2007 Trip: Getting ready, Hong Kong, Burma, Thailand, Phnom Penh (1) & Phnom Penh (2), Luang Prabang
Others of my sites: Journals 2007.2, 2007, 2006, Personal Page, Asia Trips 2005, 2006, Asia Photos; Budget Guides to Southeast Asia & Hong Kong; A Cottage Garden; Refugees; Israel & the Middle East; Haiphong Red Flamboyant; East Dallas Restaurants; Home #1
Back in the Golden Land
May 21, 2007 05:24 ( local time )
(Writing in Burma was sporadic and there were two of us writing, so there is some degree of disorganization in this travelogue - appropriate for Burma.)
At last ... Flight HK to Bangkok fine, short - Leslie had only seat on plane with empty seat next to her. Housekeeping - I think I gave all credit for great plane seats to seatguru.com. I should have said Leslie and seatguru.com. Also, I'm not taking the time to edit much, what with sticky keyboards and unreliable internet. And finally, no photos posted while in Burma - the internet really s l o w
David (and anyone else) - gmail is blocked here, so please use travelpod to communicate.
Song of the day: That Old Rugged Cross ... till my trophies at last I lay down ...
On to Burma. What has it been? 20? 25 years since we were last here in this unbearably beautiful place among these unbearably beautiful people? One day, long ago we were cruising down a street in a trishaw in what was then the great sprawling dusty country town of Mandalay. We saw 50-60 people standing together down a side street and so turned down that street to see what was happening. When we stopped and walked up to the people they pushed us to the center of the crowd where there were several dances and a little band just starting to tune. The strings were kind of noodling along and the drums and gongs kind of aimlessly tap-tap-tapping and ringing and all of a sudden they hit a groove and took off and the dancers (men dressed as women) caught the groove and went into a trance (it felt real, no doubt) and they took off and it all got really intense - music, dancers, crowd, everyone riding the music/the trance and THAT is Burma to me.
We met a monk in Bangkok airport - maybe will post photo later (Photo above) He invited us to the monastery where he lives and teaches. Probably won't go, but it was a good start to the Burma trip.
We're staying in the Mother Land Inn - $15/night. Aircon works pretty good. Quiet. Breakfast included in room price - eggs, toast, cake, fruit, coffee - I put a spoonful of salt in mine. Bad coffee but good laugh for waiter. He brought me another to try again. I got it right the second time. Who ever heard of a bowl of salt? Photo: our room at the Mother land (2)
Today - Monday - we caught the train that goes around Rangoon. Very slow, 50 or so stops, wooden benches along the side, people packed in, bags of who knows what in the floor, holes in the floor (see the tracks rushing by) smell of cheroots and paan, oh SO FINE.
Jeff, you blew it big-time - you should be here - it doesn't get much better than this! We are into the mystery now! Photo: train around Rangoon
So we're sitting on the bench, watching the countryside slip slowly by and watching the other people in our car. There is a young couple, the man sick, his wife loving and patting on him, wiping the sweat from his face. She never took her hands off him. Woman with baby, breastfeeding, loving him, and then falling asleep. Many of the women have flowers in their long black hair twisted upo behind their head. I can smell sweat and it is truly sweet summer sweat - a good smell. There is a man with a bunny in a box. Here comes a woman with a tray balanced on her head, selling fruit with chili oil on it. Here comes a young man selling paan and cigarettes (one stick at a time). There is a little boy selling water. He has a bucket with a top like a plate and 6 or so cups upside down in the 1/2 inch of water on the top and he dips a cup into the bucket and when the buyer is finished, sets the cup back on the top in the water.
I'm so happy (well, not happy about how the water is being sold) this is all so good and Leslie says, "Can you put it into words?" Uh, uh, well, the woman taking care of her husband - the smell of cheroots, I don't know ...
And then, like some glorious finale, the rains start in great sheets of water - yeah, it's monsoon and I'm in Burma with the woman I love.
Photo to left: the quality is poor, but these two people in center have stayed with me for >month now ... a young couple, the man sick, his wife loving and patting on him, wiping the sweat from his face. She never took her hands off him (Photo at right).
May 22, 2007 03:07 ( local time )
Things that are the same now vs. 25 years ago re traveling in Burma:
- All the travelers look very tired, slightly grubby, and some are sick.
- Travelers talk with one another - I guess because the travel is hard, even today.
- No matter where they are from, all the travelers speak English.
- Burmese are very nice - Hallo!
- There is serious poverty here.
And despite the poverty and repression, people here seem to have the most wonderful spirit. No doubt they have the same issues as anyone else - avarice, lust, etc., but they shine in the midst of difficult lives. And beautiful - women and men. Photo above: stairs up to Shwedagon
Slept well last night - both of us. Same breakfast - eggs, toast, cake, fruit, fruit drink, coffee - brought by a singing waiter. Took a taxi to Shwe Dagon paya (pagoda). Leslie asked someone what is the meaning of shwe - it means gold. Hiked up the long, long stairs (great photos - will post when we get to Bangkok). Stairs are reasonable, unlike the strange steps and risers in Cambodia - but still a long hike. Getting hot now.
