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

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The first time I visited the primary school at Tat Ein village was about four years ago. My friend Htein Linn, who runs Golden Bowl Travel Services & Bookshop in Nyaungshwe, took me there after I expressed an interest in helping an underprivileged school in the area. The first time we took donations of sandals for the students, the type of flip-flop footwear that most people in Myanmar call “slippers.” After that initial donation I followed it up with sports equipment (footballs, volleyballs, badminton sets), medicine on the trip after that, and then first aid boxes to hold the various medicine and bandages.

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About two years ago one of my visits coincided around the time of the annual balloon festival in nearby Taunggyi. This festival features two varieties of balloons; one type is launched during the day and the other type is accompanied by fireworks at night. I had already made plans to take the monks from Shwe Yan Pyay monastery in Nyaungshwe to the festival, but those monks only had time to attend the night-time festivities. I really wanted to see the daytime balloons too — they are constructed in the shapes of various animals — but didn’t fancy travelling all the way to Taunggyi by himself. I then had one of those spontaneous brainstorms that turned into a brilliant idea: Why not invite the students from the school at Tat Ein village?

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I discussed the idea with Htein Linn and he enthusiastically endorsed it. Most of these kids, he told me, had never travelled very far from their village, certainly not past Nyaungshwe, so a trip like this would be very special for them. After getting permission from the teachers and U Sandimar at the monastery, I ended up taking a group of 50 students and monks to that festival. I don’t think it’s a cliché to say that these kids had the time of their lives. Going to new places, seeing new things, the wonder in their eyes; it was an amazing experience not only for them but for me too. Seeing these kids having so much fun, and being so appreciative afterwards, really warmed my jaded heart.

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Last year we took another trip, this time to the Pindaya Caves. That was a longer, more tiring, and dustier journey, but it was still a fun excursion for everyone. For my visit last month we ventured back to Taunggyi (there is a nice park with a small zoo on the edge of town, along with a very popular temple) and further down the road to the ancient Pa-O stupa ruins in Kakku.

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We had lunch at a monastery near the famous “grove of stupas” (there are about two thousand of these cool old monuments crammed together in the park) and then wandered around the site afterwards. The only problem was coordinating a group of that size. This time around we had over 70 students (not only from the primary school, but kids from the village who attend the high school in Nyaunghswe), teachers, novice monks, senior monks, and a few parents. And when it came time to see the actual site, some people went in one entrance, others went in another entrance, and a few more straggled behind or got lost. Not a single group of kids followed a logical path through the park. Needless to say it was pretty much total chaos. But fun chaos. I wanted to get photos of everyone, or at least pictures of as many of the kids grouped together as possible, but that ended up not happening. I just never saw some of the group while we were there!

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I’ll post some of the Kakku shots today, along with a few of photos that I took at the school before departure. I have plenty more photos that I took at the park and the temple Taunggyi — along with some that one of the novice monks took with my camera (that will be a post by itself) — but I’ll save those for next week. This week is the annual “New Year” water festival throughout the region: in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. The locals are enjoying a long holiday break and celebrating with water silliness. Happy “New Year” to everyone once again!

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