Yangon

Khob Khun Ka

There has been a huge gap of days; too much time away from you.  The days in Myanmar have been unforgettable, incredible, moving, life changing, inspiring and so many more adjectives that have not even been thought of yet.  I strive to make it justice and find that I will honor it only by taking my time in writing about it.  I want you to enjoy it as much as I have so I wish to take my time in taking you through what experience.  Hence, for now, we are going to have a time gap. Will retell the Myanmar part as soon as possible.  At the last hotel in that country I was trying to connect to the Internet (seems to be a constant in my life these days) and could not.  So the engineer was called in and proceeded to change the configuration of it so that I could access it.  You must change it before you leave he tells me –through signs and smiles.  I in turn signal him to show me how.  He does and I proceed to forget how to do so as soon as the door closes behind him and think nothing of it.  More on that later.

We are in Yangon where we will say good-bye to Thiha, our local guide.  Parting has been difficult for all of us.  He has been incredible.   He leaves us at the Yangon airport.  The mural is one of a Myanmar wedding. 

Shopping Monks

I depart feeling as when you leave a loved one, part of me excited with what lies ahead, the other side of me mourning the separation and worried about my partner.  Myanmar has taken my heart prisoner.

We are flying on. Off to Bangkok we go.  We are bussed to the plane up the stairs into the aircraft where it is sit where you wish or have an empty seat.  It’s a routine I am getting used to.  

We arrive in Bangkok and to go through passport control.  Of course, when I go through (or try) they once again send me to the doctor to stamp my passport.  But I live in the US.  Yes, but Paraguay passport.  But, I already have a stamp from before.  Yes, but need it every time you in.  Ay, ay, ay!  So I go and the doctor stamps my passport and tells me to go through him before I go through passport control.  Now I’m concerned about my internal flights, when I will be alone.  Now I know that there are another 10 souls that are waiting and worrying about me.  Oh well, day at a time.  Zen mode.   I return to the same girl and go right up to the front.  She discovers my profession and I get the first smile in Thailand yet.  You actress?  You go.  I ask how to say thank you in Thai and she says “khob khun ka”.  She takes her time, corrects me until I pronounce it right, smiles again.  I can almost feel the murderous stares of those in line.  Welcome to Thailand.  One more smile and I meet my friends who wait with my luggage.  I love this group!

We arrive once again at the Pantip Suites.  I am starting a new page on my blog where the reviews of hotels, airlines, restaurants, and shows will go.  The one on Pantip Suites is going to be long and not for all the right reasons.  However, a friend will be happy to know that I did jump on the ginormous bed.  I am focusing on the good and am including here the view that I get from the room in the morning which pretty cool.

We arrived late at night so we are free to relax.  I take out my computer, excited that I will be able to report on Myanmar.  Nothing happens.  Try Internet again.  Nothing.  Call downstairs.  One engineer comes.  Changes the cable.  Other engineer comes and reverently touches my Mac and shakes his head no.  What?? Is my Mac dead?  Why are you patting it?  Oh, new Mac.  Don’t understand it.  They leave.  Internet doesn’t come and then it hits me.  The WiFi configuration was changed and I can’t figure out how to reset it.  Ugh!    Nothing else to do but unpack and sleep.

We meet our other 5 travelers at a meeting Otto, our trip leader has set up to brief us on the next 19 days.  A map awaits with where we will go and something that I find absolutely charming.  He has prepared a tag with the maps of our next 4 countries and a space where our name will be written in the language of where we are.  He is funny and very knowledgeable.The Grand Palace is how we will start our day.  I don’t really know what to expect.  On the way there we pass Chinatown.  It seems there is a Chinatown in every city of the world.

We arrive and there is a tidal wave of humanness that overcomes me.  It is hot, hot, hot.  The sun shines strongly, it’s 98 degrees, only 54% humidity.  Still, I am about to faint.  We cross the street.  Cars are everywhere.  Scooters you have to scoot away from.  Bicycles. Motorcycles.  Tuk tuks.   Horns blast.  People talk.  Peddlers putting their mouths close to my ear wanting me to buy elephants, postcards, hats, t-shirts.  Bursts of color seem to flash by. Our guide raises his hand and surprisingly they all stop albeit barely a few inches from us.

Then we go in and once again I am bombarded by colors.  Reds, greens, yellows, oranges along with others shining more than ever due to the sun.  Still haven’t gotten many smiles but am starting to warm up to Thailand.

Scary Good Demon

Good Demon standing guard.

The walls of the Royal Monastery are painted with scenes from the Ramakien.  One is a depiction of the initial stages of the war waged by Ramo of Ayothaya to rescue his wife who had been abducted by the King of Longka.  Ah, the extent that some men will go for a woman!  We visit the Emerald Buddha made of a huge piece of jade.  It is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand.  They change his outfit 3 times a year: one in winter, one in summer, one in the rainy season.  He now sports his winter outfit (Yeah, winter!)  Soon he will be changed into the summer one.