We hired a guide named Lily who showed us things we hadn't seen before and explained things we didn't understand.
Shwe Dagon is beautiful and magical - people everywhere, walking around the platform around the pagoda clockwise, stopping to pray at various places, meditating, sleeping on platforms around the periphery. We saw zero other westerners of any age - much less old-timers like the two of us.
We left via a newly installed escalator (would that we had ridden it up!). Caught a taxi to Bogyoke Aung San Market - a vast stifling maze of stalls selling every imaginable thing (we skipped the wet market section - arrgh). Then back to hotel about 1pm, very tired. Photo: Shwedagon
Just ate "hot and sour with chicken," a tomato-based dish that got better as we ate. Leslie said, "That's not the worst thing I ever had." Tomorrow we head to Bago and then to Moulmein. Oh, a magic land!
Mother Land (2)
May 26, 2007 23:40 ( local time )
Checked in to Mother Land (2) on suggestion of Jo, an internet friend from Germany. It's good, Jo, and the women at the desk are very helpful except for the one who sent us to the Bogyoke Market on the day it was closed. Oh well, on to Shwedagon.
I'm so confused, and who wouldn't be. We've covered a lot of ground since the last entry - hard traveling, good traveling. Also, about half the keys on this and several other computers we've used have the characters worn off - Ha!Ha! (that one’s for you montyman) Blame it on the computer. I already wrote about Shwedagon and here I am doing it again. So, the day after we went to Shwedagon, we checked out of the Mother Land and caught a taxi to the bus stop for short journey to Bago (formerly Pegu). Photo above: I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day ... she's on the bus
Once again, I'm sorry I cannot post photos yet - the "bus stop" was something else. So we got on the bus and after it filled up the assistant (every bus has one) set out little blue stools (like the ones you can get at the dollar store) down the aisle. The baggage, boxes, etc. was piled into the the area by the front door of the bus. Away we go - WooHoo! Photo below: the bus to Bago
Music pretty good, and we could hear it all because we were right in front of the speakers - I was about half deef to start - now eh, what did you say? We pass the back of Shwedagon and woman next to me offers prayer. Me too. I'm offering prayers for Burma, for the Burmese people. Pray to God for Burma and these people who suffer so much (did I mention this is a police state?). The music on the bus is really pretty. It's hot on the bus - well, it's hot everywhere. The sun is on our side of the bus. My heart is aching for this land, these people, this beauty. We pass the British Cemetery - it's big, I offer prayer for the souls of these men who died and were buried so far from home.
I fall into conversation with the woman sitting on the little blue stool next to me. She tells me she is retired, a physician. She and her husband (also a doctor) have a small practice in a village near Bago. I ask her what is the biggest problem they see and she says, "Poverty." Diagnoses-wise, they see the basic primary care things, except more parasites. I ask her how people pay for the care and she smiles softly, "They cannot pay very much." I say, "So you are choosing to do this." And she looks at me directly and says, "Yes."
This Reclining Buddha is one that Charles has wanted to see since he was young so off we went. It was a beauty but and we got some good pictures before being approached by the ticket mistress who wanted !10 US for each of us, an exorbitant amount not even equaled by the world famous Shwedagon in Rangoon. So we declined to pay and she asked us to go outside. It was fine as we only missed the statue's backside!
We also visited another Pagoda and entered thru a back entrance used only by locals so didn't see the ticket mistress at all. Charles wanted to do some shopping at the stalls that are located at the foot of the Pagoda so we accomplished that mission. Photo: Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha image
Our hotel there (I use the term loosely) had air con when the electricity was working and according to a local, we had the best of luck as it stayed on the whole night. We bought tickets for the following day to Moulmein via bus for $15 US each, at least 100 times what a local would pay. But these people are so poor that we didn't even mind the fare hike. So the bus came earlier than expected and we had to be taken by the arm and escorted across the street at a jog to catch it. Each of us had a man pulling us along, dodging an unbelievable amount of completely unregulated traffic with horns blaring, to make the connection.
Once on, the bus was full but just continued to get fuller as the journey progressed. After all the regular seats were full, they had fold down seats in the aisle so we were packed liked sardines (again no other westerners) with no air/bathroom/etc. All you can do is go into a trance and not think about how long 8 hours like this will be. It's bloody hot everywhere and the bus is awful when it stops to pick up passengers. We were afraid to eat or drink (now they have bottled water here which is a huge blessing) because we couldn't use a bathroom. We did stop at an incredibly dirty bus stop of sorts that had squat toilets which we used and were grateful to have. We chose not to eat the plates of fly-covered rice that we were offered but did have nuts from Central Market.
