musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Monks Behind the Lens

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During my last couple of trips to Tat Ein village in Shan State, just down the road from the town of Nyaung Shwe and the famous Inle Lake, I haven’t taken as many photos as usual. But that’s not to say that my camera hasn’t been put to use!

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Indeed, the camera has been getting a good workout each time thanks to the photo-loving novice monks at the village’s small monastery. Upon arrival I’ll usually had the camera over to young Aung Thaung, who will take some photos, and then he will hand the camera over to another monk who will handle the photography chores, for a while, and then back to Aung Thaung, and maybe another monk or two, and so it goes.

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The one constant during these photo-taking sessions is that I just stand back and observe, enjoying both the serious and silly poses that these kids think up. Here are a few of the MANY photos that those novice monks have taken in recent months.

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In the wake of the horrific Donald Trump victory this past week (and if you are not horrified by the specter of this lunkhead becoming president  … then just please crawl away and join the other psychopaths who are celebrating) I truly needed some mood therapy, something positive to uplift my spirits.

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And I can think of no better pick-me-up than memories of those delightful novice monks at the Tat Ein monastery in Myanmar’s Shan State. I know, I post a lot of stories and photos about these monks, but they truly are a joy to be around, full of kindness and happiness. When I was at the monastery two months ago, one of the monks I know, Tun Phyu, was giddy with excitement, wanting to show me something at the monastery. We walked outside and there on the ground, written in English using blades of grass and leaves, were the words: I LOVE YOU

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In addition to that proclamation, which they had written twice, Tun Phyu and his buddies had written “Mingalaba” (in Burmese, not English), the standard Myanmar greeting, which roughly translates as “Blessings.” I was delighted to see these messages and voiced a hearty “gaun ba de!” (very good!) to the group of monks who had gathered to watch my reaction.

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In these dark days of Trumpovich and his nasty followers, I take heart that other people in this world — most people in this world — are not so consumed by hate and bigotry and the desire to get rich quick — all hallmarks of the Trump platform — that they forget about the feelings of others, including the less fortunate. In the words of those legendary music philosophers, MSFB: Love is the Message!

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No, I haven’t calmed down yet. If anything, I’ve become even angrier about Donald Trump being elected president of the United States of America. Or should we start calling it: the Irrevocably Broken States of America?

I’m a US citizen but I haven’t lived in the USA in over 20 years. In fact, the last time I even visited my homeland was 16 years ago, ironically in the days after that infamous 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. My family’s home was in Florida, and that of course became the pivotal state in that election, resulting in the recounting of votes and dealing with those tricky “hanging chads” and other creepy political shenanigans. So, I would wake up each morning, wondering if the election was truly over yet or not.

At least we had no such ballot counting drama in this election, although like Al Gore, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote yet lost the national election thanks to that antiquated Electoral College system that still governs the outcome (and actually the results won’t even become “official” until the EC meets on December 19) of the election.

In any case, I left the USA a long time ago, frustrated and annoyed even back in those days at not only the creepy political climate but the ignorant mindset of the general populace. Having to grin and bear the hateful utterances of racists, religious crackpots, misogynists, homophobes, and weekend rednecks was just becoming too much to bear.

If it sounds like I just described Donald Trump, there you go. He is all those horrid things and more; a grown man with the maturity level of a ten-year-old and the cruel mocking behavior of a habitual neighborhood bully. And American voters just elected this creep as their next president. She got criticized for her comments, but Hillary Clinton was spot-on in her assessment of the bulk of Trump supporters: they are indeed a “basket of deplorables.”

Even with his victory there is a strong chance that Trump will be impeached, have to resign, or suffer some sort of debilitating illness before his term is up, perhaps even before he has completed his first 100 days in office. But that could be a disaster in the making too. If Trump were not able to finish his term, the country would be left with Vice President Mike Pence to run things. Pence is more of your standard right-wing conservative religious nut. In other words; a dangerous person if given any power. I’m sure the Republican establishment would be overjoyed to have Pence running the country instead of Trump, but for any citizens possessing even a glimmer of intelligence, such a prospect would be just as bad or worse than if Trump were in charge.

