Sunday, April 30, 2006

Back at work...

Well I'm officially rehired and on the roster. It's weird up there because it's all pretty much the same except I dont know anyone anymore! But I do know the manager, the barman (of course) and one of the chefs still so all the bases are covered. Oh and the uniform is a little weird, kind of like a chef's jacket with a weird belty thing at the back.
So last night there were two weddings, one for 70 people and one for about 200-ish people which I did and I was kind of the float (ie just do everything where needed) and the manager was kind of like 'just do what you like', felt like I needed a bit more direction than that! :blink: BTW in case anyone is interested... the theme appeared to be mint green and brown with singpore orchids and it was absolutely gorgeous but the flowers alone must have cost the a fortune with about 12-15 sprays of orchids per table, christ! very pretty tho!
They had anstipasto, starter, entree, main, dessert, petit fours... I'm only telling you this because my arm strength lasted through to taking out the entrees and then my muscles (or lack thereof!) died completely! OMG! This is the girl who used to be able to match the boys clearing plates and I was struggling to take HALF of what I used to, all I can say is OWWWW...
From 11:30pm-2:30am I polished cutlery which was ok because my arms weren't going to hold out any longer. My back was aching like crazy and I was doing my impersonation of a flamingo; standing on one foot until it hurt too much and then swapping to the other, if anyone was watching me they'd have thought I was mad :rolleyes: I finished at 2:45am :wacko: and my gorgeous husband gave me a lift home, gotta love him! Got to bed at 4:30am...welcome back to banquets! Erggg....
Surprisingly, not as tired and sore today as I might have expected which is good cos it can only improve from here. Hoping that in a couple of weeks I'll be able to carry a reasonable amount of plates (it's verging on embarrassing how little strength I have now).
So that's my looong update. Thank you for reading :P

Monday, April 17, 2006


[I 'rewound' this post for a Weekend Rewind at Pink Fibro. It was written over 5 year ago, before I learnt about grammar! I have edited the spelling, but I left the rest exactly as it was originally.]

One year ago to the minute I was an unmarried woman. I was in my mother's house, surrounded by family from near and far.
I was primped and preened, hair stiff and immobile, make-up weighing on my face and feeling strange in my own skin. The flowers had arrived and they were beautiful as all flowers are, sitting heavy, damp and dewy in their box upon the coffee table. The photographers were there and I was awkward and stiff in front of their lenses, I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention.
I put on my beautiful dress, pinned my gecko brooch to my hip as a reminder of my future, and the family dove brooch of diamonds to the fabric over my breast to remind me of my past.
The photographers hovered, trying to capture this transition from girl to woman but how can you take a photograph of the inside of someone’s head?
I slipped on my shoes, pretty, soft suede and aqua coloured, no heels for this chickadee. My shawl was placed around my shoulders, beads scratching gently at my skin, slipping down my bare back. My flowers were handed to me, surprisingly heavy, a dull weight in my arms. Beautiful but for what purpose? Flowers for a maiden, flowers to grip in fear and anxiety on that long walk? Or flowers just because it’s ‘what is done’?
We walk to the cars lent by friends and family and squeeze inside and begin the short drive to the garden where I am to be married. My heart beats fast, speeding up with every corner. We pull in to the long gravel driveway and it is so far I can see nothing at the end of it. By the manor house we stop and finally I can see people, all family and friends peering eagerly for the first glimpse of ‘the bride’. I don’t feel like a bride, I’m just me in a pretty dress with flowers. But there at the end of the short grass aisle scattered with rose petals is my beautiful boy, my Dylan. Cheeks wet with tears, eyes screwed up to slow the flow and face wreathed in smiles. Oh my gorgeous boy, why tears? But they come to me as well, in the instant that I see his face the tears are there unbidden.
My maid of honour goes ahead of me to the grass. I have my tall brother holding my arm on one side and my lovely mother holding the other and together we go down the aisle but I remember none of this. In this moment there is only Dylan and I, lost to the world. At the end of our little green walkway I pull away from my family and my maid of honour has taken my flowers. Dylan and I grip one another, first hands then tightly around the waist holding each other up, keeping one another afloat in our little world. The tears continue, tears and laughter.
The celebrant speaks words unheard, they are for our guests not us. We know what we feel for one another, we’re not even listening to some other’s interpretation of heart and soul. For he has my heart and has done since the day we met. I gave it to him in good faith that he’ll look after it for me. He took my heart and my trust and put them somewhere safe and in return he gave me his own.
We kiss and kiss hard, lips pressed together, damp cheek to damp cheek, nose to nose, tongue to tongue fleetingly. The sound of cheers and laughter breaks the spell. Girl and boy no longer, man and woman now, husband and wife but mostly we’re just Dylan and Katie he and I in our own bubble of two souls joined into one.And so the day continues, photos and yet more photos. There is food and wine, speeches and a cake covered in roses. There is family I saw the day before and family I haven’t seen in years, there are one or two people I didn’t meet until this day, there are friends who will always be friends and friends we may not know forever but they are all there in celebration of love, companionship and good food just this one day of the year. Life goes on but from time to time I look up and see those beautiful blue eyes and a face wreathed in smiles and I know he has my heart in his pocket and will keep it safe for me.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ho hum 15/04/06

We'll here we are again. Bored mindless, can feel brain cells dripping out of my ears.
It's easter weekend, D is working working working. I'm sitting at home on my bum being unemployed. More than 2 months without work, eep! Still, no one's fault there but my own cos I've made no effort to go and get a job yet. ALTHOUGH I did drop of my resume at the old Rad last tuesday, shock horror, gasp, what is the world coming to? My gut says it will come to nothing and my head says why the hell do you want to go back there to work anyway? Short answer is $$$, and the fact that I have none and I'm tired of watching pennies and never having anything nice anymore. Plus of course we want to go OS at the end of the year again and it'd be nice to actually be able to do something about it. Love might make the world go round but the axel is greased by cold hard cash.
Stopped taking the pill the other day, first time since I was less than 13 years old that I haven't been on the bugger. We will see what we will see. But no babies yet! Unless of course something happened, and then we will see something else entirely :P
Been a bit of a loose cannon these last few weeks, started taking more anti-depressants in an effort to keep the downers at bay. Oh what fun depression is. Laugh? I laughed so much I cried, again and again and again.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Adelaide 09-02-2006

Well, we're back home in Adelaide. It always amazes me how quickly you settle back in. We go away, see all these amazing things, have amazing experiances and when you get back home it's as though you never left.
We're feeling the cold a little, it's supposed to be 35 degrees today (I'm sure it's not there yet) but I'm in jeans and a long sleeved top and thinking about getting a jumper. Maybe it's because it's not humid here, and although the humidity in SEAsia sucks when you're not used to it and I thought I hadn't adjusted maybe I did more than I thought.
Another thing I'm finding a bit weird is that its so quiet here at night, and during the day as well for that matter. No insect noises, no traffic, no animals rustling in the night. Asia - at least the part I know - is always noisy. I've had to put the fan on at night in our room because it feels so eerie. Give me a week and I'll be back to normal.
I've busied myself hanging up the bits and pieces we brought home with us, filling and sewing our thai-style cushions and catching up with family and friends.
We dropped over 50 rolls of film off at our photo shop at uni, almost giving the poor woman a heart attack when she saw how many there were. She gave us a good discount tho, just as well because it's going to cost a fortune!
In a matter of weeks we'll be back at uni and back at work and this will all seem like a distant dream with only the photographs to prove we ever went (that, and my badly depleted bank account ).

