M2MvM – the last of Burma … Rangoon (now Yangon)

Whoever said all good things must come to an end is probably correct, but I wish right now he wasn’t. I don’t want to leave Burma, and hope to return to this wonderful country.

From Heho and the fabulous Inle Lake, we fly to Yangon, founded in 1755, renamed Rangoon when the British annexed the country in 1885. Tree lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre. A wealth of Victorian architecture, including the famous Strand Hotel, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles.

And traffic.20160316_103728_HDR

We visit the must-see Shwedagon Pagoda 2,500 years old, on Singuttara Hill, the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and one of the wonders of the religious world. Complex geometry and many structures, up to 110m high, the lower stupa claims 8,688 solid gold bars, with another 13,153 in the upper part. The tip of the stupa claims 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, many sapphires and other gems, 1,065 golden bells and at the very top a single 76 carat diamond. It’s like Burma kept the best pagoda for the last.  For us, at any rate.

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Looks like a job for Ocean’s 11!

 

 

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We have lunch on Inya Lake, within 200 metres of Aug San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest.

All too soon, it’s goodbye to fabulous Burma/Myanmar as we fly to Singapore and then home to our own Mandalay.

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John Bell Books

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M2MvM – Burma even more beautiful! Inle Lake

20160314_075737_HDRA short flight from Bagan puts us into Heho and we transfer to the fabulous Aureum Palace Hotel. This is a stand-out accommodation resort on the shore of Lake Inle. In the restaurant one young waiter learned that my name is John, and he became so excited, calling me “Johnny” because he was Johnny, too. He epitomized the friendliness of the people of Burma. The Aureum Palace would be my favourite Burma resort; if you go to Myanmar, you must stay there.

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We spend a couple of days on the huge lake (116 km2) in high speed long-tails, visiting villages around the shore, marvelling at the floating gardens. These gardens are staked to the lake bottom, replenished continually by boat loads of vegetable matter hauled on those small boats then stacked on top of the garden beds when the previous crop is harvested. Inle provides the bulk of Burma’s tomatoes and many vegetable crops. Reminiscent of the floating island dwellers on Lake Titicaca.

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Some 70,000 people live in these water villages. One small group still follow the ancient practice of rings (actually a long spiral) around the neck and legs of the women. We’re told that it’s not a beauty thing. It’s actually intended to make the women seem ugly to invading marauders. The practice h20160314_103943_HDRas nearly died out. Fascinating.

The fishermen on their long-tail canoes use “leg paddling” to manoeuvre their canoes. The long paddle is held against the body, one leg wrapped around it propels the boat, leaving both arms free to handle their conical fish traps and other gear. Against the setting sun, they look like so many ballet dancers performing an elegant and ancient ritual. I hope this fishing system never dies out.

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The lake is surprisingly shallow. Much of it is about 2m deep in the dry season, and crystal clear. Dense growth on the lake floor, in places reaching to the surface, provides a home for a large fish population, predominantly a species of carp. Boats zip around on it all day dragging rooster tails, people travelling, harvesting lake weed, fishing – a multitude of pursuits all based on this massive water resource.

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Villages around the lake provide homes for craftsmen of all types. We watch silk weaving on handlooms, visit the ringed neck women, have lunch in a restaurant on stilts, see beaten silver ornaments. Surprise, surprise, we acquire a couple of paintings. They’re now on our kitchen wall, a constant reminder of a wonderful month in our lives.

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At the end of another wonderful day we return to our rooms – yes, plural; our unit is probably as large as our own house – hoping that somehow we could stay here for a much longer. But as the man said, tempus fugit, and so must we, tomorrow, to Yangon our departure city.

Book, you say? What book? It’ll have to wait.

John Bell Books

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M2MvM – Beautiful Burma! Bagan

WOW! 

How many times am I going to say that?           WOW!

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Bagan, on the banks of the majestic Irrawaddy, dates back to 849 A.D. The former capital of the first Burma empire, embracing some 42 km2. There are literally thousands – someone said 4,000 – of ancient pagodas, stupas, shrines, ordination halls and monuments.

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

More gold leaf than I could imagine. Is it real? We’re assured that it is. I wonder how it survived the years of Japanese invasion, then political instability and struggles.

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I manage to lose another pair of thongs at the Ananda Temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of Mon architecture, with four standing Buddhas. Fabulous. It deserves another “wow” but I can’t keep saying that.

With my brand new longyi  (Burma laplap) – I think mine was designed to fit a Sumo wrestler – wrapped over a pair of shorts, and bare feet, the locals have reason to stare in bemusement. No pics of me so rigged will be permitted in this blog!

I can’t help but ponder how it is that Australians dress to local custom when travelling, yet some immigrants to Australia refuse to do so in our country. Maybe our politicians need to embrace Swiss immigration legislation, where one of the precursors to citizenship is proof of assimilation into Swiss culture. In all its forms. No assimilation, no citizenship. Simple. Sounds reasonable to me.

By late afternoon we’re pretty much pagoda’d out. At one collection of temple buildings about 2000 years old, and now crumbling, in disrepair, being overtaking by trees and vines, we meet a bunch of young girls selling beautifully colored material, and Carol can’t resist.