The bus lets us in front of the Hotel Emperor - uh-huh. We rest for awhile (pillows are pink with ruffles and cute little puppies with bows on their heads) and are awakened by the electricity going off. Photo: our room at "the Emporer"
Off we go in something like a tuk-tuk to visit the Shwethalyaung (reclining) Buddha image - which I've wanted to see for the last 25-30 years. It is as I expected, very beautiful. There is a charge for foreigners to visit this and other sites in Bago ($10 for all the major sites), but we just went as far as the top of the steps to the image and rested there for awhile, then went in and took some photos and when we got to the pay place, said we only want to visit this and one other place. The woman said "You should go outside now." Okay, no problem.
Onward to the Shwemawdaw (Great Golden God) Paya. The tuk-tuk takes us to the back entrance so we needn't pay (entrance fees go to the government, not the monastary. Like most others in Burma, it is a huge golden stupa with lots of Buddha images. Temple dogs all around - and unlike in former times, not pitiful mangy beasts.
It's really hot. This is the transition season, from hot to monsoon, which means we get some of both. Hot mornings and rainy afternoons. Photo below: Bago - horsecarts and TV
Peanut butter, grahams, and water for dinner. Up early to catch the 8:30 bus to Moulmein (A man said, "It is 3 times better than the other one."). Breakfast at the 555 Hotel (it's not a hotel, it's a restaurant) - coffee, toast, eggs. Somewhere behind the restaurant there is a drum beating. Back to the room, getting ready leisurely and here comes a man, "Hurry it is time!" We have the most amazing flurry and scurry to get our bags out to the bus - unbelievable, several people involved and Leslie counting bags the whole time - 1 - 2 - 3...
On we go,
Off we go,
Through Burma countryside,
Moulmein - where giants trod
May 27, 2007 01:41 ( local time )
Kipling was here as was Orwell.
The men in Burma wear longyis (like a dark, conservative sarong) and button shirts or T shirts. The women wear colorful sarongs and elegant fitted tops. Women and children of both sexes wear thanaka (yellow, from a tree bark) on their faces, and sometimes chest or arms or legs. The thanaka is very attractive. Photo: taken from roof of Emporer Hotel - Bago
CK (Bus from Bago to Moulmein)
The road from Bago to Moulmein starts at ~1.8 lanes and gets as small as 1.5 lanes - and most of the traffic is either buses or trucks or bikes, or horse carts, not to mention pedestrians - and there rice spread out to dry on the pavement on the side of the road. About 20 minutes into the ride, the bus hits something inanimate at a roadside truck place. We stop, the driver and assistant get out and there is a good bit of yelling and gesturing and the driver and assistant get beck in and off we go, slower, thankfully. Some pretty good music gives way to a video played at top volume. Ay Caramba! The speakers are right above our heads - again. Audience on the video cracking up - on the bus too.
Off in the distance, mountains ...
That was just a dream, just a dream ...
On the video a woman is dancing and she is very good - stylized and what you might have seen at the Human Be-In OR what we saw one day long ago when we walked out of the dark maze of the Saigang market and there was a parade going by and a little girl stood up on a horse cart and did the most amazing dance as they went slowly by where we stood astonished - 25 years later I can see her as plain as can be.
The woman dancer quits dancing and there is a skit, where one of the men is forcing his attentions on her, holding her hand and sweet-talking (into the microphone) despite her efforts to get away. One of the other men kind of slips his leg between them and the women withdraws her hand and the man who is forcing his attentions is now holding and caressing the second man's foot. He's getting into it and starts kissing the foot, but each time staggers back, holding his nose. But the woman is very pretty so, back he comes again and again and we're all laughing hard now. Good skit. Photo: on the bus
Padi fields below,
In mystic light.
Through a village in a forest,
A beautiful, graceful girl,
With thanaka on her cheeks,
And a basket on her head,
Walks out of a dark path among the trees.
Then another one!
I met a man on the internet - More about Ken and his wife Heather later. Ken, How I wish, how I wish you were here.
Down in a little valley between green, green hills women bathing by a stream, sarongs up over their breasts. Children playing. How I wish you were here.
Mountains close by the road, clouds touching to tops and sunlight touching the sides with golden stupas glittering in the sunlight - like a hallucination. Smell of growth and wood smoke. Child with short hair and thanaka on her cheeks and nose. Some houses, but mostly hooches, some nice, some poor. It's not too hot, but it is hot. Somewhere along the way I lose almost all my commitments, except for Leslie and David and the mission. Photo: bus stop
We arrived at the big bus station in Moulmein about 3:00 in the afternoon only to find that the 2 hotels we had considered were fully booked (who knows who occupied those rooms? Must have been Burmese travelers because we still saw no westerners, I mean not 1!) So Charles hopped on a motorcycle to check a place that was not well recommended and I stayed in a shady (don't read "cool") spot with the luggage. We checked in to the Breeze GH overlooking the Thalwin River, quite an amazing body of water. Our room was very adequate and with just a little help re cleaning would satisfy most hard core travelers. We had aircon and the first fan of the trip, a big, heavy duty one mounted on the ceiling. This place had a back-up generator so each time the power went off, it kicked in and the fan stayed on- YEA!