Chiang Mai 31-01-2006

This email comes to you from Chiang Mai where we arrived last night for the express purpose of souvinear shopping and breaking up the trip to Bangkok (we go tonight).
Chiang Mai seems the same as it ever did although the night market was especially flat and lacking in atmosphere. This could be because the whole thing was flooded three times in about october-ish last year and so it now looks like a bit of a construction site and lots of the market is closed off and many stalls are missing, but the thai vendors were out-numbered by tourists about 5:1 and I got the general impression they didn't give a sh!t whether we were there, or whether we bought anything or not, lines were said by rote, eyes didn't meet ours, not even the Akha women tried to sell us anything properly. Oh well.
The phad thai and pancakes from the street stalls are just as good as they always were, better than Khao San phad thai and pancakes by a mile.
We have succumbed to the budget and have lowered ourselves to catching a backpacker bus direct to Khao San Road tonight, the upshot is it goes from here to there with no taxis in between, and it's cheaper. The downside is we dont' get to stop for dinner so we dont get the adventure of eating bus-stop food.
Well, I promised to tell you about Thaton and our northern thailand, the part that passes tourists by.
Thaton is a little-bitty town in the far far north, over 3 hours from Chiang Mai, closer to Chiang Rai in fact but still in Chiang Mai province. It's right on the burmese border, a 10 minute walk out of town along the river will take you to the army checkpoint where you may go no further. Well, WE may go no further but in fact there is a constant traffic back and forth over the border by hill tribes, the army and of course (this being Thailand), drug runners. Stay here long enough and you may even get to hear a gun-battle in the night.
You probably wouldn't realise on a quick visit to this country just how much of an impact drugs have, especially in the rural areas. We're not talking opium, that's old news. We're talking yaba, crazy medicine, dirty speed, meth-amphetimine plus rubbish. Here, in the north it's kind of the Thai army's responsibility to keep check on the constant stream of drugs moving from the Wa army just over the border so it's a little bit ironic that something like 60% of the soldiers use yaba even if they aren't addicted.
Dealers and the police seem to go hand in hand most of the time, every second cop is on the take.
Within the Wa people (they're the ones that make a lot of the yaba) if someone get's caught actually using it a deep pit is dug and they're put into it for a couple of months, in the dark, squatting in their own filth. What does that say? They know it's bad but it makes money (funding a rebellion against the Myanmar Junta Generals?), what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander.So yep, big problem up here.
Around Thaton, in fact in much of the north there are hill-tribes. I've already mentioned Susan's charges, the Lahu/Musa boys. But there's also Karen in their long blue shifts, Padang with neck rings that attract tourists like flies, Akha with their colourful silver decorated headwear that will sell it to you as soon as you look at it, Shan with their slight figures and darker complexions and others.
Naturally where there are hilltribes there are tourists. They come in their buses, buy trinkets off the Akha and drive off or go rafting down the River back to Chiang Rai looking at elephants along the way.
You see, there is the tourist and royal-funded, king's project ,nice, neat tidy Akha village with the cute, well-fed kids who go to school. But over there, over the hill, round the back are the other villages. NOT funded by the government, full of people who have no identity in this country and certainly NOT visited by tourists. Dirty kids, under-nourished, high on glue. And do the Thais care? Of course not. Thailand has a whole class system and these people are right at the bottom of it (thanks to Adrian for this info!), last on the list.
So if you're an illegal resident, say a burmese refugee, how can you become legal? Well as I understand it you might be able to get yourself on a village list. And how does that happen? You look different, you sound different, people have to lie bare-faced to the authorities and swear blind you were born there or whatever. Well, they do say money makes the world go around. And it takes a LOT of money, more than your average refugee would be able to rustle up. So, no thai identity card. Can't go anywhere, stuck in the same area. You can work mind you, the shitty jobs that no one else wants to do, picking fruit and so on (hispanics in america ring a bell?), heaps of Burmese work up here.
Call me cynical but I've met Ume, possibly 12 years old. Can't count because he's frazzled too many brain cells in part of his brain inhaling fumes out of a plastic bag. Gruesome burn scars over his torso and legs after an argument over some petrol he had plans to sniff and the other kid set him alight. Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was on purpose. Either way it's not a nice thing to think about. Ume had been sold to that village to work, he ran away later but not before the burns had festered and become infected and horribly scared. He just shrugs and said 'it hurt'.
On the weekends he often wears rags and begs from the thai tourists who come to visit the temple complex on the hill. He knows how to look destitute, he knows how to make the face. Not that the Thais would look him in the eyes anyway, they just give him money as they get 'karma credits' for doing good deeds. The best thing you could say about this is that at least he's working for himself, unlike many of the child beggers who work to fund an adult's habits.
It's maddening because he's a nice kid most of the time, if he's not high, if he's bathed, if he's not in trouble for stealing something he's totally likable. And he HAS a chance here. He's looked after, he doesn't need to beg. He has a village, he can possibly get an identity card in the future. Old habits die hard maybe, bad behaviour persists. And it's not just him, there must be hundreds of kids just like him here.
Dylan has just said I dont make this sound like a nice area of the world so I guess I need to clarify something. It IS a beautiful place. It's quiet, it's calm and peaceful (if you ignore the fact that people shoot anything that moves). There's rice and garlic greening the fields, a nice and fairly clean river running through the venter of town, bamboo swaying in the breeze, lychees and oranges (let's just gloss over the fact that they are a bit of an environmental and social disaster and more chemical than organic probably) and some fairly good looking forest. People are friendly, there's a cafe where the guy makes the best chicken and cashews nuts in Thailand and of course a fabulous monkey sanctuary.
What I mean to say is that when you visit a place like this don't just go 'oh it's nice, quaint, and the people wear funky clothes'. Look beyond the surface a bit. Don't be one of those tourists that does everything and sees nothing.
I know I'm lecturing but the whole 'hill-tribe trekking' scene gives me the shits.
Anyway, nuff from me for now! Just got a couple of hours to go and we'll be on our last bus trip, to our last guesthouse and counting down the last noodles and curries and our last baht. Not the last trip of course, we've already made tentitive plans for another one next summer (after christmas this time :-P), we're thinking fly to BKK, overland to Vientiane, Laos, bus to Luang Prabang then sail up the Mekong on a slow boat to Huay Xai then onto monkey world for an extended stay, because that place has us firmly in it's furry hands and refuses to let go. I miss Peter the monkey already, my squeeky boy.
This may or may not be my last post, depends how bored I get of window shopping in Banglamphu. We're on our way home and it feels very weird indeed. Half exciting, half depressing, bundles of emotions. Still, we have a wedding and developing the photos to look forward to (yes, still a film affecionado), and I'm in a motivated mood for uni for now at least and motivated to start making and saving up more money for more holidays and for my own bit of earth to dig my toes into.

