The strangest things happen when you’re just killing time.
Thursday was one of those rare days when I was able to sneak away from my shop before closing, allowing me time to run some errands and buy a few things before meeting my friends Keith and Sunay for dinner. We had reservations for 6:30 at Cabbages and Condoms (and yes, that’s the name of the restaurant, a fairly famous one here in Bangkok; one that definitely caters to tourists, but the food and service are always excellent), so was strolling down Sukhumvit Road, perusing the cornucopia of crap for sale and killing time until dinner.
Even though I own a bookshop, I still can’t resist popping into other book establishments, so I decided to wander through the long-running Asia Books branch near the Asoke intersection. On one wall, they had a display of large-sized photography books, one of which brought a big smile to my face. The cover photo of this book, Myanmar Dream Journeys, showed Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung, the old teakwood monastery in Nyaungshwe, with two novice monks standing next to one of the distinct oval windows. But that wasn’t the big surprise: “I know that monk!” I almost blurted out loud, noticing the novice monk on the left side of the window.
And indeed I did. I’ve known that monk, Pyinya Sawda, for several years. If my memory is right, Pyinya Sawda has been at Shwe Yan Pyay for about four or five years. I’ve taken him and other monks on field trips in the area whenever I’m town. Pyinya Sawda was among the group I took to visit the Pindaya Caves a few years ago and was also in the group that I took to the huge balloon festival in Taunggyi. He’s a really nice kid and always makes a point to talk to me whenever I visit the monastery or when we go on trips. Many of the novice monks there are shy, especially in the presence of a foreigner, but not this kid! He really does have an engaging personality and as the photographer of this book no doubt realized, he’s quite photogenic too.
Last year I had talked to Pyinya Sawda about going to Kakku, the old Pa-O ruins in a remote area of Shan State, with a few of the other monks from the monastery. Plans changed, however, and he ended up not being able to go, a dilemma I wrote about in this post last year:
In honor of Pyinya Sawda (that’s his “monk name,” his real name is Myo Swe) making the cover of this new book, I combed through my photo archives and found a bunch of shots that I’d taken of him over the years. Some of my favorites are the ones where he was playing a game with the other novice monks, running and jumping on these old concrete ledges outside the monastery. In some of the photos Pyinya Sawda looks like he’s taking flight! The other shots of him trying to handle a leaking hose are also pretty funny.
I just contacted Ma Pu Sue, another friend in Nyaungshwe, and asked her to drop by the monastery and make sure that Pyinya Sawda is still there. These monks move around so much, that there is never any guarantee that I’m going to see them whenever I return. But if he’s still at Shwe Yan Pyay, I’ll be taking him a copy of this book when I visit next month.
Myanmar Dream Journeys has recently been published by John Beaufoy Publishing. It was written by Christine Nilsson, who also took the photographs.