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

Posts tagged ‘novice monks’

Afterwards in the Park

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Part two of the balloon festival outing with the kids from Tat Ein village was going to the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi. This park has lovely gardens, a small zoo (some monkeys, a few bears, rabbits, deer, and various types of birds and waterfowl), plus plenty of playground rides and games for the kids. They’ve even added a swimming pool in the past year.

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I’ve taken these kids on a variety of trips over the past few years; to events like the balloon festival, to old temple ruins and new pagodas, plus a couple of caves. But I think it’s safe to say that the highlight of each and every trip is going to this park in Taunggyi. When we were at the fairgrounds earlier in the day, waiting for the balloons to be launched, one of the novice monks, Htun Phyu, asked me if we could go to the park afterwards. “Of course we can,” was my immediate reply, as if there was any doubt in the matter.

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There is an entrance fee to the park, but the park management very graciously waived the fee for the novice monks and the teachers, so I only had to pay for the male and female students, plus myself. The kids had a great time on the rides, and running down the swinging bridge, while begging me to take photos the entire time. Happy to oblige!

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Morning Monhinga for the Monks!

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The birthday of my friend Ma Pu Sue is on November 27, only one day before my own. That being the case, if I happen to be in Nyaungshwe during that time of the month, we will get together with her friends and family to celebrate. This past November, however, she had clients at her Bamboo Delight Cooking Class every day while I was in town, including a group of over twenty one morning. The Tazaungdaing full moon period also fell during this time, which always coincides with the popular balloon festival in nearby Taunggyi, an event that I was planning to attend one day — along with 90 children, novice monks, and teachers from Tat Ein village.

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Needless to say, we had a lot going on, plus I was scheduled to leave Nyaungshwe on the day of Sue’s birthday, so if we were going to do anything to celebrate, we needed to do it a day early. Sue suggested that instead of a birthday dinner we should make a donation to the monastery at Tat Ein. But not just a regular monetary donation; her idea was to offer the novice monks a feast of home-cooked monhinga for breakfast one morning.

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So that’s exactly what we did. If you aren’t familiar with monhinga, it’s basically Myanmar’s national dish. It’s most commonly eaten in the morning, but can also be enjoyed anytime of the day or night. Rice or vermicelli noodles serve as the foundation for the monhinga soup, usually comprised of a fish broth with sliced banana stems, onions, lemongrass, garlic, and maybe a bit of pepper and some sliced egg. Variations of monhinga can be found around Myanmar, but crunchy gourd fritters and a sprinkling of coriander are also usually added, along with a squeeze or two of lime. Over the years, I’ve grown from moderately liking it to becoming a seriously big fan of this tasty dish. I honestly think that Sue’s version is the best that I’ve ever tasted. This is seriously addictive stuff!

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Sue, her husband Lesly (who, it must be said, is the “genius” behind this monhinga recipe), and two assistants got up early to prepare the monhinga feast on the appointed day. All that I could do was stand around and try not to get in their way as we waited for the monks to arrive on their morning alms rounds. Sue and Lesly had tables set up around their yard, enough to accommodate the 40 monks who were expected. Sue also brought out a white board with greetings written in Burmese, explaining our “donation event.”

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At about 7:30 that morning the line of red robes finally appeared, walking slowly down the dusty road. The whole crew was in attendance; Soe Nyaunt, Aung Thaung, Htun Phyu, Saing Aung, and rest of the novice monks I know from the Tat Ein monastery. The all sat down, hands politely on laps, and patiently waited for the food to be served. I think my assessment that this version monhinga is extremely tasty was supported by the monk’s reaction: most of them had second and even third helpings!

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When the meal was over, I stationed myself by the gate and following Sue’s advice, as the monks walked past me I handed each one an extra “gift” of 1000 kyat, money which they were to spend later that day at the balloon festival (more on that trip in a later post). Not a traditional way to celebrate a birthday, but definitely a memorable and gratifying one.

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Field of Monks

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Okay, these photos weren’t taken at a real field, at least not a plush expanse of fertile green land with crops growing and weeds sprouting. Instead, this was the dusty playground outside the primary school in Shan State’s Tat Ein village. In retrospect — with apologies to Paul Simon — maybe I should have titled the post: “Me and Htun Pyu Down by the School Yard.”

