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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
There’s caves in them hills! Yes, all you spelunkers, we got your caves! Over in the tiny Shan State village of Tat Ein, just a few kilometers down the road from the larger environs of Nyaung Shwe and scenic Inle Lake, there is at least one interesting cave worth exploring.
Accompanying me on this trip to Nyaung Shwe this time were Ye Man Oo and his parents from Mandalay, along with his friend Zin Min Phyo, and my friend from Bagan, Nine Nine. None of those fine folks had visited the larger of the Tat Ein caves before, so we put that on our agenda this time, hoping to squeeze in a visit between the rain storms.
Well, the first day the rain won and we couldn’t go to the cave, but on the second day our luck held and we were able to make a visit, accompanied by Aung Thaung, one of the novice monks from the village’s monastery, and one of the local kids. Armed with a huge flashlight, Aung Thaung and his friend led us through the labyrinth network of dark passages and Buddha images that decorated the interior.
The next day we returned for a quick visit to say goodbye to the monks at the monastery. While we were there we met Chaw Jo, a friendly young female tourist from Hong Kong who was traveling by herself. We didn’t have time to stay and show here around, needing to be at a friend’s house before dark, but we suggested that she visit the cave while she was in the village. Once again the senior monk assigned Aung Thaung and the other boy the task of taking a visitor to see the cave. Not sure if Aung Thaung was thrilled or petrified with this extra task, but he obediently accepted the duty!
We met Chaw Jo for dinner later that night and she reported that the excursion was a lot of fun, although because Aung Thaung and his friend spoke only a few words of English, and Chaw Jo didn’t understand any Burmese, they resorted to using a lot of hand gestures. All in all, this was another good example of the joys of travel and the unexpected things — and people — that you can encounter along the way.
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!
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!
Over the centuries the ancient temples of Bagan have weathered the invasion of enemy forces such as Kublai Khan’s Mongols, not to mention the corrosive effects of decades of wind and rain, plus a powerful earthquake in 1975. But could the old temples withstand the arrival of those rambunctious novice monks from Tat Ein village in Shan State? We were about to find out!
Actually, compared to the hordes of foreign tourists who have descended upon Bagan in recent years, it’s highly doubtful that a few dozen young monks (along with a teacher and two female students from the village) was going to be have too much of a negative impact on the old temples. Any pagodas which are structurally unsound or particularly vulnerable to legions of visitors have either been closed or made inaccessible in certain places (you are not allowed to climb to the top of some of them).
We tried to visit as many of the major temples as possible during our three days in town, but due to time restrictions and the fact that it was so damn hot the entire time we were in Bagan, our pace was slow and we didn’t see as much as we had hoped. The last morning before the crew returned to Nyaungshwe (I stayed in Bagan an extra day and then returned alone to Mandalay) we visited the archaeological museum in Old Bagan. That was the first time I had visited this museum and found it quite impressive. Strangely, visitors are not allowed to bring cameras inside the museum, but they do allow photo-taking phones!
The biggest change I see in Bagan, besides the higher number of tourists in the area, is the decline of the horse carts that were once a popular option for tourists wanting to see the sights. Instead, electric bicycles have become the rage and they are everywhere. Horse carts haven’t disappeared completely, but sadly they are becoming a rare sight.