#5 Myanmar, March 5, 2003
When I prepared to leave Bagan and fly to Heho, I asked my trusty, reliable trishaw driver if a trishaw could take me to the airport. He emphatically said he could take me. My book had mentioned that the airport was close to town. So, in the dark, at 6:00 AM, there he was, once again. The road went inland, and so went uphill for several kilometers. He was standing, pumping the trishaw for much of the way. Once again he was sweating profusely and would surreptiously wipe the sweat from his face. He was so nice, and never spat or chewed betal. And when we got to the airport, he gave me a “present’—two wall plaques. Wasn’t that nice!
I didn’t realize that the plane made an intermediate stop in Mandalay and I was getting off the plane when I said “Heho?” to the flight attendant. I always make a habit of repeating the destination both getting on and off the planes as when boarding there are sometimes more than one plane on the field and you walk out to them—easy to make a mistake! After getting back on I finally got off in Heho and got a taxi to take me to the small town of Nyaungshwe which is near Inle Lake. A canal went right past my hotel that connects a few km away with this rather large (7 X 12 miles) lake.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned the money here. There are three kinds in circulation. One is the American greenback which is used for hotels, airline tickets and some souvenirs—prices are given in dollars. Then there is the FEC (foreign exchange currency) which looks like Monopoly money which the government makes you change for $200 American dollars when you enter the country. These you can spend in place of dollars. (Mine are all gone now, thank goodness). Then there is the common currency called kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). This is roughly 1000 to the dollar and is used for meals, trishaw rides, and all other miscellaeanous things. Once you get the hang of it, it isn’t all that difficult.
An all day visit around Inle Lake made a lovely day. I arranged for the boat through my hotel. I was the only passenger on a long, skinny boat—45′ long and 4′ wide. The front 12 feet rode out of the water! I had sort of a lawn chair to sit on. The driver sat at the back end, running the putt-putt motor that had the propeller half way out of the water. I think this is because the lake has much vegetation in it, and is quite shallow.
At 7:00 AM when we started out it was quite chilly, but my jacket kept me comfortable. We made many stops—a floating market, a silk weaver’s, a blacksmith (really, they were pounding heated metal into knives), a Buddhist pagoda (where people added gold leaf to some stones and a sign said, “Ladies Not Permitted”), a boat factory, a cheroot rolling operation, lunchand finally the monastery where the monks have trained
Some other interesting sights were the ‘leg rowers’—people on this lake row their canoes using one leg hooked around an oar. It looks quite awkward, but apparently this relieves the arms, as they trade off—arms, then leg. The fishermen were also out in their canoes with big cone shaped nets in bamboo frames. I never saw anybody catch anything. Some children in a canoe gave me flowers and one blew me a kiss!
On the lake we passed two boats, each loaded with about 50 men. In one boat they wore blue shirts, and in the other, white shirts. One had live ‘music’—mostly cymbals clashing—I don’t know what the occasion was but they certainly were having a good time.
The lake is very clear and very beautiful, and the weather, which warmed up by 9:00 was perfect. (Nights were good too, I slept with the windows open and a blanket. )
The shallow lake had many ‘floating gardens’ on it which grow a huge amount of produce for the whole area. The ‘floating gardens’ are like the ones in Xochimilco near Mexico City. They don’t float but are made of mud from the lake and staked with long poles to the bottom until eventually they all become little islands.
The people in Myanmar certainly are loving parents. I have never seen a child being reprimanded even when they’re being naughty. The dads, too, pay a lot of attention to the kiddies. One day I saw a couple raking leaves in a field with a 10 month (?) baby sitting on the ground, fussing. Soon the dad came over and strapped the baby to his back as he continued raking.
I hired a trishaw to see the highlights of Naungshwe. For a small town it has many monasteries, of which I visited four. In one (after asking permission) I took a photo of an elderly monk meditating—it turned out to be a statue! I also saw a family of long necked women. They are from a village that puts a series of brass rings on the necks of the women which results in a lengthening of their necks. Actually it’s a deformed collar bone and shoulder blade thing. (There are tribes in Africa that do exactly the same thing.) The government has restricted travel to this village, not because of the necks, but because it is in an ‘insurgent’ area, so they moved one extended family of them here for the tourists to view at $3 per head. It saddens one—the pain of the women, the exploitation of them, etc., but I really was curious and did want to see them. They do sell some nice textiles and bracelets to the tourists, too. A Hindu Temple and a big pagoda rounded out the sights. The fun, really, is just leisurely riding around the town and interacting a bit with the people as they live their lives.
