Myanmar – Conflict Within – Exploitation from Neighbors

UNICEF poster of child soldier.
UNICEF poster of a child soldier.

The UNICEF poster shows what is happening in Myanmar – children are fighting a war rather than attending school. There is a struggle between the government, who wants to claim the land, and the people, who want to harvest the gold, jade, teak, and opium as they have forever.

First class sleeper on train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.
First class sleeper on the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina. I shared a car with three other women that had a bathroom with a hole in the floor.

I bought a ticket for a first-class sleeper on the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina, knowing the Kachin and Shan guerrillas were fighting in the area, and it was possible the military might block my travel.

Stupas in village from train.
Buddhist stupas in a village as seen from the train.

Along the way, I saw the presence of Buddhists openly challenging the Muslims.

Fields from train.
Fields from the train.

The countryside looked quiet and it appeared as though everyone lived in peace with each other.

Myitkyina train station.
Myitkyina train station.

But once I arrived in Myitkyina, I hit barriers. Note that travelers must register with Immigration at the train station or airport; otherwise, you travel at the risk of being detained.

Site of historic WWII battle.
Site of historic WWII battle.

     The Myitkyina railroad station was the site of a decisive battle in World War II. Winning Myitkyina with its airstrip and rail station gave the Allies control of Northern Burma and a chance to reconnect India with China via the Burma Road.

Suprabum Road
Suprabum Road leading to northern Myanmar.

I hoped to travel up the Suprabum Road to the Hukwang Valley but was stopped by Immigration. So I visited the local market instead and tried to regroup where the fruits are unlike anything I’ve seen in the western world.

Unusual fruits

Medicine vendor

This vendor felt sorry for me and refused payment for some traditional remedies.

Likewise, there was no western medicine Natural rememdiesto rid me of the horrible cold I got on the frigid train ride. They don’t have pharmacies in Myitkyina but a wide assortment of natural remedies are sold at the market.

Chinese in Myanmar

While shopping, I was struck by the presence of so many Chinese in the area.   Later I would find out why.

Tuktuk and motor bikes
Tuktuk and motorbikes for hire

 Since I couldn’t go to the Hukwang Valley, I paid for a driver and motorbike to take me to the Mogaung Valley. I had a map from the Immigration office in Myitkyina showing me where I was allowed to travel.

Road to Mogaung
Road to Mogaung

     The road to Mogaung, or where the Chindits defeated the Japanese in World War II to secure the Allies’ position in Myitkyina, was dull… at first. Later I was interrogated by gun-toting Immigration guards on my return to town. The poor boy driving the motorbike practically peed in his pants, understandably so, when many are being killed in the battle between the government and the tribes over land rights.

Road will last only a couple of years.

     On the way to Mogaung, we were subjected to delays on the road the Chinese were building. Note the meager layers of bedding, gravel, and asphalt slurry. This road will last only a couple of years.

Hauling slurry seal in bucket

Chinese and the locals worked side by side, carrying buckets of boiling asphalt – something the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the US would faint at.

Men women children road workers

Men, women, and children worked to build the road into the untamed wilderness.  Why? To harvest gold, jade, and teak. The workers spent months away from their families, so it was easy to entice them to use their earnings on opium to forget their loneliness.

Mining in Myanmar

Mining in Myanmar people and equip2

Ko Zaw Pharkant, a photographer who lives in Myitkyina, took these photos of the mines.

Another mine

It’s easy to scorn the devastation of land from mining.

Mining in Myanmar land

But how many of us wear gold or jade jewelry?

Mining in Mynamar equipment

It’s not that there is mining in Myanmar that concerned me. They should use the country’s natural wealth to improve the standard of living.

Mining Myanmar land and lodging

Yet the mining in Myanmar was excessive and the wealth was not going to the people of Myanmar but to their trusted neighbor-the Chinese.

     The Chinese are not only building roads to harvest Myanmar’s wealth but there is an agreement between the two countries to build dams on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers, that would change life for those downstream, forever.

Expanding Myitkyina airport strip

    The Chinese are also expanding Myitkyina’s airport. Note the woman on the right in the above photo is carrying a pan of scalding asphalt to cover the thin layer of gravel on the airport runway. Unfortunately for the people of Myanmar, these improvements will last only a few years. Who will stop the Chinese?

Myitkyina WWII Airfield in background Where Historic Battle was fought

Myitkyina WWII airfield in the background. Site of Merrill’s Marauders historic battle.

   On November 8, 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party gained control of parliament (Hluttaw) which put them in a position to elect the next president of Myanmar.  Before elections, Suu Kyi proactively reached out to the over 135 tribes and 55 parties in Myanmar, including those in the Kachin and Shan states, where the civil war continues.

But Suu Kyi cannot become president because Burmese law states anyone with “legitimate children” who owe an allegiance to foreign powers is ineligible.  She has two sons with British passports. It is thought she will rule as a puppet president from a parliament seat.

     Will Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy (NLD) be the harbinger of change that will lead Myanmar out of religious conflict (Buddhist against Muslim), find an economic solution (sign a truce with all tribes), and protect the natural resources of Myanmar from exploitation by their world neighbors?

Aung San Suu Kyi

World’s Largest Book – MANDALAY

The Kuthudaw Pagoda in Mandalay is surrounded by 729 Stupas

729 stone inscription caves mandalay

Within each stupa, marble slabs hold inscriptions that make up the world’s largest book.

Marble Slab with Written History
Marble Slab with Written History of Burma.

Other than the monks that tend the site, the pagoda is an amazingly quiet site with very few tourists.

