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

Posts tagged ‘Kakku’

Stumbling Around Old Ruins with Young Monks


As I mentioned in my previous post, last month I took the novice monks from Tat Ein’s monastery to see the ancient Pa-O ruins in Kakku. To handle this group — 41 monks — I rented two large “light trucks” for the trip. Accompanying us were six teachers from the primary school and two parents from the village, plus the two drivers.



Because I am a foreign tourist, I was required to pay an entrance fee and also hire a Pa-O guide to tour the ruins. Both charges are very reasonable, but I told the staff at the Golden Island Cottages office in Taunggyi (they oversee the whole operation in Kakku) that I had been to Kakku several times already and didn’t need a guide, plus I had 41 young monks in tow! Nevertheless, they stuck to company policy and assigned a guide to me, a young Pa-O woman named Khin Twe. She turned out to be a very charming young lady, eager to practice her English with a foreigner, so it was a pleasure having her along.




The site of the ruins is less than 30 kilometers from Taunggyi, but the journey takes about an hour by car due to the rough roads. Factor in the trip from the village to Taunggyi, and it’s the better part of two hours. But hey, it’s a very scenic drive! Due to the fact that many of these kids aren’t accustomed to riding in vehicles, going up and down big hills, inevitably a few of them get car sick. To help prevent that from happening this time, or at least prepare for any bouts of projectile vomiting, I passed out car sickness pills before breakfast at the monastery, and then equipped each truck with packages of plastic barf bags (thanks to Mar Mar Aye for buying them!). With that important preparation accomplished we were ready to roll!





As usual, the group split up upon arriving at the ruins. I tell you, it’s hard to keep track of forty young monks once they start wandering around several thousand old stupas! It’s a good thing I had the teachers and parents along to watch over them, but frankly they didn’t seem all that concerned if any of the monks wandered off or not! Despite my best efforts, I could never get everyone in one place at the same time until the very end, when we finally took group photos outside the entrance.





For the most part the novice monks remained well-behaved, if not stoic, as they walked around the site. Perhaps their lack of exuberance was due to the fact the Kakku is considered such a sacred place for the Pa-O tribe, and many of the boys at this monastery come from nearby Pa-O villages in Shan State. But the monks certainly let loose and started running around later in the afternoon when we went to the park and zoo in Taunggyi. I will post some photos from that delightful excursion in the near future.












Teachers in the park


When I was in Shan State last month I took a group of novice monks from the monastery at Tat Ein village on a trip to Kakku and Taunggyi. Joining us for the trip were the six teachers from the village’s primary school.





Not only was it beneficial to have the teachers along to help keep the sometimes rowdy young monks in line, it was a joy to have them accompany us. They are a friendly, polite bunch. None of the teachers had ever visited the ancient Pa-O ruins at Kakku before, so they were appreciative of the chance to see them.








Later, at the park and gardens in Taunggyi, the teachers followed the monks’ cue and loosened up and got a bit silly posing for the camera. Another good outing with a bunch of good people!

































The Union of More Kids!


I’m off to Myanmar again next week and I am very much looking forward to the trip. Many people still call the country Burma, but many people don’t know much about the history of the country or why the name was changed, much less the fact that the country is comprised of 14 different states or regions, each of which is dominated by a different ethnic group. Mon, Kayin, Wa, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Pa-O, and on and on. In other words, if you call someone who is from the country “Burmese”, they might be offended. Needless to say, the whole name thing gets very convoluted and complex and confusing. Currently, the official name of the country is: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? But what the hell, it’s only a name. My preference: The Golden Land.




No matter what you call it, the most important thing is the people of the country. They are the reason that I go back again and again and again. At some point I can only visit Shwedagon Pagoda or explore Inle Lake so many times, but I never get tired of meeting the locals. And among the many charming people, my very favorites are the children of the country. Their unbridled energy, optimism, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness never fail to give my own spirits a much-needed lift.




In recent years I’ve developed a routine where I take a group of kids from the neighborhood on 90th Street in Mandalay on field trips in the area, and sometimes to town further away. I’ve subsequently done the same with the students and novice monks from Tat Ein village in Shan State. I love these trips; the kids are sweet and very appreciative and I get a kick out of the outings too.





This time around I’ve got more excursions planned. The novice monks want to see the ruins at Kakku, and I’ve promised Aung Thaung and Saing Aung that we’ll make that trek. The 90th Street crew wants to see the huge new zoo in Naypyidaw. Ye Win Zaw, the tiniest boy in the bunch, has already sent me a text message (yes, even in Myanmar, they are adapting to new technology with lightning speed, and at younger ages), asking when I’m coming. Finances permitting, and if the weather cooperates, we should be able to do it all. If nothing else, I plan to have some more fun tales to tell by this time next month.
















Out of Focus and Off the Road


One more tale from the trip I took with the monks to Kakku, along with some very blurry photos. As I detailed in a post last month, I encountered a problem with my camera lens the day before I was scheduled to take the monks to Kakku. I ended up borrowing a small digital camera from my friend Ma Pu Sue in Nyaungshwe, so a photo-less journey was averted. However, I failed to account for another possible glitch; using up the camera battery. Which is exactly what happened. But fortunately the battery didn’t run out until we had finished traipsing around the stupa grove and taking the majority of the photos.  