Cast of thousands 27-01-2006

Susan: Australian but hasn’t live in Aus for about 30 years give or take.
Yuki: Japanese partner, yoga aficionado
On: 19, Burmese refugee who doesn’t officially exist in Thailand (or in Burma for that matter). Speaks Lahu, English, Thai (and Shan maybe?). Teaching himself to read Thai, play the guitar. Amazing DIYer, made his own tattoo machine and then gave all the neighborhood kids tattoos (yes, real ones) much to Susan’s horror . Currently building a guest bathroom outside our hut. Sleeps with Pinky the monkey at night.
Shu-Wai: 16, Lahu boy, primary charge is Poppy the monkey. He’s a bit ‘dark’ (inside, not out) and lost, lots of teenaged angst but a good kid. Mother is around somewhere (actual village unknown) but left him and his brother to fend for themselves, she turns up occasionally.
Shu: Shu-Wai’s 14 year old brother. Animal expert. Friendly, smiley. Looks after Peter the monkey at night. Adopts stray dogs, chickens, has numerous guppies and tadpoles. Currently whipping Dylan’s arse in a game of dominos.
Ume: Is also Lahu I think. Aged approximately 12. Glue addict but seems to be getting on top of it with the constant support and encouragement from Susan. Had been gone for 2 weeks when we arrived (New Year in his village) but not sniffed glue the entire time which is great. Totally unable to count (glue has frazzled his brain cells). Recently stole Shu-Wai’s bike and sold it. Duties; feeding dogs and cats. His father popped around yesterday for a visit and a haircut and Ume took off with his Dad’s bicycle and hasn’t been seen since (it seems Ume cannot be trusted with ANY bicycle). Ume is the poster-child for the issues that surround hill-tribes in this area, we'll talk more on this later.
That’s it for the humans in the house apart from the Musa (lahu) kids who come to visit walking down from the village on the hill, the Thai kids who come to look at the monkeys, the sticky-beaking monks and let’s not forget the 30 odd Thai soldiers who wandered through the other day in search of illegal charcoal burners.
So, some of the animals who live here, in no particular order:
John: Australian cattle-dog, brought out to Thailand years ago but left behind when his owner went back to Aus. He’s old, almost completely deaf and walks like an old man. Suffers terribly from mange despite having every cure known to man-kind tried out on him, no immunity probably as he’s not from here.
Mi: Black female dog, log-shaped due to anti-puppy hormones. Very friendly, ran away from wherever and gradually insinuated herself into the household, meter by meter from the road, Shu fed her despite being asked not to.
Puss and Pie: Mother and daughter cats who share a serious addiction to cat cookies .
Joi: Monkey number one in more ways than one, first Susan ever had and alpha monkey which means he’s in charge. Beautiful beautiful face. Almost always cool, calm and collected. Sulks if he doesn’t get a banana for breakfast. Pig-tail macaque.
Ah Son: As good looking as Joi and almost as big. Features in my memory for biting me nearly 3 years ago and scaring the bejeezus out of me, he was only small then, lucky for me because he’s huge now! Another pig-tail.
Sham Penn: pretty female monkey but always seems a little ‘stuck up’, wary of her but she’s good to watch from a distance. The only person who can deal with her is On, everyone else will land a bite. (Pig Tail)
Ai: Has a bent hand but is still in charge (top-female). Doesn’t like me much and paces whenever I’m hanging around. In fact she apparently doesn’t like any blonde female, which is funny because my hair is currently dark but maybe she remembers from last time? (Pig Tail)
Nong-Nii: Had a calcium defiancy as a baby so now is small with short legs and wonky teeth but a nice face. She’s narky at night and will bite anyone except Susan or Yuki who gets too close. Still sleeps with Susan at night. Loves spaghetti. At night she’s in the house and in between the kitchen and the dining area where she paces back and forth and glares balefully at anyone who tries to get past, effectively trapping them. Dylan got one bite on his ankle and now has a funky bruise which shows each separate tooth. (pig tail, albeit a small one!)
Mongarbi: The lone black white-handed gibbon. Recently unwell so has been moping around but better today. Went for a swing and I heard him singing this morning (you’ve not heard anything cool until you’ve heard a gibbon in full voice). Gibbons have the most hopeless record of rehabilitation in the wild, only about 7% survive. Gibbon species are endemic/allopatric to their areas, ie they have their one patch and no-where else making them especially vulnerable as once they’re gone there are none of their species anywhere else. Gibbons are primates like us, not monkeys by the way
Mot: Has picked out all of the hairs on the left side of her face and shoulders when grooming making for one funny looking monkey! (pig tail I think)
Lucy and Marli: Two girls that arrived together looking like twins as their mothers were shot at the same time. Behave like collaborators in crime most of the time (species unknown, Marli may be Assamese, Lucy no idea)
ET: the lone 'definate' Assamese (sp?) macaque, chubby and fluffy. Has to be given water every day as he breaks any tap put into his cage. Eats three times faster than anyone else.
Mother and Bebe: Mother and daughter as you may have sussed out already, Bebe has an extra big bum and both have an endearing way of wiggling their eyebrows when they get their milk in the morning, Bebe wiggles hers at a faster rate than Mother. (yet more pig-tail macaques)
Grumpy: Fights terribly whenever he’s in the same cage as anyone else, was put into his own cage where he proceeded to fight through the wires with the monkeys next door, so extra fine wire was put up to stop him hurting anyone or being hurt. Rhesus macaque.
The ‘family’: Wani, Eck, Kinni, Lanni (and Sunny), a group of funny looking monkeys more wrinkled and smaller than the pig-tails, they’re also Rhesus macaques, all the young ones were born here.The babies:
Peter: Very cute, extra cuddly, banana-snatcher extraordinaire. Has a bullet in his abdominal cavity from when his mother was shot. Bent tail-tip probably from the same incident. Extra squeaky and talkative. Possibly Assamese like ET. Holds record for 'most photographed monkey' by dylan and I.
Sunny: Born here, very small because she doesn’t eat fast enough and gets her food pinched. A bit shy but will come and sit with you if you are quiet enough. Tail looks like a squirrel due to her mother’s over-enthusiastic grooming, nearly bare at the base but fluffy at the tip! Is determined to relieve me of my glasses before I leave, when I wouldn’t let her have them she pulled my hair and poked me in the eye . Yesterday she peed on me, making me the first person to ever be peed on by Sunny as far as Susan knows, lucky me! You wouldn’t have thought a tiny baby monkey would have such a large bladder capacity . Rhesus macaque.
Pinky: Most monkeys get a pink face when they are upset, Pinky has a pink face ALL the time even when she’s perfectly happy. However, she’s also highly-strung and will fly off the handle really easily so she gets into fights a lot and needs lots of cuddles. Today she’s in the boys' cage (with Ah Son and Joi) and seems happy there, they ignore her, she ignores them. Seems to be working quite well as opposed to the constant fights in the babies cage. Has a strange short tail that we don’t know if it’s normal or not, so we don’t know what type of monkey she is.
Poppy: opposite of Pinky, never gets a pink face no matter how mad she is! Loves to run up to people and hold onto their ankles and sit on their feet when they are walking. Poppy also has a strange stubby tail identical to Pinky’s, so sp. Unknown.
Jojo and Jimmy: The big kids of the babies, older, faster, sneakier. Too big to go out on their own now. Pig-tail macaque.
There’s also 3 geese, assorted ducks and chickens, fish, frogs and tadpoles and as of this morning, an owl which was brought here by a woman hoping it would be looked after. This being a monkey sanctuary we’ve spent the morning googling ‘owl care’ hoping to work out how on earth to look after this bird.

Monkey Madness 27-01-2006

Imagine your average toddler. Feed them something guaranteed to make them over-excited and hyperactive (red cordial, coffee, coca cola whatever), shrink them, cover them with fur and give them the ability to climb the walls and then you have something like a monkey.
Watching the monkeys I think they're like humans but sped up, they behave like we would like to be able to behave (sometimes), how great would it be to be having an argument with someone and so you just bite them? Ok maybe not, but it's fun to think of it.
This is the 'Monkey Sanctuary' and it's not an official organisation.
The pet trade is big in Thailand. People go out into the forest and shoot the monkeys to eat and then sell the babies. A lot of those baby monkeys have ended up here, at Susan's house (Susan is my mother's husband's sister).. She does NOT buy monkeys as it encourages people to shoot more. Some monkeys are also here as their owners are unable to look after them for whatever reason (basically because a full time job and a monkey do not match).
The little ones (the 3 smallest bar one) spend their time between a large cage or running loose. The very smallest one, Sunny was born here and is easily able to fit through the bars of the cage so she spends her days going from cage to cage getting groomed by everyone and pestering the humans. She's not as tame as the other smaller monkeys so you don't pick her up but she'll come to you.
Baby monkeys need a lot of care, like human babies they dont know how to care for themselves, they dont know what is dangerous and what is not and get frightened at night.
There are quite a few monkeys, adolescents and some of the younger adults who wear belts around their waists which get clipped to long leads and attached to a bamboo run for part of the day so they're not in cages all the time.The cages are very large and tall with plenty of runs, huts, ropes, baskets and so on inside them to keep the monkeys entertained, there are passageways between most of the cages so the monkeys can been moved from one to another when neccessarily. Of course, the cages are not big enough for wild animals but a cage never is. Still, they are as big as could be made, world class.
It's one big sort-of-family here, which means like most familys there are many noisy arguments, hair pulling, biting and squabbling and cuddles afterwards. Surprisingly, species is not a boundary to a relationship. The dogs get groomed by the monkeys, the cats and dogs share food, monkeys and humans share beds and chickens and ducks get chased by monkeys.You could never set out to have this kind of life-style, you just fall into it I think.
There are also 4 hilltribe boys living here who kind of don't have anywhere else to go. Susan took them in years ago. They have their own huts and kitchens and they help with the monkeys (nobody can look after 23 monkeys and a gibbon on their own!). I'll talk more about hilltribes later, it's all very interesting.
So now that you have an idea what the deal is - although a bit of a run down doesn't do this place justice at all and it's very hard to explain in a western sort of context.

Politics opinions rantings and ravings

As promised, I’m getting on my soap box (or high horse maybe).

When you read this remember I’m no politics or economic expert, it’s just Burma as seen through the eyes of a traveller.

Let’s start with the Burma vs Myanmar thing. I’m still undecided as to what to call the country. Burmese people doesn’t really refer to everyone who lives in the country, just the majority (really Bamar). There are thousands of people from other ethnic groups (eg Shan, Chin, Karen/Kayin, Wa etc) who don’t fall under the Burmese banner. Everyone we met who lives there calls it Myanmar, Myanmar people, Myanmar food, Myanmar temples. But then you meet anyone outside and it’s Burma, Burmese people, Burmese refugees. So still don’t know what to call it, I tend to swap back and forth from one to the other. According to UN convention it’s Myanmar (Burma) and is written that way on maps, in books and so on.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve developed is the idea of Freedom of Speech. Not a new idea I know but something I’ve not really had the need (I suppose) to think about much before.

