May 16, 2009

figaro is funi

You don't believe me? Just go watch it in Seattle. Tomorrow is your last chance.

April 1, 2009

open letter to UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-Mon

Dear UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Mon,
I write in regards to developments in Burma. An international push is under way to put pressure on the dictators of this country whose population has been languishing outside our conscience and in China’s shadow for too long. The 2007 uprising of the monks and the dictators’ coldhearted response to both the uprising and cyclone Nargis highlight the urgent need for international action at the same time as our continued appeasement in the face of atrocities committed on a daily basis is a lowlight of global morality.

This lowlight will not be healed by inaction.

I recently spent a month in this country, whose people are, despite the awful conditions that they are forced to endure as a result of our unethical inaction and our thirst for cheap teak and rubies, the most hospitable I have ever encountered. They would have ample reason for hatred of individual visitors and the world at large. Yet their strength of conviction in a better day to come is unshaken and a welcoming smile greets the visitor as long as he does not carry the dictators' stick in his hand. Let us support them in this most noble of endeavors. Let us not ignore their plight in order to uphold an amoral status quo.

I urge you do add your voice to that of millions of people around the world as well as 112 former Presidents and Prime Ministers. My happiness at their unified message is only colored by the knowledge that it is certainly easy to call for change once they are out of office. Please do not follow their lead and add a useless, if morally compelling voice, to the chorus once you are out of office.

I am sending this letter to my friends to add themselves to the growing list of malcontent, as well as publishing it on my blog where you may read it at:

Kind Regards,

Sign here to to add your voice

March 27, 2009

60 minutes of darkness

It is that time of the year again. As last year I am asking you all to turn it off! Maybe you want to have a romantic candle light dinner. Or try that new windup flashlight you got from auntie at christmas. Or maybe you just want to make a statement about how much less energy we could all be using. Let us all put out money were our mouths are!

March 26, 2009


Usually it is my rule not to post any pictures and stories of my home or physical/psychological underwear etc. Some of you might ask, what is the point? And rightfully so. I am already posting pictures of my naked behind in front of certain Austrian castles. It's a prostitute that doesn't kiss sort of rule. Rather pointless, although who am I to judge the oldest job in the world. So forget it, here is the newest addition to my home.

Yukio San can attest to how difficult it is to get a Zaisu in the States. They are really common in Japan. I have been looking for one for a while now and found an online store that sold them completely overpriced. But since it is the only one, they set the price. And your desire decides if you pay it or not.

So they sent me the wrong size. And the wrong pattern, and I told them I would like a different one, and they said that they don't do returns (who does that?!?!?!), and I should check their policy (who does that?!?!?!), so I called my bank to reverse the card payment (oh, I SO do that!!!), Bank said that I need to send the item back first and have a receipt, which is of course ridiculous because what if they don't take it, or throw it away and say they never received, but I send it back, because the little one is truly to silly little, and of course the hard core superfriendly JP girl there rejects the Zaisu, but does call me because she realizes that I will go all the way, and offers me the larger one without any cover, which is why it looks nice like this, because their covers are just tacky, but in the meantime the little Zaisu comes back to me, because once you reject UPS they never go back, so I send it again, and now she takes it, and she sends the big one back, and now you know why it is worth my time to write this excrement of a post, and your duty to suffer through it with me - Sumimasen.

Soso, I give you the Zaisu (hontoni):

And this is when you look really comfortable siting on the floor in your Zaisu that you are really happy with because it was such a female dog to get it in the first place:

But did someone really do this thing on the bottom left? No wonder they don't do returns. "Young Master on Zaisu not practice balancing if Young Master the force wants to bend to his will."

Now the only thing left to do, is get rid of half of my stuff because I realize that I look like a crazy Japanophile. My excuse is that all of these things accumulated incrementally. My place looks like a version of Michael Dell's pad on negative steroids. Luckily enough I have increased my skill at reduction of meaningless material attachments over the course of my travels. Unluckily enough I really like the things (very few) that I have now.

But here comes Gröni with "Enough is too little - Genug ist zuwenig" (which is not the title of this song but a line in it. The title is "Everything remains different - Bleibt alles anders") - leave it to ze Germans to find a philosophical none-conclusion to my dilemma.

March 25, 2009

Deutschland Deutschland über alles

München, Hochsommer, 38°C.

Auf gut bayrisch: es is sauhoaß! Mitten in der Isar steht ein Mann in Badehose und füllt einen Maßkrug mit Flußwasser. Als er daraus trinken will, brüllt ihn ein Münchner an:
"Hä, du, wos machst'n du do? Spinnst du vielleicht?
Du konnst doch ned des dreckerte Isarwasser saufa!
Da werst doch krank, kriagst an sakrischen Durchfoi und speib'n muaßt g'wiß aa drauf.
D'Hund und Katz'n scheiß'n eini, des is durch und durch mit Bakterien verseicht.
Konnst froh sei, wennst net draufgehst dabei!"

Der Mann in der Isar hält inne und ruft dem Bayern am Ufer zu:
"Wat ham se jesacht, Mann? Sprechen Se keen Deutsch, wa?"

