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

Posts tagged ‘Taunggyi’

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.

 

Afterwards in the Park

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Part two of the balloon festival outing with the kids from Tat Ein village was going to the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi. This park has lovely gardens, a small zoo (some monkeys, a few bears, rabbits, deer, and various types of birds and waterfowl), plus plenty of playground rides and games for the kids. They’ve even added a swimming pool in the past year.

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I’ve taken these kids on a variety of trips over the past few years; to events like the balloon festival, to old temple ruins and new pagodas, plus a couple of caves. But I think it’s safe to say that the highlight of each and every trip is going to this park in Taunggyi. When we were at the fairgrounds earlier in the day, waiting for the balloons to be launched, one of the novice monks, Htun Phyu, asked me if we could go to the park afterwards. “Of course we can,” was my immediate reply, as if there was any doubt in the matter.

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There is an entrance fee to the park, but the park management very graciously waived the fee for the novice monks and the teachers, so I only had to pay for the male and female students, plus myself. The kids had a great time on the rides, and running down the swinging bridge, while begging me to take photos the entire time. Happy to oblige!

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Balloon Festival Here We Come!

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As mentioned in my previous post, while I was in Myanmar in late November it was the time of the Tazaungdaing full moon and the annual balloon festival in Taunggyi, the largest city in Shan State, and about a 45-minute drive from Nyaungshwe. They have two decidedly different types of balloons at this festival. During the day they have balloons crafted to resemble animals — very large animals such as chickens, cows, elephants and pigs. I have yet to see a giraffe. But once the sun sets, the nighttime balloons come out, bigger and more traditional, but with one added feature: fireworks! Watching these giant creations launch upwards, shooting off flumes of colored light is indeed a spectacular sight.

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I attended this festival about four years ago, taking a group of students and novice monks from Tat Ein village to see the day-time portion of the festival. I also took two groups of monks from Shwe Yan Pyay monastery in Nyaungshwe to the nighttime festivities, taking one group one night, and the other group the following night. It was fun, but the temperatures dropped considerably at night and I froze my ass off. Once it was all over, I vowed that was enough of the balloon festival for me.

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But then came this year. After I realized that my trip coincided with the balloon festival once again, I just couldn’t bring myself to NOT take the kids from Tat Ein village again. I figured a simple day-time outing wouldn’t kill me, and besides, I don’t think there was anyone at the monastery or at the primary school who had gone on our previous outing, so this would be a new experience for all of them.

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This time around I rented three “light trucks”, enough to hold the 90-some people in the group; students, novice monks, teachers, and a couple of adults from the village. Upon arrival in Taunggyi, the roads were packed with vehicles going to the festival; cars and trucks and vans and motorcycles and a variety of other wheeled contraptions. It was slow going, and once we reached the main gate, we were told to turn around and go to another entrance, causing even more of a delay.

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Long story short, the festival this time was a dud. We were at the main balloon grounds for nearly two hours and not a single balloon was launched. Oh, they tried. Time and time again. But strong winds made it difficult for the “torch bearers” to create enough smoke under the balloons to launch them. Funnily enough, the kids didn’t seem to mind too much, content to sample the variety of food that was for sale at the site. Man, those monks can put away some food! And I keep forgetting; they don’t have snacks and goodies like this in their village.

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Some of the kids wanted to go on a big Ferris-wheel type ride, so I bought tickets for the ones who wanted to ride; a few boys, some of the monks, and almost all of the girls! Judging from their reactions after the ride was over, they enjoyed it very much! Instead of waiting around to see if any balloons were going to be successfully launched, we left the grounds and headed to a local hilltop temple, where the kids all enjoyed posing for photos, the girls all dressed in their finest for the occasion. While we were at the temple, someone looked skyward and pointed; there were three balloons — animals becoming distant specks — floating towards the clouds. Oh well, better than nothing!

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Saturday in the Park with Monks & Monkeys

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Today is part two of the “Monks in the Park” series, once again from the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi. One very nice thing about going to the park this time; the park management waived the admission charge for all of the novice monks! I suppose this is standard policy, but it was nevertheless a nice surprise and a treat to my travel budget. I only had to pay for my ticket, plus admission for the six teachers. Not that was a bargain!

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With nearly 50 kids in tow, keeping them all together turned out to be nearly an impossible task. The park is actually pretty big in size, with lots of rides, weird statues and silly objects, flowers and gardens, fountains and pools, a variety of caged animals, and a swinging bridge; all of which serve as distractions and points of interest.