In Australia I can say what I want without fear of retribution. I can say John Howard and his government have no compassion for refugees. I can say they make no effort to support students. I can say they think only of money and never of people. I can say they are America’s lackeys, and I know that I won’t be arrested upon my arrival back in Australia. I know I won’t get beaten into a pulp and thrown into jail for an indefinite period of time, I know that my family won’t suffer or go hungry because I had a less than favourable opinion of the people in charge.

My entire life I’ve taken Freedom of Speech for granted, didn’t think about it, wondered why American’s jump up and down about it, I think a lot of Australians are the same. So when you ask a sensitive question (that you may not have realized was sensitive, eg me and the FECs) and you see that shadow pass over the person’s eyes, and see the pause, the moment before they change the subject, the moment when they wonder who is listening in, who will say what to who, it comes as a bit of a shock to this fortunate Australian who is accustomed to saying what she thinks. Just something to think about.

Speaking of ‘caring for students’; what are your thoughts on a government who closed the universities for four years – from 1996-2000 – for fear of students starting riots? Students have access to outside information you see, international newspapers, international opinions…

What do you think when you hear of a government building a new capital city, and hear the rumours that to get the labour to do so, soldiers walk into villages, point their guns and force everyone out into the construction site at gun point and get nothing but enough food to not starve each day for months and months on end? It’s rumour like I said, but who knows how much is rumour and embellishment and how much is rooted in truth?

The Boxing Day Tsunami? Didn’t really happen here. Never mind that India is on the Western side and Thailand is in the east and both countries suffered severe loss of life and property, Burma must have been in some mysterious Tsunami shadow and left unaffected, only ‘minor damage’ (I think it’s called an information black-out).

Remind me again how many people live on the coast of Burma? Oh that’s right, don’t really know, population numbers are estimates only.

Bird flu in Burma? Never heard of it.

Minimal information in, zero information out is practically policy. Keep your people in the dark and they won’t know what they’re missing, right? Only, they know what’s out there. They’re not stupid, they know what is right and what is wrong but are too scared most of the time to do or say anything about it (and would you if it put your family and your life in danger?).

Oh, the paper! ‘The New Light of Myanmar', the local rag, what an appropriate euphemism. Never in my life have I read such drivel, such propaganda nonsense. Pictures of generals shaking hands, cutting ribbons, opening buildings. ‘General Such-n-such sends his condolences to the leader of country X on the death of the leader’s brother’. Some international news, most coverage given to the latest casualty numbers of Americans and other countries in Iraq (Australia didn’t get a mention).

Want some gems?

Courtesy of The New Light of Myanmar, Wednesday, 11 January 2006, mostly reports on the ‘new’ constitution which made it a great paper to keep!:

“Country needs to have strong and modern Tatmadaw to ensure its defense and security” (p. 16)

“To prevent, through national solidarity, the danger of internal and external destructive elements undermining peace and stability of the State and national development” (p.16)

“The role of the Tatmadaw is very important in order to ward off threats and dangers from inside and outside the nation“. (p 16)

“The Tatmadaw is strong, modern and must be the sole existing brilliant and patriotic Tatmadaw” (p 14) (Read between the lines).

“The state shall, in appointing or assigning duties, not discriminate against or in favour of any citizens with qualifications set for posts or duties based on race, birth, region and sex. However, nothing in this section shall prevent appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only” (p 11) (LOL! Ahahaha, just had to laugh at this one, although interestingly in Burmese culture woman have more rights than you would expect to property, finances and so on).

“The State prohibits any form of forced labour except hard labour as a punishment for crime duly convicted and duties assigned thereupon by the state in accord with the law for public interests” (p. 11) (Again, read carefully, remember what I said I’d heard about the new Capital City?).

“Every citizen shall, in accord with the law, have the right to freely develop literature, culture, arts, customs and traditions they cherish. In the process they shall avoid any act which is to the detriment of national solidarity. Any particular action in this respect which may adversely affect the interests of one or several other national races shall be taken only after consultation and amicable settlement with those affected” (p 11).

I could go on. There’s so much more. Over and over ‘citizens shall do what they like in accordance with existing state law'.The paper is 16 pages long, and it’s like this every day.

And then there’s the drugs, the whole amphetamine issue, the Wa army and battles and skirmishes with Thailand (right where I am now actually, a hotbed of illegal activity!), and what is condoned and what is not. All interesting stuff, I can hunt out some net info if anyone’s interested.

The economy is a shambles. A 'blue taxi' could be bought for $40US 5 years ago, now it takes $3000US to get an outdated rust bucket. Totally out of the reach of almost everyone.

It's difficult for travellers to spend money which is absurd.

Have you heard that Aung San Suu Kyi has been put back under house arrest for another 6 months? For doing nothing but having the guts to say ‘This is not the way’ and to promote democracy as a better option than military dictatorship (her party won the election years ago and she was promptly arrested).

There’s so much more I could say, so much more to think about. But I’ll leave you with these ‘People’s Desires’, printed on signs all over the country, on government publications, on the cover of the phone book. Oppose, oppose, oppose and crush. Personally if I were to come up with a list of People’s Desires, I’d consider actually asking the people what it was that they desired, and maybe they’d come up with things like ‘keep my children in school into their teenaged years’, ‘bring more of our people above the poverty line’, ‘give us some decent hospitals and health care’, ‘slow the spread of HIV/AIDs’, ‘slow the rampant inflation so our currency is actually worth something’.

People's Desire.

1) Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views.

2) Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation.

3) Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State.

4) Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.

Would you desire any of that?

BUT (and there's always a but) are we glad we went or not?

Yes, we're glad we went. We may not have been to many countries in the world, so we can only speak out of the experiance of half a dozen other places mostly Asian. But in all the places we've ever been we've never encountered a group of people whilst all being so different from one another, are so lovely. ALWAYS friendly, always polite, they have no money but never once did we feel people were trying to rip us off. They're simple, they're charming, completely honest, completely trustworthy, totally faithful to their religions and will go out of their way to help the traveller.

People WILL talk to you in private, they WILL listen to what you think and we can pass on what we saw and did to other people outside to raise some awareness. We go, spend our money with the right people (ie the actual 'people'), god knows they need it.

Call me an optimist, but the situation cannot last forever. They want admission to ASEAN and ASEAN is not happy with things as they are.

Right now it's just words, another 'roadmap to reform' but one day it might be more than words.