Out of space here. Will send and resume on another email. I love you all, Leslie
Pulled into Moulmein about 2pm. It's hot as blazes today - the first day since we got to Hong Kong without rain. Taxi man said 2000 kyats to hotel. I said, last time 1000. He said, Okay 1500. It turned out to be about a 1000 kyats ride to the Thanlwin Hotel. The closest room to what we wanted was a big room with shared bath and aircon that barely worked and a fan that turned at about 20-30 RPMs. We caught a tuk tuk shared with two Chinese women with all kinds of gold and heavy perfume on to the Aurora guesthouse where they had no rooms available.
We're really hot by now and everywhere involves at least one long flight of stairs and we're a little dehydrated since we've had only a few sips of water on the long bus ride knowing that there will be 2 stops at most. Actually the bus stopped once for lunch/toilet break (sorry I didn't get a photo of the toilet at the bus stop - which wasn't bad at all, for a squat toilet). So anyway, we're standing outside the Aurora GH, dripping with sweat, (I'm) feeling dizzy, wondering what we'll do if we can't find a room. I left Leslie sitting, dripping on a suitcase on the sidewalk while I took a moto to check out the Breeze GH. They had 2 rooms available, one for $15 with aircon and one really big one with 20 foot ceiling and big windows overlooking the river, but fans only for $18 - "natural aircon" says the man showing me the room. I say we'll take the aircon, but my wife will decide for sure. Back I go to Leslie and we load ourselves and luggage all into one trishaw - oh we were a sight to see!
Lonely Planet says the Breeze is "funky, but adequate." By now we understand part of how things work, so asked if they turn off the electricity at night. He tells us they have a generator, so we take the aircon room. So here we are, in a room with tile walls like a giant bathroom (photo above) and glad to be here - especially given the ceiling fan that moves briskly. The Breeze is funky but okay and it's right on the huge Thanlwin River and our room very conveniently has a bowl for spitting betel nut juice into - what more could you want?
Several times on this trip Leslie has said, "My father would not believe it if he saw me now." I guess this continues that tradition.
Sorry for all typos, etc. - too much to proof much.
Kyaikthanlan ... lookin' lazy at the sea ...
May 28, 2007 01:10 ( local time )
After settling in at the Breeze, went for the usual walk - along the river, cutting through a market area, up lanes and down. I bought 4 mangos for 200 ks (~20 cents) and headed back to the GH. Along the way I found a vegetarian restaurant on the river. We ate there tonight - fried noodles with vegetables and egg - pretty greasy, but okay - and okay is what food is all about here. Photo: Thanlwin River, taken from in front of Breeze GH
Strange to say in a travelogue, and nobody, not even Leslie, has ever heard me say this or anything like it ... but to me, I look better than I have in years. I do have bags under my eyes, but still ... Leslie looking good too (but that's standard). No explanation for me.
We've seen one westerner here and in Bago (the same one, both times). This far off the beaten path it seems there are many more people chewing betel nut. The pavement and sidewalks (both crazy cracked and jumbled splattered everywhere with red (have to spit that juice).
Samnang is the dignified patriarch of the family that has taken David in in Cambodia. And Burma is a country full of Samnangs (and as far as that goes, it's a country full of Davids) - people with gravitas, direct, strong. We've seen almost none of the bully-boy truculence that seems to permeate Cambodia - nor the phony hustle of Thailand.
One thing about Leslie is that she seldom complains. That's a very good thing in Burma because if you were looking for things to complain about here, you would find something every minute. No complaints? Hey look, something to marvel at every minute.
Friday, 25 May: Great night's sleep with fan and aircon. I told Leslie that all my money was on mohinga for the breakfast included with our room. But I was wrong - it was a continental breakfast - tea, coffee ("3 in 1" style), banana, boiled egg, toast, butter (is there any question but that the butter is recycled), and marmalade. We ate on a terrace overlooking the river and were joined by a Danish man (that other western traveler we saw). He has been here for 7 months on a meditation visa - the only long-term visa available for Burma. As it turns out, we have several acquaintances in common! Small world. Photo: breakfast on the veranda
After breakfast we caught a taxi to the train station and bought tickets for the express train for tomorrow morning. Then on to Kyaikthanlan Paya (Pagoda) - the one Kipling wrote about in Mandalay. So, of course, I sat right where the "Burma girl" sat, "lookin' lazy at the sea" and I looked lazy at the sea and was happy. Beautiful, beautiful Burma. Gongs ringing from time to time. Cool breeze sometimes, still and hot other times. Talked with someone who had been in prison 3 times for involvement in the Democracy Movement. Intense.
