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

Posts tagged ‘Nyaung Shwe’

Death of a Burmese Monk

Late last month I was saddened to hear about the death of U Kuthala Nanda, a monk at the Tat Ein monastery in Myanmar’s Shan State, on the outskirts of Nyaung Shwe. He was only 40 years old. I have visited the monastery dozens of times in the past decade and I considered U Kuthala Nanda a good friend.

I first met U Kuthala Nanda when he was an adult novice monk, having only recently entered the monkhood in his thirties after living his entire life in Nyaung Shwe. He was also the brother of my longtime friend Ma Pu Su, who runs the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaung Shwe.

U Kuthala Nanda, or Aung Nanda as he was known before becoming a monk, had his share of difficult times, particularly in his late teens and twenties, when he was more inclined to live a wild life and seek solace from alcohol. But he eventually turned his life around and became a well-respected monk, what they call an U-Zin, at the monastery. I know that he devoted himself to teaching and taking care of the dozens of young notice monks who stay at the monastery, and I’m sure they are devasted by his passing.

Aung Thaung, one of the novice monks who spent the past several years with U Kuthala Nanda at the monastery, called me about two months ago to tell me that U Kuthala Nanda needed more money for his cancer treatment. From talking with Ma Pu Sue, I had known that U Kuthala Nanda was ill, but didn’t realize that the situation had become so dire. “I like to help people” young Aung Thaung told me after I had thanked him for letting me know the status of U Kuthala Nanda’s treatment. But despite the efforts of all of us, nothing could stop the ravage of the disease. I want to repeat the old refrain  that life is unfair, but the Buddhists also tell us the “life is suffering” so I’m confident that U Kuthala Nanda passed away knowing he did what he could during his brief time on this planet, and he left behind many, many young men who have benefited from his experiences and counsel. He will be missed.

 

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Monhinga Meal for the Monks

Yeah, it’s been a while. A long, long lonely time, as the song says. What can I tell you? Too much work, a bit of travel, yet more work, a couple of health issues, and a continuing spiral of work. I’m damn exhausted. The last time I posted anything on this blog was back in January and since that time it seems as if I have had no time to do all the things that I want to do, or at least the things that I used to do, which includes this blog.

At this point I’m not sure how much effort I’m going to put back into this thing, but I hate the thought of just letting it wither and die, so I’ll try and post a few things in the near future in the attempt to sustain it. Today’s post harkens back to November of last year when I was in Nyaung Shwe, the picturesque town in Myanmar’s Shan State. My friend Ma Pu Sue, who runs the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class with her husband Lesly in Nyaung Shwe, and I join forces each year in late November (our birthdays are a day apart) and offer a donation to monks from the nearby monastery at Tat Ein village.

Instead of making tracks to the monastery itself and offering physical donations such as school supplies or shoes (which we’ve done in the past), we invite the monks to Sue and Lesly’s home for a hearty breakfast of monhinga, the savory noodle dish that could be dubbed Myanmar’s most iconic culinary treat. You can find variations of monhinga all over the country, but Lesly’s special recipe is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. And I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend of mine; the guy can cook up some mighty fine food!

Actually, the novice monks from the monastery usually walk by Sue’s home each morning during their regular alms rounds. But getting the chance to sit down and rest, enjoy a bowl — or three — of this delicious monhinga, is undoubtedly a treat for the youngsters. Ye Man Oo, my friend from Mandalay, was also on hand to help serve the food to the monks. I just tried to stay out of the way while everyone else cooked and served — and ate — and simply enjoy the event, only actively participating at the very end when it came time to offer each monk a small cash donation.

Organizing this little donation breakfast every year is very gratifying, something I look forward to doing, but if you travel around Myanmar you will see similar donation meals and ceremonies nearly every day of the year. I’ve never met more generous people. I read an article recently that said that a higher percentage of people in Myanmar make donations to monasteries than in any country in Asia. I believe it.

Cycling Shan State’s Country Roads

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One of my favorite things to do when I’m in the Shan State town of Nyaung Shwe is just hop on my bike and pedal around town, or more often out of town, hitting the dusty and bumpy country roads.

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Some roads in the area are paved, and some are not, and some might better be called lanes or paths, as they meander through rice fields and up hills. Wherever I wander, however, the scenery is invariably splendid. Not many people in these parts, at least it’s not congested like back in Bangkok, but there are always friendly, smiling children out playing and waving, monks making their alms rounds (or you might see the younger novice monks also out playing), and sometimes a stubborn farm animal camped out on the road.

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On my last trip I had Ye Man Oo from Mandalay with me, and thankfully he proved to be a good cycling companion, keeping pace with me no matter where I decided to venture, although, admittedly, we both had to dismount and walk our bikes up the big hill leading to Tat Ein village! But there is a “refueling” rest spot at the top of the hill, halfway to the village, complete with free drinking water, so that made the trek easier.

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We rented our bikes from Aye Aye Travel Services in Nyaung Shwe, located in the same building as Chinlone Books. No flat tires and the brakes were good too; what more can you ask for!