Kuthudaw Pagoda
Kuthudaw Pagoda

     Even with all its tradition, Mandalay is a city of change, with lotteries juxtaposed next to temples and a large gold market attracting tourists on the lookout for inexpensive jewelry.  But those who plan to buy gold in Mandalay should ask whether the gem inset is real. Many times the gold is real but the gem is not and likewise, real gems are often set in cheap gilded metal. So ask the vendor what’s real.

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

There are plans to construct a dam upriver from Homalin to serve the Chinese. It will impact life for those living along the Chindwin and change the entire region in the future. 

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

Some houses on the river are made of teak. But many homes or bashas are 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

The teak is exported abroad. But many old practices are in existence until modern equipment can be transported to the logging sites.

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

Growing teak trees takes skill. The seeds must be placed in a fire, then soaked in water. Then 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.

Previously, Myanmar had implemented British Forestry practices with a 60-year rotation. But given the demand for teak, the regeneration time has been reduced and the quantity of the wood is not as good.

Ready to be loaded.
Stockpiles of teak that are 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 on Chindwin River January 2014

The teak industry is labor intensive. It requires a mobile infrastructure that moves from one log camp to the next after 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 are transported to logging camps.

Wayward teak rafts are known to disappear, stolen by pirates before they reach their final mill destination.

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

Men are needed to cut, load, grade, and track the trees. Accounting records held by the government official in the above photo showed 100 logs ranging in size from 12ft diameter x 25ft long to smaller 7ft diameter x 22ft long logs weighing 287,000 tonnes, all contained within one logging raft. Logs that size are most likely from virgin forests, soon to be extinct. So what are the country’s revenue alternatives when teak production disappears? 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 workers to get lured by the good money then trapped by drugs.

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Chindwin River Part I: Travel Along the Chindwin

Tied up dugout on Chindwin River.
Tied up dugout on Chindwin River.

In January 2014, the Chindwin River was not a popular destination for foreigners. I saw no other Caucasian on the voyage traveling upriver between Monywa and Homalin.  I was asked several times if I was a missionary (what did that mean?)

Girls I met on river.
Girls I met on the river.

The blog below is for those considering a similar trip. Without my guide, Mr. Saw, I would not have been able to purchase boat tickets and find the guest houses at each stop in the time I had to travel. Unfortunately, my time was limited. But I suggest others allow leisurely time in each village and schedule buffer time for the inevitable delays. Costs below are listed in Kyats, which at the time of my trip had a conversion ratio of 1000 Kyats (pronounced chats) to $1 USD. Don’t expect to find banks or atms. Carry both small denominations of Kyats for river travel and USD for places where they won’t take Kyats from foreigners. 

First Class on the Chindwin
First Class on the Chindwin

Leave Monywa by boat at 3 a.m.  Arrive in Kalewa at 5:30 p.m. The trip along the parallel road takes 10 hours.

First class seats.
First-class seats.

First-class entertainment was a TV at the front of the boat. High pitch Burmese songs blared non-stop from 3 a.m. until 3 p.m. I was thankful for the cushioned seat rather than a hard bench seat for 14 hours.

Second class seats.
Second-class seats.

Boat Cost for 1st class was: 33,000 Kyats for foreigners and 17,000 Kyats for local residents. You must pay for your guide.

Life along the river is simple. Porters come in handy on these steep slopes.
Life along the river is simple. Porters come in handy on these steep slopes.

Porters charged 500 kyats to carry my 50-pound bag up the hill.

First class meal. Guess where the styrofoam goes?
First class meal. Guess where the styrofoam goes?
Food on the boat came with the ticket but dinner in the village cost about 1500 Kyats
Guest house on Chindwin.
Guest house on Chindwin.
The guest house in Kalewa cost 6000 Kyats  Electricity was on from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  This is important if you want to charge a phone or computer. I used only the phone’s camera since there was no cell coverage. Some villages had internet connections when there was electricity but most of the time, the internet was down.
Looking west to Chin Mountains and route to Kalaymo on right. Bridge across Myittha leads south to Monywa
Looking west to Chin Mountains and route to Kalaymo on right. Bridge across Myittha leads south to Monywa

Many foreigners traveling down the river from Homalin stop at Kalewa and then fly out of Kalaymo, which is inland, rather than continue on the Chindwin to Monywa. The distance from Kalewa to Kalaymo is 20 km or a 2 hr truck ride. If you want to go further to Kennedy Peak, the route the 1942 Ragoon residents took to evade the Japanese, the distance s 70 km (or an additional 50 km west): a 4 hr truck ride. 

Coal from the local hills.
Coal from the local hills. The narrow walkway is the only way to get around on the boat.
Sedimentary rock (sandstone) is found along the river, but in the foothills, coal and natural gas are mined.

Leave Kalewa by boat at 11 a.m. Arrive in Mawlaik at 5:00 p.m. Travel from Kalewa to Mawlaik by road is not possible.

Bridge in background collapsed from monsoon floods and earthquakes.
The bridge in the background collapsed from monsoon floods and earthquakes. It will probably never be repaired.

At least one bridge was down. If the bridge was serviceable, the road between Kalewa and Mawlaik is 36 km or a 3-hour drive.  Without a road, residents have to take the boat and board midstream when the river is too shallow for the boat to go to shore.

Midstream boarding included taking a dugout to the commercial boat.
Midstream boarding included taking a dugout to the commercial boat.

After Kalewa, first-class travel changed from cushioned seats to shared metal boxes. A log grader and government lumber inspector shared the first class box with me and my guide. They said it fit six people, but I say it fit four, uncomfortably. Our first-class lodging was 4 feet high by 10 feet wide by 8 feet long with a cotton cloth covering a metal floor.

First class box was 4ft x 10ft x 8ft. Day packs are 18 inches high.
First class box was 4ft x 10ft x 8ft. Day packs are 18 inches high.