In another post earlier I mentioned Ken, a man I met on the internet. No doubt I'm wrong in some details here - sorry about that ... Ken is an Australian who fought in the British Navy on the rivers of Burma in WWII. While he was in-country, he met a young British colonial girl named Heather. After the war, when she was older, they connected back in England and were married. They ended up in Australia and have been back to Burma together twice (I think). These days Heather is unable to make the trip, but Ken came back alone again last year and sent me a copy of his travelogue. He traveled some with several "old boys" - men who had been educated at the St. Paul schools in Burma, taught by priests and lay brothers at those schools. When I read Ken's travelogue, I looked up the old boys on the internet (google <old boys Burma.) Like my son's school (St. Marks), there is a strong connection among the old boys - strong and now poignant because the schools were shut down by the government.
I was talking with a man in a restaurant, conversation turning to religion and it turns out he is Catholic. I asked him if he is an old boy and he says yes! I'm staggered. He is quite calm and collected by this, so I pretend the same, but I'm not.
Burma is like a series of tragic stories in beauty - in my life I never saw so much beauty as here - the sadness and hurt is as palpable as in Hue. But no complaining. Smiling in the face of pain and don't tell me, that's the Asian way. I know more about that than most any other westerner. This is deep. Deep beauty, deep pain, deep strength.
Hey Ken, remember what you said about your heart? I did find your heart here - sparkling like the jewel in the lotus - but I didn't even try to pick it up - it was in just the right place.
In Moulmein the buildings are mostly colonial, decaying in the tropical heat. Yesterday was the first day without rain. It rained, hard, last night.
I'm walking along a street - oh man, is it hot! Glad Leslie insisted I take some water. Some people invite me into their place (open on the street) to sit and cool down in the dark of the room like almost every other place here - no fan, no aircon. Shoes off at the step up into the room, so I'm sitting there in my socks and no doubt they're completely mystified re why anyone would encase their feet in those odd looking things. I'm digging being there with these people and they're digging me likewise. Whew, I wipe my old bald head still popping sweat out even with the rest and saddle up and keep on, up the road, cutting into tiny lanes with people looking as amazed to see me as I am to see them.
Back in the room, I'm dripping and Leslie saying, rest awhile and I'm saying, no, then I'll just have wet clothes and so we catch a trishaw up the road to an aircon restaurant in a hotel I saw earlier. Clean, aircon - ahhh. We split chicken and dry chilis. I tipped the waiter 1000 kyat (<$1) - yeah, I know, tipping not expected. Then later, when we were out front negotiating the price of a trishaw back to our place, the waiter comes out and pays our fare! Kipling was in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, and elsewhere - long, long ago, he said (I may have this exactly right), "You'll find that Burma is a place like no other place." Photo below: exactly what she saw, sitting at "the old Moulmein Pagoda lookin' lazy at the sea"
The purpose of this journey to Moulmein was to see the Pagoda that Rudyard Kipling wrote about "at the old Moulmein Pagoda looking lazy at the sea" that Charles has dreamed about since he was a small child and read Kipling's works about Burma. So the next morning we took a taxi to the train station to book our return tickets to Rangoon and then headed to what many here refer to as Kipling's Pagoda. It was just as he described, an amazing view of the distant mountains and the Thalwin River where it connects to the sea. Kipling for got to mention the flies in numbers unequaled by any place we've ever been but Nepal and the awful outdoor meat market a few blocks for David's apartment in Phnom Penh. Also I guess these colonial Brits were of sturdy stock because it was hotter here that in Rangoon although the monsoon has begun so it's actually cooler than it was in March and April. If you ever travel to 3rd world countries, pay attention when the Lonely Planet guidebook says to skip a place during certain months- it is surely true. The locals tell us that there are more travelers all over Burma in the "cool" season tho most are large package tours from Thailand, Japan, and Korea. People like us traveling independently are always in the small minority and much more so this time of year. Anyway, Kipling's Pagoda was worth the trip tho even Charles says that he wouldn't do it again. But to fulfill a childhood dream, I'm grateful that we could do it. Photo: CK sitting where Supi Yaw Lat sat
Good (clean) food was very hard to find in Moulmein so we ate our peanut butter and graham crackers gratefully. We also purchased bottled water and beer very cheaply so we didn't suffer any. We did splurge on an expensive meal (US $4.50) at a new hotel the last afternoon we were there and enjoyed it.
You'll find that Burma is a place like no other place.
On the train
May 29, 2007 01:48 ( local time )
Good (clean) food was very hard to find in Moulmein so we ate our peanut butter and graham crackers gratefully. We also purchased bottled water and beer very cheaply so we didn't suffer any. We did splurge on an expensive meal (US $4.50) at a new hotel the last afternoon we were there and enjoyed it.
The Express Train in the Upper Class compartment bears no resemblance at all to its name. It was a 10 hour, unairconditioned trip back to Rangoon on a "new" train purchased recently for rural China after the interior fell apart It stopped several times tho not nearly as often as the ordinary train which must take at least 15 hours to make the trip. Our Upper Class status meant that no one was sitting on the floor but it was full and really hot. We welcomed the rain that fell now and again and it provides a brief respite from the stifling heat.