I did remember to bring my faulty camera with me, thinking I could still coax the lens into operating, and it did, except that the focus was not quite what it should have been. Nevertheless, I took a few more shots of the monks posing in front of a pond, including a cute photo of one of the young novice monks holding a cat. Ah, if only that one had been in focus!



On the trip back to Nyaungshwe out on a country road in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, our van had a flat tire. That’s one phrase I had already learned in Burmese: bein paut de! Our Pa-O guide, Nang Khan Moon, suggested that we walk around the small village on the other side of the road, which just so happened to be a Pa-O village, while the driver fixed the flat. The one monk who had been sick was still not feeling well enough to accompany us, so he stayed behind while the rest of us took a stroll down the dirt lanes of the neighborhood.



I realize it’s difficult to tell from these hazy photos, but the village was quite attractive, and very clean and tidy. Immaculate is not strong a word. But there wasn’t a soul around. Nang Khan Moon explained that the villagers were all working at fields in the area and would return later in the afternoon. We passed attractive little thatched homes, most of which had firewood stacked neatly outside. I saw banana trees, papaya trees, tomato plants, and even some coffee plants growing at one house.



About 20 minutes into our walk, raindrops began to fall, so we picked up the pace and made it to the shelter of a nearby automotive parts shop before the rain got stronger. While we were at the stop, the two youngest monks purchased padlocks. This confused me. For one, where did they get the money to use for this purchase? And secondly, what do they need padlocks for at the monastery? Is there a theft problem of some sort there? I’ll have to ask some local friends about that next time I’m in town. In any case, the young monks appeared to be quite smitten with their new locks. Hey, whatever makes you happy!



A few minutes later, the van pulled up, a new tire now securely in place, and off we continued on towards Taunggyi. After stopping at one of the big hilltop pagodas in town, where I took yet more blurry photos, we piled back in the van (except for the sick monk, who was feeling so weak that he still wasn’t joining our walks) and headed back to Nyaungshwe. Yet another trip that hadn’t gone quite as planned, but as I told Nang Khan Moon, the flat tire was one of those “happy accidents” that gave me a chance to see something I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.




Buddha Bonanza


If you spend any amount of time as a tourist in Myanmar, you’ll visit a mind-numbing number of pagodas, temples, and monasteries. For many Westerners, it can all seem like an endless Buddhist blur after a short while, tempting some cynical visitors to remark that “they all look alike.” Another huge pagoda with a gleaming golden stupa? Uh, that’s nice. You go right ahead. I’ll just wait here in the horse cart.




If you venture inside any of those sacred Buddhist sites, you are going to see a lot of Buddha figures. It’s like a Buddha bonanza! And unlike the endless parade of pagodas, the shrines to the Buddha don’t all look the same at all. I marvel at the variety of Buddha figures that I’ve seen during my trips to Myanmar. They come in all shapes and sizes, and in different poses and different styles. Standing Buddha, Reclining Buddha, Disco Buddha, Umbrella Buddha, Forest Buddha; there’s a Buddha for all occasions.










Here are a few of the Buddha images that captured my eye during my most recent trip. These shots were taken in a variety of locations in and around Mandalay, Taunggyi, and Kakku.








Buddhist Holiday



Today is a Buddhist holiday here in Thailand and it’s a big one: Visakha Bucha (also spelled as Visaka Puja). This day, according to Buddhist belief, celebrates the birth, enlightenment and entry into nirvana of the Buddha. Think of it as a three-in-one bonus: all of this stuff happened on the same day! Hey, I can’t help it, I love poking fun at ALL religions, and Buddhism doesn’t get a free pass either. But I have to say that I do have much more respect for Buddhism — and interest in the way that it’s linked to the fabric of daily of life in Southeast Asia — than I have in the fanatical belief systems that are found in Western countries.






Seeing as how it’s Visakha Bucha today — and also a holiday under other names in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar — I thought it fitting to post some Buddhist-themed photos, all taken during my recent trip to Myanmar.









Sanda Tika: Novice Monk Photographer


My guest photographer today is Sanda Tika, a 12-year-old novice monk from the monastery in Shan State’s Tat Ein village. His self portrait photo is posted above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kid without a huge grin on his face. He’s just one of those playful, perpetually happy kids who seem unfazed but the occasional chaos surrounding them.



It seemed like wherever I wandered around the village and the monastery (and at the primary school, although Sanda Tika doesn’t attend classes there; he studies separately at the monastery) this time — and especially on our road trip to Taunggyi and Kakku, Sanda Tika was always there, shadowing me every step of the way. Okay, there were times that I saw him studying with the other novices, but it SEEMED like he was always around. Because of his almost constant presence, I asked him his name (he gave me his “monastery name” — his birth name is different) one day, and promptly appointed him to be my assistant photographer for the rest of my stay. After a quick crash course in the basics, he was more than ready to use the camera. The photos you see today are all ones that he took.  





At the park in Taunggyi, they have a bizarre new addition: huge plaster replicas of the characters from The Flintstones! Yes, there were Fred and Wilma, along Barney and Betty (alas, Bam Bam was nowhere to be found), ready and waiting to pose for photos. And the students and teachers got really excited about doing just that, running up and hugging the goofy characters. I don’t think any of these kids have ever seen a Flintstones cartoon in their lives, but they just couldn’t resist the silliness of the idea. And neither could Sanda Tika!








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