Just five years ago, every bit of expression in Myanmar (also called Burma) was filtered through a panel of stuffy censors. Every lyric, every pamphlet, even sports item and piece of pop star gossip — all of it was subject to state censorship.
Angsty punk songs? Banned. Models wearing pink wigs? Banned. Calls to oust the military government? Banned plus prison time, maybe torture.
In the United States, typing goofy messages into an anonymous messaging app might seem unremarkable.
MYANMAR, Thanlyin : This long-exposure photograph taken on April 23,
2013 on Earth Day shows Lyrids meteors shower passing near the Milky Way
in the clear night sky of Thanlyin, nearly 14miles away from Yangon.
AFP PHOTO / Ye Aung Thu
As you may know, I don’t really photograph anything but cityscape at dusk and occasional sunny beach photos, but I must admit that this narrow-mindedness is certainly costing me a lot of photo opportunities, especially in a place like Yangon where there are plenty of photo opportunities for street photography. Sometimes feel like going outside my comfort zone and trying something new, but I guess I won’t make good photos when having no real interest in the subjects, to be honest.
Follow Me for More Dusky Cityscape Photos from Southeast Asia and Beyond.
A rather nice little crystal of red corundum from the Mogok stone tract of Burma testifies to the geological forces accompanying its birth and subsequent life in the crust. The gems themselves were born in the fire and pressure of metamorphism during the Himalayan mountain building event, as marine limestones were baked and recrystallised into marbles. The aluminium liberated in the process mixed with oxygen to form the corundum since it doesn’t fit into the calcite crystals in the forming marble, also sucking into its crystal lattice the chromium that gives it its colour. The forces are still present and the mountains are tectonically active, and at some later point the crystal was snapped by shear forces, part of the response of crust when it forcible meets other crust.
Home to some of the largest remaining contiguous forests in Southeast Asia, as well as more than 1,700 species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, Myanmar is well-known as a biodiversity hotspot. In 2014 alone, 26 new species were found in Myanmar, including the peculiar Glyptothorax igniculus, a catfish that uses an unusual flame-shaped suction cup on its throat to attach itself to rocks.
Fifty years of relative political and economic isolation have yielded
slow economic growth and contributed to the conservation of many of
Myanmar’s native species. However, the dissolution of Myanmar’s military
junta in 2011 marked the beginning of a new age of increasing political
and economic liberalization and international engagement. Many experts
fear that possible rapid development fuelled by international
investment, improved infrastructure and expanded transport networks,
pose a grave risk to Myanmar’s biodiversity and forests…
When we landed in Began we could tell it was a different world even as we landed. We got to our hotel and checked in. That day we went to the local temple that we heard had traditional dancing. The Temple was huge and had some really neat aspects. As a legend goes the hole was made and filled with water so monks in an acient time could look up at the top of the stupa. The temple was so tall that their crowns would fall off if they were to look at the top. In the current era monks now come to the temple to take cell phone photos of the water puddle.
The next day we lined up E-Bikes, which are sort of like motor bikes with less umph. We got a map from our hotel and made a day plan using the travel guide we got from a friend (thanks Ben and Charlet (Sp?)). While riding to the first stupa we saw one on the side of the road and just decided to stop. The stupa had a man who showed us the way to the top levels though a dark and dusty staircase. We didn’t know that we would be able to climb them to the higher levels, so we were amazed at our first temple. From there on we rode and stopped at nearly every temple we saw. We went back to our hotel after checking out a lot of stupas.
After the water fight we went to explore a temple for the sunset. While trying to find the temple we met a very nice family. For many of the temples there’s a family that is charged with taking care of them, locking the gate, and making sure people are safe while exploring them. We ran into a nice woman named Thiri who, with her sisters, took care the them temple and worked to learn different languages so they can become tour guides. They were extremely nice and very knowledgeable. We asked if Thiri could show us around the next day, it was important for her to let us know that we could not hire here becuase she didn’t have a tour guide lisenese but she agreed to show us around.
The next morning Thiri was there, she was ready to go on her cousin’s motor bike and quickly showed us the way to the first temple for sunrise. It was a little scary ridding in the dark but it was great being out before it was too hot. After the sunrise we ventured to a few more temples, this time moving east from our hotel. We checked out some neat temples and ventually found our way to a small village, the one Thiri’s grandmother lived in. She showed us a normal house and some of the crafts the people made there to support their living. She also showed how a horse drawn press for peanuts worked to make peanut oil. Making our way back towards our hotel after the village she showed us a few more temples. Because we were unable to pay her directly for the services and because we wanted to learn more about her life and her culture we invited her out for lunch after our half day tour. We ordered several different dishes off of the Myanmar Menu. It included a chicken dish, a pork curry with pumpkins, and a half dozen side dishes. I think Thiri was a little intimidated and explained that for most of her meals she ate only rice. We found this interesting and as she ate we saw her get a small amount of a dish then procede to eat it with a ton of rice. We had three plates of rice and Thiri ended up eating two of them but probably less than 10% of the other dishes. We all left the resturant, gave her a tip for the day, and then said our goodbyes. If anyone needs a person to show them around (we can’t call her a “guide”) for the day I thought Thiri did a great job and was super nice. We gave her a tip, about the same as our hotel wanted us to pay a guide for a half day, and she showed us lots of neat places.