As always, people were friendly and very interested in us. I don't see how it's possible but I think that in some of these off the beaten tracks places like Moulmein and points in between it and Rangoon that they've never seen a person with white skin. Women constantly tell me how beautiful I am and it has to be the skin because otherwise I look like >>>>. Photo: betel nut stand
Anyway we are a novelty wherever we go and even the maids ask what country we're from. When people can speak without being overheard, they comment that America is paradise and indeed, in most ways it is. Our living standards are incomparable to anywhere over here, even Hong Kong which is so advanced in many ways. We looked up the stats on infant mortality rates that are the surest measure of poverty and both Cambodia and Burma rate very poorly. My own opinion is that if the women tried to use formula instead of breastfeeding their babies (most don't), the rates would be close to 100% dead within a year. The lack of clean water and even basic notions of sanitation (trash dumped on the street to breed literally millions of flies and I don't even want to think how many rats) make healthy living here almost impossible. What a wonderful opportunity for a Block Watch operation!!
We are now back at the Mother Land 2 and happy to be there. This internet cafe is within 4 blocks but no one mentioned it to us when we arrived. We have aircon and good plumbing and don't even need hot water which is good since we don't have it. But the cafe is great and even has good coffee (happy Charles) and I've learned that I can substitute a pot of black Chinese tea for the orange soda that is served with our complimentary breakfast. So all is well.
We have 2 more days here to go to the big markets, get our laundry done, etc. before we fly to Bangkok for 3 days on the 30th. There we will finally see David who has been in Spain several weeks so we're happy about that. I'll write again before we leave here, electricity, etc permitting. Becky and Julia, I got here without Shannon's email address. Will you send it to me and also forward these emails to her? And please let Dad know we're fine and print a copy to mail him. Many thanks for keeping him up to date. And please write- I miss you and have actually been a little homesick when listening to Robert Earl Keene on Charles' iPod.
Please give my love to everyone.
Love, Leslie Photo: stairs up/down the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda - the "old Moulmein Pagoda"
I'm skipping an entire entry - more later on this. And still apologizing for no photos because oh man, I think I've gotten some good ones. Also, sorry to not be responding to messages. It's really a challenge here to get on internet. Thank you to all who have written. Leslie is doing the gmail part of things and I'm doing the travelogue part. I'll put her emails into travelogue when we get to Bangkok. We're looking forward to rendezvous with Vanida in Phnom Penh. I know you were a grace to the Bru in Thailand - same as to people in Dallas.
I'm a little out of time (as in outside of) and would be more so if not for my grounding influence if you know who I mean and I think you do. Still in Moulmein - up at 4am and outside at 5. Bats flittering all around. It rained earlier and the river is beautiful. Burmese family checking in to the GH. Leslie tells me she shooed off a mouse that came by to check out my pack. Thanks, darlin'.
To the train station where a man helps us find our (upper class) car and seats. One seat is stuck in the reclining position and trays (made of pink 1/4 inch steel mounted on green 1/2" pipes) won't stay up. People getting on, getting settled, milling around, buying things from the vendors outside the windows. I hang out on the platform, train brakes going shhhhh and whistle blowing and I get back on the train. Whistle blows and slowly, slowly we pull out of the station on the high track so we're looking straight at or down on the palms. Back up on the ridge that runs through this town golden pagodas shining in the early morning sun. Clack - clack, clack - clack across a long bridge across the Thanlwin river ... Photo: waving by by
Past misty mountains to the east, hooches below, like Vietnam in the 1960s. Electric wires running alongside the tracks, but not to the hooches. Little girl sitting in a doorway, unsmiling, watching the train rolling on by. Children running up paths to wave at the train ("Someday, I'll be on that train," I think they're saying to themselves.).
When David was little, back when the Sante Fe train ran on the Santa Fe tracks near our home we would hear the whistle blow and run jump into the car and race to the tracks to stand there waving at the engineer (Once one of the engineers threw a bottle of water to us and said "Hello little boy" - David told Leslie the man said "Hello little bow.") and then watching the freight cars go by, one after another. Often David and I would go early early Saturday or Sunday morning to the train yard sitting in the truck, watching the men work. My grandfather was a railroad man. He was killed in a switchyard accident in Cleburne - crushed between two cars - when my mother was 2. My grandmother raised my Mom and her sister, Eloise working as secretary of First Baptist Church in Cleburne ... on a hill, far away ... Heavy work around the house was done by "Old Black Jim." I remember him standing out by her tumble down garage, smelling pretty strong - a good smell to me.
I remember going out to the edge of town to visit Jake and Ella King in their little wood house where I played under the porch. I don't remember much about Jake, but I remember Ella was beautiful and had lovely dark skin. They were really old. They had been slaves when they were young and picked cotton since then. When they died, my Mom inherited 4 hand-painted plates and a camphor bottle, all of which we have, except I gave one plate to Rosie Taylor (fairly heavy karma holding on to those plates).