The cost of a 1st class box between Kalewa and Mawlaik was 20,000 Kyats. 

On board, you could buy from the kitchen (this photo) or from midriver or shore food vendors.
On board, you can buy from the kitchen (this photo) or from midriver shore food vendors.

Dinner and breakfast in Mawlaik cost 6000 Kyats,  The guest house cost 10,000 Kyats but that was because I stayed longer than 24 hours or beyond the 2 p.m. cut-off time.  The Guesthouse, which was located across the street from the police station, let me use their bicycle for free to tour the village.  All guest houses have TVs. It was a good opportunity to sit with the locals and catch the news.

Riverside restaurant.
Riverside restaurant.

I met many geologists during my trip on the river. They were on the river conducting investigations for coal and natural gas. Another natural resource they had no interest in was sand, which was excavated and exported for construction purposes.  Unfortunately, the sand excavation resulted in undermining the banks of the river.

Typical settlement along the river.
Typical settlement along the river.
Leave Mawlaik by boat at 5:45 p.m.  Arrive in Homalin at 2 p.m.
No electronics here. Day time travel was best with manual depth finder for sandbars.
No electronics depth-finders here. Daytime travel was best, especially since manual-depth finders, or good old-fashioned bamboo poles, were the only tool they had to find sandbars.
Unfortunately, the depth-finders are not so good at night. The boat grounded at 9 p.m. All the men got off the boat and for one hour, they tried to rock it free. They were unable to push it off the sandbar as they had earlier. So a tug boat called up from Mawlaik pulled us out to deeper water.
Getting from the front to the back of the boat required shimmying along narrow walkway before climbing into the metal 1st class box.
Getting from the front to the back of the boat required shimmying along a narrow walkway before climbing into the metal 1st class box. Try doing that at night when you want to get to the “bathroom facilities.” But the stars were spectacular.
Later we got stuck on another sandbar at 2 a.m.  It was too dark to continue, so they shut down the boat until daylight, or  6 a.m.
Outhouse on boat - guess where it all goes.
Outhouse on the boat – guess where it all goes.
The lights in the 1st class box stayed on all night, making sleep difficult. The sounds through the paper-thin walls of snoring, farting, crying babies, and the cold metal floor, as well as gasoline smelling like it had an additive of naphthalene, made sleep impossible.

Sights along the Chindwin.
Sights along the Chindwin.

To see villages, stupas, and trade along the river was worth the inconvenience. This stretch of the river includes jade and surface gold mines and, like the rest of the river, a lot of teak logging. Early the next morning, in the dense fog, the vendor boats arrived to sell “fast food.” 

Chindwin River Fast Food vendor boat.
Chindwin River Fast Food vendor boat.
The log grader and government lumber official got off at one of the logging stops along the river. In their place, a woman who sold betel nuts to support her entire family got on to share our 1st class box. She talked, or perhaps it was the betel nut that talked, nonstop for 3 hours.
Boarding midriver was a challenge.
Boarding midriver was a challenge.
An alternative to river travel from Mawlaik to Homalin is a 100 km road on the east side of the Chindwin River. It’s a 2-day ride, depending upon the weather.
Chain of stupas accessed only from the river.
Chain of stupas in a village accessible only from the river.

The cost of a 1st class box between Mawlaik and Homalin was 30,000 Kyats for foreigners. Food on the boat was 5000 Kyats. Once I arrived in Homalin, dinner in town was 2250 Kyats. There are more guest houses in Homalin than in the other villages along the river, but most were full when we arrived at 2:30 p.m. So I ended up at one of the simple places for 10,000 Kyats per room. They kindly provided a pail of heated water for a bucket shower.

Peanut field in flower.
Peanut field in flower.

Due to the delay on the river, we arrived at the Myanma Airlines office in Homalin at 2:30  p.m. We had to wait around until 5:30 p.m. before the airline office, a nondescript wooden building, opened because they were at the airport acting as ticket takers. There are only two airlines that fly into Homalin, so departure from Homalin is limited to three times per week. If I didn’t get a seat on a plane the next day, I would have been in Homalin for another four days. That would have meant missing other sites I wanted to see in Myanmar. 

Homalin boat landing.
Homalin boat landing.
All the seats were reserved. So Myanma Airline staff graciously sent a local boy to all the homes and guesthouses of those with flight reservations to see if there would be any no-shows. Thank goodness, there were four cancellations. The plane ticket for a foreigner cost $90 US (must be USD and exact amount) and for the locals, it cost 64,000 Kyats. Plus, there’s a charge of 2000 Kyats for non-carryon luggage. Be sure to reserve 4000 kyats for the taxi to the airport (which is basically the back of a truck.)
Homalin is a relatively large city. I guess around 100,000.
Homalin is a relatively large city. I guess around 100,000.

The plane left in the morning around 8 a.m. The same people who sold the tickets in town, processed tickets at the airport, checked baggage and served as security before boarding.  This meant if you were in town and had questions while they were at the airport, you had to wait until the plane departed. There was a separate inspection of my purse, which was conducted in a dark closet by a female employee. I don’t think she could see anything. It’s just that way along the Chindwin, expect the unexpected.

I really appreciate you visiting my web page. It means a lot to me. In the comments box, I’d like to hear what you think about my posts – tell similar stories – share other blog forums.

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Stilwell’s 1942 Retreat from Burma through Homalin

Looking west from Homalin from where Stilwell crossed the Chindwin River in 1942.
Looking west on a bank in Homalin from where Stilwell crossed the Chindwin River in 1942.