On Monday I got a taxi to take me to Kakku. This is a 12th to 18th century holy site with 2478 stupas, all arranged in rows. Many are falling down and some are being restored. I saw a holy wild boar statue, and some interesting crude Buddhas. The site overlooked Shan lands where people were working in the rice fields, watering and hoeing.
The site was in PaO country, a separate group from the Shan. It was mandatory to stop on the way to the site in Taunggyi, the Shan state capitol, and pay an entrance fee of $3 and pick up a guide ($5).
The guide was a lovely 22 year old woman, dressed in the traditional PaO style—leggings, long tunic, short jacket, all in navy blue fabric, with a turban affair on her head and a red Shan bag on her shoulder.
I learned that the young woman PaO guide is the youngest of four siblings and it is the youngest boy or girl that must take care of the parents. So, while the older children choose their own mates, the youngest has an ‘arranged’ marriage, but does have veto power. I gather the ‘arrangement’ involves the son-in-law being willing to live with the wife’s parents, or vice versa if the youngest is a boy. She said that rural girls marry at about age 18 but city girls (as she is) marry later, at 25-28. She will not be able to marry until her eldest sister is married.
After lunch and on the way back to Taunggyi, we stopped at a PaO village where the guide had friends. We visited an older couple (the friend’s parents) who were 67 and 69. They, and their two grandchildren, were very cordial. The grandparents babysit the grandchildren while the parents work in the fields (rice, barley, wheat, garlic) all day.
We drank tea, seated on mats around a (non-burning) kitchen hearth and then the grandmother fixed herself a betal nut thing (leaf, betal nut, lime paste) while the grandfather smoked a cheroot. The betal made the grandmother’s mouth and teeth bright red and she spat through a crack between the hearth and the floorboards to the level below. The house was built of bamboo, with a lower level for animals and storage. It really was a lovely day!
I bought a Burmese cookbook that in the introduction, talked about women’s and men’s roles. The cooking role is totally the woman’s and the cookbook says “That it is every Burmese woman’s acknowledged aim to become a wife. [Yet] there is no hesitation between this and an independent career. Over 30% of the doctors, 40 % of the teachers, and 43% of the trained economists in Burma are women.” The prefix or title of a woman (Miss or Mrs. or Ms in our parlance) changes NOT with marriage but with adulthood or professional status. When they marry, they retain the same title and their own name, as well as rights to own or dispose of original property, equal shares in property held jointly during marriage, and equal rights to institute divorce and to remarry. However, the cookbook author says that their Theravada Buddhism teaches that since women bear and nurse children, they can never equal men’s achievement of detachment so that spiritually he is her senior and she needs to recognize that fact [!] by cooking, washing and cleaning house for him as well as “speaking to him in pliant ways.” The woman has management of house and money, closeness to children and living close to her blood relatives after marriage. She also needs to supplement income if money is scarce. Once again, it seems to me that the male’s ace-in-the-hole is always religion.
Tuesday I went across the lake, again, this time to spend a night at the Golden Island Cottages. The little individual bungalows (about 15) and the main hall are built of bamboo over the water on stilts, and are connected by a wooden walkway. Since I was the only guest at that moment, it was quiet and tranquil. There is land at the back of the property with trees full of egrets and small cormorants. The lake was very beautiful with its small mountains surrounding it—very still in the morning but breezier and bluer in the afternoon. It was pleasant to spend some time reading and relaxing. I have managed to trade books or borrow from tiny libraries in some hotels, but it’s pretty much ‘catch as catch can’. Here is what I’ve been reading:
“Blue River” by ?—about sisters—I liked it; “In Pale Battalions” by Robert Goddard—-good; “‘Tis” by Frank McCourt—interesting but Frank, stop whining!; “How to be Good” by Nick Hornby—terrific on two levels; “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone—wonderful—I’ve seen most of Michelangelo’s work, so great!; “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl” by Fannie Flagg—kind of a mystery–enjoyed it’; “Burmese Days” by George Orwell—very good novel although a downer; “Experience” by Martin Amiss—good, but his vocabulary is so much bigger than mine!; “The Dean’s December” by Saul Bellows—a little hard going, but good. I read so little at home, then when I travel (alone) I read a lot.
I’m going to Bangkok next week to meet my Welsh friend, David Watts, whom I originally met in Ghana two years ago. We’ll be going on to Cambodia and Laos together from where I’ll return to Bangkok and go home to Minneapolis on March 31st, while David continues on into Viet Nam. So after March 10 I should be able to access my hotmail and send my own ‘bulk mailings’! I’d love to hear from you, too, on my firstname.lastname@example.org address. Thanks, Claire for sending these on—this will be the last which you will need to do; I will be able to send #6 myself from Bangkok.