Drauf plärrt der Bayer in perfektem Hochdeutsch noch lauter zurück:
"Gaaanz laaaangsam triiiiinken, daaaas Waaaaasser iiiiist seeeeehr kaaaalt!"

euro ma(i)le man vacation

My Brother has for ages and a day been that reliable soul that delivers all the little important and not so important posted items to the people of the Landstraße District of Vienna. You can all imagine that being a male man is not hugely lucrative. But its steady and satisfying work. All those happy faces when that summons from court knocks you in the back of the head, or that long sought lover finally tells you to bugger off. And let us not forget all that junky mail from people that are so friendly that they send it to you without even knowing you. But if it is riches that you are after choose a different route.

Now riddle me this. I know a bunch of people like my brother in Austria. Not making a ton of money but paying a ton of taxes. In exchange they get crappy weather and long vacations on balconia. Hold on, did I say long vacations on balconia? Well, shiver me timbers, but my brother and his dear wife are embarking on another Mediteranean Cruise soon. Here is the map of the tour:

So maybe not all of them go on these cruises. But then again this special ed teacher (no they are not any better paid than the ones in the States) I know goes on four week trips to India and Machu Pichu. All these low-paid, socialist, health-insurance-enjoying, life-expectancy-increasing, boorish, constantly topless running around Europeans can afford what none of the citizens of the home of the brave and the free get to do. Enjoy life.

Or when is the last time you heard of anyone going on a four week vacation to anywhere? We get four weeks in two years. And most of us, if our firm would let us go on vacation for more than two weeks at a time, would not be able to afford anything but, you guessed it, going to balconia.

March 21, 2009

Lolita and The Reader

Recently I watched The Reader. Even though I was told by my chick friends that this is a chick flick (I never cease to be amazed at women's propensity to call themselves chicks. I guess it is the same as with the N-Word. They can say it, but I can't. Somehow my first amendment vocabulary access right is slowly but surely tending to zero. Some of you may think that a good think(g) -cough, you didn't see that- considering the quality of my writing. Maybe I should call them the C-Word, but that could be entirely and obscenely misunderstood).

I had read the book a few years back, and thought it to be one of the more powerful pieces of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. And without pride I will call myself an expert on that, which is, as most/some/little of me, to be credited to my familial environment. I was raised on a steady diet of books, exhibitions and thought patterns of anti fascist/burning babies/holocaust/war/Hiroshima/vietnam/global warming (in the 80s, when it was still called Greenhouse Effect). So naturally I was interested in the movie, and thought that since this does not require any special effects or grand mythological spectacles the movie might actually do the book justice. As a side note: The German title: Der Vorleser much better signifies the main story line of the book than the English The Reader. Jungchen (Kid) does not merely read, he reads to her. Impossible to translate, I know, poor nuance-less language.

It also didn't require that stupid coming and going German accent that Frau Oscar Winner displays. Do Americans really think that this is what Germans sound like when they speak German? But in the end it is much more a movie about illiteracy and it's possible consequences. If your (K)id doesn't want to learn how to read after this you have thoroughly unmotivated offspring. But let us forget about the Oscars going to another Holocaust movie, let us forget the accent, let us forget even all the truths contained in this work. Instead, let us focus on one thing:

A 30-something having sex with a 15 year old. And they don't just have sex. Even in this hollywood movie, where sex is a sort of disembodied, none-physical, guilty experience, they get it on wherever it is possible to get it on in post war Germany without getting arrested. Yes, I know its a turn-on.

But so is Jeremy Irons, who is a pretty good actor. Has done some pretty good and riské work. Should be getting an Oscar as soon as he sees himself through to making a Holocaust movie. But when he gets it on with a young girl in Lolita: huge outcry. Tagline: A forbidden love. An unthinkable attraction. The ultimate price.

Compare this to plot line for The Reader: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as...

So as a purely sociological question, without any ideological undertone about the double standards in our societies we should ask ourselves why we react a certain way. Why are you outraged at Lolita and comfortable with The Reader. Why do I think it's nice to be taught the ins and outs, as it were, by an experienced woman (and this is emphasized in the movie when Jungchen seems so much more adult compared to his peers after being with Frau Schmitz)? Why do women the world over, the ones who know about sex, think dirtily to themselves "Hm, I betcha Kid knows what he is doing, now that he's all growed up"? But when I think of an experienced man teaching a young girl certain things the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I want to rush out with a large tree trunk to obliterate the dirty bastard and rescue the sweet damsel (to return to her raving mad father of course. Out of the gutter with your mind).

Also, Fiennes absolutely kills Winslet in about a tenth of the screen time.

open letter to The Economist

Dear Sirs,

I always enjoy reading your magazine. Since I fall into a rather "green" or Naderish political category I like having my paradigms shifted by your unabashed promotion of capitalism. However, in your recent article "Machines that can see", dated march 7th, 2009 your lack of analysis goes to far.

My disagreement with your biased view on this could easily be measured by the frown on my face. And you wouldn't need Omron Corporation's device to proof my disgust. Do you really only see monetary value in controlling us (the toiling masses, if you need it to be spelled out) better with the help of around-the-clock surveillance? How about the pursuit of liberty? Are we all just automata to be controlled for the benefit of greater rationalization?