On May 12, 1942, General Joseph Stilwell led 114 Americans, British, Chinese, and Burmese into Homalin. The next day they crossed the Chindwin River. They started in Maymyo on May 1 and arrived in Imphal, India, on May 20.  Stilwell knew the Japanese were on their heels so he set a tough pace: fourteen miles per day at 105 steps per minute. Fifty minutes of marching per hour with a ten-minute break. The Japanese arrived in Homalin only a day after Stilwell’s group crossed the Chindwin. In those three weeks, they marched through jungles and up mountains, losing an average of 25 lbs per person.

Later, on May 24, 1942, Stilwell gave an interview to a New Delhi reporter, “I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.”

We always hear about the Allies’ journeys through exotic lands. But who did they pass along the way?  Below is a day-by-day summary of Stilwell’s retreat and the problems they encountered with photos from Homalin of the type of people they may have seen on their journey.

Known as Chin Lone in Myanmar and Sepak Takraw in other Asian countries, this game of kick-volleyball should be an Olympic sport.
Known as Chin Lone in Myanmar and Sepak Takraw in other Asian countries, this game of kick-volleyball should be an Olympic sport.

April 27, 1942, Heard an ugly rumor from a Limie: the Chinese are leaving Lashio (about 100 miles east). Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) said to stay in Burma. But sixty boats have already been sunk by the Japanese on the Irrawaddy River. So we flew all the British women out of and most of the Head Quarters crowd.

This child followed me for blocks for a photo - what a cutie.
This child followed me for blocks for a photo – what a cutie.

April 29, 1942, Swebo was hit by 27 Japanese bombers.

April 30, 1942, Officers are beginning to lose their grip, squabbling over rice and trucks. Lashio was taken. Ava Bridge over the Irrawaddy was blown up by the Chinese to stop the Japanese. There’s imminent danger of disintegration and collapse.

Love those lunch boxes.
Love those lunch boxes.

May 1, 1942, The Japanese are on Maymyo Road. We started evacuation from  Maymyo at 6 am. Arrived in Zigon at 10 pm. The car stalled. We had a three-hour delay.

May 2, 1942, We left Zigon at 6 am and arrived in Pintha at 11 PM. Battled ruts along the oxen trails. Dr. Seagrave got some medical equipment off a bull cart.  Had a bath using a farm well.

These teachers motioned me over for photo of their flowers.
These teachers motioned me over for photos of their flowers.

May 3, 1942, Left Pintha at 6:30 am and arrived in Wuntho at 9:30 pm. CKS says to go to Myitkyina. Tomorrow we’ll head towards Mogaung. Need to decide whether to wait three days for elephants to carry food or forage later. The bridges needed repair before the trucks could cross. Sent mules ahead to cross Chindwin at Kalewa to see if we could then travel through Kalemyo to Tedim.

Flowers - one of the better things in life.
Flowers are one of the better things in life.

May 5, 1942,  Myitkyina’s out. We had to make a decision whether to take the route to Tamu, due west of Mawlaik on Chindwin, or head towards Kawlum and cross the Chindwin from Homalin. Chose Homalin. Heard elephants trumpeting in the woods. Broken gas line in the car. Another car got stuck in the sand. A Limie’s truck blocked the ford in the river: he didn’t want to get his feet wet. Then we had to abandon all vehicles and find another crossing. Serious fords to cross with the monsoon. Saw the head man of the village. Told us all coolies went south.  Now it will take 10 days to get rafts or go to next village, which has 60 porters and mules. Good eggs (people) here.

In a country at poverty level, who buys flowers? Must be a priority for some.
In a country at the poverty level, who buys flowers? 

May 6, 1942, Late start at 3:30 am. Last radio message – then we destroyed the radio

May 7, 1942, Arrived in Magyigan. Hard going across the river. Some carried mattresses and bedding. Stripped everyone down to only 10 lbs per person. Of the 12 officers, 4 are seriously ill. Merrill fell face first. Christ, but we are a poor lot. Marched down the middle of Chaungyyi River rather than fight the vegetation along the shore.

Aren't their smiles contagious?
Aren’t their smiles contagious?

May 8, 1942, Arrived in Saingkyu. Chattering monkeys in the jungle. Japanese bombers were overhead. We’re not out yet. Had tea and a good sleep.

May 9, 1942, Arrived in Maingkaing – Charged by a rogue elephant. Began traveling on a flatbed raft with bamboo hand poles on the Uyu River.

Homalin is a large city similar to Monwya, which has a population of 150,000.
Homalin is a large city similar to Monwya, which has a population of 150,000.

May 10, 1942, Put Seagraves Burmese nurses on the roof of rafts. Nice ride but too damn slow. Took a break at 22:00, then poled all night on the river.

May 11, 1942,  Rain. That’s ominous. Had a hell of a time getting everyone going. Big chicken dinner.  Off again at 22:00. Many snags and rafts breaking up. Rumor preparations were made for us in Homalin.

Homalin and Monywa are the two big towns on the Chindwin.
Homalin and Monywa are the two big towns on the Chindwin.

 May 12, 1942, Arrived in Homalin. It’s Mother’s Day. No one’s here. Commissioner up river. Camped in a temple.

May 13, 1942, Left at 6 am and traveled 3 miles north of Homalin to cross Chindwin by dugouts. After we crossed, one of the guerilla leaders took his horse through the chowline. “What will I do with him?” Thunderstorm ahead.

Homalin ahead traveling from south. Notice good-luck leaves in bow. North of Homalin the river is very shallow. High risk of bottoming out.
Homalin ahead, traveling from the south. Notice good-luck leaves in the bow. North of Homalin, the river is too shallow. High risk of bottoming out.

May 14, 1942, Passed by a bright green snake. Sissy Brig complaining. Climbed in heavy rains to Kawlum. Met British relief expedition with ponies, medical supplies, and food.

May 15, 1942, Time change. Beautiful view of Mainpur Hills.

