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

Posts tagged ‘Nyaungshwe’

Photos by Aung Thaung, novice monk from Shan State

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Today’s photos were all taken by Aung Thaung, a novice monk at Tat Ein monastery in Shan State. The photo above is a self portrait that he took during our trip to Bagan. The other photos were taken either in Bagan or back in the village or at the monastery.

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In addition to his Buddhism studies at the monastery, Aung Thaung is also a member of the fifth grade class in the village’s primary school. When he is done with his two-year stint at the monastery he plans to continue his education back in his home village (don’t ask me exactly where that is; over the hills and far away!) or possibly in nearby Nyaungshwe where his aunt is living.

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When I was in the village recently, and during our trip to Bagan, I would frequently hand over my camera to Aung Thaung and let him take photos to his heart’s content. He’s a polite kid and very responsible, so I had no worries about him using the camera. Plus, the smile on his face each time was evidence that he was enjoying the opportunity!

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I thought about whittling the number of photos in today’s post down to a dozen or so, but there were just too many good and/or funny photos to share. Enjoy Aung Thaung’s photos!

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Ruins of the Afternoon

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Nyaungshwe is best known as “the gateway to Inle Lake,” thanks to it being located near Myanmar’s famous boat-driven tourist attraction. But a stay in Nyaungshwe should not be confined to taking a tour of Inle Lake and its surrounding villages. Nyaungshwe is a very charming town and there are plenty of things to do in town or the surrounding area. The town itself is ideal for exploring on foot or bicycle. In addition to dozens of Buddhist monasteries, the bustling morning market, and the network of canals in town, there are plenty of narrow roads and lanes that are perfect for catching a glimpse of local life. You will also find some old Intha temple and stupa ruins, big and small, scattered around town. It seems like I’m always discovering new sets of ruins every time I visit.

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During an afternoon bike ride around Nyaungshwe recently I came upon some old temple ruins out in the middle of nowhere. Well, the location wasn’t quite that remote, being on the outskirts of Nyaungshwe, heading towards the big canal that leads to Inle Lake. But it certainly felt like it was in the middle of nowhere; no towering hotels or busy roads around me, and not another tourist — or any human beings — in the vicinity; just me and my bike and these lovely old ruins. All in all, a fairly glorious situation!

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Inle Lake is an interesting place to visit, but don’t limit your stay in Nyaungshwe to riding in an uncomfortable boat and getting sunburned by the afternoon sun or freezing your ass off in the morning chill (hey, the lake takes no prisoners!); hit the streets of town, slow down the pace, and discover the pleasurable vibe of Shan State!

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Mount Popa summit: Monks & Monkeys Meet!

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For the past several years I’ve been taking groups of children — including novice monks — from Tat Ein village, near Nyaungshwe in Myanmar’s Shan State, on field trips to places and festivals in the area. They are a well-behaved, appreciative bunch of kids and I always enjoy these outings.

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When I was in the village late last year, one of the teachers told me that the novice monks wanted to visit Bagan next time. Would I be able to take them, she asked? Bagan is one of the most famous destinations in Myanmar, home to an estimated three-thousand ancient Buddhist temples. The only problem is that Bagan is a bit far away from Nyaungshwe, about 7-8 hours by car, so an excursion there would have to be a multi-day trip.

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Well, we ended up doing it; a three-day trip, there and back. I rented two trucks, which was enough for about fifty passengers. We had thirty-plus monks — both novice monks and a few senior monks, one of the teachers from the village, a couple of high school girls, one of the village elders, two drivers, and a one befuddled foreigner. The perfect group!

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Before reaching Bagan, we stopped at Mt. Popa, an extinct volcano that is now a major tourist attraction and Buddhist pilgrimage sight. Mt. Popa is home to dozens of nat shrines (a nat is considered a spirit of sorts, and believed by some to possess powers) along with some sacred Buddhist shrines. Visitors can walk up a covered stairway to the top of the mountain (more of a big hill, actually) and enjoy some fantastic views, all while trying to maneuver the obstacle course of frisky monkeys that dart up and down the stairs and from the rafters overhead. Literally, there are monkeys everywhere, most of them looking for food, packets of which are conveniently being sold by vendors everywhere you turn. Some of the more bold monkeys will literally reach into your pocket if they see something edible or colorful!

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If it’s not the monkey food vendors, it’s the flower vendors that will get you. All devout Buddhists will feel the need to buy some flowers for one of the shrines, so those vendors end up doing a brisk business too. The those monkeys must also work up a thirst running up and down those stairs, I noticed more than one of them sipping a soft drink!

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Well, the monks had a great time interacting with the monkeys and seeing the sights. Miraculously, I saw more than a handful of the youngsters produce smart phones from under their robes and snap a few photos. Where did those phones come from?!

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Mandalay Calling!

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Whenever I return from a trip to Myanmar I am often asked about the situation in the country, specifically what has changed lately. Most everyone is aware of the new government that was formed this month by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD (National League for Democracy) party, and that’s obviously a big change, and one that hopefully will be a harbinger of many positive changes in the country.

