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

Posts tagged ‘Shan State’

Monks Keeping Warm in Chilly Shan State


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.




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.




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.




Warm feet and happy hearts; the perfect combination!












Monks Behind the Lens


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!




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.




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.




















Words of Monks: Love is the Message


In the wake of the horrific Donald Trump victory this past week (and if you are not horrified by the specter of this lunkhead becoming president  … then just please crawl away and join the other psychopaths who are celebrating) I truly needed some mood therapy, something positive to uplift my spirits.


And I can think of no better pick-me-up than memories of those delightful novice monks at the Tat Ein monastery in Myanmar’s Shan State. I know, I post a lot of stories and photos about these monks, but they truly are a joy to be around, full of kindness and happiness. When I was at the monastery two months ago, one of the monks I know, Tun Phyu, was giddy with excitement, wanting to show me something at the monastery. We walked outside and there on the ground, written in English using blades of grass and leaves, were the words: I LOVE YOU



In addition to that proclamation, which they had written twice, Tun Phyu and his buddies had written “Mingalaba” (in Burmese, not English), the standard Myanmar greeting, which roughly translates as “Blessings.” I was delighted to see these messages and voiced a hearty “gaun ba de!” (very good!) to the group of monks who had gathered to watch my reaction.



In these dark days of Trumpovich and his nasty followers, I take heart that other people in this world — most people in this world — are not so consumed by hate and bigotry and the desire to get rich quick — all hallmarks of the Trump platform — that they forget about the feelings of others, including the less fortunate. In the words of those legendary music philosophers, MSFB: Love is the Message!






Chinlone Books Goes to Bagan!


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.



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!



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!



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!



Chinlone Books unveils new logo … and T-Shirts!


I was back in Nyaung Shwe again last month, primarily to deliver more books to Mar Mar Aye at Chinlone Books. Ye Man Oo from Mandalay came along to help me organize the bookshelves, and his parents kindly drove us all the way there. And that’s not a short or easy journey, having to navigate several mountain ranges to reach Shan State. In any case the trip was a success: we increased the bookshelf count from two to six, while adding about 500 books to the mix. And more are on the way!


Besides the sheer number of books — not only in English, but also French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and Japanese! — perhaps the most exciting aspect of being in Myanmar this time was seeing the new logo for the bookshop, one that was designed by Ye Man Oo himself. This kid is a very talented artist and has been brainstorming ideas for the past several months until he came up with a very cool design.



The next step was getting some t-shirts made that sported his creation. We found a company in Mandalay called Moe Pale (thanks to my friend Ko Soe Moe for the recommendation!) that offered reasonable prices and good service. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get the shirts made before we made the trek to Nyaung Shwe, but upon our return to Mandalay the shirts had been printed and were ready!



I had a flight back to Bangkok the day after returning to Mandalay, but U Khin Maung Lwin graciously accepted the task of sending the shipment of shirts to Mar Mar Aye in Nyaung Shwe. And I’m happy to report that the shirts are now in stock in three sizes (medium, large, and extra large) and in three colors (white, light blue, and tan). And the price per shirt is only 6,000 kyat (about US$5). Why buy a boring Inle Lake t-shirt when you can purchase a beautiful Chinlone Books t-shirt?



Meanwhile, we are gearing up for the next big book delivery sometime in September. Our aim is to beef up the number of books in all sections and languages in anticipation of the upcoming “high season” for tourism later in the year. If you are in Nyaung Shwe you MUST stop by Chinlone Books!


Nyaung Shwe … without that Famous Lake!


Shan State’s Nyaung Shwe is a small town, one of those burgs that boast a sole traffic light, a lot of good old boys hanging out at the local tea shop, and lots of farm animals running around, dodging the increasing number of motorcycles and trucks on the streets. But Nyaung Shwe is the accommodation town of choice for anyone who wants to visit nearby Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist attractions.




