I will try to organize some more in regards to all of you who are not interested in facebook.
February 28, 2009
I will try to organize some more in regards to all of you who are not interested in facebook.
February 27, 2009
February 25, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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, www.wikimetro.org, 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.
Please consider partnering with us--blogging is fun and are replacing newspapers (ARE YOU KIDDING ME, YOU CANT EVEN GET YOUR GRAMMAR RIGHT? "BLOGGING ARE REPLACING NEWSPAPERS?" WHAT'S NEXT, EATING ARE REPLACING YOUR BRAINS?) for advertising. If you want to talk by phone, we are here 24/7, just follow this link to your blog on our site
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.
BlogAd Account Asst Director
Motto: "Everything Local"
Frequently Asked Questions: http://www.wikimetro.org/
February 19, 2009
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
In Mandalay there is a Statue of a Buddha onto which the faithful have been sticking g
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.
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,
Where is the blood, the tears and the beard coming from then?
buddhism doesn't like the ladies to enter into its holiness
February 16, 2009
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.
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.
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.
As we get to the end of the bridge we see the reason for the auditory hoopla.
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
Austrians don't invite strangers to
their Bar Mitzvah either
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:
February 15, 2009
We descend from the ship to rather curios stares for the rather curios strangers disambarking into the general hubhub of a ship being unloaded as it would have been 100 years ago. Up the dirt bank of the Irrawaddy, hire a couple of trycicles, and in we go to Mandalay and the pre-booked hotel. Later Mr. M picks us up. A professional guide whose knowledge of Mandalay and surrounding areas is only surpassed by his willingness to teach silly foreigners how to properly eat with their hands, burmese style. I am sure nobody actually does this in Burma anymore.
Mandalay is the current center of buddhism, which is of the theravada kind in Burma. If you have been to Rome and strolled around the areas that the catholic church frequents. Think of that, only 300 hundred years ago, except that they had really dirty internal combustion engines. And the monks don't wear dark Kuten but burgundy robes. And... Ok, this is getting too hard to transcribe from dirty pre-hi-tech vatican to modern center of theravadan Buddhism. So here goes:
There are many monasteries in Mandalay. There are as many different schools of buddhism as there are different ways of interpreting other religions.
During the scorching summers of Central Burma
the monks and accolades would shelter
under the monastery at noon
on the walls. Modern events are explained via
buddhist wisdom, and vice versa.
Yes, that's burmese.
abodes of peace provide serenity.
These are all from the 1st monastery we visited with Mr M in Mandalay. There are many more to come.
I will probably show you all of them. I know, its a threat. But I promise not too many words and more pictures instead. Like comics, Rupert Murdoch papers and magazines at the checkout.