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Monks Keeping Warm in Chilly Shan State

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Back in the hills of Shan State, in the village of Tat Ein near Nyaung Shwe, it’s a bit chilly this month. It was also chilly last month, and the month before. Sure, it’s “that time of year”, but this area is also at a much higher elevation than other parts of Myanmar, helping to ensure that the cold lingers longer.

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On the suggestion of my friend Ma Pu Sue, who runs the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaung Shwe, I bought several dozen pairs of socks for the novice monks — and the senior monks — at Tat Ein’s monastery. We figured the socks would help keep their feet warm during those cold winter nights.

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Ye Man Oo, a friend from Mandalay who is helping me organize the books at Chinlone Books in Nyaung Shwe, and I carried the load of socks to the monastery, along with a football, a volleyball, cane balls used for playing chinlone, and some kites for the monks. Our bags were full during the bike ride to the village, but upon arrival, we were able to quickly distribute the bounty to the eager novices.

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Warm feet and happy hearts; the perfect combination!

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Kite Season in Shan State

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It’s that time of the year again in Myanmar’s Shan State. The weather turns cooler, the winds shift, and all young men’s attention turns to … kite flying!

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Yes, wander around any town or village in Shan State at this time of year and you will no doubt see kites flying everywhere. The kites are especially visible in the afternoon after school is out, or during the mornings on those class-free days. And the kite flyers are by no means all young boys; many men and more than a few young ladies can be seen flying kites too.

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After watching the novice monks at Tat Ein villages monastery rescue a kite that had been stuck in a tree one afternoon, and then enthusiastically set it soaring in the sky again, my friend Ye Man Oo and I decided to buy the monks a bunch of new kites that they could fly during their afternoon breaks.

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After buying the kites at a shop near Nyaung Shwe’s morning market, we cycled to the monastery and presented the bounty to the monks. Let’s just say that they were very excited to get the kites! Up, up, and away!

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Monks Behind the Lens

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During my last couple of trips to Tat Ein village in Shan State, just down the road from the town of Nyaung Shwe and the famous Inle Lake, I haven’t taken as many photos as usual. But that’s not to say that my camera hasn’t been put to use!

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Indeed, the camera has been getting a good workout each time thanks to the photo-loving novice monks at the village’s small monastery. Upon arrival I’ll usually had the camera over to young Aung Thaung, who will take some photos, and then he will hand the camera over to another monk who will handle the photography chores, for a while, and then back to Aung Thaung, and maybe another monk or two, and so it goes.

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The one constant during these photo-taking sessions is that I just stand back and observe, enjoying both the serious and silly poses that these kids think up. Here are a few of the MANY photos that those novice monks have taken in recent months.

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Chinlone Books Goes to Bagan!

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It all started with a request for a loan.

My friend from Bagan, Nine Nine, was unhappy with his current job and wanted to start his own business. After four years of working at the same hotel he was frustrated with the low pay and long hours. Opening his own business seemed like the thing to do. Low pay and long hours got you down? As many of us entrepreneurs can tell you, opening a business is certainly no cure for that dilemma! But hey, there ARE opportunities to reverse that equation if you are the boss, and Nine Nine is astute enough to realize that. But, after the birth of his daughter last year, money was running low. Needing some startup funds, he asked if I could help him.

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Hey, I try to help my friends whenever I can, but I don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, so I wanted to hear more about his business plan and what it would all cost. I wasn’t making any promises, but I told that we could discuss it when I visited Myanmar the next time. That was two months ago, back in September. The end result was that his idea was not going to cost all that much, so I DID lend him some money and his shop, 99 Souvenir Shop & Chinlone Books, is now  open in New Bagan!

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Yes, in addition to selling various souvenirs such as lacquerware, clothing, and postcards, he is running another branch of Chinlone Books. I asked Nine Nine if he was receptive to the idea of adding books to his product mix and he agreed. He’s been open for about one month now and is excited about what he’s been selling (the first book sold was “M is For Myanmar” from Things Asian Press) and what customers are asking for. The Bagan branch of Chinlone Books is located on Kyay Street (New Bagan’s main street) next to the Ostello Bello hostel, and diagonally across the street from the long-running Silver House restaurant. They are open every day!

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During that last trip to Myanmar, Nine Nine met me and my friend from Mandalay, Ye Man Oo, in Nyaung Shwe and we showed him the book setup at the Chinlone Books branch in that town, located inside Aye Aye Travel Services. The owner, Mar Mar Aye, explained to Nine Nine her system of cataloging the books and how she keeps track of sales. She’s an honest, hardworking lady and I hope her advice will help Nine Nine with his own business. If you are visiting Nyaung Shwe (near the popular Inle Lake in Shan State) or Bagan (New Bagan is just down the road from Old Bagan and the bigger town of Nyaung U) please drop in and say “Mingalaba” … and buy a book or two!

http://www.chinlonebooks.com/

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