It was the last day of the waterfestival and it was hot. We took a quick break then sealed up our cell phones and money in plastic wallets and went back out to the water battle. We rode our bike thinking they would help us avoid the water but as we got on and started off, our hotel staff ran over and drenched us with buckets and a hose. Soaking wet, we took the short scotter ride into town, it was as crazy as always. We found a resturant that was playing loud music with people dancing in the front with buckets and hoses. They were throwing water on people, by the bucketful, as they drove past. The people on the hose would try to get some in the window if the person driving past left it down. People in the back of trucks loved it, the people who left their window down, where not so happy. The resturant always gave people a little snack as they drove past in a parade type fasion. Kim took some time to dance and throw the water while Ben sat back and had some of the local desserts and french fries. The people, like always, were very nice and were glad to have some westerns parting with them.
The next morning our flight left at 8:00 and we had check in at 7:00. We booked a taxi and left to go to one last sunset before leaving the temples. The first temple we went to was locked and the second had bats. We decided to use a flashlight and travel carefully into the temple, up the stairs and take some photos there. The bats all stayed away and we made it to the top for the sunrise safely. Our flight left on time, despite not being able to check in until 30 minutes after our designated time and we arrived for our last day in Mandalay.
We stayed at the same hotel, Hotel Sahara, which we really liked. We were glad to be in a nice hotel because Kim got sick for the last day. We took the day easy and by the end, she was feeling almost all better. We went to a resturant called the Green Elephant where Ben got a chicken curry and Kim got some chicken noodle soup. We took a local rickshaw home and got ready for our flight back to Bangkok and back to what we expected to be a crazy week at school.
We took a short flight to Inle Lake, about an hour, opposed to taking a bus which would have been about 12 hours. When we landed we were glad to see that the water celebrations were not only in Mandalay and Rangoon but everywhere. After a 45 minute taxi ride we reached the river. Our taxi dropped us off a tourist agency and we did some haggling to plan our next few days. After getting lightly splashed, avoiding as much of the water festivities while we had our bags as possible, we boarded a long skinny boat with a horrendously loud motor and started our lake journey. We dropped our things off at our floating hotel with fancy bungalow style rooms and hopped back on our boat.
While on our boat we were taken to a dock. We were told that there was an area up a path that had 2,500 stupas. These stupas were supposedly from the 3rd century and built by Indian Buddhist Monks. The path was not clearly marked from the river and we took a few wrong turns. Sometimes accidents can lead to an adventure. We were walking through a bamboo forest when we some some kids playing near a river. We avoided them, but soon noticed we were being followed. Still lost at this point, starting to get a little anxious. Back tracking we saw the children were still following us, and were getting closer. We continued walking and eventually the kids, about 4 of them, all under the age of 7, were close enough that we felt we should greet them. We greeted them and they said hello back. We then asked them how to get to the Chedi. They took us down a path we had already walked and backtracked. Eventually we got to a large mound of rocks. The children started climbing the rocks and encouraged us to do so. We reluctantly followed. After the rocks, there was a bamboo bridge that look very unsteady with a stream underneath it. With our cameras and other items, it was not the fall we worried as much about but the getting soaked part. The children all marched across the bridge no problem. Then Kim went. She went slowly, about half way the oldest of the children walked back across the bridge and took her hand to help her along. When Kim made it across, Ben started. Ben is a little bit larger than everyone else we had seen cross so he was a bit hesitant. One step at a time he made it across too. The children pointed up a hill and inferred that we should go that way. When we walked up the hill we discovered a compound of hundreds of Chedis jetting up from ground. It was really amazing. After looking at the Chedis we found our way back down to the river taking the appropriate route in less than 15 minutes.
The next morning came early as we wanted to see as many things as possible. We went to a market that either traveled around from day to day to different locations or only occurred once every five days or some combination of the two variations. We were told that we were fortunate to see it. It was great to see a local market filled with people eating all sorts of food, smoking hand rolled cigars, selling curry powders, and playing games similar to pool but with plastic pog like disks instead of balls. After the market we continued our tour to a scarf making company that made silk scarfs and scarves from lotus stems. Each of the lotus scarfs takes a worker 2 months just to produce the fabric needed for one scarf. We also went to family owned silver shop where they create fish out of silver. We went to a few other stops including a shop owned by local long neck people with the copper coils around their neck. After adventuring for five hours we were propped off at a nice place for lunch, well the food, service, and seating wasn’t that nice but it was called “Nice Restaurant” and ate a full meal. We spent the hottest part of the afternoon at our hotel and left early for Began the next morning.