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

Archive for December, 2011

Pieces of a Trip

Carrying a heavy load on a rain-splattered sidewalk in Yangon.


Moe Thet Aung, Zin Ko, and friends in Mandalay.


Sunset in Nyaungshwe.


Novice monks at monastery in Mandalay.


A woman sells birdfeed in Yangon.


Making shoes at a small workshop in Mandalay.


Guard dogs in Yangon taking a nap!


Tourists pose for a photo with the novice monks at Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung in Nyaungshwe.


A Buddhist nun makes alms rounds in New Bagan.


A novice monk takes a kite flying break in Mandalay.


Cooking up lunch for teachers and monks at Tat Ein village.


Temple ruins interspersed amidst the fields in Bagan.


The road to Tat Ein village near Nyaungshwe in Shan State.


Pyin Na Thiri and friends from Tat Ein at the park and mini-zoo in Taunggyi.


Roadside refreshment stand in Yangon.


Newlywed couple in Nyaungshwe.


Novice monks at Tat Ein monastery show off their collection of marbles.


Making music at the balloon festival in Taunggyi.


Always time for a nap on the dusty streets of Yangon.


Kaw Wi Di, a novice monk from Tat Ein, and friend at the park in Taunggyi.

Kickin’ it in Bagan

While I was in Bagan they were holding a football tournament, the Tike Su Cup, featuring local teams. These weren’t conventional football (soccer) matches, however, but “mini-matches”. Each team was only allowed three players on the small pitch, and had two substitute players on the sidelines. The goals were tiny ones (literally “narrow goal” in Burmese), making it very difficult for the players to score goals. Most kicks were either too wide or too high. When it came time for free kicks, the smart players gently tapped the ball, making it sure it never left the ground, but rolled straight towards the untended goal.


I went with my friends from New Bagan, Tun Tun and Zin Zin, to see the semi-finals one afternoon and the final the following day. The matches were held in what basically looked like a vacant dirt lot, a couple of blocks off the main road in New Bagan, and just down the street from the high school. Tun Tun was still licking his wounds from his own team’s defeat in the opening round earlier in the week, but he was excited about seeing his friends on the Yadanarbon team play a match.


Each late afternoon match drew a vocal crowd of supporters. The crowd, as expected, was comprised mostly of males, but a considerable number of young ladies were also present. Some of the smaller and shorter kids in the crowd found it hard to see the action, so they found better viewing spots … in the nearby trees! The atmosphere was very festive and pleasant, and absolutely no traces of hooliganism. There’s not a whole lot to do in New Bagan, so this event was a real treat for everyone. Even the losing team in the finals didn’t appear too upset with their defeat. Maybe that’s because once the teams got to the semi-finals they were all assured of a cash prize.



December 2011 Listening List

Here are the CDs (yes, real legitimate discs and NOT downloads) that I’m listening to this month, just the sonic tonic to keep my spirits high amidst the depressing seasonal onslaught of Christmas nonsense.

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Coldplay – Mylo Xloto

The Winstons – Color Him Father

Tony Joe White – The Heroines

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Swamp Dogg – It’s All Good

Lindsey Buckingham – Seeds We Sow

Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

Jackie McLean – Bluesnik

Daryl Hall – Laughing Down Crying

Various Artists – Nigeria 70

Dan Fogelberg – Live: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, … and Some Blues

Art Farmer – Brass Shout/The Aztec Suite

Grant Green – Iron City

Lonnie Liston Smith – Cosmic Funk

Eddi Reader – The Songs of Robert Burns (Deluxe Edition)

Tony Rice – Sings Gordon Lightfoot

Blue Rodeo – Casino

Bob Mould – Body of Song

Ben Webster & Joe Zawinul – Soulmates

Various Artists – Carolina Funk: First in Funk 1968-1977

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The Black Keys – Attack & Release

The Coral – Singles Collection

Ray LaMontagne – Gossip in the Grain

Jim Ford – The Sounds of our Time

Danny and the Champions of the World – Streets of our Time

Tommy Stinson – One Man Mutiny

Kelley Stoltz – Circular Sounds

The Grid – Four Five Six

Dusty Springfield – The Complete BBC Sessions

The Red Button – As Far as Yesterday Goes

Booker T and the MGs – Play the Hip Hits

June Tabor and Oysterband – Ragged Kingdom

Hurrah! – The Sound of Philadelphia

Tinariwen – Tassili

Mekons – Fear and Whiskey

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

Boston Spaceships – Let it Beard

The Originals – California Sunset

A Novice Monk’s Day

Back in Shan State, I spent a considerable amount of time in Tat Ein village this trip, specifically visiting the primary school, the monastery, and U San Di Mar, the maverick monk who has planned activities and organized donations that have revitalized this once desolate village. I promised to write more about him, and I still plan to, but this post is devoted to one of the novice monks that I got to know quite well this time.