Homalin looking south in January. Imagine Chindwin River during monsoon.
Homalin looking south in January. Imagine the Chindwin River during the monsoon season.

May 16, 1942, Met Tangkhul bearers. Fine people. Haircut like Iroquois. Men wore g-string sashes. Arrived in Chamu – beautiful view. Thatched covered bridge. Coolies built me a house in an hour.

May 17. 1942, Seventeen miles to Pushing. Naga came out with rice wine to welcome the “great man.” Pushing like Alaska with totem pole boards. I Saw Tangkhul with safety pin earrings.

Teens seem to be the same world-wide. Note 'pinky' connection between 3 Chin girls.
Teens seem to be the same worldwide. Note the ‘pinky’ connection between three Shan girls.

May 18, 1942, Six miles to Ukhrul. A noisy night with bugs. Tangkhuls wear a ring on their dink while working in the fields with the women. Women strip down to nothing with the heat. Imphal bombed again.

May 19, 1942, Rained. Passed through Limpo. Made 21 miles. Got cigarettes and chocolate.

May 20, 1942, Rained all night. Cordial reception by Limies. The PA, an old fart, didn’t know I wanted him to forward the radio message from May 6. Colossal Jackass.

General Joseph Stilwell, WWII leader and great historian.
General Joseph Stilwell – WWII leader and great historian.

I really appreciate you visiting my web page. It means a lot to me. In the comments box, I’d like to hear what you think about my posts – tell similar stories – share other blog forums.

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Mawlaik has a Golf Course: British Raj in Myanmar

January 5, 2014

U Thant Zin - Mawlaik's local historian.
U Thant Zin – Mawlaik’s local historian.

I borrowed a bicycle and joined U Thant Zin for a tour of the abandoned British village within Mawlaik.

Mawlikbritish1916

Let me take you back to 1916.

Par 2
Par 2 is no longer in use.

To support the teak trade along the Chindwin, the British imported their way of life from back home. So Mawlaik has a golf course, although the grass is not always cut these days.

Welcome to the club house.
Welcome to the clubhouse.
Imagine it's 1920, someone's behind the bar and the tables are filled with expats.
Imagine it’s 1920, someone’s behind the bar, and the tables are filled with teak plantation owners, British military, and government officials.

 The clubhouse appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the Victorian era. I suggest you read Burmese Days by George Orwell to get an understanding of how important the clubhouse was to those wanting to keep a link to the motherland, which was at least a month-long journey back home.

Two story government office built in 1916
Two-story government office built in 1916

The teak trade must have been brisk to have built such a large government complex in a remote area like Mawlaik.

Notice use of Underwood typewriters.
Notice the use of Underwood typewriters is still in practice. But currently, the Burmese are only temporary tenants.
Mawlaik Courtroom
Mawlaik courtroom remains empty as if waiting for some officials to arrive.
British jail in Mawlaik
The British jail in Mawlaik that was used for Burmese only is also vacant.  
British hospital no longer in use except for solar panel, laundry and grazing.
The ‘British only’ section of the hospital is no longer in use except for the solar panels, laundry, and grazing land. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes. U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital.  The Burmese section of the hospital was torn down.

Mawlikchurch

Another by-gone British building is the Christian church.

Church bell tower
Since the British ruled Mawlaik, they needed a Commissioner and he needed lodging with the finest teak woodwork. But now, only squatters remain. 

It even has a bell tower, shy a bell. Imagine being a Buddhist and hearing the bell every Sunday and maybe for weddings, too. Caucasian women from Britain were enticed to visit Burma for just such ceremonies.

Mawliksuperintendenthouseoutside2
British Commissioner’s house.

 The Myanmar government is funding the restoration of several old British buildings in Mawlaik. But it’s not easy to get there. So why the investment? Maybe the backdrop for a BBC production?

Teak wood throughout Commissioner's house.
Teak wood was found throughout the Commissioner’s house.

I was surprised the flooring wasn’t teak. Instead, it’s either tile or linoleum. Probably because maintaining wood is expensive in the hot, humid climate along the Chindwin.  It was amazing these buildings were still standing.

Bedroom - notice fireplace
Notice the fireplace in the bedroom. U Thant Zin said only British buildings had fireplaces in their homes.

Outback in the kitchen

Yet British kitchens were kept separate from the rest of the house in the event the building caught on fire. They didn’t want to rebuild the entire residence. As noted in Kalewa, fires are not unusual along the Chindwin.

But there was indoor plumbing with a luxury crapper.

And a salon for entertaining. In recent years, the squatters have added a Buddhist shrine to the salon.

Officer's house back stairs
Even the backstairs were made of teak.

Two-man saw

And all that wood was cut down with a Two-man saw. I can’t imagine them using these “two-man” saws today. But if they still use oxen to haul the logs to the river, then maybe they don’t have chainsaws large enough to cut the teak lumber.

British staff housing
They also needed housing for British staff who managed the local laborers.
British Forester's house - in use today by Burmese Forester.
And housing for a British Forester, who, by the size of his house, must have been as important as the Commissioner. 

Mawlikflowers

The only things that remain from that era are the buildings. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and the British fled to India. The Raj never returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings with the people who lived and died there.

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Mawlaik-Not Just Any Village on the Chindwin River: Retreat Route of Japanese from the Battle of Imphal, 1944

January 4, 2014

Aren't they sweet?
Aren’t they sweet?

 Mawlaik is a close-knit village 10,000 strong. It was the center for British teak logging in the 20th century.

Locals boarding boat on Chindwin.
Locals boarding a boat on Chindwin.

Given the bridge to Mawlaik from Kalewa was severed by monsoon rains and earthquakes and the road to Homalin is almost a two-day ride away, most people reach Mawlaik by boat.