It's raining now and we're passing through padi fields where everyone keeps on working in the rain - seining (for the little crustaceans that live in the padi), plowing, planting, herding ducks/cows/goats - some people with blue plastic over their shoulders and some, like the men plowing, not stopping to put the plastic over themselves. Photo: taken from the train
The rain passes and the windows go back up - despite the fact that there is aircon on the car. Children standing beside the track, waving - out here in the country clothes tattered, mostly, children barefoot, mostly - solemn faces with yellow on cheeks, forehead. Huge clumps of thick bamboo, then endless padi fields. Rubber trees, row upon row upon row (I was in a firefight among rubber trees once). Here comes a little boy pounding up the path toward the train with a baby on his back waving, waving waving. Water buffalo wallowing in the muddy water and we've passed 50-60 misty mountains (these mist-covered mountains ... baptisms of fire). Girl in the seat in front of me asleep, long black hair misting over her brown skin arm.
What is a hooch? It's a house with walls made of thatch or plaited bamboo. Maybe it has a dirt floor or maybe a platform made of split bamboo. If the latter, probably pigs or chickens living underneath. Out here, near the track, these seem about evenly divided.
Passing through undeveloped watery countryside now. I'll bet there are some big cobras here (Did you know they are at home in the water and dry land?).
Now a forested area, more houses. Look, a pony! Another one!
Some kind of brick structure, left over from the British Empire, crumbling, mossy, deserted. A woman walks through our car wearing a sarong exactly like the one hanging over the window in our front room at home. The train has never picked up any speed, still clack - clacking along.
10:45am - a brief stop. Right outside our window they have rice wrapped in a banana leaf and newspapers. When people order food the vendors unwrap the bundle and add your choice of curry (several kinds available), boiled egg, onion, chilis, different vegetables, whole fried fish (not like Long John Silver, no), then wrap it back up. There is a dog asleep under the table. By the time you get it, at least 3 people have had a hand in it - at this stage - don't know about earlier.
CK: "May I have a stick of gum?" LK: "Yes, but you can't have a whole stick."
Periodically the tray (the 1/4" steel one) falls - Bong - on my knee. I have to remember to keep my knees up. Leslie's bag is invaded by about a billion ants - that's an exaggeration - it's really only about a million. Boys playing soccer in a very muddy field (about 1/4 of the field is a giant mud puddle). One of the boys falls on his back and slides 4-5 feet, laughing, so of course, another one takes a dive, too.
We're getting close to Rangoon (or Yangon, as it's called now - colonialist that I am, I prefer Rangoon). Girl in the seat in front of me combs her long black fair, puts lipstick on, and freshens her thanaka.
167 miles in just under 10 hours. It was hot all the way except during the rain. A wonderful trip.
I'm still in Rangoon but will return to Bangkok the day after tomorrow. Just wanted to see how things are going with you and how you think that Judo is faring. Sara reports that he is well but hasn't said if you're still having to take him to your house for nights. I hope he'll adjust and she can take over his entire care but you know what a relief it is to know you're overseeing him.
Nothing new to report except there was a Pro Democracy rally here yesterday where 300 fearless souls protested about the extended prison term of the country's most famous dissenter. She has already been under house arrest for 11 of the last 17 years and it was just announced that her term has been extended another year. As well as we can tell, the protest was without incident and no one was injured so that's a relief. Now the news out of Thailand is that parliament will announce a major decision regarding banning 2 of the major political parties on Wednesday so security has been tightened and we expect to
see plenty of armed soldiers on the street when we arrive the same day.
It is really astonishing how much freedom we have- what luck for us. Write when you have a chance- it is good to get news from home. Give our best to Chris and thank him again for all his help.
Leslie Photo below: in Moulmein
Bangkok (Burma dreams)
Jun 01, 2007 05:44 ( local time )
I seem to have lost an entry - mysterious are the ways of the internet. We're back in Bangkok and I have a few things left to write about Burma.
Life, except for political prisoners and minorities, seems better now than before. What we saw of the country is cleaner than before. In 10 days we saw only 2 live mice and one dead rat. They swept the leech out of the restaurant. Before, rodents of all sizes were everywhere.
Burma is a police state and there is fear in the air. Here is an entry from one night (notes from the little travelogue I carry everywhere - late night wanderings) ... trouble sleeping tonight. On this trip, talking with people so careful of the secret police - can't say too much - long arm of the law and all that - it's real (the fear) in this place - I look around and see a man with secret cop written all over his dead-eyed face - specialist in brutality - in spirit destruction.
What to do? Well, I'll start with prayer. Nobody has ever heard me ask this before because I've never asked it before this moment (This moment, is different, from any before it. This moment, is different, it's now). Will you join me in prayer for Burma and the Burmese people? I'm praying steadfastly and have prayed more in the past days than ever before. And after this, we'll see. I know of someone who might be able to use some help - a contact in the States ...