One of the stupas is adorned by broken porcelain.  Intricate design. beautifully executed. 

One building built by one of the kings is European in style on the bottom.  When they were going to complete the top he was advised to make it in the traditional style of the country.  The end result is beautiful and not weird as one would think.

It’s lunchtime now.  My pants are a tad tighter now which makes it impossible for me to disregard the fact that I am a bit less thin J than I was before. Somehow, though I notice there is no way I won’t stop experiencing that burst of flavor with every bit.

Local Beer

Each forkful offering a new taste to decipher and assess.  The restaurant is on the water but a permanent fixture.  Lunch is buffet-style.  I have my first local beer:  Chang.  I am told it is made from rice.  It’s cold and I love it.

Beer and noodle soup unite

Noodle soup is hot and just great. 

Coconut "pancake"

Dessert is a little coconut pancake which is really half a little ball is insanely delicious.  I go back too many times for more but don’t worry much about it.  We see the long boats pass by and with them floats my worries away.

Once back on the bus we pass huge fixtures with photos of a man with a camera and one on the piano.  Who’s the dude? I am told he is King Rama IX.  He is now 84 years old and frail but all photos depict him when he was young.  He is much loved among the Thai people, as is his wife.  It turns out that he is American though his wife is Thai.

And now comes confession time.  In my haste to not keep my friend waiting to go to the airport I left the charger and the extra battery to my camera safely plugged onto the wall of my room in Los Angeles.  Thiha, our Myanmar guide, tried getting me a battery or a charger to no avail.  As we return to the hotel I ask Otto to give me the address and name of somewhere that could possibly have it.   He writes it down in Thai, puts me in a cab and I am off to my private adventure in Bangkok.  Nothing prepares me for what I encounter.  I am at MBK Center “the most visited mall in Bangkok” a shopping mall/department store/market 7 floors high.  It is massive!  You can barely walk the aisles. I feel like sand thrown in a glass and stirred mightily.   Not many understand English but all recognize my battery and that it comes from a new model.  No, they don’t have.  Finally I go into a store that says Lumix in big letters.  I show my battery she says no.  I ask for charger and she says yes.  And so it is that my camera is operational again.  I go downstairs and grab a cab.  I’m in it and show him my hotel address in Thai that Otto so kindly provided me.  He doesn’t put the meter on.  I point and ask him to turn it on.  He shakes his head so I ask him how much and he tells me it will be 800 bahts.  Stop the car!  There is no way I will pay that for a ride that cost me 60 bahts here.  The second one I don’t get in.  I just ask and he says 500 baht.  Next!  I get in the third and ask him to turn the meter.  There’s that head shake again.  He speaks English.  300 bahts.  No!  How much you want to pay?  It cost me 60 to get here.  Too little.  Rush hour.  It’s Saturday, by the way.  Okay 100.  No, 250.  My counter-offer: 200.  Okay.  I know I’m overpaying but just want to get to the hotel.  He feels he got what he wanted.  We are happy.

Quick shower in my new room -after packing and moving since my room had a semi-flood in my original- and off to dinner it is.  Zilch ambiance but the good company, great food (we are given a cooking lesson), a glass of wine, and an unforgettable coconut ice cream make up for it.

Two of the girls and me, along with Otto will be going to a lady-boy show called Calypso.  Before we go in we encounter the

Thai Elvis who is doing a mighty good job at the lobby bar.

The lady-boy show is actually pretty good and I am glad I came.  A recreation of a wedding with drama when the guy cheats bringing out the dark side of the bride is pretty neat.  A Marilyn Monroe lady-boy has us all quite amazed.

Back to the hotel but this time in a tuk-tuk with a young, proud driver that tells us his tuk tuk has 3 horse power, car brakes and 1 cylinder. He’s done all the changes himself. He honks his horn (which makes a sound that just cracks us all up) probably a good 70% of the way, zigzagging around cars at a speed that tuk tuks should never go.  We are laughing throughout the ride out of sheer terror!  He reaches the hotel honking his horn repeatedly and makes us all feel like VIP’s.  All those in the lobby (including the employees) come out to see what the racket is all about.

I can’t take any more fun for the day and retire to my room.   Wake me up tomorrow?

Advertisements
Categories: Ramblings, Thailand, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

ADM=Ay Dios Mío=OMG=Wow!!!