The only good thing about this article and indeed about this topic is the unanimous voice in the comments in your online edition. Not a single person there shares your enthusiasm for these developments. And I urge all of them to send letters to their democratic representatives. Do it before Google sells your disagreement, expressed in an email such as this, to the highest bidder. This needs to be regulated more so than the financial world. It is no coincidence that the same people who are the cause of the current economic malaise would most likely jump at the chance to implement some of these Dr Evil technologies that you seem to love so much.

When the governments of the world increased surveillance and red-herringed us with library subscription surveillance I was worried about my privacy. Now that business is jumping on this bandwagon, it is time to really be scared. I must start thinking of going off the grid - and I am a rather stable, none-conspiracy-theory kind of person. I do not look forward to having an eye replacement surgery á la Minority Report in order to escape the all seeing eye of Big Brother.


March 16, 2009

travel report 28: dead airports and fat ducklings

I wish I had had more room on my memory cards. I would have loved to show you the Mandalay Airport. It is a rather foolish looking contraption. It was built in the 90s when the Burmese Junta thought it would do them good to invest in modern large scale tourist infrastructure. This was foolish because the large scale tourists (I am referring to numbers here, not girth. Americans do not travel in Burma.) never showed up. And since Cyclone Nagris, the Junta's ridicolous response to it, which was marginally worse than Bush's response to Katrina, and the subsequent demonstrations that Buddhist Monks started nobody visits the country at all. In fact one only meets foreigners that either are on some sort of humanitarian business in the country, or that don't feel bound by international sanctions (read: Chinese).

So this airport is built pretty large, and rather badly, and like most things Junta in Burma it is in shoddy condition. Volker and I sat in this huge lobby with nobody but us in it. Couple of local functionary's kids hanging around a "Cafe" which did not deserve that title. They are supposed to work there, but if no customers are buying none of the none-existing wares that are not on display it is best described as hanging around instead of working. Imagine your run of the mill Communist Russia store, with one piece of bread in the window. You get the picture, if not any sustenance. I Should not have been surprised at the spider in the window of the airplane I was about to board.

It is such a strange thing, to be in a country in which normal every day occurances are, well, normal everyday occurances. Markets are loud, streets are packed, chaotic typical representations of South East Asian cities, men drink green tea in copious amounts, women are gracious and girls ride three deep on scooters. Then you enter anything government, an airport, the palace in Mandalay, the embassy in Phnom Phen and it seems as if you are stepping into a Mausoleum. It is dead. The buildings seem dead. The eyes of the people seem dead. There is no life. Yet the Junta, and by extension its tentacles reaching into this society, maintains that status. It is as if an invisible fist is directing the country. One does not see who it benefits. The Generals do not bask in false adoration as Gaddafi used to. They hide in their bunkers and, I don't know, take baths in rubies and gold. It is the ultimate Scrooge McDuck existence. Apart from the occasional silly leather jacket and sillier government proclamation of serving the country one does not easily witness the perversities of the country.

One time I was on Shwedagon and saw a few burmese women walk around the pagoda. They were fat, waddling, ungainly things that also wanted to partake in the blessings of their religion. Only after seeing their fattness did I notice the human walky-talkied security cordon around them. I guess they were worried that the average - in this context meaning malnutrioned - Burmese person would try to ask them where they could also get calory rich diets. That fat needs to be protected from the unruly skinny masses. They might want to carve out a piece for themselves.

The eternal smile of the Burmese can apparently not even be wiped of their faces by the Junta's repression. But instead, I will suppose freely here, the Junta themselves are perhaps the unhappiest people in the country. At least those fat ducklings at Shwedagon seemed unduly stressed out. Whether the cause is the weight on their hips or on their soul I will never know.

March 5, 2009

travel report 27: Shan Plateau

On the way back from the train ride we stop at a local food joint. Food is such a pleasure in Myanmar. It comes in many small shared portions in these little dishes. A little bit of lamb, a little bit of chicken curry, some pork in a dark bean sauce. Vegetables in every shape you can imagine. Properly this is eaten with your fingers. Although serving out of the community dish is done with a spoon, which you use with your none-eating hand, as that will be sticky with food and mouth juices.

This particular local food joint is a Burma/Indian combination, which is known for excellent Chapatis, which they are. A Burmese family sits at a table with an incongruous white boy next to the young woman. Quietly they munch, while my mind races to figure out their story. The woman wears last season's Nike sneackers. They are well used, they are not a present that has just been hand delivered to the Shan Plateau. Seems as if she lives in the west somewhere and came back to visit with her man. Maybe to introduce him to her family. These meetings hold special fascination for me. My friend Zeljko to this day doesn't halt happily harassing me about the time when I timidly knocked on Mr Leong's (Hong Kong Australian father of my then girlfriend Donna) door in Rockhampton, Queensland one evening a long time ago. Only to have said Mr Leong open the door, somewhat disgustedly call out "Ahhh Peta" and proceed to slam the door right in my face. He knew I was visiting, is all I am going to say. I guess it was a Freudian Slip of the hand. So, compared to the meeting of the parents situation, the more romantic notion, to me at least, would be that the white boy came back to Burma to elope (with) her. For eloping one needs sturdy shoes, everybody knows that. And no permission from Daddy, everybody knows that too. Maybe instead of boarding the plane to Bangkok they will walk the border to Laos in the North. Or to China. They would have to make their way through the Golden Triangle. They would have to cross Wa territory. For as long as people can remember are the Wa wanton warriors. That route is fraught with hazards. The couple will probably never return from it. So futile their quest, so romantic.

