Shwedagon Pagoda in the centre of town. I think everything in Yangon is measured from the distance to The Shwedagon Pagoda. There is a replica of Buddhas’ tooth and so much more. The only downside to these visits is one has to be barefoot and on a hot day the feet do burn. We found ourselves almost running from shrine to shrine to keep from burning our feet.
I love the written language it looks so creative. Even on their license plates;
The other thing to do in Yangon (number one is to take the ferry and go to the villages on the other side and do something helpful/useful) is to take the Yangon Circular Train. We rode for quite some time on it and the only reason it was free was because we could not work out how to purchase tickets so we just got on and no one seemed to care. Of course the women folk like shopping and were off to the Bogyoke Aung San Market where Narda found more material. We went to Coffee Circle for western breakfast and had a good massage at the Pearl Centre.
Oh wait! Massages – right up there with what to do. I had two. One at an upmarket joint which set me back eight dollars US for one and a half foot shoulder back legs massage and I gave the girl a three dollar tip which the others in the group said was a lot. Then we went to the Pearl Centre and that was even better and cheaper. Seven dollars for the hour and a half head, shoulder, back, foot massage. Of course we tipped them, a dollar. It is easy to feel guilty in some situations. In China we pay ten to fifteen dollars for a foot massage and up to fourty dollars for two hours full body. But then everything is realitive. I paid about $120 in Clifton Park New York for a Valentine gift massage years ago for Narda. Maybe my future life will be to go to a village for a day to help people then in the evening get a massage for seven bucks.
Our last meal in Yangon was at The House of Memories. This is where General Aung San had offices before being killed off. The food is excellent – I had a really good tofu dish and my new favourite, tea leaf salad though this time with ginger. We went to the gate of Aung San Suu Kyi and asked the guard if we could come in but of course we were not invited in. Shucks.
House of memories, No. 290, U Wizara Road, Kamaryut Township, www.houseofmemoriesmyanmar.com General Aung San’s first office
I would write heaps more but I have to get ready for school and as so often it happens that I did not create lesson plans whilst on holiday. Damn!
And, not an excuse, but I have spent the weekend trying to upload this one blog. All day Saturday and most of Sunday. To upload each image takes up to an hour. Then of course the whole site crashes. Maybe I can use my VPN in China to get onto Facebook, YouTube and my blog but the Internet is slow it is almost not worth the effort. I put up four YouTube videos at the airport in Seoul in less than an hour. Here I started one Saturday night at six pm and by nine AM Sunday – fourteen hours later, finally a six minute video got uploaded to YouTube. I wouldn’t even try to post it on to Facebook that would take a couple of days and then there is always the Internet crashing. China is about at the same level as Burma when it comes to Internet.
As far as I could imagine
was never far enough
to place me here.
I was prospecting in a small town up north
(Papunyu in the Northern Territory)
The circus had left a small tent behind.
I peeked inside, looking for adventure.
There was a gypsy sitting naked in front
of a crystal ball she was fondling.
She had my portrait tattooed on her breasts…
it was impossible not to notice – even for a man.
She said my future was mapped in my hands
would I put them on my portraits
I remembered her from some distant shore
(when we were children it was her dolls
I had sacrificed to Aphrodite
during mass and she never forgave)
I didn’t want my future told
I knew where all the doors were
AND THAT IS ALL ONE NEEDS TO KNOW TO GET OUT
As I left the tent
I felt Chiron’s hot laughter behind me
and turned just in time to watch the tent
disappear into the screaming mist
Before long I did forget it all
until tonight when my concupiscent concubines
came home and said a gypsy was looking for me
to tell my future
she was no longer smiling.
Now I know it is my end because I sacrificed
to the wrong god so long ago
like all men do to bring about their end
Storiette #7 4-17-94 Victor Harbor SA