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

Happy Muddy Trails

I’m back in Shan State this week, making my base in Nyaungshwe, the lovely little town that serves as the “Gateway to Inle Lake,” one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist attractions. Despite Inle’s popularity, and the building of more hotels in the area, Nyaungshwe has managed to retain most of its laid-back, rural charm. The scenery remains beautiful and the people remain friendly and polite. The vibe is definitely blissful; just don’t mind the increasing presence of noisy motorcycles!

It rained most of the day yesterday. but that didn’t stop me from making the short trip out of town to Tat Ein village. I rented a bike from Mar Mar Aye at Golden Bowl Travel — also a nice place to pick up secondhand books. While I was waiting for a fairly hard rainstorm to run its course, Mar Mar Aye served me hot tea and a bowl of fresh fruit. You can’t beat these folks for their hospitality. Another tourist came in from out of the rain, a young man from Sweden. He told me that he and his girlfriend were in the middle of a 3-month trip around Asia and Europe. They are heading to Yangon today and later taking the Trans-Siberian express to Moscow,and then on to Spain before returning to Sweden. He bought a copy of Emma Larkin’s “Finding George Orwell in Burma,” one of many books about Burma/Myanamar that are in stock at Golden Bowl.


After the rain let up, I donned a raincoat and braved the steady drizzle for the ride out to Tat Ein. It was actually quite nice and pleasant, the rain helping to alleviate the usual afternoon heat. If I’m going to get wet, better a bit of rain than a lot of sweat. Nevertheless, the dirt road leading to the village was more than a bit muddy after all the rain, so I took more care than normal. I timed my arrival for about 3 pm, when classes normally end at the primary school in the village. I was bringing bags of medicine to replenish the first-aid box at the school, plus I had several hundred photos to give to the teachers, students, and monks. With all that in hand, I didn’t want to arrive in the middle class and create a disruption. While peddling down the main road in Nyaungshwe, before getting to the dirt road that leads to the village, I passed groups of students returning from classes at the local high school. Waves and smiles and kept peddling.


When I reached the classroom at the village, classes were still in session so I waited outside with my backpack full of goodies, leaving my muddy shoes at the bottom of the steps. Even though they were in the middle of class, that didn’t prevent a handful of young novice monks from stepping away from their desks to greet me, all of them eager to see the photos that I had brought. “Please wait,” I told them in Burmese. “I’ll hand out the photos after class at the monastery.” One of the teachers also came out to say hello, but told me that the class would not end until 4:30! Some sort of new “Rainy Season” schedule apparently.


I had over an hour to kill, so I wandered around the area, noticing some new construction, especially around the dining rooms. I walked up the hill to the monastery, only to find it temporarily deserted. I expected to find at least a few of the older novices and senior monks there, but at this hour there wasn’t anyone around, not even the usual stray dog. I sat down and rested for a spell, then went over to a cistern and used some of the water to clean my mud-cakes sandals. Man, that stuff was thick!


Shortly after 4:00 I walked back down to the school and waited for the classes to end, which they did at about 4:15. I gave the bags of medicine to one of the teachers, giving her instructions about a couple of items. Then it was time to distribute the photos! I gave the one of the girls and older students to one boy who said he would hand them out, then I followed the novice monks up the hill to the monastery and tried to maintain order (imagine 20 pairs of hands all trying to reach in to a bag!) while passing out the photos. As you can imagine they were very pleased with the photos, and as you can also surmise, this led to another not-so-short session of photos. But seeing that sea of red-robed smiles made it all worth the effort.

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