I’ve read dozens of articles and analysis about the election in newspapers and online this past week, and listened to people’s comments and opinions in my shop every day. Of course people are shocked and scared. Electing Donald Trump to run the USA is frightening on so many different levels, and for so many different reasons. His decisions of course will affect life for those living in the United States, but the ripples will be felt by us in the rest of the world too.

I fear the dark days ahead.

Drive-By Truckers.

Ironically, I’ve been playing the new politically-charged album by Drive-By Truckers, American Band, a lot this past month. I think DBT are one of THE greatest bands working in the USA nowadays (or any day in the past two decades) but they’ve really outdone themselves with this new album. The band’s two main songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood have really elevated their craft with gripping new songs that describe the hopes and fears of living in the USA, as well as their disenchantment with the government. Listen to songs such as “Kinky Hypocrite” and the powerful “What It Means” and can hear — and feel — the simmering anger and frustration. After this hostile Trump campaign — and his shocking victory — I would imagine that Drive-By Truckers and other thoughtful recording artists will have more to say about the worrisome state of America.

 

I’m already on my second beer of the night and I may keep going, trying to come to terms with the shocking news that Donald Trump just won the USA presidential election. I’m certainly not the only one who is wondering: What the hell happened?

Hey, I totally understand the Hillary hatred, the fact that many people don’t trust her and think she’s “crooked” and too tight with big business, among many other concerns. But to elect Donald Fucking Trump as president of the country? What the hell are American voters thinking? Despite the absurdity of this lengthy campaign, this was not a soap opera or a reality show. This is your nation’s future. And to elect an unpredictable buffoon like Donald Trump is woefully irresponsible.

To put it even more bluntly, Trump is an abomination! A bombastic blowhard, an unapologetic bully, a racist and sexist pig. Hell, he makes George W. Bush seem like an intellectual giant by comparison. And that’s pretty pitiful. Sorry, even with all the Hillary problematic issues, I just don’t get it. You want an idiot like Trump running your country?

Yes, America, get ready for change. But it may not be the positive change you were wishing for.

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It all started with a request for a loan.

My friend from Bagan, Nine Nine, was unhappy with his current job and wanted to start his own business. After four years of working at the same hotel he was frustrated with the low pay and long hours. Opening his own business seemed like the thing to do. Low pay and long hours got you down? As many of us entrepreneurs can tell you, opening a business is certainly no cure for that dilemma! But hey, there ARE opportunities to reverse that equation if you are the boss, and Nine Nine is astute enough to realize that. But, after the birth of his daughter last year, money was running low. Needing some startup funds, he asked if I could help him.

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Hey, I try to help my friends whenever I can, but I don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, so I wanted to hear more about his business plan and what it would all cost. I wasn’t making any promises, but I told that we could discuss it when I visited Myanmar the next time. That was two months ago, back in September. The end result was that his idea was not going to cost all that much, so I DID lend him some money and his shop, 99 Souvenir Shop & Chinlone Books, is now  open in New Bagan!

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Yes, in addition to selling various souvenirs such as lacquerware, clothing, and postcards, he is running another branch of Chinlone Books. I asked Nine Nine if he was receptive to the idea of adding books to his product mix and he agreed. He’s been open for about one month now and is excited about what he’s been selling (the first book sold was “M is For Myanmar” from Things Asian Press) and what customers are asking for. The Bagan branch of Chinlone Books is located on Kyay Street (New Bagan’s main street) next to the Ostello Bello hostel, and diagonally across the street from the long-running Silver House restaurant. They are open every day!

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During that last trip to Myanmar, Nine Nine met me and my friend from Mandalay, Ye Man Oo, in Nyaung Shwe and we showed him the book setup at the Chinlone Books branch in that town, located inside Aye Aye Travel Services. The owner, Mar Mar Aye, explained to Nine Nine her system of cataloging the books and how she keeps track of sales. She’s an honest, hardworking lady and I hope her advice will help Nine Nine with his own business. If you are visiting Nyaung Shwe (near the popular Inle Lake in Shan State) or Bagan (New Bagan is just down the road from Old Bagan and the bigger town of Nyaung U) please drop in and say “Mingalaba” … and buy a book or two!

http://www.chinlonebooks.com/

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Some recording artists release new albums every year, while others take their time, spacing their new collections a few years apart. In William Bell’s case, it’s been a whopping ten years since his last studio album, and nearly forty years since his last major label release. Talking about taking your time! But in this case it was well worth the wait. His excellent new album, This is Where I Live, marks his return to Stax Records, the label where he penned the classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, as well as other 1960s hits such “I Forgot to Be Your Lover”, “Private Number”, “Born Under a Bad Sign”, and “You Don’t Miss Your Water”. But after his early success William Bell has been pretty much off the musical radar since his 1977 album Coming Back For More.