Arrival in Mawlaik from Chindwin.
Arrival in Mawlaik from Chindwin.

Mawlaik is located at the top of a steep sandstone bank. I was happy to pay $0.50 to have a porter haul my bag up that hill.  

Boat tied up on slope during dry season.
Boat tied up on slope during the dry season.

During the monsoon, the Chindwin River swells. Where the launching areas are accessible in the wet season, the lack of flooding makes them inaccessible during the dry season.

Eroded walkway and former boat launch.
Eroded walkway and former boat launch.

At one time, they had established docking facilities, but the banks were continually eroded away by monsoon rains. Also, the locals dredged sand for construction. So the slope became inaccessible.

Concrete road constructed by hand
Mawlaik is a village that works together.  At the top of the eroded bank, the road had crumbled. So a new road had to be built. The women worked side-by-side with the men, laying the gravel bedding while the men used a portable cement mixer to prepare the concrete and then leveled the grade. All of this was completed by hand.
Typical house in Mawlaik with clay water jugs out front for anyone to get a drink.

Next to the construction site was a permanent water station, much like our drinking fountains. These water posts, maintained by the locals, are found throughout Myanmar. This simple act of generosity exemplifies the kind of people you find in Myanmar.

Mawlaik tea house is a far cry from current-day coffee shops.
So how does one get to know a small village like Mawlaik? A good place to start is at the local tea house.

A TV was wedged in the corner of this riverside restaurant playing Myanmar's version of Next Top Idol, only their stars were painted-up 10-year-old girls.
A TV was wedged in the corner of this riverside restaurant playing Myanmar’s version of Next Top Idol, only their stars were painted-up 10-year-old girls.

Meat is scarce along the river. But soups are offered morning, noon, and night. Personally, I did not like their traditional morning fish soup, but don’t miss their fried tofu paddies.

Sponge from local market added to fish soup.
Sponge from local market added to fish soup.

Most of their food is fried in oil, which can be a fire risk.

Vegetables, herbs and tubers new to my taste buds.
Vegetables, herbs, and tubers were new to my taste buds.

Unfortunately, most women don’t drink beer. So I got a few questioning looks when I ignored that custom. Other than administrative buildings, there are no restaurants or other reminders to show travelers this town had been under British rule.

Teak forest at 20 years. Usually harvested at 60-year rotations. Notice straight trunks.
 After the British left, the people continued to work in the teak industry. They implemented many of the British forestry practices.
Teak raft hauling about 100 logs down the Chindwin River to the mill.
Locals work in the lumber mill on the other side of the river. Then the logs, weighing up to 300 tonnes, float down the Chindwin in river rafts.
The man on the left is a government permitting official. The man on the right is a teak lumber grader.

Some villagers grade the lumber before sending it to market. Others represent the government and ensure that the logs traveling down the river are permitted and not stolen by pirates.

In addition to teak logging, villagers from neighboring settlements work the land then bring their goods to the local market in Mawlaik.

Food is shipped by dugout from nearby settlements to the market.

Betel nuts are seeds from palms, not nut trees.
Bamboo, gold, natural gas, tea, and betel nut are other local cash crops.
Betel nuts and palm leaves are used to wrap betel chew.

A woman I met on the boat sold enough betel nuts to villages along the Chindwin to support her entire family, and she put her two children through higher education. I couldn’t understand a word she said in Burmese. But whatever it was, she talked non-stop for three hours straight.  I think it was the betel nut talking for her. You can tell who chews betel nut by their vampire red lips.

In each village, the locals support the Buddhist monks.  Every morning, the monks walk from house to house with their eating utensils in hand, knowing locals will fill their bowls.  Some monks push carts throughout town, collecting from restaurants and businesses to feed those that cannot go out on their own.

mawlikstreet

Life is simple in Mawlaik. Homes are usually made of wood with open-air windows. Most walk or ride bicycles.

Guest house with plastic covering doors and windows.
There are a few guesthouses for travelers. They are usually filled with geologists exploring the land for oil and minerals.
Mawlaik Police Station
The guest house where I stayed was across the street from the police station. I found I was treated kindly if I reported my presence upon arrival.
U Thant Zin’s home and the local English school
Once it was known an English-speaking tourist had arrived, the locals sent me to U Thant Zin, a 75-year-old elder.
U Thant Zin’s students with the open classroom in the background.
Education is mandatory to the age of nine in Myanmar. Yet there is so much more to learn. U Thant Zin has taken it upon himself to teach English. He is also the local historian, passing down tales from the past to his students.
Mawlaik Forestry office where Japanese committed suicide after Battle of Imphal, 1944.
One of his stories includes the 1944 Battle at Imphal. The Japanese stormed Mawlaik after crossing the Chindwin. Then they marched through the mountains bordering India and Burma to Imphal, the China-Burma-India (CBI) headquarters for the British during WWII. The Japanese lost at Imphal and had to retreat. The Japanese who were injured or sick with malaria and typhus were abandoned in Mawlaik.  Those men committed suicide in the local Forestry office. U Thant Zin joked that given the shortage of balls after the war, the Japanese heads were later used by the children as soccer balls.
From the bank along Mawlaik, looking east across the Chindwin. The river floods to the far hills during the monsoon.

With all the unexplored wilderness and resources Myanmar has to offer, there’s no doubt that the villages along the Chindwin will attract more and more tourists in the future.

U Thant Zin’s student and my market guide.
When they arrive, U Thant Zin’s students will be there to greet them and carry on his tradition.

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Kalewa: 1942 Evacuation Route from Rangoon to India

January 3, 2014

After the fall of Rangoon in April 1942, a bailey bridge was shipped to Shwegyn, ten km south of Kalewa, where those fleeing the Japanese 55th Divison were trapped on the east side of the Chindwin River.