It begs the question what these lives are, that our nation states create for us? Where one's family is subjected to contradictions of existence dictated by location. Your daughter enjoying every freedom modern society affords. Her sisters and brothers looking at a bleak future of no options or freedom at all. One Burman I met seemed insulted at my offer, on behalf of others, of contributing to his Pagoda. His daughters now lived in the west and send him hard currency frequently. No requirement for alms any longer. One daughter in New Zealand, one in Holland, only the son left to take care of the elders. I did not want to ask if he misses his daughters. People here are glad when other's make it. Out of the country. Is where you can make it in Burma. Or go to a Government Elite School, where you will be brainwashed and loose your sense of consequence in a system of none-responsibility.

In my last post I mentioned staying in luxury hotels on the way up to Pyin Oo Lwin. How I thought it rather despicable to do such a thing when there is always the choice to stay in a perfectly decent hotel that is not owned by the government and doesn't line the Junta's pocket. Well, just this once it seemed as if we did not have a choice. The whole excursion to Pyin Oo Lwin was sort of spur of the moment (I can not say enough about how U Volker is rather the flexible seasoned traveler), and so we called our travel guy in Yangon to book us into a hotel up here. Turns out that the hotel was in a former British country home named Candacraig.

This is government owned. We realized that as soon as we walked in and the girl at the reception was a sullen man in a leather jacket. All the secret police guys wear these dumb leather jackets. It's like the CIA running around with CIA t-shirts. We spent one appropriately miserable night in the place, cursing our travel guy, although resolving not ever to breath a word to him about our displeasure at being tricked into being the pawns for his schemes with the Junta. Except for me doing it here of course, but if he reads this far, he deserves to know. The next morning we moved to lovely Park View Hotel, without crummy receptionists or crumbling walls that surely host one or the other ghost.

We then proceeded to enjoy a leisurely day in the environs of the city.
Look at his Pants!

This must be the funniest bird in the world. His beak is so large and long, he can not see the food in front of him. So every time wants to take another bite, he has to turn his head completely sideways in order to see where he is going to stick his beak next.

Now where did that juicy morsel go?
I thought I just saw it? Darn you Darwin?

This one is a weird one too. Can you imagine seeing this in the Stadtpark?

And look at these lovely Orchids! I was even offered a job there. They were looking for workers.

If you can figure out why ones on the left are
half pink and half purple I'll give you a cookie.

I was tempted, but I told them I had to move on. They were sad. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. And being an Orchid Farmer in Upper Burma is just not manly enough for this man. At this point. Should have asked me 5 years ago.

So we moved on and saw the witch's tower. Or maybe its the general's son's plaything.

Orchid's, witch tower, lake with golden ducks
brought to you by Kandawgyi Gardens.
U Volker and Mr M brought to you by kind karma.

This same day we made our way down to Mandalay, said a sad good bye to dear Mr M abd boarded a plane to Pagan.

Note to traveler of any stripe, not just the seasoned kind. When seeing live spider stuck between airplane window panes ask for a refund. Of your life insurance. Because as you by now know the best skill on the narrow road of life more traveled is ignorance in the face of obvious life threatening danger.

But when this calls, how can one not go?

February 28, 2009

Travel Report: Pictures

I am finally getting around to organizing some of these crazy pictures that I have been taking. Unfortunately, I don't really know where to put them so that you all can see them, since everybody is using different ways of communicating. Large amounts of you are on facebook. So go there for now, to see sum. Copy them, send them around, show them to your Mama, its all good!

I will try to organize some more in regards to all of you who are not interested in facebook.

This first photo thingy is all about the trippy temples from this trip.

Click on the Temples Schmemples album on the page

February 27, 2009

new fav website

The scary thing about this site is that there are actually pictures of real women with these Freudian wet dream phallic symbols out there.

February 25, 2009

Travel Report 26: On the road from Mandalay

Even though I can not seem to let go of Mandalay I really should show you Pyin Oo Lwin. Another escape-the-heat-and-sun-because-our-greedy-wallets-bit-of-more-then-our-rosy-cheeks-could-swallow British hill station. They built these all over their empire for their poor martyred henchmen souls to escape from scorching and/or humid summers – pussies those red coats, I tell you. First they take all your crap, then they complain that its too steaming hot. Your climate, get your mind out of the gutter. One could never satisfy those old imperials. If they didn’t like the heat, they shoulda stayed up on that frigid unfriendly island of theirs. There is a crazy pre-great-flood (no, I don’t believe the flood actually happened, neither did Noah, its a freakin’ figure of speech) train heading up into the mountain, which U Volker and I did not want to take. Leaving at 4AM is a little too early, and you know, it seems as if it will be any day now, that this train will not make it up the rather steep grade to the hill station, and instead start rolling backwards at post-hyper-drive age speeds for a short distance and then fly off into empty real space. We didn’t want to have anything to do with that so we decided to instead take Mr M’s trooper of a car.


