Mawlamyaing Stories, Part II

20 observations from Burma:

  • I don’t think I was ever out of sight of a pagoda once we left Yangon.  There is literally a pagoda every few feet, some tiny, some enormous.  Some are next to rice paddies, some are on the tops of mountains.


  • In Yangon, I began seeing people wearing t-shirts with swastikas on them, and I thought “oh, Indian symbol”.  Then, I began seeing more and more people with t-shirts that just said NAZI on them.  Hmmmm…


  • Mawlamyaing used to have a big Anglo community, and it is clear from all the old churches and colonial-style buildings.  Still, it feels like a city that is slowly disappearing back into the jungle.  The sunset over the river was stunning.


  • Myanmar smells like a mixture of incense, fried noodles, sewage, and sandalwood.


  • Mawlamyaing is derived from the Mon words for “damaged eye”, because a king lost sight in his powerful eye many years ago.  Rice demons, dragon pythons, and giant, rampaging tigers.


  • There are 3 animals I see represented everywhere in Myanmar: the Chinde (mythical lion that guards pagodas), the Hamsa (mythical bird that is somewhere between a peacock and a chicken), and the Elephant (not mythical actually, just an animal that the emperor used to execute people by stomping).


  • You will see (mostly) women walking around with what appears to be a golden paste smeared on their cheeks.  This paste, called thanaka, is supposed to be cooling and rejuvenating on the skin, like sunscreen and clearasil all wrapped into one.  You make thanaka by grinding a certain tree branch on a stone, mix with water, and apply the paste to the skin.  I find it to be the most distinctive thing that I see everyday Burmese people doing, and I kind of want to try it myself.


  • I find the best way to wear my longyi (the man-skirt) is to wear it with my gym shorts underneath; this way I still have some hidden pockets to keep my passport/wallet in.


  • There is somebody frying something (rice, vegetables, noodles, etc) next to a bunch of tables/chairs about every 10 feet in Myanmar.


  • The Burmese countryside from Yangon to Mawlamyaing is quite stunning, filled with jungles, towns, mountains, rubber plantations, and ricepaddies.  Dr. Aye Aye (who used to work for IOM) told me about the migration cycles, where people from Mon and Taninthiaryi regions migrate to Thailand for work (where they can earn more), and people from the poorer, less agriculturally-rich regions of Burma migrate down to work in the rubber plantations and rice paddies.  They come from areas where malaria is not endemic, and therefore they lack the knowledge to prevent malaria.  Hence, our work in these regions with migrant workers.


  • I went to the pagoda at the top of the hill for a short visit, and prayed in front of the Jade Buddha.  Dr. Nant and Nang, however, after praying, got really excited about a animatronic singing, dancing kitten at a merchandise booth inside the pagoda.  Very interesting.


  • There seems to be a nice park/garden wherever I go in either Yangon or Mawlamyaing, and they are all filled with teenage couples sitting or walking together, sometimes under trees where they make out in a surprisingly chaste manner.


  • Speaking of feeling randy, the ancient artwork that you see reproduced everywhere is very sensual, featuring dancing and courtship, usually involving curvaceous, scantily-clad figures.  It seems like every range of emotion is captured in the frescoes, tapestries, and sculpture.  This is a bit incongruous with every day Burmese life that I see; it seems that the culture has lost something along the way.


  • Mawlamyaing sits at the mouth of the Thanlwin river, which starts somewhere in China.  According to Kotou (the driver), I could take a boat here all the way into China.


  • Apparently, the Karen have about 15 different sub-ethnic groups with 15 different languages, and none of them really sound alike.


  • Before bed, I have been reading up on Burma’s martial history, which is quite extensive.  The Kingdoms of Burma have been invaded or fought with the Mongols, the Chinese, Siam, and finally fell to the British in the 1800s.  Apparently, the British are the ones who looted Shwedagon Pagoda upon picking apart the fading Konbaung Dynasty.  Asshats.


  • Tonight, I went on a walk along the river, managed to climb on a few boats and attempt to talk to the sailors.  The boats are like something out of “Apocalypse Now”, and each one has a Buddha shrine in the pilot house.  There were a few times I felt like they were going to stuff me in the hold and sell me somewhere up the river.


  • I went to Hpa-an today to look over several properties that we may rent as offices.  Hpa-an is the capital of Karen State, and the countryside is made of up rice paddies punctuated with sheer-sided mountains.  Absolutely stunning.  At one point I observed a rooster running across a dry paddy, and I thought to myself, heh, chicken and rice, delicious.


  • I have kind of found my “place” for a quick dinner in Mawlamyaing, a little outdoor establishment run by an ethnic Chinese Muslim and a bunch of teenage boys as servers.  They have yummy, spicy prawns for very cheap, and it is a pretty clean joint compared to some of the other places I’ve seen.


  • I feel like I am rotting away from the inside, but that seems to be the condition of everything in this humid land.

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