I can smell the sorrow,
taste the sorrow,
feel the sorrow,
this crazy place.
Sitting in this dark room, sweating, Ipod on, writing in a ray of light coming through from outside, wondering, what can I do? All my life is doing. Being by doing, doing by being. Maybe I'm too old now. We'll see.
Leslie asleep with her "sleeve" (an old favorite t-shirt) over her eyes. Thinking, except for at the GH in Rangoon and at the Bogyoke Aung San Market we've seen one other westerner in Burma and here is this 60+ year old woman trucking along. Hey man, that's my girl. Oh cool, it's Attics of my Life ...
In the book of love's own dream
Where all the print is blurred
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lies grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
You flew to me.
In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When all the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me ...
Gonna be a long night and I don't care - a long sparkling night in this room. I held hands the other day with a man, whispering, saying I'm praying for you. I'm asking people to pray for you and your people and your country. An intense conversation, life-threatening for him ...
Freedom - speak it like a vow. How many have died for it and forget the imperfections, the yes, buts. They died, millions, for a dream of more. Off in the distance and dark, lightening flashes. Photo: baby toes
Our last night in Burma I go to the little store in Rangoon where I've been buying water and snacks. I tell the man we're leaving tomorrow morning, so goodby. He gives me a deep discount on my last purchase. Burma.
"Whole generations of westerners who went out there as soldiers, doctors, planters, journalists ... lost their hearts to these lands of the Mekong ... they are places that take over a man's soul" (Jon Swain, one of the last westerners out of Cambodia in 1975).
How wonderful to get your note. We are in day 7 out of 10 in Burma and just this morning found a computer cafe that has managed to get past the blocks on all email servers.
We have traveled so much since I last wrote. We arrived in Rangoon, Burma (I am using all the old names before they were changed by the government) late at night on Sunday, May 20th. Our guest house, the Motherland 2, sent a driver for us (now there's a blessing) and we checked into an air conditioned room with attached bath (no hot water but who needs it?) and slept 10 hours. This kind of travel is really exhausting- but then it gets even harder as we got here by plane and everything else is reachable only by bus or train. As the roads, tracks and vehicles that move on them are completely dilapidated, it's really quite a trip to get from one place to another. It seems that Japan sells all its completely worn out cars and tour buses to Burma so I am seeing cars that haven't even been sold in the states for the last 26 years, still trudging along. The engines last much better that the hardware (seats, door panels, floors, etc are completely worn out and sometimes missing all together) but this is how the whole country moves about. We have nothing like it in America!
We took a 3 hour train ride that circles the city in Rangoon just to see the sights and how people live. It is indescribably poor here but doesn't have that feeling of darkness and death that is pervasive in Cambodia. The people go out of their way to be helpful and are interested to meet Americans- there are very few of us here. We've met only 2 others and seen almost no westerners at all. There are some at the Rangoon guest house (German, Swiss, Norwegian, and the ever adventurous Aussies and New Zealanders) but in the markets and even in this Internet cafe, there are none. Photo: worship
The circular train ride was interesting, beginning with the man who helped us get on the right train. He has a university degree in science but a lowly job after participating in the uprisings against the government in 1988 and again in 1992 and then serving 2 prison sentences for his support of the elected democratic government. The train (even our "special seats") had wood benches ( just the floor for Ordinary Class) and of course no fans or air con. With the window open you can get a hot breeze when the train is moving ( it stops frequently) but it otherwise stifling. We rode in the last car with the flagman and 2 soldiers who were helpful- it rains and I mean hard, every day beginning about 1:00 pm and you have just a second to get the window down or everything (you and the car) are drenched in seconds. Of course the latches are completely foreign and we had no idea how to pull ours down so the older soldier came to our rescue. Then as the train got more crowded, he partitioned off our section with the flagman, himself and the young soldier, and us with a rope to divide the compartment. So we were as comfortable as you could possibly be but that's not saying much!
Everything here involves walking and hiking up multiple steps of stairs- I'm talking 3- 4 stories- the train station, every pagoda, many hotels, etc. So as the guidebooks say, if you are disabled or elderly, don't even think about coming here! But at least here, the steps are a standard height and depth unlike in Cambodia. More than once a day, I say and mean it, God bless the British! Most of the infrastructure her, at least in regard to roads, rail travel, stairs and many buildings, were built by them in the 1800's ( they left officially in 1948, I think) and still stand with no maintenance or repair work. One wonders if the whole country will just crumble when their legacy finally wears out- it really seems like a possibility.
We left Rangoon by the "People's bus", again the only non-Burmese", and traveled 2 hours to Pegu where Charles was able to see an especially beautiful Reclining Buddha (we've only seen dozens, why wouldn't we take another journey to see a "special"one?)
My time's up. Sending and will continue later. Love to all, Leslie Photo: nuns - one was walking toward me, looking pretty. When she passed me I saw her legs, covered in sores. Burma