Any imported car, and they are mostly 30 year old hand-me-downs, cost an average of 50k. Yes, US Dollars. Those are import fees. So when you look at the car and see a 30 year old POS think of it as being the equivalent of a medium size BMW. Can you imagine owning a BMW if you live in any other third world country? And then it doesn't even do all those cool Beemer things. Also the car did not have much more of a chance to make it up that bloody mountain, but how am I going to push a train if it doesn’t want to move anymore?

The ride is fascinating. Very steep, with a very immediate change of climate and fauna. Everywhere there are tea and coffee plantations and many government installations. After the Brits left, Burma fell apart and the Junta took over, the Junta subsequently claimed these prime spots. One can not say they did not learn from the Brits. Myanmar's Westpoint is up here, as are all the finest school of the various Junta Government Branches. One area is the new Burmese-Shan-Mountain Silicon Valley. A huge, carved into the mountainside, complex which apparently will start an internet revolution in Burma. All those none-principled Indian software geniuses, being busy little bees, setting up the Information Highway of Burma's dark future. This highway will not be light up brightly, it will not contain multitudes, and many roadblocks will make movement arduous. Yet even in Burma the spirit of gratis open internet channels thrives in any and all internet shops around the littlest town. Everything is blocked except google. You can google chat, google foto, google email. I still don't understand the deal that the Junta made with google. Or should we believe that google code is too smart for those none-principled Indian Software geniuses to block? Hardly. In any case if you do not use google, or want to access some blocked sites, I suggest going through a proxy server setup. The fastest internet connection I had in-country was in Bamo, the pipe came in from China. Go figure. I guess the China teak/rubber business man wants his Skype to work flawlessly.

We finally arrive in Pyin Oo Lwin. Three beautiful Shan Princesses are from here, and apparently nearly singlehandedly chased an old friend of U Volker out of the country back in the stone age (1960s). I guess the man could not deal with his own effect on the ladies anymore. That, or these weird miniature Wells-Fargo horse drawn carriages were too much for him.

Wells Fargo, Phil should get a kick out of this

Inhabitants of the town are much more ethnically diverse than in towns of the burmese lowlands. Up here on the south-eastern outskirts of the Shan States the cultures mix. Shan, Karen, Kachin and Burmese and many of the smaller tribes are present and known by their garb. There is also a large contingent of Indian and Muslim merchants here.


Remnants of the British empire under whose rule this town was booming. Most of those had been forced out after Ne Win's Coup d'etat, but some still remain. The town is strange, less friendly, more on guard.

this dude is not so much on guard, but en fashion guard

We ourselves are already on edge after seeing the military and government installations right next to the newly built luxury hotels and spas - for western tourists with their heads very far up the dark recesses of their backsides. If your head is stuck there, so that you do not realize who died building your surprisingly cheap luxury diggs, and into whose pocket your money goes, then my dear, you are a cretin not fit to travel outside your own country. You should stay at home and try to be as inconspicuous as you possible can.

We head straight to the train station, where we hope to meet the train coming from Mandalay and going further up the Shan Plateau. We want to take the train because it goes over the biggest steel bridge in the world at the time of its building shortly after 1900. The Gokteik Viaduct is another remnant of French/British colonial ambitions clashing. It is like Africa today, where China and the rest of the world trip over each others feet while building infrastructure projects in order to win the locals over to their sides in order to be allowed to scrape the last resource out of that dark earth for your hungry consumerist gullets. From the condition of the train and the wobbling of its under carriage whilst moving we determine not to consider risk in the face of danger. I think I said it before: The Seasoned Traveler sometimes throws caution to the wind and lets the chips fall where they may (my daily dose of ennui inducing clichés is hereby fulfilled).

We share the wagon with a French lemming herd and our food with some local commuters. We wanted the cheap seats in the back but white people must sit in first class. Slowly the train chugs up and up into wide valleys. Asian cliché picture moments are a constant on either side. I recommend sitting on the right as it tends to afford a view of valleys passing by. Here the paddies are already past harvest time, as opposed to the low-lying plains where rice will not be harvested until weeks from now. Various stops along the road afford opportunities to buy local amoebic delicacies from local anorexic looking folk. There is most definitely a difference in the wealth and diet of the mountain tribe peoples of Burma compared to the Burmese. We stick to pealable fruit and roasted nuts of one kind or another. As we approach the gorge spanned by Gokteik Viaduct the french lemmings go foto nuts. It is mildly infectious. Kind locals point to especially appealing vistas, which are as usual too wide and fancy for my puny digicam. Sometimes the Seasoned Traveler must rely on the souvenirs of his mind in the face of insurmountable obstacles (more cliché, I know, sorry).

We stop at the last station before the viaduct, and are reminded again, not to take any pictures when crossing over - Big Junta Brother's paranoia about the strategic importance of this bridge in case of the always impending US attack is amusing. So the lemmings go even nuttier because here is their last chance at a shot of the bridge.

nuttie lemmings

Shortly after we move on and cross the thing on which it is forbidden to take a picture. So I take two. Although the CIA hasn't asked me for them yet. Maybe I overexposed them too much.