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At the monkey cage we had a bit of a scare. One of the tiniest novice monks wandered too close to the bars, and a very nasty monkey grabbed the kid’s robe and yanked it off him! The money hopped around, baring his teeth, and waving the red robe around, looking more agitated than triumphant. Meanwhile, the poor little monk looked totally petrified. Luckily, a zookeeper promptly arrived, entered the cage, threatened the monkey with a stick, and retrieved the robe. Nevertheless, many of the monks remained gathered around the cage, fascinated by the antics of the monkeys.

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As usual, not only did the kids have a great time running around and acting silly, not to mention insisting that I take LOTS of photos, they took the opportunity to eat as much as they could too. Monks, even young novice monks, cannot eat any meals after midday (12:00), but that rule doesn’t stop them from snacking when the chance arises. Packaged snacks, fresh fruits, nuts, candy; they consumed it all! And also, as usual, on the trip back to the village, most of the monks, exhausted from a day of sightseeing and play, slept soundly on the floor of the truck!

 

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Monks Just Wanna Have Fun!

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I took so many photos of the novice monks from Tat Ein monastery during our trip to Kakku and Taunggyi back in June that I’ve had to divide them into separate posts. Today is the first part of what I call the “Monks in the Park” series; photographs taken of the novice monks when we visited the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi. The park includes gardens, a small zoo, and a game room, and this year they have added a swimming pool and a bunch of new playground rides. It’s bigger and better than ever!

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As you can see from these photos, the boys had a blast at the park. It was a nice break from their normal daily routine of studying and chanting Pali scripture. And for me, it was a joy to see them all cutting loose and having fun. Some of us jaded Westerners have forgotten the joy of simple things like swing sets, merry-go-round, see-saws, and carousels. But remember, these kids all come from rural villages in Shan State and have never visited shopping malls or used an escalator, much less visited a game room, so even something as relatively commonplace as a playground is a revelation to them.

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Strewn around the park are also a bunch of statues, both of Burmese folk legends and much sillier fare such as the Smurfs and figures of the Flintstones! In addition to that lot, there is a Justin Bieber karaoke room, plus some horse figures and stationary motorcycles to “ride”. Get your motor running; the monks were thrilled!

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Stumbling Around Old Ruins with Young Monks

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As I mentioned in my previous post, last month I took the novice monks from Tat Ein’s monastery to see the ancient Pa-O ruins in Kakku. To handle this group — 41 monks — I rented two large “light trucks” for the trip. Accompanying us were six teachers from the primary school and two parents from the village, plus the two drivers.

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Because I am a foreign tourist, I was required to pay an entrance fee and also hire a Pa-O guide to tour the ruins. Both charges are very reasonable, but I told the staff at the Golden Island Cottages office in Taunggyi (they oversee the whole operation in Kakku) that I had been to Kakku several times already and didn’t need a guide, plus I had 41 young monks in tow! Nevertheless, they stuck to company policy and assigned a guide to me, a young Pa-O woman named Khin Twe. She turned out to be a very charming young lady, eager to practice her English with a foreigner, so it was a pleasure having her along.

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The site of the ruins is less than 30 kilometers from Taunggyi, but the journey takes about an hour by car due to the rough roads. Factor in the trip from the village to Taunggyi, and it’s the better part of two hours. But hey, it’s a very scenic drive! Due to the fact that many of these kids aren’t accustomed to riding in vehicles, going up and down big hills, inevitably a few of them get car sick. To help prevent that from happening this time, or at least prepare for any bouts of projectile vomiting, I passed out car sickness pills before breakfast at the monastery, and then equipped each truck with packages of plastic barf bags (thanks to Mar Mar Aye for buying them!). With that important preparation accomplished we were ready to roll!

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As usual, the group split up upon arriving at the ruins. I tell you, it’s hard to keep track of forty young monks once they start wandering around several thousand old stupas! It’s a good thing I had the teachers and parents along to watch over them, but frankly they didn’t seem all that concerned if any of the monks wandered off or not! Despite my best efforts, I could never get everyone in one place at the same time until the very end, when we finally took group photos outside the entrance.

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For the most part the novice monks remained well-behaved, if not stoic, as they walked around the site. Perhaps their lack of exuberance was due to the fact the Kakku is considered such a sacred place for the Pa-O tribe, and many of the boys at this monastery come from nearby Pa-O villages in Shan State. But the monks certainly let loose and started running around later in the afternoon when we went to the park and zoo in Taunggyi. I will post some photos from that delightful excursion in the near future.

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Teachers in the park

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When I was in Shan State last month I took a group of novice monks from the monastery at Tat Ein village on a trip to Kakku and Taunggyi. Joining us for the trip were the six teachers from the village’s primary school.

