Tag Archives: Myanmar

Chindwin River Part II: Sometimes a Great Notion: Bamboo/Teak/Gold

There are plans to construct a dam upriver from Homalin to serve the Chinese. It will impact life along the Chindwin in the future.

Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.
Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.

Many houses on the river were made of teak. But in other parts of the country, where teak was not just outside the back door, homes or bashas were made of bamboo.  As in India, bamboo is used for everything, from paper to particle board to knit hats.

Commercial bamboo boat
Commercial bamboo boat

With all the teak logging on the Chindwin, one would think teak grew like weeds…well perhaps it did in the past but it is quickly being depleted. Some old practices still exist but modern equipment is being introduced.

Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders
Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders

To germinate teak seeds, they must be placed in a fire, then soaked in water. It takes 45 days for the seeds to germinate.

Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.
Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, Myanmar has implemented British Forestry practices, with a 60 year rotation for teak wood. But given the number of logs being harvested, the regeneration quantity will not meet the harvesting volumes.

Ready to be loaded.
Ready to be loaded.

Logs are milled within the country rather than exported abroad to foreign mills where the finished product fetches a higher price.

Ready to be put into rafts
Ready to be put into rafts

Due to a lack of roads in this region, most of the logs are tied together as a raft to be transported to the mill.  While watching the log rafts move down river, the novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey came to my mind.

Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014
Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014

The teak industry is labor intensive. It requires a mobile infrastructure that moves from one log camp to the next, once a site has been harvested.  Barrels of oil are shipped to the roving logging camps to power portable generators.

Oil barrels transported to logging camps.
Oil barrels transported to logging camps.

Men are needed to cut, load, grade and track the trees. Wayward teak rafts are known to disappear before reaching their final mill destination.

Government permit tracker and log grader
Government permit tracker and log grader

Accounting records held by one government official showed 100 logs that ranged in size from 12ft diameter x 25ft long to 7ft diameter x 22 ft long weighing 287,000 tonnes within one log raft. Logs that size are most likely from virgin forests, soon to be extinct. But what are the alternatives to teak production? Gold, jade, and opium.

Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?
Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?

Gold and jade mines provide get-rich-quick job opportunities, but since this work is far from home, the men become bored. Enterprising dealers find ways to help them spend their free time and money on other forms of entertainment, such as opium.  It’s not unusual for men to become trapped by the good money and drugs.

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Myanmar – A Country with a Ton of Gold, Precious Gems, Opium and Buddha

December 31, 2014

Shwedagon Pagoda - Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda with stupa in background.

Even if you’ve visited a thousand pagodas, Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is worth the visit.  With a gold gilded roof 400 feet tall and a spire an additional 400 feet, the shock of seeing so much gold is overwhelming.  Gold is mined in northern Myanmar, where there is an age-old struggle between the government and the local tribes, and where the Chinese are changing the landscape, forever.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Pagodas for prayer

Pagodas? Stupas? What’s the difference?  Pagodas are tiered towers created as places of mediation.  Stupas, or mounded heaps, are sacred sites for holy relics and burial grounds. Shwedagon has both, pagodas for prayer and stupas as a final resting place for the ashes of Buddhist monks. With all the guerrilla warfare and rush for natural resources in Myanmar, I believe religion will be the key to lasting change.

Monks are everywhere
Monks are everywhere

In India, only Majulie had a strong Hindu monk presence.  In Myanmar, Buddhist monks are everywhere. 

yangon temple3
The people believe the more sacred sites they construct in their present life, the better their future life will be.

It is truly humbling to see how intently these people pray. They seem to find solace in it. When speaking with them, their philosophy is to: take only what is needed.  That’s honorable, but it seems to have thwarted their economic growth and suppressed their standard of living.

Old British Building
Old British Building

Like India, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was a part of the British Empire.  Throughout Yangon there are relics of what once was.

Yangon - grandeur hidden at first glance.
Yangon – grandeur hidden at first glance.

Some have called Yangon an ugly city at first glance; albeit one with unlimited potential.

Restoration is starting slowly.
Restoration is starting slowly with changes in government.

Only recently has there been significant progress in reaching a peace accord between the government and the twenty six tribes who want to govern their land separately.  This political instability has resulted in Myanmar being one of the last unexploited frontiers to bid on. 

The transportation system in Myanmar is unpredicatable
The transportation system in Myanmar is unpredicatable

The most frustrating thing for me, as a tourist in Myanmar, was the undependable transportation system.  Airlines were either late, or completely canceled with only a moment’s notice.  Trains were so old, that you couldn’t blame them when they broke down.  And the river system is dependent on nature, getting stuck on a sandbar is the norm.  So leave a buffer in your travel time and travel with a lot of cash.  You may want to check out Go-Myanmar.com. They are have great insight on air and train travel. Recently, ATMs have arrived in Myanmar, but only in large cities. Also, the internet and cell phone service is costly and unreliable. Consequently, blatant, bootlegged communication services have sprung up.  So enjoy life without a cloud connection.

Satellites are a lucrative business
Satellites are a lucrative business

But the Burmese passively accept what I would consider inconveniences. They live in the present, with rich traditions from the past and after years of political struggle are wary of the future.  

Notice traditional cream from Thanaka bark on her cheeks: used over 2,000 years to cool and refresh the skin.
Notice traditional cream from Thanaka bark on her cheeks: used over 2,000 years to cool and refresh the skin.

They are a people that carry-on.  

Sidewalk lean-to kitchen in Yangon
Sidewalk lean-to kitchen in Yangon
They don’t complain. If they don’t have enough money to rent space for a kitchen, they just throw a lean-to on the sidewalk.

Typical sidewalk cafe.
Typical sidewalk cafe.

And the people come.

Beautiful display of "fast food."

Beautiful display of “fast food.”
So why visit Myanmar? It is a mystical land devoted to tradition, with an unexplored wilderness, bursting with natural resources.  It seems to be the simple life we all long for, until we get it.  

Seamstress
Seamstress

 

 
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