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But the biggest change, by far, that I’ve noticed in Myanmar over the last two years has been the explosion in mobile phone usage. In previous years, both the cost of phones and SIM cards was so high that it made their use prohibitive for most of the population. But thanks to new government regulations and the entry of two foreign telecom companies —- Oredoo and Telenor — the price of both phones and especially SIM cards has dropped considerably, enabling millions of people in Myanmar to use phone services and social media. And they are doing it in droves!

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With these recent developments, many of my friends in Myanmar now have phones as well as access to a variety of apps, the Internet, and social networking sites such as Facebook. It’s been amazing for me to witness this sudden revolution in a country where even an old-fashioned mobile phone was a rarity five years ago. The free Line texting app is very popular in both Thailand and Myanmar, so that’s making communication very easy for me and my friends. Whenever I hear a beep on my phone nowadays, I’ll think: it’s Mandalay calling — and most of the time that’s the case. It might by Mr. Htoo, also known as Htoo Htoo, a local jack-of-all-trades who mostly works as a motorbike taxi driver in Central Mandalay (just down the block from the Nylon ice cream shop!). Or it could be some of the kids from 90th Street in Mandalay. This week I heard from Baw Ga, Ye Man Oo, and Khang Khant Kyaw. Where, I wondered, were Ye Thu Lwin and Ye Win Zaw? Checking in from Bagan was Nine Nine, telling me about a cool new singer he thought I’d like. In Nyaungshwe I can quickly contact with Ma Pu Sue, or from the hinterlands of Muse, Yan Naing Soe has also been sending me messages. I’m just waiting for the day when I get a call from a monk in the village. And honestly, I imagine that day is not too far in the distant future.

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And it’s not just text messages; with Line you can also make free phone calls — and even video calls! Some days I feel like Dick Tracy with a high-tech wrist watch. Honestly, the stuff amazes me. As a result of this app, I’ll often get calls from Yan Naing Soe, Ye Man Oo (who has the best English skills of the bunch), or even Kyaw Myo Tun, a waiter at Aye Myit Tar restaurant in Mandalay. Yeah, some days the connection sucks and it’s almost impossible to hear clearly, but on a good day — or night – when the lines are clear, it’s like magic.

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This week has produced a flurry of messages from the Mandalay crew especially, all of them excited about the annual water festival this week. If it’s been as hot there as it’s been in Bangkok lately — and this week has been a scorcher — they are all going to be soaking up as much water as possible. Happy New Year!

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Monks in the Wind

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In Western Shan State, not far from the shores of famous Inle Lake and the thriving town of Nyaungshwe, you will find the hilly village of Tat Ein. Perched on the top of one of the windy hills is a tiny monastery, home to about forty or so novice monks, the numbers rising and falling like the water level in the nearby lake.
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When I am in Nyaungshwe I pedal my bicycle over to the village and visit the monastery almost every day. The young monks are a cheerful, curious bunch, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them over the years. But they are never around for too long. After two or three years in residence they either move on to another monastery or shed their red robes for regular clothing and resume the life of a student or young field worker. In these parts, you never roam too far from your native village.

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Village Girls Unite!

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I spend a lot of time in Tat Ein village, just down the dusty and soon-to-be-paved road from Nyaunshgwe in Myanmar’s Shan State. Something about this village, and these villagers, is so very welcoming. I occasionally teach English classes in the village’s primary school, make donations to the monastery, and take the novice monks and students on field trips in the area. The kids are very polite and friendly, and the teachers and senior monks are personable too. It’s a place I never tire of visiting.

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Most afternoons, after classes are over, I’ll spend time at the monastery talking with the monks or letting them borrow my camera for “inspired” shots of their own. But the village girls are not to be denied either! They are a sweet bunch are just as eager to pose for the camera as the novice monks, perhaps even more so. Here are some shots of the village girls from my trip this past November.

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People, Places, Signs & Things: Moments in Myanmar

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A vendor hawks her wares in Taunggyi.

 

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November is the start of kite flying season in Nyaungshwe.

 

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Ko Maw Hsi lights a fire in Mandalay.

 

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Three teachers from the primary school in Tat Ein village take a break at a teashop in Taunggyi.

 

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School crossing sign in Mandalay.

 

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Handmade paper umbrellas in Mandalay.

 

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Female students in Shan State’s Tat Ein village.

 

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Don’t feed the birds in Mandalay?

 

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Ma Pu Sue prepares a meal at her Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaungshwe.

 

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Getting ready to finally pave the road to Tat Ein village.

 

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Saing Aung, a novice monk from Tat Ein, surrounded by balloons in Taunggyi.

 

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Sunset near U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

 

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A young girl helps prepare a snack in Tat Ein village.

 

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Peace and solitude at a temple in Mandalay.

 

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Novice monks from the monastery at Tat Ein.

 

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The world famous Catfish Museum in Mandalay!

 

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Petrol bottled to go in Nyaungshwe!

 

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On the road to Tat Ein village: Welcome to Shan State!

 

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A farmer takes advantage of the low water level at the lake near U Bein Bridge.

 

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Cooking up snacks at Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaungshwe.

 

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