Hoping to make this the last monster post to be all caught up to the present day, fingers crossed! Writing out the better part of 3 weeks travel is horrendous! I could have just not written but I like talking....
OK so we left Bagan on the bus at 3pm (well, that's when we were supposed to leave, we left closer to 4pm, just late enough to get me a bit stressed out about there being no bus as it was our last chance to get to Yangon in time for our flight).
Things of note about the bus were a French guy vomiting up bad eggs from lunch (he said he knew they were bad, which makes me wonder why he ate them? ) and the FIRST Australians we had met the whole entire time in Burma, we were their first too. We hit it off right away as they were our sort of Aussies (ie conscious, aware sort of travellers) and spent the night chatting on and off. I have a theory that hardly any Australians make it to Burma (politics aside) because you have to fly in and out and as a group we tend to not have so much money as Europeans. For the record, Dylan and I were probably the youngest travellers we met too not travelling with parents. We were quite the odd ones out most of the time.
Reaching the bus station in Yangon we squeezed into a taxi with the Australians, the unwell French guy (now much better) and a German we'd met back in our guesthouse (only making 7 people in one small car, positively comfortable), I sat on Dylan's lap.
We'd booked a room back at the Motherland Guesthouse where we'd stayed at the beginning of the trip on the basis of it being spotless (and we all know how much I like a clean room, I don't think I'm being unreasonable here, maybe just a little obsessive), fantastic staff including a slightly loopy waiter, complimentary breakfast that included a piece of cake (my idea of a good breakfast!) and of course, The Duck. They also let us have a free ride to the airport with Monyay, the boy who'd convinced me to stay there in the first place all those weeks ago. Pretty good value for $9 a night!
This was also the place where Dylan finally joined the dark side and consented to have tea for breakfast, it being so much better than the coffee (as was the case all over the country but he's an optimist).
In Yangon we only really had one afternoon which we spent sleeping off the 12 hours or so we'd spent on the bus, and then going on a walking tour of the shops of Yangon in search of a black lacquer monks alms bowl. It took all afternoon until we were finally directed to a street where there were half a dozen shops selling monks equipment. I was fascinated!
Here was I, thinking that when young boy or man went off to be a good Buddhist and join a monastery for a while the temple itself would set him up with all the bits and pieces required but it is not so!
Instead there are Monks' Good shops, shelves of robes organised into colours (bright red for young monks, oranges and yellows for the older ones) and sizes, other shelves with the tunics they wear underneath, boxes full of assorted umbrellas, packets of fans, shoes, bags and of course, black alms bowls (available in plastic or lacquer, both suitably austere and long wearing). Best of all were the gift baskets, just like the ones we'd buy for people for Christmas, again containing a small umbrella, fan, bowl and so on all wrapped up in plastic with a bow. Wonderful!
We got our bowl, a stand and lid for $3. It's a bit wonky but I'm happy with it, it's the real deal from a real monk's shop after all!
In a souvenir shop we also bought two small lacquer owls for an exorbitant price (if I have anything to complain about with Burmese people it's that the buggers don't bargain much!). We saw pairs of owls all over Burma, lacquer, gold, wood, paper mache. They're supposed to be lucky although I had a bit of a hard time getting someone to explain this to me. Good fortune I think.
The next morning we were at the airport early and had to wait for hours for the booth to open, once finally through we waited the obligatory two hours, then almost two MORE hours for the flight to finally arrive late. The actual flight didn't take too long but in BKK airport it took forever to get through immigration as we managed to pick the world's slowest immigration officer. Still with 10 people to go I swapped lines and was whizzed through in a matter of minutes. On the other side I waited another 20 minutes for Dylan who was stubborn and refused to swap lines. The line I was in put 3 people through in the time D's line did one. It was funny for the first ten minutes waiting, after that just irritating.
Outside we waited another age in a queue for a taxi before finally making it back to Banglamphu only 12 hours after we'd first got up.
The last few days the only adventures we've had have involved getting haircuts, an experience I'd recommend to anyone in BKK if only because you don't know what you'll end up with until the very end, the suspense is better than a horror movie.
Me being me, I managed to pick a hairdresser with more lady-boy staff than biological women. I picked out a hair colour (dark) and hoped for the best. Gotta say, they were fantastically gentle! Hairdressers in Aus tend to be rough. She did blob a big bit of hair dye on my skirt, and then tried to wipe it off with  tissue which merely smeared it to a stain twice as large (eventually), I wiped it off myself more thoroughly with a wet one from my own bag and I don't think it did too much damage. I had one girl wash my hair, another dry it off, another did the colour and then a man cut it (an actual man, wearing pants, although his fingernails and pretty face made me wonder if he was just a man for the day). The guy who cut my hair was so careful! bit by bit he snipped, doing wonders with clippers all over it (I didn't know you could cut hair like this with clippers) but rather disturbingly, instead of using a big fluffy brush to get the hair off my neck he simply blew vigorously on me. But despite odd methods, he did a good job although naturally a couple of days later in my incompetent hands it looks nothing like it did when it was new. I like the new colour though, very different!Dylan's haircut was an experience too, he had his back half saturated in the washing, and then the woman (an actual biological woman, different salon!) set to with a pair of clippers and a comb and hilariously, he ended up with a hair cut to rival any US marine (very short back and sides, longer on top). It's not quite what he had in mind I think and I'm a horrible wife and got the giggles halfway through which continued on and off all evening. It looks better waxed into a Mohawk .Even funnier... after she'd just trimmed off a little, he asked for it shorter on the sides and she went very short on one side with the clippers in about 2 seconds, and then gave it a long look, one side long and one side short and said quite cheerfully 'I liked it better long!' Too bloody late now!
So that brings us to the end of our Burmese Adventure and now we are on the next leg to visit Susan and the monkeys in Thaton, Northern Thailand where I'm a little concerned it's going to be cold. Looking forward to this bit
Next post: Politics, opinions, ranting and raving. You didn't think Ms Opinionated would go to Burma/Myanmar and come away empty-headed? It gave me lots to think about, not all of it is nice but needs to be said. That's the deal, isn't it? Go to Burma, then come away and tell the world all about it. The world is listening in; nothing goes unnoticed.

Bagan 17-01-2006

Just because I love to talk about guesthouses I’ll tell you about this one too, more fabulously friendly people (didn’t meet a single nasty, grumpy, narky, angry person in Burma in 3 weeks, a first!). $8 room with a bathroom, hot water, un-needed aircon, comfy beds, fabulous! And clean too which was great after our last dingy room. Breakfast was on the roof, toast and egg (people all over Asia seem to think that’s what westerners eat for breakfast every day) and REAL tea, with condensed milk but at least it was real tea, made from tea leaves and not some dehydrated yuk out of a packet.
The first day we rented bicycles, Hero band, Made In China and especially designed to give you doubts about your ability to comfortably have children at a later date.
Bagan was very dry, very dusty and sandy. It was like trying to ride a bike through a sand pit. Whenever we saw an interesting looking temple – which was about every two minutes – we left the bikes at the side of the road and went bush bashing to get to them.
Turns out Bagan is the most prickly, spiky, sharp and scratchy place I’ve ever been to! There were even prickles which attached themselves to bare skin, thoroughly uncomfortable. More visited temples were sweep clear but the non-touristy ones were a bit of a bugger to walk around in bare feet (bare feet needed for all temples). Still it was fun, sometimes it seemed like we were the only people who had ever been there which is cool.
At each temple we’d see another one that looked cool and trot over, and then another, then another (depending on the source, there are either over 2000 or 4000 monuments in the area). We had to put limits, like ‘we’ll go to that one then no further!’
The big temples were tourist madness, walkways were lined with souvenir sellers selling the same lacquerware, the same carvings, the same bells and bits and bobs and silk paintings. Taiwanese tourists played ‘the beneficent rich person’ tossing sweets from bus doorways to the children, like a king throwing coins out a carriage to the ‘poor downtrodden masses’ (at least that’s the feeling I got), Christ, no wonder we get bugged for ‘presents’ all the time in some places. We managed to visit one we’d seen the day before in the morning when it was packed with people. We wandered around thinking ‘this is weird, it’s exactly like the one we saw yesterday’ when a guy came up with a ‘hey you were here yesterday! Buy silk painting now?’.
We sat around the far side of the temple while the light went golden and watched all the squirrels that were running about all over the building (vertically over the stone work!) now that people had left, that was nice.
Day 2 we walked in the other direction (it felt like we were on an island even though we weren’t, maps can make you feel like that sometimes). Even though the village seemed OK cleanliness-wise we were in for a nasty shock on the less-visited side of town, yes, yep more rubbish scattered over what would have been quite a nice landscape otherwise. We wandered about half lost (no, not lost, just directionally misplaced) before we found the cave temples we were looking for. One comprised of half a dozen doorways in the hillside leading into the darkness, lacking a torch we didn’t go too far in but it was cool. Surprisingly even though the entrances were low we could stand up inside. The second temple was on the other side of the hill, it had larger entrances with locked gates. We spent ten minutes peering in at the enormous Buddha’s inside before a little old man materialized and unlocked the gates and led us through the passageways. He let us out, locked up the gates again and de-materialized into the distance (didn’t ask for a penny I might add).
That afternoon we took a pony cart back to Old Bagan where it waited for us while we went on foot around some temples we hadn’t yet looked at. Bit of the same old same old really (more sand, more prickles).
I felt bad for our little pony, it was a bit of a scruffy elderly thing that the driver kept whipping all the time, not hard but the noise grated on my nerves. We were going to buy it an apple but didn’t find stall in good time.Two men stick out in my memory, one rolled out all his paintings to show us (‘yes yes, very nice, no not today thank-you’, then his brother whipped out a couple of cut rubies (so he said) in a piece of tissue; I hold the opinion that you’d have to be an idiot to buy a ruby off some dude who rolls up on a motorbike while you’re sightseeing. Upon refusing the gems, he gestured us close and unwrapped a piece of newspaper containing a stone carving which he indicated had been taken off a temple.
I wanted to shake him! ‘what kind of person do you think I am?’ I came to Bagan to see carvings ATTACHED to the temples not in some guy’s pocket nicked off the wall. God, I get so sick of seeing headless statues and spaces in the walls where murals should be and broken priceless artworks, gives me the shits it really does.
OK third day (man, this is getting really long!). As we had booked seats on the bus to Yangon leaving that afternoon we decided that all we would do touristy would be to go out to one of the biggest temples in our village that we hadn’t seen yet. It turned out to be a pretty crappy morning.
First we decided to go by trishaw as it wasn’t very far away, something I’m not overly comfortable about in the first place. The guy stuck us both on the same one. We were almost there when he hopped off and started pushing us along by hand. I stuck this out for about 15 seconds before I couldn’t take it any more. I leapt off and marched up the road on foot much to the poor guys shock. Call it the full moon, call it a sugar low (too much condensed milk at breakfast) but I just refused to get pushed along like that, makes me feel like a big fat westerner (although they push locals too) and it made me feel just awful (almost in tears awful). Dylan jumped off, paid the man and we walked the last few hundred meters.
In the crowded pagoda we were harassed for money by monks (that’s OK) and beggars. Normally a tolerable situation but after the trishaw incident I’d had enough and soon after we escaped down a dusty walkway out of the crowds and heat back to town for lunch, to swap my book (to Robinson Crusoe the 300 year old original, good but a dragging read but most books were in German so I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice) and wait for our bus to Yangon.
So that was Bagan