Hell, I might have even taken more than 2

Its nothing special, we stop at the next station, U VOlker and I get out, are met by ever reliable Mr M. and drive back across the Plateau to Pyin Oo Lwin. The viaduct was definitely a case of the journey being the goal of the trip. But the journey on this train, accross this plateau, I recommend to anyone.

And if anyone is looking for a reasonably priced guide in the Mandalay region I can only to highly recommend Mr. M, whose details I will gladly provide.

Travel Report 25: Mandalay, let me go

I know you all thought I would keep writing about Mandalay forever, and I should. It was an impressive town. It left an indelible impression on my mind. But that puny thing can’t pony up anymore fascinating details about that town. Except that when I will go back I want to meet some Pongyis. It seemed as if the situation was a little too precarious to just roll into a monastery and start chatting to folks. As a foreigner this will cast suspicion on the monastery, since the recent uprising had been started by monks and foreigners are always accused of fanning the flames of liberty. Although these flames were all home cooked:

How many monks does it take for us to think it is not an individual incident anymore? And how many of those do you want to see burned?

The dictators of Burma do not want to be surprised by the next uprising, so the monasteries are now infiltrated. And for that reason I thought I better not enter those just right now.

Not all monks participated in the protests. Not to repeat myself, but every one of the monasteries has different interpretations of buddhism and how to exist in 21st century Burma. Some want to practice a somewhat more robust, involved in current affairs buddhism, while others prefer a rather abstract search for enlightenment. I need to understand these differences better as I would like to unlearn my so hard to fight vicariously lived religious conservatism. You ask what that is: I seem incapable of letting people of faith re-interpret their relationship to their religion. I am quick to criticize Pongyis that do not live according to age old precepts (eyes no further than six feet in front of you on the ground walking barefoot when begging, no separating of food in alms bowl, don’t handle money). Even though it should not concern me I feel somewhat cheated by their, what I think of as, loose interpretation of their faith. In fact, the more conservative they are the happier I should be, as it will lead the masses the quicker to agnosticism. Let’s take it slow with atheism, the world wasn’t made in a day either (I hear it took six). Maybe it is just that I do not want another religion to learn the secrets of modern internet based marketing that other faiths seem to adopt which makes me a vicarious religious conservative. So as I said, next time I go back I will have some fireside chats. If they’ll have me, and my local doesn’t ask me if I lost my mind because he sees me carried off in chains to build a new Burma Road.

Actually there is one thing I should tell you about. I am reading this book right now “Piano Tuner”, even if you do not care for Burma you will like this. As of current reading main character is in Mandalay, and visits a few Pwes. There is a special season for Pwes, and Mandalay is known for its Pwe, uhm, proclivity. A Pwe is an all night affair of games and food. Sometimes they even take more than one night. The difference to an Austrian Mayfest, or a village fair in Nebraska, is that the main attraction of a Pwe is a theater troupe and sometimes a puppet show, performing various ancient stories.

Nothing against the climbing of a de-branched, de-barked, waxy-slippery 60 foot pine tree, that fastest-up-the-tree peasant of them all surely deserves the little Maria Maiden.

And whoever bakes the tastiest pie also has my tastebud’s admiration, as long as its Mustika Piirakka (Suomi JFGI - I must complain here, you, dear readers, have not been giving the thumbsup to my JFGI definition on Urban Dictionary, according to Google Analytics I have had at least 3 page views in the last 6 month, but still only 32 thumbsup on the, alas, least voted for option. Put your money where your mouth is. While you are at it, are you a fan or not?!?!?!).

But the sheer otherworldliness of a Pwe beats all of that. If only because my Uncle watches in horrid disbelief as I shovel one after the other local delicacy down my hungry for exotics throat. He declines politely my offer of some or other roasted root, sticky rice in bamboo shoot, Husband and Wife (no I don’t eat humans, yet, it is one half each of an egg fried in an egg-shaped hole), “Peter, Du hast nen Knall, I have had my share of tropical Amoebas and I suggest you do not try to emulate that particular experience”. What can I say, I love my Buckle und a Eitrige, am besten mit an Sechzener Blech, but Burmese are known to be great snackers. And not just because they eat deep fried cockroaches. In case you want to know the girl roaches are more expensive because they usually carry little roachy eggies (think of caviar, if that helps you) in a little belly chitin pouch, and nothing is more delicious than that - obviously. I was not going to be denied that snackaction just because of some ameba that might eat my insides. Although that cold noodle was probably pretty stupid, I have been feeling funny eating acidic foods since then. Maybe my little houseguest is more in favor of ph-neutral foods. Good for immune system, I tell myself.

Ok, I promise I am done with Mandalay now. I think. The next post should reach you from the Shan Mountains. Mmm, the sound of that. Like the Sierra Madre, just so, I don't know, less Clint and much more Indochine.

February 22, 2009

see, its all your fault

The eyeballing masses have apparently been streaming to read my drivel and for that reason I seem to have received the below. So now that you have spent your valuable time on my blog I shall waste it some more by making you look and click on shoulderhairremovalproductads, ads that tell you that someone is rich while you are broke (facebook) and headhairregrowithproductads. Generally I will make myself a complete nuisance in your life. You better not become a fan (5th link down next to pic, yes this is a shameless plug for myself) of this blog on facebook because otherwise I will rule the world soon. Right.

