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

The Road to Smiles

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I’m back in Shan State this week. I arrived in Nyaungshwe yesterday after five days in Mandalay. It’s been a bit rainy at times, but at least I’m not having to endure multiple showers each day like we’ve been getting in Bangkok.

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Every visit to Myanmar yields its share of surprises and changes, and this trip has been no different. The biggest change, even from six months ago when I last visited, is the plethora of cell phones in use. Actually, the condition has gone from a negligible percentage of the populace owning a phone to a whole lot of people owning one. Or at least playing with a mobile device of some sort. Because of recent changes in technology, this means that the current consumers in Myanmar, after doing without for so many years, have skipped several generations of phones. Thus, they aren’t content with having a simple cell phone at this point, they want the latest iThing on the market. The devices, and also the price of SIM cards, has dropped dramatically this year, however the income of most locals has not risen sufficiently to be able to buy all the new gadgets on the market.

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I made my usual first-day treks to Shwe Yan Pyay monastery in Nyaungshwe, where I had a nice chat with the always kind Saya Daw and made plans with one of the monks, Pyin Yaw So Daw, to take him and a few other novices to Kakku and Taunggyi later in the week. In the afternoon I cycled east of town to the village of Tat Ein. I was surprised to see no school in session, but this isn’t the first time they’ve had breaks in the middle of the week.. Some of the kids were hanging out near the classroom and playing games,and when they saw that I had arrived and was bearing scads of photos from our field trip earlier in the year, a crown soon formed.

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The kids told me that two of the teachers had left the school, replaced recently by two new ones. The head monk, U Sandimarr, was nursing a fever, but he still insisted on greeting me, and made time for a short chat. After that I hiked up the hill to the monastery, where I found the group of novice monks had grown from about 30 to 50! Unfortunately. the young monk who acted as my photography assistant last time, Sandartika, has moved on to a different monastery. Once again, this is a fairly common practice, so I wasn’t shocked, just disappointed I couldn’t give him the  photo album I had made for him. But I managed to appoint a new photographer from amongst the throng and you’ll see the results of his photos sometime next month.

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