Mandaley and Bagan 17-01-2006

After Inle Lake we took yet another marathon bus ride (this one was about 12 hours and ran late) to Mandalay which was as far north as we got.
On the way to catch the bus (minutes before getting into a packed public pick-up to our designated pick up spot) I managed to rip my all time favorite pants across the back of one leg much to the hilarity of all watching . About 1 inch higher and I would have disgraced myself. The pants were given an ungraceful send off into a bin basket outside a tea shop. Lucky for me, the toilets at the tea shop although squats set in concrete, were spotless and completely dry making the pants change over an easy one my favorite pants, RIP.
The bus ride was pretty standard, long, bumpy, uncomfortable and cold. We didn’t even get a movie on the karaoke screen.
Mandalay was bit of a non-event for me.
We spent the first day in recovery from the bus ride.
On the second day Dylan bought our boat tickets to Bagan and together we cut inches off my hair and combed out the rest which I’m sure you can imagine, took hours and hours and more uncomfortable hours. It was driving me completely insane, I did like the look of it but I couldn’t run my fingers through my hair and I hated putting so much wax it in and I seemed to spend too much time fiddling with it and thinking about it.
Mandalay also has the dubious distinction of being the one place I’ve felt genuinely ill, I spent a lot of time on the verge of almost throwing up and I came within seconds of passing out face first into my thali lunch. Not your usual sort of travel sickness, just have to say that! Just too tired and too hot.
I think.It was here that we confirmed that Yangon really is the only place in the country where you can cash in a travelers cheque, this information mind you only came to hand after a long walk in the heat to the same big flashy hotel were we could change one in Yangon. Dylan was in a grumpy mood and formed the opinion that it WAS possible, just not if you’re two scruffy backpackers that reception doesn’t like the look of (and he thinks I’m too cynical sometimes).
At the hotel’s direction, we found a travel agent who changed some Thai baht for us at a hideous exchange rate (about 70% of normal) which was able to tide us over to Bagan. I was a bit blasé about the whole thing, couldn’t change it so why worry about it? Dylan sulked about it for the rest of the afternoon.
That night we had a fabulous Shan dinner (I felt better by now), we’ve taken to Shan food in a big way, so nice! I especially love the complimentary chilly and fresh tomato dip with cucumber and cabbage you get at the start, I could have eaten loads of it if it didn’t burn my mouth so badly.
We were walking back to our hotel - which was pretty scummy and expensive by the way, only rescued in my memory by yet more friendly staff, especially the breakfast lady who chatted to us and fed the birds and squirrels bread out of the window – when we met a taxi driver who called himself Tony and who knew just about every bad Aussie/Occa thing you could possibly say and was desperate to know few more (we added ‘flamin’ malarky’ to his repertoire). We chatted to him for ages even though he knew we didn’t need his services, talking about lip rings and so on. Then he had a question for us ‘What is important to you?’… I said Dylan, Family, Study, Dylan said Me (well I was right there after all!), Family and Work (not so keen on the work bit), we asked him what was important to him and he said ‘communication’ which was interesting I thought. The more I think about it the more interesting it gets. He said most westerners say the same thing we did.
We took a ‘blue taxi’ (more like an elongated tuk tuk) to the boat landing the next morning, tickets in hand. The driver we’d organized the night before said it would take at least half an hour to get there so as we were to be there at 5:30am we were up horribly early to do so… the ride took less than 10 minutes. Typical. The boat was about 80% Germans with Lowe Alpine packs, cameras to make D and I green with envy and wearing socks and sandals. In fact, during our entire trip we seemed to meet many more Germans than any other people (only about 6 people in 3 weeks that we met would have spoken English as their first language). Of note among the passengers was also a group of women in flash clothing and too much make-up (one wonders where they think they were?) and a very large Italian man who wouldn’t have bothered me except that he spent most of the trip lazing about on deck in the sun mostly undressed and playing with his beer gut and man boobs. I was nastily amused to note that he had a very impressive sunburn by the evening.
Getting to Bagan was amazing, the sun was getting low (about 430pm) and everything was lit up with a golden hue. There were dozens of children and other people to greet us, hardly anyone selling anything. We took to trishaws (bicycle powered thingamies) to Nyuang U (the cheap village to stay in) from Old Bagan where we landed. It was the most incredible trip, ruin after ruin after ruin lit up by the setting sun, hundreds and hundreds of them, most small, some enormous. My driver pointed out (in between wheezes) the more famous of them as we went along.

Nyaungshwe 17-01-2006

So when we last left off D and I were in Nyaungshawe, a small town 4km north of Inle lake, a large fresh water lake quite high up in the mountains (evidenced by the cold! although we didn’t' see frost again after the first day).
Our guesthouse people were super friendly, one boy seemed to do EVERYTHING for the first two days, baby-sitting a couple of young-uns the whole while. And we were given pancakes for breakfast (breakfast was always included in the room price in Myanmar) but unfortunately the tea and coffee was the crappy powdered instant stuff with about a table-spoon of sugar in each cup. How is it that in a country with a tea shop on every corner, where the men go to smoke, drink tea, talk sh!t and watch sports and karaoke (like a bar at home), and a country once lorded over by the British a good cup of tea was a rare thing? Never mind... now we're in the land of Lipton Yellow Label which is almost as bad, yuk.
Through our guesthouse we organized a boat tour of the lake, all day for $10 for a boat. They found an Italian family with a super cute child with a head full of curls (1 year, 8 months old as they were asked his age about every two minutes) to share the boat with so it only cost us a few dollars. On this boat (leaving late, the Italians weren't ready when we were) we were taken on a tour of the lake's souvenir shops and associated workshops. All well and good but we are bad customers and didn't buy a thing the whole time. It was good to watch the blacksmiths and silver smiths though, and I have a thing for fabric so I always like to watch people weaving. But as usual touring souvenir shops is a little dull even if they are suspended out over the water.
At one place the women were Padang, also known as Karen in Thailand (and here also) famous for wearing thick brass rings around their necks, arms and legs. The rings are heavy and push down their collarbones giving them an appearance of an elongated neck. One older woman seemed quite happy to see us, giving us peanut sweets and smiling happily the whole time. By her side was a young girl spinning out thread, maybe ten years old with smaller rings about her body and a sad face. Honestly she looked so unhappy, and more than a little bored and I felt like such a yucky sort of tourist ogling this girl like a creature in a zoo. She was very pretty though, and before we left I said goodbye and thank-you to her in particular and managed to get a small smile out of her so it made me feel a little better.
The water in the lake was crystal clear, you could see right down to the bottom when the weeds weren’t too thick. Lots of small fish, I kept my eyes peeled hoping to see a big one but alas, no luck. I’ve heard since that special effort is made to keep the water clean here which is commendable so maybe there is at least a bit of environmental consciousness beginning here.
Amongst the souvenir shop visits we were also taken to a couple of monasteries and temples. The first one has a story I love to go along with it. In the center of the temple are five blobby gold figures that to my mind look at lot like those blocks of mozzarella cheese you buy at the supermarket with a body and a head (know the ones?). They are supposed to be 2 Buddha figures, and 3 disciple figures (or 3 Buddha’s and 2 disciples maybe) but they are so covered with thick gold leaf pasted on over the centuries they are indistinguishable as anything other than a short fat blob.
Anyway, for years (years and years ago) all five figures were loaded up on a ceremonial barge each year during a certain festival and taken in a parade around the lake. One year, the boat sank taking the figures with it. Four of the figures were recovered but try as they might, the fifth statue was lost in the lake.Despondent and downcast, the remaining four figures were taken back to the temple where to the amazement of the people, the fifth statue was found on the dais, wet and dripping with water weed. Since then only four statues are taken on the festival tour, the fifth is left behind in the temple like some misbehaving child. Cool huh?
The second monastery we visited is famous for having lots of pet cats which have been trained to jump through hoops (all cats at rest when we arrived though). It’s also a well respected center of learning. There was a monk talking and a small group of people listening intently to him (and cats) which was nice to sit and watch for a while even if we didn’t understand a word. It’s probably fortunate for the cats that the Italian child had fallen asleep in the boat, exhausted from being played with and cuddled and adored by every person we came across (curly hair you see). He loved cats and had spent the day (in between adorations) harassing every one we saw with cries of ‘gato gato gato’ and vigorous patting.
On our way back to Nyaungshawe