Entrance to Kalewa from Chindwin River
Entrance to Kalewa from Chindwin River.

The Rangoon residents then crossed the Chindwin and started the second leg of the evacuation route, on elephants or by foot, up the Moutaka Road along mountainous paths to Imphal, India. The route became known as the India-Myanmar Friendship Road.

indiamyanmarfriendshiproad

This town of 16,000 people, at the junction of two rivers, the Chindwin and Myittha, is approximately 115 years old. To the east are the Swe Tha Min Mountains

Looking south-east on the Chindwin at Swe Tha Min (Golden Deer) Mountains. Note the junction with the Myittha River on the right.
Looking south-east on the Chindwin at Swe Tha Min (Golden Deer) Mountains. Note the junction with the Myittha River that leads west to Imphal is on the right.

On the west are the Chin Mountains. Even today, Kalewa continues to be a link between Burma and India.

Looking west to the Chin Mountains. Note the bridge in the background, crossing the Myittha River, to the road leading south to Monywa
Note the bridge in front of the Chin Mountains, crossing the Myittha River. It leads south to Monywa but upriver, the bridges have been destroyed, so road travel ceases.

The local guesthouses are filled with businessmen interested in gold mining and teak lumber, as well as geologists looking for gas and coal.

kaleguesthouse

I was the only tourist in town. Fortunately, I found a room.

guesthousetoilet

But I was not accustomed to squat toilets.

Hot water? Dream on.
Hot water shower? Dream on.

Having electricity only three hours a day, from six to nine in the evening, when phones and computers can be charged, was a bit inconvenient.

Lights out at 9 pm
Lights out at 9 pm.

Besides lumber and gem mining along the river, people made their living from betel nut chew.

A popular red 'chew' rolled in leaves, is lime paste, tobacco and betel nut.
Instead of pure tobacco, a popular red ‘chew’ of lime paste, tobacco, and betel nut is used by locals.

According to the seventy-one-year-old elder U Pho Htsin, the British came in 1885. Most of the original inhabitants were Chin and Naga head hunters from India.

Kalewa elder, U Pho Htsin
Kalewa elder, U Pho Htsin.

Now, 40% are Chin, 58% Burmese, and 2% are from India, with 98% Buddhist and the remaining population Hindu or Christian.

The monsoon, from June to August, is extreme. But during the dry months, there is a significant risk of fire.  In 1962 and 1980, fires from cooking stoves destroyed most of the village.  All documents were lost. Now, Kalewa has three fire trucks.

Japanese made fire trucks
Japanese-made fire trucks.

In addition to river travel, there is a road from Monywa that takes about ten hours to travel.

How does that engine handle the monsoon?
How does that engine handle the monsoon rains?

West of Kalewa, about 20 km, or a two-hour truck ride, is Kalaymo, with a population of 300,000.  On January 7, 2014, all of the elected officials from the Sagaing Division met in Kalaymo to listen to Aung San Suu Kyi from the National League for Democracy pitch her party’s presidential candidate.

Kalewa elected official on left and my guide, Mr. Saw, on right
Kalewa elected official on the left and my guide, Mr. Bo Saw, on right

Myanmar, or Burma, is a country with 135 tribes and nine common ethnic groups, one being Burmese. Before independence from Great Britain was finalized in 1948, Myanma was the written name and Bama the spoken language.  Not all citizens from the Republic of the Union of Myanmar are Burmese.  So the name of Myanmar is more inclusive than Burma, but old habits are hard to break. Many people still call Myanmar Burma.

Kalewa women

Kalewa women with paste to ward off the sun on their faces.

General Aung San 1915-1947
General Aung San 1915-1947

In 1947, Aung San, a thirty-two-year-old Burmese revolutionary nationalist and founder of the modern army, secured a commitment from the British to give his country, Burma, independence within one year. Aung San belonged to the Communist Party and supported the Japanese during WWII until March 1945, when he changed his alliance to the Allies due to the Japanese treatment of his people. He was assassinated within six months of securing his country’s independence from Great Britain, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong san sue chee.)

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi attended Oxford, married Michael Arris, a Brit, and had two children. In 1988, a year of great upheaval in Burma, she returned home to attend to her sick mother. She spoke out against the dictatorship and was put under house arrest, on and off, until 2010.  In 1991 she received the Nobel Peace Prize as a human rights activist.  Suu Kyi, who recently won political office, is actively pursuing the presidency. But there’s a law on the Myanmar books that says anyone running for president cannot be related to a foreigner, as she is—with a British husband, who died in 1999, and their two sons. The military is hesitant to endorse her, not wanting to upset the delicate relationship between their civilian-military government and democracy.  

When I travel, I foolishly ask about local politics. I was surprised to learn that although many of the men support Suu Kyi, they feel that at the age of 70, in 2015, she will be too old to be president. Perhaps because of the traditional role women play in Myanmar, I did not find any women who supported Suu Kyi.  Yet there is a resurgence of interest from democratic countries that want to invest in Myanmar and support Suu Kyi. But I was told that rather than do business with superpowers, like the US, Europe, or Japan, the Burmese prefer to do business with the bourgeoning powers of India and China, even if their neighbor’s interests do not always benefit them. But in remote regions, like Kalewa, change is slow.

Looking north, up river, on Chindwin from Kalewa
Looking north, up the river, on Chindwin from Kalewa

Suu Kyi is an inspiration to many, having dedicated her life to Burma, a country that has been under a brutal regime for many years. She is quoted as saying, “Fear is a habit—I am not afraid.” Having proven that, she has my vote.

