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

Posts tagged ‘Nyaungshwe’

Photos by Aung Thaung, novice monk from Shan State

atm2b009

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.

at320

at328

at315

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.

at310

atm2b063

at314

at504

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!

atm2b046

at508

at321

at313

atm2b045

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!

at327

at317

at332

at316

at318

at322

at329

at503

at323

at324

at331

atm2b066

 

Ruins of the Afternoon

ns051620

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.

ns051621

ns051606

ns051625

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!

ns051602

ns051611

ns051622

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!

ns051628

ns051630

ns051626

 

Mount Popa summit: Monks & Monkeys Meet!

m2b002

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.

m2b003

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.

m2b041

m2b044

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!

m2b024

m2b007

m2b023

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!

m2b025

m2b034

m2b035

m2b005

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!

m2b008

m2b039

m2b027

m2b033

m2b026

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?!

m2b029

m2b006

m2b031

m2b037

 

 

 

 

 

Mandalay Calling!

htoohtoo1

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.

restphone2

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!

restphone

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.

ny1507

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.

ywinzaw1501

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!

amt_kyt

Monks in the Wind

tem1107

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.
fom17

tbg1525

tem1110

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.

ny1519

tp1125

tem1106

fom14

tbg1519

monkabet

tem1108

tp1124

saingaung1101

tem1104

tem1101

tem1109

 

Village Girls Unite!

sgp24

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.

sgp10

sgp02

sgp04

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.

sgp15

sgp13

sgp18

sgp12

sgp09

sgp05

sgp19

sgp25

sgp20

sgp17

sgp11

sgp23

sgp21

sgp14

 

People, Places, Signs & Things: Moments in Myanmar

tbg1536

A vendor hawks her wares in Taunggyi.

 

kiter1504

November is the start of kite flying season in Nyaungshwe.

 

lightmyfire

Ko Maw Hsi lights a fire in Mandalay.

 

ny1514

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

 

schoolxing

School crossing sign in Mandalay.

 

umbrella03

Handmade paper umbrellas in Mandalay.

 

sgp06

Female students in Shan State’s Tat Ein village.

 

pagbirds1

Don’t feed the birds in Mandalay?

 

mbf19

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

 

tarnation2

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

 

tbg1533

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

 

ubb18

Sunset near U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

 

stirgirl1

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

 

treepag

Peace and solitude at a temple in Mandalay.

 

ny1522

Novice monks from the monastery at Tat Ein.

 

catfishM

The world famous Catfish Museum in Mandalay!

 

petrol015

Petrol bottled to go in Nyaungshwe!

 

welTOcome

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

 

ubb10

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

 

mbf105

Cooking up snacks at Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaungshwe.

 

Morning Monhinga for the Monks!

mbf06

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.

mbf12

mbf07

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.

mbf25

mbf23

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!

mbf02

mbf09

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.”

mbf08

mbf11

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!

mbf18

mbf13

mbf17

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.

mbf21

mbf10

mbf24

 

Dancing in the Shan State Moonlight

fmp15

It was the full moon night in late November, a period known as Tazaungdaing in Myanmar, and also the time of a very popular annual festival. My friend Ma Pu Sue, who runs the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaungshwe with her husband Lesly, decided to throw a very memorable party that night at her home.

fmp02

fmp27

fmp26

fmp21

Not only did Sue and Lesly prepare a very tasty spread of food — grilled fish, seasonal salads, and two varieties of sticky rice — but the invited guests were treated to a live traditional Shan band, complete with a knife dancer. The locals mixed with the foreigners — guests from France, the Netherlands, Kenya, and the USA — and everyone pretty much danced all night.

fmp19

fmp28

fmp06

fmp16

The wine and whiskey were flowing — or in some cases with Lesly pouring the contents of a bottle down the throats of a few eager local fellows — as the guests were smiling and dancing the night away. Isabelle from France had a flock of young neighborhood girls mimicking her every choreographed dance move and when she finally sat down to take a break, a couple of the girls started copying my more rather freestyle moves! Better that, I guess, than trying to copy the moves of the boy who had been dancing with the two long knives!

fmp10

fmp23

fmp24

fmp18

fmp_bottles

A few hours later, the band had stopped playing, the knife boy was dancing with the rest of us (thankfully, without those knives!), and a few of the more inebriated men had to be propped up against the wall of Sue’s new guest room so that nobody would trip over them. All things considered, it was another fabulous night under the moonlight in Nyaungshwe’s lovely Shan State.

fmp_drum

fmp14

fmp25

fmp20

fmp_dancers

fmp04

 

 

Fifth Grade Frenzy!

cr450

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.

cr460

cr39

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.

cr30

cr32

cr433

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.

cr36

cr38

cr459

cr431

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!

cr443

cr437

cr31

cr37

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!

cr435

cr440

cr451

cr430

cr446

cr458

cr441

cr455

cr438

cr445

cr439

cr444

cr457

cr454

cr449

cr447

 

Tag Cloud