Ngyaungshwe 05-01-2006

It took us about an hour including frequent stops and my ankles were burning from being held at such an unnatural angle for so long, ankles only bend so far after all! At least whenever we stopped it was along with hoards of other worn out Burmese, we were not the only people out of breath and red faced! All the while trucks full of people powered past us, foreigners are not allowed in a truck for this part
We finally made it to the top (along with the aforementioned 20 million people who were camped out on picnic mats all over the marble). People people people everywhere, all for a big gold boulder. Amazing.
We wandered around, Dylan went and stuck some gold leaf on the rock (‘Women were not allowed in trousers’ [I ignored this bit along with some locals so that was OK], ‘women are not allowed past this point’ ‘women must not go near the rock’ ‘women not allowed to do bloody anything humph’) and made a wish. We put our own western spin on the ‘merit gaining’ that goes along with the little packets of gold leaf, I sent my wishes with my husband seeing as I had to wait alone for him.
Again here - like everywhere - there was piles and piles of rubbish , I would have thought at least holy sites would have been cleaner but it is not so.
Feeling a bit underwhelmed by the rock and overwhelmed by all the people we went and ate a very expensive lunch in a tea shop down the mountain a bit. We tried to catch a lift back down in a truck only to be refused and had to walk (turns out it’s expensive anyway, even for locals, $3 even for them which is a lot). Down was a little quicker than up and the truck station much less frantic than back in the town. We climbed up onto little bamboo and wood platforms to make it easier to climb into the back. We unfortunately ended up in a truck where the wooden planks in the tray were only about 20cm from the bottom so long western legs were bent to their limits, much to the hilarity of the locals. Squeezed in shoulder to shoulder, hips to hips, knees in people’s backs (they don’t mind) we made our way back down the mountain much to fast for comfort but at least the press of people kept us in place on the planks. I hurt afterwards none the less. We took photos, another thing which we got laughed at for. People here laugh all the time over everything, its great.
Down the bottom back in town we staggered out of the tray to the ground, aching badly we went to our guesthouse for a much needed cold drink. Surprisingly the next day our legs weren’t too stiff, maybe because there was just as much up as down in the walking!
And that night we tried to burn the guest house down.There was no power most of the time in Kinpun so we got some little candles for light. We stuck one on the plastic vanity tray in the bathroom. Turns out those little candles don’t last for very long and Po-Seng vanity sets are very flammable! Whoops.
There was a WHOOMPH, Dylan bolted into the bathroom and turned the shower onto the vanity. The whole thing was out after about 10 seconds but not before the mirror had shattered (no, I’m not superstitious), the outside of the mirror was ruined and the little plastic shelf was a melted mess and the room was filled with acrid smoke and soot. The biggest casualties were our toothbrushes, Dylan’s filled with soot and mine melted and bent double. The whole fire was probably only about 10 cm across but what a mess!
Hands shaking, we told the management. These people are wonderful ,they really are. The manager just stuck his head in and went ‘never mind’ and grinned at us! When the power came back on they cleaned the room (we helped but they wouldn’t let us do much) and we offered to pay for all the damage, hearts sinking because we knew they could ask for however much they wanted… they asked for 4000Kyat… that’s $4 US. We asked if they were sure? I mean, we were prepared for so much more! But no, they insisted that was all they needed and were totally cool about the whole thing. I was amazed, impressed and very grateful!
Hi all from Nyaungshawe, mid north Myanmar, and the world’s slowest Internet connection.
We arrived here this morning after a marathon bus ride of about 16 hours from Bago where we stayed for less than 12 hours between buses. It was a dismal town, especially dirty, very noisy with more-than–usual pushy moto/trishaw drivers. It’s funny how you can make judgments on places so quickly.
We haven’t even walked around town much yet but we’re just sitting, relishing the fact that for the first time for most of two days we are not bouncing up and down, back and forth watching Myanmar go past in the dark. Getting off the bus for a rest stop at Heho (what a great name for a town!) nearby was a revelation; it was absolutely completely fricken freezing cold! Literally, as we left fog filled the valleys and frost rested on the ground. It was quite beautiful. Dylan will point out that it’s not necessarily below freezing for there to be frost but that’s beside the point, on the ground it was zero degrees and the air temperature would have been about 5 degrees, now it’s probably about 10 or 15 degrees so we are layered up and doing silly things like wearing sarongs on our heads to keep out the cold.
There is a large lake here called Inle, reportedly with lots of villages on stilts around it, a few temple ruins etc. So far what’s nice is that like Moulmien it’s blessedly quiet and relatively rubbish free (whoever invented the plastic bag should have been strung up before they could do such amazing damage IMO). Most importantly, the shower has hot water.
Kids everywhere are flying kites, Mary Poppins would be proud.
There are also heaps of little shrines and temples and stupas here, new ones, old brick ones, ruined ones (I do like a good ruin). We climbed up the top of a small hill where there was a good view before we realized at the top that the ‘hill’ was actually an abandoned stupa covered with earth and only a few neat bricks sticking out the sides.
So anyway as promised we need to go back a few days and talk about Kinpun, the Golden Rock (also known as Kyaiktiyo, another unpronounceable name for western tongues, it’s not said much like it’s spelt at all) and how Dylan and I set our room on fire but well get to that later!
Kinpun is a dry, dusty and yet again, dirty little town at the foot of a few hills, and at the top of one of those hills there is a boulder, painted gold with a pointy thing stuck on top of it, that’s Kyaiktiyo. It also happens to be one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country. The boulder is said to be balanced on one of Buddha’s hairs. The number of hairs old Siddhartha Gautama handed out to the Burmese to put under rocks and in temples here in Myanmar he must have been practically bald. Perhaps this is why monks shave their heads? Kidding!
We were lucky enough to get there in time for the Kayin (local group) New Year and in the great traditions of new years all over the world, there was gambling, terrible singing, confusing disjointed traditional dancing and about a gazillion people there to celebrate it. There was a sort of fair set up in the valley behind the village. Dylan and I (and a smattering of other foreigners) were like Gulliver in Lilleput. Tiny tents everywhere and tiny people along with them. D and I are not at all tall by Australian standards so it’s something of a novelty.
We waited for eons for a performance to start standing at the edge of a field covered in mats in front of the stage until we were waved over to a space by a woman in a bright yellow trucker cap and an even brighter flashlight. She didn’t speak a word of English but shared her mat and a towel to drape over our shoulders anyway. The actual performance was pretty terrible but we had a good time anyway. The celebrations continued throughout the night, very loud and mostly centered on the gaming mats where drunken men spent their family’s savings. We made our escape at about 11pm but when we got up at 5am the next day the party was still in full voice.
But why get up at 5am anyway? Well D and I had this idea that we could make it up to the top of the mountain nice and early, take some pictures and be back in town in time for lunch. What a nice dream that was.
The deal is that you catch a ride in the back of a truck halfway up and then walk for 45 minutes (according to the LP bible) to the top.What we had failed to take into account was that unbeknown to us there was a light festival about to happen on New Years Eve (a few days later) and about 20 million people had plans to be at the top of the mountain for this event. When we arrived at the truck stop just before 6am for the first truck it was along with the same 20 million people and there just wasn’t very many trucks. When each truck arrived it was swarmed with people like ants to honey. It was complete madness, I’ve never seen anything like it. You know when you watch the news and you hear about people getting crushed to death at soccer stadiums and so on and you wonder how that could happen? Well now I know how that could happen. It was a complete crush for each truck, people climbing up over the sides, over the luggage rack at the back, over each other in the rush to get in, passing babies and bags up into the scrum. We watched completely dumbstruck. There was a rush of trucks and then nothing for an hour and a half (while they went up then back down the mountain). In the end we shared the cab of a truck with another westerner and his Burmese guide, it cost a small fortune but at least we were actually in a truck! There was just no way we were going to make it unharmed into the back of one.
The ride to the top was a bit hair-raising, The road was narrow and very windy and steep, only wide enough really for one truck at a time so a vehicle’s presences was announced by a great deal of blaring the horn (‘I’m turning’, ‘I’m overtaking’, ‘I’m going round the corner’, ‘I have an obscenely loud horn’, horns are seriously under utilized in Australia).
Once at the bottom of the climb we paid to go to the loo (I HATE paying to use a scummy toilet, I really do, it just gives me the sh!ts) and began to climb. What LP had failed to mention when they called it a ’45 minute walk to the top’ was that that is if you power walk up possibly the world's steepest hill without stopping. It took us about an hour including frequent stops and my ankles were burning from being held at such an unnatural angle for so long, ankles only bend so far after all!
So much to write, so many stories already but we are in the communication black hole that is Burma so the stories will have to wait until we are back in the 21st century in Thailand in 2 weeks.
No mobile network, difficult to make an international phone call, no Hotmail, no Yahoo, no free email (unless you smile nicely at the person running the computer place and they'll let you send one message at a time, at a cost and probably via a government office). But you can blog, and I can visit forums... sort of, not exactly at any speed tho! I think the people in charge are not quite up to speed with the latest in Internet advances.
We are in Moulmien, which is the old spelling of this town, I can't remember the new spelling and I can barely even pronounce it.
This town is in the south at the beginning of the peninsula (shared with TL). We didn't go to Pyay as I said in my previous letter.
It's much nicer here, quiet, almost serene. Not many cars, the trucks are all straight out of the 50's, palm trees sway in the breeze. There are temples dotted all over the hills and mosques on the flat. The children are fantastic, 'hellos!' every minute, they all want their photo taken and we develop bands of small followers where-ever we go (in case we do something interesting I guess), a bit like being a celebrity.
Our guesthouse overlooks a wide river with fishing boats put-putting back and forth along it, it's all very picturesque.
We spent a few very eventful days in a village called Kinpun but those stories will follow later, lots and lots to tell Up northwards tonight, Lake Inle via Bago and then further north still to the famous Mandalay.

