Ah…Burma….Rangoon (we need to use the names I read about growing up) eastern and hot and mysterious……not Myanmar and Yangon. After all, how scary is a 20 ft. Myanmarese python, compared to a Burmese python?
Bagan, on the Ayeyarwaddy, later Irrawaddy River must have hundreds of stupas and temples on a hill. The ancient city of Innwa, seen by horse cart after fording the river, must have a thousand.
They are all different… no frenzied crowds of pilgrims..nearly deserted… they are white with gold spires, or ancient brick with gold spires. They are simple and clean, unadorned with little buddhas, food, water, flowers, incense, smoke or sweat. They simply have a buddha (or a few) with mirrored and tiles walls. We were nearly alone everywhere.
We have also found the monsoons. At 5:45 this morning it was 74 degrees and 100% humidity, but yet is just raining, torrentially, for about 8 minutes, 5 to 10 times a day. It puddles up immediately, but we have seen no flooding. I did not like the feeling of hydroplaning in a large bus going too fast one afternoon-but here we are.
Locals say all prices have doubled in the last year, and tourist options increase weekly. But that said, the edges of the country are still un-permitted, and like the Wild West.
In the northwest, the buddhist monks are killing muslims – “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog” a local monk was quoted in the paper this week. He denies inciting lynch mobs which have killed 200 muslims recently, and displaced 150,000.00 But perhaps he believes the Jihadists who say they want to kill all infidels? Perhaps he is saying they don’t have visas to Myanmar?
The northeast goes up to touch China, and the Himalayas. Once the heroin capital of the world as a portion of the Golden Triangle, it now is the metha-amphetamine and amphetamine manufacturing center for all of Asia, and along with smuggling everything dead or alive to and from China, remain
under the rule of anarchy.
The southeast (Burma stretches almost to Singapore in the south-hello Phuket) alongside Thailand.
Here, the indigenous people are still just trying to enforce the agreements under which they agreed
to become part of the nation – and with little success.
The refuge problem, with the locals being driven into Thailand and beyond for the past 20 some years, is reflective of the boat people coming out of Vietnam for years. So they are oppressed, and pissed, but not giving up on their claims.
The ghosts of Orwell and Kipling (and Mark Twain from Virginia City and Carson City and Lake Tahoe and Roaring Camp!) are alive and well – street names, quotable quotes, pirated novels for sale by cute women outside temples. But after a 10 hour boat ride down the river, and traveling through dusty 400 year old villages, and brick temples, we came to a sign at our hotel in Bagan,
which said the Duke of Windsor, later King Edward VII, stayed there in 1922.
Well, further to this issue in a moment. Bagan is entirely reminiscent of Angkor – discovered at about the same time, but now developmentally far behind. (Parenthetically, Preston just sent us info. on the discovery of a new winter/summer palace about 100 miles from Angkor – we all knew it had to be there–and days later we hear of a new discovery in Mexico. It has to be between Tulum and Palenque-closer to Palenque I hope-for the natural beauty). Anyway, all these lost civilizations ought to give the politicians pause–of course history repeats itself.
We took a small boat to Bagan-along with the surprise of 2 Swiss girls on extended holiday – just sitting on the shaded top of a cargo boat which can run in the pre-monsoon low river. Disembarking in Bagan consisted of the boat turning into the current and throwing a 2 in. x12 in. board onto a rat-hole filled muddy bank and a hearty “hi-ho” from the crew as they handed us our packs.
So – we stayed where the Prince/King stayed 9 years ago.
Typically we stay where our people stay. One can’t feel a country from the castle, So we stay at a level which is uncomfortable without making Paige squirm. And we walk and talk and eat among the people who might vote if there are elections, but they are not in charge. They are existing and making the most of things as modern-day victims.
However, true to our motto (everything in moderation – including moderation!) we also try to stay with the 1%’ers once in a while because they live here too – and might reveal a little about life here.
Consequently, after our 12 hour bus ride to Rangoon with the people, we checked into the Orient Express hotel, on old Embassy Row – the home of the British Colonial Governor.
No need to go into detail, 48 rooms, European staff, bakery, huge local staff, half a dozen snooty guests.
Rangoon, and frankly the entire country we saw, remind us of Viet Nam, now and 50 years ago.
The people seem to be happy by nature, certainly not by their lot. The riverside in Rangoon looks like Singapore 50 years ago. British, colonial, busy, dirty, colorful, hustling (and hustled!) loud, rowdy, and the master plan says it will look like the current Singapore in 30 years – cold, sterile, no spitting, no gum chewing. 10% richer, 90% not – I’m just sayin…
We took Orient Express bikes and rode around to see the colonial part of town, the Red Cross offices, and the Shwedagon Pagoda. Quite beyond the pale. There must be 20 temples and 400 stupas on this 14 acres.
Begun 2500 years ago, the center stupa contains four hairs from the head of Buddha – he having given them to traveling Burmese holy men just after reaching his enlightenment – which they returned to their king and Buddhism has reigned here since.
We like it. Paige likes it. The country is alive, sad, poor, happy beautiful and optimistic. If it only knew what was in store………..
** I will try and put comments with each photo after I post the blog. The computer is giving me grief now.
** The yellow on the women’s faces is made with the bark of a sandal wood tree. They rub (sand) the wood on a flat stone slate and then add a tiny bit of water to make a paste which is then applied to their cheeks and nose with their index finger. It is used as a sunblock – however, their cheeks are not lighter than the rest of their face. We wonder if it has become a thing of beauty. I tried it and it feels like a mud mask.