I love visiting Nyaung Shwe but I can’t remember that last time I saw Inle Lake. See it once, and basically that’s enough. Sure, Inle is a tranquil body of water — or at least it’s the neighboring villages and one-leg-rowing fisherman that what make it so interesting — but there are plenty of other things to do if you are staying in Nyaung Shwe. Plus, it’s just a damn lovely town, surrounded by shimmering green rice fields and craggy green hills.




If it’s waterways you want, you are better off taking a canoe trip down the town’s network of canals. The scenic canoe ride is much more relaxing and slower-paced than taking a big noisy boat on the big lake. Nyaung Shwe is also a delightful town to explore on foot or by bicycle. There are plenty of crumbling old temple and stupa ruins strewn around town, plus lots of giggling, friendly children flying kites and playing other outdoor games. Yes, they aren’t all addicted to online games just yet!




In addition to a very colorful morning market, Nyaung Shwe is also home to a staggering number of Buddhist monasteries and some of these places make for very memorable — and very photogenic — visits, especially the old teakwood Shway Yan Pyay, located on the main road into town, near the Inle Lake ticket booth. Early each morning you can also marvel to the sight of long lines of monks making their alms rounds, a sea of red robes penetrating the morning mist.




Taking half-day, full-day, or multi-day treks to nearby villages and towns such as Kalaw can also be a nice diversion from the lake trips. Nyaung Shwe is such a peaceful and laidback place that many tourists extend their stay just to relax or explore the area. Another option that has become popular in recent years is taking a cooking class. I’ll have another post in the near future about the cooking class I observed recently at Bamboo Delight, but they are only one of several classes in town, not only teaching tourists how to make tasty Burmese and Shan dishes, but also Indian food too.




Inle Lake? Sure, it’s a “must see” if you are in Myanmar, but take time to discover the other wonders of Nyaung Shwe too!





The return of the Machete Monks!


It was another glorious sunny day in the Shan State hills as I rode my bike over to Tat Ein village to take a new football and some badminton sets for the kids. But I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me upon arrival: a bunch of machete-armed monks!




Not to be alarmed, it was just a group of novice monks who were cutting, chopping, and sawing logs to make stacks of firewood, kindling used by many of the villagers for cooking. Like they do most of the time, these boys turned the chore into a fun activity, laughing and grinning while they worked. And of course they all wanted their photo taken too! Hey, don’t point that blade at me!





The group of aspiring lumberjacks wasn’t entirely comprised of novice monks, however. There was one adult male and two women, including a betelnut-chewing granny, who appeared to be the foreman of sorts, chastising any monk that wasn’t cutting the wood properly. And of course, the entire spectacle was attended/supervised by several giggling village children and the other novice monks too. Fun for the entire family!










Nyaung Shwe Road Rules!


Although it’s one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations, owing to its proximity to Inle Lake, the Shan State town of Nyaung Shwe remains a relatively laid-back and quiet place. You won’t find any skyscrapers, traffic jams, or wild nightlife. Tranquil best describes the town, and I hope that pleasant vibe doesn’t change for a long, long time.



When it comes to rules of the road, it’s best to keep in mind that Nyaung Shwe is very much a rural farm town and you will often find animals (cows, goats, pigs, ducks, etc.) wandering about town, sometimes straying onto the roads. And in the case of the almighty cows, they feel like they own the road and will either refuse to budge from his — or her — comfortable resting place. Beep your horn all you want, the cow is not going to move.



Most motorists deal with the cow factor by just driving around the obstacle, while other drivers will stop and beep the horn incessantly, hoping that the cow gets the message. Sometimes they get up and slowly trot off, looking annoyed by the interruption of their siesta, and other times they ignore the honking altogether. Gotta love those cows! And every once in a while a confused tourist can be found blocking the middle of the road too. Now those are the real pests!




Photos by Aung Thaung, novice monk from Shan State


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.




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.





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!






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!














Ruins of the Afternoon


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.




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!




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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