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Not only was it beneficial to have the teachers along to help keep the sometimes rowdy young monks in line, it was a joy to have them accompany us. They are a friendly, polite bunch. None of the teachers had ever visited the ancient Pa-O ruins at Kakku before, so they were appreciative of the chance to see them.

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Later, at the park and gardens in Taunggyi, the teachers followed the monks’ cue and loosened up and got a bit silly posing for the camera. Another good outing with a bunch of good people!

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Spelunking in Shan State

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Meanwhile, back in the cave, all is pandemonium! The kids from Tat Ein village are exploring and touching, laughing and shrieking. Was that a bat that just flew by? Aaaahhhh!!! And, of course, everyone is posing for the camera. Hey, gotta have some photos to show the folks at home!

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We had over 90 people in the group — mostly students and novice monks from the village, but also some teachers and parents — so I was slightly concerned that we might lose a few of them while traipsing through the stalagmites and stalactites, but I certainly wasn’t to keep count of them all; let the teachers and senior monks round them up if anyone went missing.

 

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The site of our explorations on this day was Htam Sam Cave, a relatively unknown (at least among foreign tourists) cave, but a mighty impressive one, in Shan State, about a 1-hour drive from Taunggyi. The cave boasts huge ceilings and some very cool rock formations. Alas, no flocks of bats flying around inside (at least in the regions that we explored) but plenty of Buddha statues and shrines.

 

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The main concern, other than losing a few kids, was making sure nobody fell down or had any accidents while in the cave. There were shallow pools of water in some areas, making the ground quite slippery. And naturally, the curious children had to touch every wet rock or weird looking stalagmite that they saw, plus they couldn’t resist the urge to run around and chase one another. Just kids being kids!

 

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Admission to the cave is free for locals, but if you are a foreigner, you’ll be forced to pay a $20 admission fee. Comparing that to zone fees at nearby Inle Lake or the more famous Pindaya Caves, the ticket for Htam Sam Cave is way over-priced, but then again it truly is a spectacular natural wonder and well worth a visit.

 

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Monday in the Park

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The trip to Taunggyi and the caves almost didn’t happen. It had been raining most of the week in Nyaungshwe and when I asked U Sandimarr, the saya daw, (head monk) at Tat Ein village’s monastery about the idea of taking the kids on a trip, he basically said; we can go if the weather cooperates.

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Well, thankfully, the forecast was for clear skies on Monday, plus there were no classes slated for that day, so it seemed like all was good to go. As I mentioned in the previous post, I ended up having to rent an extra truck to be able to handle all the kids — and a few adults — who wanted to go. Even the three trucks weren’t enough to handle the demand. These trips have become popular!

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We ended up putting most of the girls and teachers in one truck, the boys in another truck, and the novice monks in yet another truck. Plus, another bunch of boys sat on the roof of each vehicle. I also passed out car sickness medicine and plastic bags to everyone. After several previous trips with this bunch, and knowing that we’d be travelling some hilly roads, the possibility of more than a few kids getting upset stomachs and puking was highly likely.

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Anyway, here are a few more photos from our stop at the Eastern Amusement Park in Taunggyi, both before and after the wild stage show. I guarantee you; people in the village are most likely still talking about that show, especially the antics of “Disco Man.”

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Shan State Cave

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During the trip I took with the group from 90th Street in Mandalay to Shan State back in March, we visited a huge cave. Located about an hour’s drive from Taunggyi, Htam Sam Cave is a very impressive natural attraction, more interesting in my mind than the more famous Pindaya Caves, also in Shan State. It’s also much bigger and easier to navigate.

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As usually happens during these trips, I let Ko Maw Hsi and our driver, U Kyaw, select a few sights to see and this was one of their picks. I’d only vaguely heard of this cave before, knowing that it was “discovered” by some villagers only a few years ago and until very recently foreigners were not even allowed to visit. But now that permission has been granted, foreigners are welcome, uh, just as long as you pay the steep $20 entrance fee. That’s right, twenty US bucks! Compare that to the $5 charge at Pindaya and something seems out of whack. When the monk at the ticket table announced the fee, I audibly gasped and expressed my outrage. And when they told me that I would have to give back the laminated “pass” that my twenty dollars bought when I was finished with my tour of the cave, I expressed even louder disapproval. “For twenty dollars I think I should get some sort of souvenir to keep,” I suggested.

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At this point I was speaking so loudly that I may have been scaring the monk and his comrades, so he quickly granted my request, no doubt hoping that I’d get the hell out of the way before I made a total scene. Usually I’m not so demanding and belligerent, but the high ticket price really did throw me for a loop and wasn’t going to meekly accept it without voicing my opinion. In any case, the caves themselves really were impressive. If you’re in the Taunggyi area, it’s well worth a visit.

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