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Monywa – Reclining Buddhas and Opium Smoking Nuns

January 2, 2014

Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
I gave up my window seat on the early morning bus ride from Bagan to Monywa to a young bald nun in a pink robe.  She and her sister were assigned seats in different rows.  She looked terrified. In this region, Buddhists and Muslims clash. As a consequence of the trade, I shared a bench with a young man who spit betel juice the entire five-hour jam-packed ride.  Lucky me!
No sun hats for these girls
No sun hat for these girls
In January 2014, a Buddhist mob killed dozens of Muslims in western Myanmar, close to where the bus was taking us.   Muslim and Buddhist conflicts have left 140,000 people homeless since 2012. There’s good reason to be cautious ‘in the wild west of Myanmar.’
One of two bus stops from Bagan to Monywa on a five-hour ride.

I was en route to the Chindwin River, where my 350-mile-plus boat trip would start in Monywa and end in Homalin.  Everyone thought I was crazy traveling upstream with unpredictable boat conditions, no airline reservations to get back to the main tourist route, and limited time. I was to meet my guide, Mr. Bo Saw, later that evening. Our boat didn’t leave until the wee hours of the morning.  So I hired a motorcycle and driver to visit the Buddhist caves.

Who needs a gas station?
Who needs a gas station? Just fill up the plastic bottles.
It took one hour to get to the caves with reclining Buddhas and was well worth the bumpy trip.

Monywa7 cave reclining buddha

Un-excavated ruins bring out the “why” in me.  Why reclining?

Monywa1 cave temples

Why in caves?

Monywa5 deteriorating cave temples

Try to imagine this site in the 11th century. I don’t think much would change other than the erosion.

Monywa4 reclining buddha in cave

Are these dogs guarding the entrance? If not, then what are they?

Monywa8 cave monkeys

A troop of monkeys calls these ruins home.

Monywa3 cave entrace to stupas

They’re deteriorating rapidly with the wet climate. What is being lost, and should anything be done to save them?

Monywa11 Myanmar child at temple
These active religious sites are still visited by locals daily. What will restoration do to their culture? More tourists?

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Bagan and Burmese Days – George Orwell

January 1, 2014

burmesedays

What an idyllic way to get to know a country. Reading Burmese Days not only allowed me a glimpse into the past but my Kindle didn’t work without internet or cloud reception. So I had nothing to read.

View from Shwe-San-daw Pagoda
View from Shwe-San-daw Pagoda

It’s hard to imagine what 13,000 temples, pagodas and  stupas would look like when only 2,000 remain today and they dominate the Bagan landscape. If you want a good view, go to the Shwe-San daw Pagoda. It’s probably best to go at sunrise when it is less crowded and the balloons (which start around 7:45) are floating over the plain. Also, the heat can be overwhelming in the afternoon.

Breakfast view from Thri Marlar Hotel roof top
Breakfast view from Thri Marlar Hotel roof top

There seems to be a perfect view from every spot – so expect to return home with more photos than you can ever share.

Bicycle paths take tourists beyond the main road.
Bicycle paths take tourists beyond the main road.

 Bicycling as far as the eye can reach is the way to see and get to know this site. But don’t underestimate what you’ve tackled. With a little over 40 square acres, make sure you carry plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and don’t leave home without a map. Bicycling at night with a flash light just isn’t practical, so beware of potholes in the road and schedule your trips to fit your bicycle skills.

Temple along main road.
Temple along main road.

Yes, there will be crowds, especially at the better preserved and more accessible temples along the road.

Caretakers basha with solar power adjacent to pagoda with less visitors.
Caretakers basha with solar power adjacent to pagoda with less visitors.

But explore off road pagodas, where you get to see what it must’ve been like in the 11th-13 century, when Bagan was in its prime and the temples towered over the bashas of the local villagers.

Twenty foot tall Buddha in Ananda Temple
Over 30 foot tall Kassapa Buddha in Ananda Temple

When I visited the site I couldn’t help but wonder who built these religious structures and why.  The thirty-foot tall, gold-leafed Buddhas are still imposing, even today.

Be sure to take off your shoes.
Be sure to take off your shoes.

What I loved about Myanmar is the mixture of tourists with locals, who go to the temples to pray.  Be sure to wear shoes you can slip on and off quickly.  You must go barefoot in all Myanmar temples.  After a full day of bicycle riding and padding barefoot on the cold temple floors, be ready for dirty feet and cracked heels.

Small stupa like in Behind the Forgotton Front.
Small stupa like in Behind the Forgotton Front.

Not all shrines are huge temples.  Small pagodas and stupas squeeze in between the large ones.  Throughout Myanmar, religious shrines dot the hillside.

bagan8

Old building and infrastructure crumbles.  The people who built them to ensure a better ‘after-life’ are gone.  So who’s left to fix them?

bagan restoring
Restoring interior of temple.

When you arrive in Bagan by air, they charge an archaeology fee.  Don’t lose the receipt if you want to climb the Shwe-San daw Pagoda.  And don’t begrudge the small payment needed to maintain the site.

bagan monk

It’s not as though these temples have regular parishioners to cover the cost. Even though you find monks everywhere and thus would expect them to actively provide the upkeep, like foreigners, most monks are tourists.  But they have the privilege of tolling the bells; for whom, why or at what time, I don’t know.

Irrawaddy River still serves brisk flow of travelers.
Irrawaddy River still serves brisk flow of travelers.

Whenever I visit an archaeological site, I wonder what it must’ve been like when it was flourishing.  Like many villages in Myanmar, Bagan had water access, and not just any river, but the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River – the historical thoroughfare from northern to southern Burma.  A few villagers remain in the area, mostly selling the beautiful lacquer ware typical of the area or books, like Burmese days, to remind tourists what once was.

We met while bicycling. She sold me Burmese Days by Orwell.
We met while bicycling. She sold me Burmese Days by Orwell.

 
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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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