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Classes were already finished for the day, and the novice monks were making the most of their free time, flying kites and running around when I cycled up the hill late in the afternoon. But I didn’t show up empty-handed. I brought them a shiny new football, which only ramped up their energy level and enthusiasm even more. And as usual, once I took the camera out of my bag, the endless request for photos began. Here are the happy results!

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Wild in the Monastery!

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Back again for another quick visit with the novice monks who reside at the monastery in Shan State’s Tat Ein village. They are a lively, personable bunch of kid and certainly not shy in front of the camera. Today, we present the unabashed, wilder side of these young monks.

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Saturday in the Park with Monks & Monkeys

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Today is part two of the “Monks in the Park” series, once again from the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi. One very nice thing about going to the park this time; the park management waived the admission charge for all of the novice monks! I suppose this is standard policy, but it was nevertheless a nice surprise and a treat to my travel budget. I only had to pay for my ticket, plus admission for the six teachers. Not that was a bargain!

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With nearly 50 kids in tow, keeping them all together turned out to be nearly an impossible task. The park is actually pretty big in size, with lots of rides, weird statues and silly objects, flowers and gardens, fountains and pools, a variety of caged animals, and a swinging bridge; all of which serve as distractions and points of interest.

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At the monkey cage we had a bit of a scare. One of the tiniest novice monks wandered too close to the bars, and a very nasty monkey grabbed the kid’s robe and yanked it off him! The money hopped around, baring his teeth, and waving the red robe around, looking more agitated than triumphant. Meanwhile, the poor little monk looked totally petrified. Luckily, a zookeeper promptly arrived, entered the cage, threatened the monkey with a stick, and retrieved the robe. Nevertheless, many of the monks remained gathered around the cage, fascinated by the antics of the monkeys.

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As usual, not only did the kids have a great time running around and acting silly, not to mention insisting that I take LOTS of photos, they took the opportunity to eat as much as they could too. Monks, even young novice monks, cannot eat any meals after midday (12:00), but that rule doesn’t stop them from snacking when the chance arises. Packaged snacks, fresh fruits, nuts, candy; they consumed it all! And also, as usual, on the trip back to the village, most of the monks, exhausted from a day of sightseeing and play, slept soundly on the floor of the truck!

 

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Stumbling Around Old Ruins with Young Monks

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Fifth Grade Frenzy!

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My day of teaching in Tat Ein village ended with an afternoon fifth grade class. This was the first time I’d ever taught the fifth graders, seeing as how in previous years there was no such class in the village, the school only offering grades one through four. Following the villagers’ expansion plans for the school (they are in the process of constructing a new classroom and study hall), the fifth graders now meet in a separate building.

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The good news is that in this building they are separated from the lower four grades and the classroom is less noisy. But the downside is that it’s a temporary situation and they don’t have any desks or chairs in the room yet. And no, there is no air-conditioning and not any fans either. Open window air circulation, baby! For now the students sit on the floor and write in notebooks that are either propped on their lap or on the floor itself. No, it’s not an ideal setup, but at least the kids can take their classes in the village instead of having to make the long walk or bike ride to nearby Nyaungshwe.

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Unlike the relatively small fourth grade class I taught that morning (12 students) the fifth group class was huge by comparison; over 30 students. But it was a nice mixture of boys and girls, and of course those ubiquitous — and often mischievous — novice monks, including two of my favorites in the bunch, the irrepressible duo of Saing Aung and Soe Nyaunt.

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As with the fourth graders, I stuck to my usual arsenal of activities and lessons. In these classes I’ve learned that it’s easier, and more fun, to get the students out of their chairs (or in this case, off the floor) and involved in the lesson. For this group, however, the sheer numbers of students made it more difficult to get them to focus on what I was teaching and what we were doing. There were even a couple of monks who used the time to take naps. Ha! So much for my exciting lesson!

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Eventually, I let a few students come up to the board and write some words in English — or Burmese — and that helped to revive their sagging attention spans. The girls especially got a kick out of playing teacher. But even that excitement was short-lived and we spent the last 30 minutes of class just taking photographs!

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