This sign was in the middle of Yangon's market. 🙂

I have not been able to connect to the Internet recently.  I have missed talking to you all.  There is so much that I want to share but in the little down time that I have, even when I try to fight nodding off I can’t, and succumb to slumber.  Then I awake missing you all over again.  I do not want to forget any second of this experience.  I feel that in having you as my virtual companions, I have the responsibility to try to transmit thoughts, experiences, places and people I encounter.  As an after effect to that, you aid me to remember it all through words and photos.  I do not want this, however, to turn into a laundry list of where I went.  And in the haste to get it all down I may err on that side.  I will try to avoid it by all means and what is left will be inked as captions to on-line albums when I return.

I wake early.  They are picking us up at 8:30 a.m.   I am up at 3:30 a.m.  This internal clock thing is playing with me.  My adrenaline one-ups it and so far I haven’t gotten cranky and have managed to stay awake while going about town.  At 6:00 a.m. I go down to breakfast where other internal-clock-misfits in my group are already.  This group has turned out to be wonderful and having Thiha to give us insights has been fabulous.  It’s nice to know that everything is taken care of for us and, on a personal level, it is comforting to have others to say good-morning to and share a cup of coffee with.  Turns out that in good Myanmar tradition I am also sharing a bowl of Mohn Hin Gar, a fish soup with noodles, peanuts, red pepper, lime and who knows what else.  In some parts they would call it a “levanta muertos” which loosely translated is “raising of the dead”.  If this doesn’t give me enough energy for the rest of the day, I don’t know what will.

Before we head off to the Market, Downtown and Chinatown, our guide gives us an explanation and demonstration of Thanakha.  Thanakha is a paste created by putting some water on a flat, circular grinding stone and rubbing the bark of a thanakha tree on it. This is placed on the face.  It is cool (temperature-wise) on the skin and said to tighten pores and prevent wrinkles.  May be plastering it all over my body!  It is used widely by both women and men.  I thought of it as a foundation but it is used in circles or just a swatch on the face.  The paste is either yellow or white, so it is quite noticeable.  What is perceived as beauty varies dramatically between cultures.  Some of our group is adorned with it and out we go.

Monks in Market

This city is chockfull of sounds, smells, smiles, temples and pagodas.  I thought I was on sensory overload until we reached the market and then I went into sensory overboard.  As we zigzag the alleyways we see people smiling at the people in our group with thanakha on their faces.  Beautiful, they say.  Biggest guavas I’ve ever seen (didn’t taste).

Durian Fruit (Seasonal)

Huge Guavas!

Durian fruit, also called stinky fruit (not as smelly as I thought or that sweet, a bit pasty but not bad.)  Dragon fruit (inside it looks like a kiwi but whiter meat and not as sweet) Chicken feet, raw meat, sausages, fish paste, innards.  Vegetables I’ve never seen.  Food I would not try.

Then we go to Chinatown where an older gentleman approaches the group and starts asking where we are from, what we do and offers to tell us that his son lives in the States, tells us how happy he is we are visiting, points out some places and leaves as quickly as he came.   We go visit a Chinese temple.

Praying

From there we visit Kalywa Tawya Monastery.  At the monastery there are more than 1,000 novices and nuns studying the purity of Buddhist scripture as well as receiving a regular education.

"I am joyous here. I forget to go back to my village."

In Myanmar very young children can be sent to study Buddhism to become monks.  In fact, girls go to the nunnery as well.  Even a foreigner (male or female) can come in on a religious visa and go into the monastery for as long as they desire.  I think my heart is smaller now.  The girls at the nunnery kept a piece of it.  I can’t describe what they elicited in me.  Just hope that the photos illustrate it slightly.

After the calmness and discipline we witness at the Monastery we head for lunch at a local restaurant where controlled chaos is what we encounter.  It’s a “point and will bring to the table” kind of place.

To wind down a little we go to Rangoon’s waterfront and walk on the jetty (the equivalent of a boardwalk, I guess.)

And then for another mind-boggling, amazing pagoda that stores relics of the past four Buddhas:  Shwedagon Pagoda.   The complex itself is massive.  Many temples around the Pagoda.  Pagodas are domes that you cannot go into.  Temples usually have Buddha in them and are places of meditation, prayer, where you ring a bell or a metal triangle signifying you have done a good deed.  People come from all over.  You see monks and families intermingling.  Some meditating.  Some praying.  Some eating. Some changing kids diapers.

Volunteer Sweepers

Monk

This particular pagoda has on the tippy top a 76-carat diamond.  Around it something they call an umbrella –iron hoops around the dome- from which jewelry of all sorts hangs, donations made by its people.  Everything around me seems to blind me.

 And finally, before something in my brain explodes from just way too much to assimilate, we end the day at a restaurant where they recreate the olden days and offer us a show.

ADM=Ay Dios Mío=OMG=Wow!!!

It has finally hit me.  I AM in Southeast Asia!

Categories: Kalywa Tawya Monastery, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Shwedagon Pagoda, Thanakha, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: