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

Archive for March, 2013

Cycling Awareness


I’m in Mandalay this week, cycling around town as usual, visiting friends, bumping into others whom I haven’t seen in years, or meeting new locals. But riding a bicycle — or any type of vehicle — in this town requires vigilance and awareness. You have to be very, very careful on these chaotic streets. Because there are very few traffic lights, and nothing in the way of stop signs, traffic flows constantly, and when you are approaching an intersection, it’s necessary to slow down, look both ways, and look again. Chaos may even be an understatement when describing the streets of Mandalay.

Besides interesting new sights and the friendly locals, I tend to get philosophical when I’m riding around town and seeing all the humanity and development — or lack of it — around me. Despite the boom in construction, there is still a lot of poverty, as well as people who are not benefiting from the upsurge in tourism. Prices for food and other daily staples aren’t getting any cheaper and renting a building, or even a small one-room apartment or house is also getting more expensive. But these people are nothing if not resilient and their attitude remains relatively cheerful and upbeat. Passing one poor neighborhood this morning I noticed a trio of children doing somersaults on some old carpet scraps that had been dumped by the side of the road. Yes, even when they have nothing, kids like this find a way to enjoy themselves.

I keep thinking about the things that we as human beings — especially anyone who has the financial means to do something — can do to alleviate poverty and lessen the gap between the dirt poor and the filthy rich. And it frustrates me and angers me because I don’t have any good answers for that, and I don’t see enough people making an effort to do anything about social and economic problems like these.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep peddling around this wild and wonderful city, and keep ruminating and hoping for enlightenment of some sort.


Road Weary


I’m back in Shan State this week, visiting my friends in Nyaungshwe and nearby Tat Ein village. I’ve had a wonderful time so far, but I’m already feeling very, very exhausted. Is it possible that I’m getting too old for all of this non-stop travel? Naw, that can’t be it!

Yesterday I visited U Sandi Mar, the head monk at Tat Ein, and was invited to stay for lunch. As usual, there was a fantastic spread of vegetarian dishes, all prepared the dedicated staff who also help with the adjacent primary school and monastery. After lunch and a chat with U Htin, the school principal (who told me he is a fan of American horror films!), I trotted up the hill to the monastery, where Sandatika, one of the vivacious novice monks in residence, was waiting for me, a big grin on his face.  While visiting U Sandi Mar I had given Sandatika a bag of stuff to hold for (fruit for the novice monks, along with some medicine that some of them need to treat skin infections on their head), and he patiently waited until I was finished. Great kid, as are the rest of the monks.

At the monastery, I took some more photos, instructed the monks how to use the medicine properly, and then took my leave. It was study time for Sandatika and three other older novice monks who are prepping for an exam this month. The remaining younger novices either rested or played with the football I brought. I rode my bike back into town, intending to rest for an hour or two before cycling over to Shwe Yan Pyay, another monastery in town. Well, that visit never happened. I was so weary that I slept until nearly 6 pm. Just enough time to get up, take a shower, slip into a fresh longyi, and cycle over to Ma Pu Su’s house, where she had another amazing dinner waiting.

I missed out on another dinner at her house two nights earlier. I had just returned from teaching a class at Tat Ein’s school and was heading out the door to buy some more monk medicine when Su dropped by my hotel to invite me to dinner. One of our mutual friends,  Pascal from France was also in town, and it would have been nice to see her too. But I was feeling very tired that evening too, and was looking at an early departure the next morning; a field trip with 70 village kids (and monks) to Kakku and Taunggyi. So, I had to beg off that invite, as well as one the following night, because I wasn’t sure what time we would return from the trip.

My plan today is mostly to rest, but I need to drop by Shwe Yan Pyay with a fruit donation later this morning, and stop by and see everyone at Tat Ein one more time before I leave for Mandalay tomorrow afternoon. This trip is already zooming by and I’m having fun, but I need to remember to pace things and not run myself too ragged.

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