Well, it would mean a lot to me if you did fan (just in case you missed it the first time) me, and in exchange I will not make you click on stupid ads on my stupid blog (notice the clever plausible deniability I employed here?). Actually, if you don't become a fan I will take your first born, eat your lunch and make you test shoulderhairremovalproducts - daily. This does not mean that I know which porn site you visited yesterday or where you bought your shoulderhairremovalproducts (I am sorry, I will stop using that now), instead whenever I post something to the facebook thing, it will appear in your feeds (am I kissing my own privacy good bye here?) and hopefully your gazillion friends will infect all their amazingly popular fans virally, and I end up ruling the world anyway, and taking it away from Herr Zuckerberg.

If his ancestors would have gone the same direction as all those Greenbaums (sorry Josh) did, his name would be Sugarberg. Come to think of it, no wonder he wants to rule the world. OVER MY DEAD BODY SUGAR! You may be a mountain and dropped out of Harvard, but I will... I don't know, use your very geeky site to promote mine, I guess.

Anyway, here is that silly email I received which kicked all of this into lowgrade-fusion-gear:


We want to know if you'll partner with us to accept advertising on your blog Gloaming of the Mind? We have received a lot of page views this week for your blog Gloaming of the Mind.

Our website,, is the largest online BlogAd marketplace with more than 50,000 blogs in more than 2,300 US cities and towns. Ads on blogs that partner with wikimetro have replaced newspapers to become the best choice for advertising by local businesses, and many bloggers listed on wikimetro now make their full income by writing blogs that carry ads for local businesses.

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When you open this link, click "Is this your blog?" then sign in (or register) and set the price that you will accept for an ad on your blog, and also tell us how to pay you.

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Motto: "Everything Local"
Frequently Asked Questions:

February 19, 2009

Travel Report 24: Temples of Mandalay

Lest we forget what the real reason for my uncle's visit to the Golden Land is:

Another project brought to you by
the kind folks at the Wellenburg

This was a fascinating little Kindergarten. Finished only the very year of our visit. They even had solar panels, financed by a kind french soul. I saw them myself. Two millimeter of dust on them, no way the 10 % of the energy from the sun these panels would convert were actually converted. I asked the sisters about them, they told me that the panels are not working. The inverter was turned off. I wish my boy Stamati was there, to mess with inverters and marine batteries. They would have had half the neighborhood powered by the time he was done. Alas, it would have been pointless, as three month later two millimeter of dust would have accumulated on the panels again.

I have no comparison to other kindergartens or schools in Burma. Other than the ones that I saw from the outside at Inle Lake later and the ones that are my uncle's projects. At Inle Lake I bycicled past a few schools and thought 'Maybe if kids in Austria would be encouraged to holler and sing and dance all day long, my dear countrymen would not be so mieselsüchtig (lit: depressionaddicted) all life long'. Here I thought that if I could somehow guarantee myself sweet little anklebiters/dreikäsehochs such as these I would have had kids yesterday.
Mandalay is also where the money kindly donated to my Uncle's charity is used to support students at higher institutions. We are talking about Med and Chemistry students. For this Volker relies on Dr H's judgement. He makes the call in regards to who is eligible for contributions. The good Dr. is another fascinating Burmese character. Went to USSR in 1966 to study Animal Husbandry, it is what his country told him he must do. Never mind that he wanted to be an engineer. When this country tells you frog, you mostly jump and study the donkey's ass as if it was your own. He speaks Russian, English, Burmese and a couple of tribal languages. Fascinating as it was to chat to him, to compare situations around the world, to gain insights into struggles of every day Burma, it was outstanding to hear his thoughts on the recent attempted uprising by the Pongyis of Burma. He was relieved that the monks did not succeed in their endevour because otherwise Christians such as himself, and other minorities, would have had to worry about Theocratic Buddhism (my words for his sentiment). Noam Chomsky would think this very American, as in most secure nation that is most scared of evil knievel. I tell you, these religious folk provide endless hours of entertainment. I don't know what made me keep them at arms length for so long. Imagine all the laughs I lost out on.
I however refuse to miss out on all the great architectural leavings of their representations of god's wealth on this fine earth. his natural works are obviously not good enough for us, which is why we build mosques, churches, temples, synagogues. Each one of the faiths even has their own perfect miracle. You all have heard about the maria face in the toast on ebay. But there are also creepy claims to reality with beards growing on Jesus figures (Austrian St. Stephen's cathedral), bleeding wrists/ankles and crying eyes.

In Mandalay there is a Statue of a Buddha onto which the faithful have been sticking g
oldleaf for going on some hundred years now. They stick it everywhere, except the face.

You may ask, rightfully, why my atheist family
is sticking goldleaf on this buddha.
What blessing
can we hope to get?
My mother's.
What can I say, nobody is perfect :)

The Miracle is that the body of the Buddha is about twice the size than what it was when it was originally erected. All that goldleaf seriously put some weight on the old man.
Holy smokes, look at all that gold

Yet, the face is still perfectly proportional to the body, even though the size of the body has increased so much with gold while the face was never touched.