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Bell wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on his new album, astutely selecting some talented writers to help him (producer John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash, and Marc Cohn), plus he does a fantastic cover of an old Jesse Winchester song. From start to finish, This is Where I Live is nothing but sheer listening pleasure, pure southern soul from one of the masters of the genre. Although Bell is now 77 years old, he sounds like a much younger man, although one whose long life and vast experiences has shaped these heartfelt songs. Even so many decades later, the power and soulful passion of his voice remain, the perfect garnish for these splendid songs.

Meanwhile, here are the other albums (all purchased on CD; you won’t get me paying those high prices for supposedly “superior” vinyl!) that have me humming and smiling and dancing while the rain continues to fall where I live in Thailand.

 

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Drive-By Truckers – American Band

Barry White – Together Brothers

Teenage Fanclub – Here

Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band – Wede Harer Guzo

Blood Oranges – Freetown Sound

 

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Ike Turner – That Kat Sure Could Play!

Gerry Beckley – Carousel

Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die

Look Park – Look Park

Turnpike Troubadours – Goodbye Normal Street

 

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Temper Trap – Thick As Thieves

Ian Hunter – Fingers Crossed

Jimmy Bo Horne – Best of the TK Years 1975-1985

Seth Swirsky – Circles and Squares

William Tyler – Modern Country

 

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Various Artists – Bluesin’ by the Bayou: Rough ‘N’ Tough

Band of Horses – Why Are You Ok

The Main Ingredient – Tasteful Soul & Bitter Sweet

Peter Bjorn and John – Breakin’ Point

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park

 

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Johnny Jenkins – Ton-Ton Macoute!

Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway

Senor Soul – What It Is Y’all: The Best of

Fats Domino – Greatest Hits: Walking To New Orleans

The Dells – Freedom Means …

 

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Various Artists – Reaching Out: Chess Records at Fame Studios

Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

Lucero – Live From Atlanta

Joe Ely – Live Chicago 1987

The Explorers Club – Together

 

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Various Artists – Things Gonna Get Better: Street Funk and Jazz Grooves 1970-1977

Fanga/Maalem Abdallah Guinea – Fangnawa Experience

School of Seven Bells – SVIIB

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

 

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The Garifuna Collective – Ayo

Various Artists – South Texas Rhythm ‘N’ Soul Revue 2

Van Morrison – Keep Me Singing

John Fahey – The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites

Various Artists – Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

Enduring Somber Thailand

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Thailand is often called “The Land of Smiles” but that’s certainly not the case lately. The world is seeing a very sad and somber Thailand the past two weeks after the death of the country’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13. Many previously scheduled events and concerts have been cancelled, regular TV coverage has been disrupted, and most of the citizens — and many foreigners — have been wearing black during this period of mourning.

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I’m not Thai, but I’ve lived here in the kingdom for over 20 years and I share the nation’s loss. King Bhumibol reigned for over 70 years and is often called the father of the country. His birthday, on December 5, is in fact Thailand’s official Father’s Day. But more than the father of this country, I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that the King WAS the country. He was the heart of the country, the soul of the country, the face of the country. You can’t replace someone like that. And so the country mourns.

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Amidst all the mourning, I’m trying to go about my daily duties at work and live my life as usual, but also reflecting on what all of this means to Thailand. Grief, worry, anxiety, uncertainty; emotions are running high. In the past several years I haven’t been as happy living in Thailand as I was when I first moved here, but when I think about the alternatives — moving back to the USA or relocating to another country — I realize things really aren’t so bad here after all. Nevertheless, I think it’s also safe to say that my heart is in Myanmar, a country I visit frequently and one that I’d love to call my home at some point in the future. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating; the country and its people are wonderful.

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And so, here is yet another post with photos from Myanmar; a few images of some of those delightful people that put a smile on my face and a song in my heart when everything else around me is dark and somber.

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