Yangon part 2

As always there are kids selling postcards, and like the adults they generally take a no very well. I had a fascinating conversation with one young girl.
'you very beautiful'
'I think you are'
'I think you are more!'
'nope, you are'
'you buy postcard?'
'no thanks'
'only 1000 kyat' ($1us)
'no thanks'
'ok I wait for you here' (while we went to be tourists at a paya)... and she did, reappearing afterwards , 'you buy postcard?'
'but I waited for you!'
'I know you did'
and a HUMPH, would have bought some just for the theatrical performance. Around the corner a boy offered postcards at double the girl's price...
We visited the Shwedagon Paya which is the most revered place in the country to Buddhists, the main impressions we got was that it's quite pointy in a vertical kind of way, there are hundreds upon hundreds of Buddha images and figures and it's very very bright! Apparently there are a few thousand diamonds on top of the central stupa but apart from them being a long way up, it was so glarey there was no way we could have looked at it.
Afterwards we went for looking for lunch, wandering around wishing we'd bought the more up-to-date guidebook as most of the places we were looking for had gone, we ended up catching a taxi back to our guesthouse and having lunch there!
Lunch was served (eventually, again the patience thing appears!) by a friendly young man who seems to run the restaurant section of our guesthouse. He's almost impossible to understand, to me he sounds a bit like he might be slightly deaf as he speaks in a very muffled manner, we get by on signals and facial expressions.
And then there is The Duck. A small child who we think lives a bit down the road and kept us entertained for a good hour last night at dinner by running around at top speed flapping his arms and quacking. We saw the Duck again this morning and Dylan and him had great fun playing a game of hide-and-seek between him and the camera. Every time he looks at us we get a wave and a hello. It's completely cute.
Like everywhere we've been, people break out into song spontaneously. Monks wander the streets with their fans, bowls and umbrellas. There are many nuns as well, dressed in baby pink robes with a wicker dish for donations.
It's very humid here, but not actually very hot so it's quite bearable.
But I said Yangon is a mixed bag and this is why...The streets are a mess, the roads are appalling and this is the city centre. There is masses and masses of rubbish everywhere, layer upon layer of plastic creating a whole new and totally unattractive type of soil. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it not even in Cambodia. Oh, some streets are better than others, one in particular that we have walked down was simply squalid. There are skinny mangy dogs everywhere, and their sh!t along with them. Human too in places I think. My plans to be more adventurous with food have gone out the window here, it's just too dirty to contemplate it. Maybe I'm being a stuck up westerner but its pretty bad. Even if I look out a window in our guesthouse to the block next door it looks a bit like a rubbish tip. Where would you even start to get this cleaned up?
Hoping to go to Pyay tomorrow and then onto Bagon and it's famous 'lost temples' afterwards.

Yangon 28-12-2005

Hello all,Yes, there IS internet in Yangon although it is a little hard to locate, just because there is a shop filled with people on computers calling itself Mr Cyber (LOL! Mr Cyber! hehehe) doesn't mean it has net access, just something to bear in mind.
Sooo, Yangon... I think what I write here may be looked at because I was 'denied access' to yahoo until the man came and fiddled with the 'puter so I'm going to have to be a little discreet with what I say I think . Not that it WILL be checked necessarily but still, should be careful nonetheless.
We'll start with the airport shenanigans. I'll have to take back what I said last time about the number of immigration counters that aren't used, this time they were ALL in operation and so we got through relatively quickly... however this was more than made up for waiting for our (well, Dylan's) bag to come in off the plane. We spent almost an hour standing by the carousel waiting! And we weren't the only ones, I swear they were carrying each bag individually across from the plane to the terminal, or perhaps two at a time slung over their shoulders. At one time we got up to 4 whole bags on the carousel at once, amazing! I am at a loss to explain why it took so long but never mind, patience is the key.
While we waited I was chatted up by a young man dressed in a neat white shirt tucked into his longyi (Long-Ghee, an ankle length sarong worn by almost all the men we've seen) with his wallet tucked into the back. He told me about his guesthouse and as he was so nice and non-pushy about it we decided to go along with him (eventually, once our bag finally materialized!) to check it out. I made the mistake of asking him how many FEC's (Foreign exchange certificates, a strange method they had of obtaining hard currency) we needed to buy and instantly I saw a shadow pass over his face and he became guarded, ' Not need to buy any more, we can talk about it later' he said and I realised I'd accidentally hit a nerve and changed the subject to having an out of date guidebook. For the record, that man's name is pronounced something like Mon-yay and we are staying at his place, it's a little way out of town but nice anyway.
Speaking of money lets talk about it! From now on, when I say dollars I mean of the green US variety. We had an amount of US cash on hand, and another larger amount of US Amex travellers cheques. Realising that FECs were no longer in use (which is a good thing as it was a total crock) we asked at our guesthouse where we could change a travellers cheque... and the answer was that only ONE place in the whole entire capital would do so, and it's not a bank, it's a fancy-scmancy hotel out on the edge of town. What's more, they charge a whopping 10% to do so! So we asked about getting a cash advance on a credit card and the answer was the same, the same hotel - who charges 7.3% themselves, plus 1.something % from their bank plus whatever your own bank will charge (!!!!) But as we really had no choice we caught a taxi out to this ginormous hotel, got smiled at nicely, had our bags checked at the entrance and got our money, only losing 10% of our budget in the process. Needless to say we weren't all that impressed and I considered taking back my 10% in free cookies and sweets from the counter but I forgot at the finish. At least we had all the doors opened for us and a 'have a nice day' as we left which took a bit of the sting out of it.
FYI, travellers cheques were OK up until the FECs went out of use, and if you don't have a widely known currency or travellers cheques (IE US or maybe pounds) then basically you're stuffed on the money front. Oh, or Thai baht if you find the right person, the right person probably NOT being one of the men that appear by your side every so often asking if you want to change money (!)
I'll be honest, Yangon is a mixed bag. We've visited several of the pagodas, always having to pay an entrance fee and then make a few 'donations' along the way usually into the ask-ees hand rather than the donation box they have in front of them which I find highly suspicious. We've had multiple offers from people to be a guide, either for the day or around a paya (pagoda), they're are always friendly and polite and what I find most interesting is that when you say 'no thank-you' the answer is always along the lines of 'oh ok, never mind, nice to meet you, have a nice day' and they wander off, I think these people have no guile or pushiness whatsoever! One man was particularly funny, when I said no he growled at me like 'grrrrr YES' and I laughed and said no again and another 'GRRR YES!' and I said no! and he laughed and said OK. Maybe you had to be there..