They even have proof pictures of miracle. amazing!

Now, how did the face grow proportionally along with to the body? I don't know. Why don't you go ask the guy with the bleeding ankles, or the girl with the crying eyes, or the facial hair issue guy. You, with your western slant towards reality may think 'Well, of course the busy little monks come out at night, and switch the head'.

Where is the blood, the tears and the beard coming from then?

But let's let size not matter and neither the miracles or the tears and blood. Instead here is an anachronism of buddhism that should give all you wanabehippiesunderthebodhitree pause.

Peace-loving, veggie-eating, rebirth-giving, equitability-with-gaia-seeking
buddhism doesn't like the ladies to enter into its holiness

Its none of my business what you believe and I never have accused religion of logic but can we get some Reformation please? Anyone? While you are at it, extend that open hand to that closed muslim fist as well. Let's all move our ancient orthodox believes into the 21st century, or at least into the 18th. That way we can all post on facebook how gloriously we have been fighting the lord's war on evil knievel. Or dare I say, maybe even just straight up forget about his (h)ornery behind.

February 16, 2009

Travel Report 23: Mandalay, Imperial City of Burma

Rangoon/Yangon is not the capital of Burma/Myanmar. It was that since the end of British rule, not before that, and only until the current paranoid regime finished building a capital in the center of the land, where there was nothing before. Like Washington DC and Canberra. Tactically for the same reason, which can mean that the strategies of nations remain the same, be they friends or foes.

Now Mandalay, let it roll of your tongue, as you savor the view from the Pagoda above the city. Mandalay is the location of the last palace of a King of Burma.

If this looks too freshly painted to be 150 years old,
that's because it is. This palace was rebuilt with forced labor
in recent years, to attract foreign dollars into govt pockets.

Remember how the Khmer Rouge used Angkor Wat as munitions depot? I think you saw bullet holes in one of my previous posts. Well, the Brits did the same during WWII with this one. The result was that it burned to the ground.

Surrounded by the true ancient capitals of Burma. Amarapura, Sin Wa and that ancient Abode of buddhism Sagain, Mandalay is the seat of the last rightful ruler of all Burmese. Which is not to say the rightful ruler of all that is inside Myanmar's borders today. The wall around the thing is 2.2 km by 1.4 miles. I didn't say they built small back then.

Just thought I would throw this little buddha in,
for all you letter challenged people.

While mentally preparing myself for an onslaught of history of Angkor Wat proportions the day starts early to catch good light, a lost monk or two and no tourists. On our way through Amarapura I experience my first surprise of the day. None of the thing actually survived except a low wall. The question begs how Angkor survived through the eons while this did not. Right, Angkor buried in jungle (no native knew about those colossal ruins for 700 years, mhm), while Amarapura is out in the open, hence destroyed or at least recycled several times.

This bridge, made of teak, reaches across this lake to an island.

People have been crossing it by foot for generations. Amazing sights reward the walker.

As we walk across the bridge, dissonant sounds reach us from the island. We speculate if this is another recorded sermon delivered by tape to the local monastery (I kid you not). We walk on, I am involved in one or another deep theological discussion with Mr Myoswe, who kindly humors my interest and thoughts, while setting of various cascades of analyses and paradigm shifts.

The bridge is long and so is the discussion.

The sounds of religious officialdom increase as we walk through the misty morning glow. Edible ducks sprint away from us. We know they are edible because they dont fly. The ones that fly aren't eaten.

As we get to the end of the bridge we see the reason for the auditory hoopla.

The hoopla is not completely her fault,
but you can forgive me for thinking so.

It seems we have stumbled our way into an initiation ceremony. To which, in true Burmese fashion, we are immediately invited. We take of the shoes, we ogle without ogling, we wonder at the manifestation of bonne chance we seem to keep attracting. Maybe telling ourselves that the proper Reisende deserves this, means that he actually does.

Not Mozart, but then again
don't invite strangers to
their Bar Mitzvah

And while they feed me with local delicacies I can ignore most every sound wave, except maybe Schönberg and Silbelius and those two depressed soundmurderers are thankfully stuck in the collective memory of a weird anti classical protest movement somewhere in central/northern Europe. Personally, I believe Schönberg wrote that stuff because his wife was rather sonant - opposite of dissonant, of course - with his best friend, if you catch her drift. Sibelius, on the other hand, has Finish winters as his excuse for what they brazenly call music. They didn't even dare to use it in Guantanamo Bay, for fear of Geneva Convention consequences. By the way, I am going to see a Schönberg Opera in a week or so. If you don't hear from me, I went to Forks looking for a bunch of fine Vampires in the Twilight to take my life in an orgy of blood and diamond skin. And hopefully no more sound.

Cooking for large amounts of skinny people

Volker in his well earned status as gut gewürzter Reisender insisted that we not partake in this meal. And most likely saved me from Amoebas that might have felt like a centipede, only inside my stomach. I was ready to sit and eat, but deferred to his judgement, as I was sure I could test my wimp of a belly on some other occasion as well. Which came at the ready made pwe later that night:

Unless you eat crushed glass with your
morning müsli you probably should not eat any of this

You can enjoy this view of Sagain though