Pyin Na Thiri, if you remember from one of my posts last month, is the little nine-year old (oops, I forgot: nine and a HALF!) who was our first guest photographer last month. Pyin Na Thiri is in fourth grade at the school and appears to be a very clever and diligent student. He doesn’t horse around like many of the other boys, including his fellow novice monks, but listens carefully and obeys the teachers. He was also my guide on the first trip that I made to the monastery last month. Even though it’s only “up the hill” (about a three-minute walk) from the school, I had never previously visited the monastery. Exactly 20 novice monks stay there, along with about a half-dozen older monks and an abbot (saya daw).


Here are some photos that I took of a “day in the life” of Pyin Na Thiri. Some are at his school, with classmates and his teacher; and others were taken at the monastery. In one of the monastery photos he can be seen standing over a group of other novices, almost as if he’s supervising the crew who are cleaning up and weeding around one of the buildings. I can just hear him diplomatically pointing out to Zar Na Ga: “Uh, I think you missed a blade of grass over there.” This shot perfectly captures a side of the young monk’s personality; diligently watching over his fellow monks and making sure the task is done properly. And, in case you are wondering, he wasn’t content to stay a bystander; he did pitch and help after this photo was taken. But if he ever leaves the monkhood, my guess is that Pyin Na Thiri is destined for a career in management or as a supervisor!



Yangon Architecture

In the past week I’ve read several articles — online and in real stain-your-fingers newspapers — about Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Myanmar. Many people, naturally, are optimistic about “democratic” changes in the country, and believe Clinton’s visit may help to encourage the process. One article also mentioned that land prices in Yangon have shot up dramatically since Clinton’s visit — in some case only a few mere hours after she left town. I’m not sure if that is optimism or sheer greed. One fears that glassy-eyed, slick-talking businessmen intent on “development” will buy up property and further wreck havoc with Yangon’s beautiful, but fragile, old buildings.


Much of the lovely architecture found around Yangon dates back to the old British Colonial period — when they slapped the name “Burma” on the unsuspecting locals. The past few years have already seen many old buildings razed; some of them because of damage from Cyclone Nargis, and others simply because a property developer has seen profit in the acquisition. If you want to see some of Yangon’s architectural treasures, you had best make a visit soon before they are all bulldozed into history.




Mandalay Restaurant

Today’s guest photographer is Aung Myo Ko (pictured above), a personable 15-year old waiter at the Aye Myit Tar Restaurant in Mandalay. I’ve been dining at Aye Myit Tar ever since my very first trip to Mandalay about seven years ago. The food is tasty (although their curries may be a bit on the oily side for many Westerners), and the service is always incredibly attentive and friendly. I’d even venture to proclaim that the service is more worthy of praise than the food. I was mesmerized by the scene I witnessed the first time I ever dined there. I was dining alone, yet I had a crew of four waiters hovering over my table, constantly filling up my glass of beer, dishing out more servings of rice, or giving me second (or third) helpings of the vegetable side dishes. The young waiters dashed swiftly between tables, taking orders, laughing, even singing at times. And always those smiles. I was hooked, and since then it’s become my first night ritual to have dinner at Aye Myit Tar whenever I arrive in Mandalay. Beef curry and a large bottle of Myanmar beer, please!


Aung Myo Ko has been working at Aye Myit Tar for over two years. Like most of the other young waiters, he doesn’t go to school, but works every day, both lunch and dinner shifts. Some of these kids also live at the restaurant, sleeping in an upstairs back room. Here are some photos that Aung Myo Ko took of his friends at the restaurant recently. If you are in Mandalay, stop by for a meal. The restaurant is located on 81st Street, between 36th and 37th Street. From the restaurant, it’s only a short drive or walk to the famous Moustache Brothers’ house, where shows are held each night.





Baby Bonanza

If I hang out long enough at Ko Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street in Mandalay, the babies start coming out of the bamboo woodwork. Yes, once word gets out that I’m at the teashop, I can rest assured that a baby — or three — will materialize that day. Actually, it’s not the little tikes who arrive all by their lonesome; it’s the parents who drag the infants into the teashop for a photo session, or they’ll meet me out in the street. Some of the babies, of course, will cry or pitch a fit (“Why do I have to pose for this geek?”), but sometimes you get a really happy kid who finds the whole scenario delightful.




Tag Cloud