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Up early next morning for one of the trip highlights, a dawn flight with Oriental Ballooning Myanmar. Stunning. Several companies operating multiple balloons create a visual feast drifting silently above several thousand pagodas. Breathtaking.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

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I’ve about given up on progressing my next book while in Burma. Too much to see and do, feel and experience. Hopefully all of this wonder will recharge my author batteries for when we get back to ‘our’ Mandalay.

John Bell Books

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M2MvM – Border Crossing … China/Burma

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Dali lies on the fabled ‘Old Burma Road’ (Chinese: 滇缅公路)  (South Silk Road) and we drive along this ancient route, crossing the Mekong headwaters.

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It may be an ancient route,but it’s now a very modern superhighway. Four and five lanes each way, 110 to 140 kmh. What an eye opener … And they claim, with considerable pride, that China now has more first class highway kilometres than the USA .

Straight through or over … Chinese road builders motto

Built in 9 months, this superhighway runs 1154 kms from Kunming to Lashio in Burma. 200,000 men employed, working 24/7. Very hard not to contrast that with roadworks here in Australia that take months and months and months for a few hundred metres.

We drive all day to Tengchong through and over valleys farmed in every conceivable corner. Wind turbines dot the ridge lines. Power lines everywhere. Even secondary roads look good – concrete or wide bitumen. All so impressive, clean and tidy.

Tengchong, like many places, looks like it’s been built in the last six months. High rise towers in groups of 6 to 30 dot the landscape. Cranes work everywhere. A lot of unoccupied new buildings.

20160302_092304We have a look at the Rehai Hotsprings Park, where despite the wonderful signs, I manage to get a bit lost in the mist. The water is hot enough to boil eggs. Eggs are for sale by entrepreneurs taking advantage of the mist. The bloke with these eggs scarpered, maybe he thought we’d report him for selling eggs. Signs tell you not to boil your egg! Carol contemplated Eggs Benedict, but obeyed the sign.       20160302_100126

Near Tengchong we see Heshan, a walled settlement with 1,000 Qing style houses, connected by cobbled streets and courtyards. And its library holds 70,000 books…

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Colour, movement and fresh food.

Tengchong to Ruilli, the ‘Oriental Jewellery City’ on the China/Burma border. A furiously busy city, new buildings everywhere, dust and construction. We see Chinese, Burmese, Thais, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Indians, Pakistanis – a melting pot of cultures. Nothing here for us, no time for jewellery shopping, Ruilli is a border town.

Clocks now run on Burmese time … which is apparently a much, much slower time.

Nearly four hours to get through the border. Interminable forms, paperwork, all done by hand. In quadruplicate. People of all nationalities and dress codes trying to bully their way past the border officials. More like ‘bored officials.’ Like, who cares about time?

And at last – beautiful, mystical, magical Myanmar.  Will always be Burma to me.

Old Burma Road (6)

Maybe I should get to work – still haven’t written any words on the next book. How can I, when this is outside, calling.  There’s always tomorrow …. isn’t there?

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M2MvM – Me and Bosom Friend!

20160228_164920_HDRThe ancient town of Dali is home to the friendly Bai minority people.

How about the Temple of the Three Pagodas, built over a thousand years ago? Yep, one of ’em leans… earthquake. At that age a bit of a lean is acceptable.                    20160228_170550

Why were they built, these ancient Chinese Buddhist beauties? To deter dragons! What else? Before humans, the story goes, the area was inhabited by dragons that brought down all sorts of problems upon humans when they arrived. But it seems that dragons revere pagodas so over 1100 years ago the cunning humans built the three beautiful pagodas to keep the dragons happy. (?)

The mountainsides behind the town are covered with gravestones, really tombs, all angled into the ground and all pointing east. Placement seems random.

After a visit to an ancient ethnic village, Xishou, and a stroll through the market streets, it’s time for some maritime adventure.

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We head for Jinsao Island and its small fishing village.

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Some festive day when we arrived. Firecrackers of all sizes create a din around the local markets. Like Guy Fawkes Day on steroids. Deafening. So much excitement, the locals barely noticed us.

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By the way, to name it Ear Lake, someone must have climbed to the very top of the highest mountain to get a view of it, because it’s so big. The name seems mundane, un-Chinese, until I hear it’s in the shape of Buddha’s ear. Should’ve known!

Weather still high country stuff. Beautiful. As is the whole south western part of China. Our fourth visit to this amazing country, and this has to be the best part we’ve seen.

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And the wonderful signs continue! But I didn’t get to meet the Bosom Friend…

I’ll have to get into my next book. Dragging the chain. Maybe tomorrow… I’ll use this blogging as an excuse. Until I think of another one.

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M2MvM – Burma!

Finally we’re through the border.  Heading for Hsipaw.

A different world.  Gone is the rush and development and go-go-go of China.

We climb slowly through the mountains of remote Burma.  Few foreigners come here. This area was closed to westerners until 2015.

20160305_115409 (599 x 337)royal hotel sigWhat a difference a border makes! The “highway” is now more like a 1950’s Australian rural road, although much work in underway – we’re told that ‘the Chinese’ are spending a lot of money to upgrade the road to highway standard.  All part of China’s desire for access to the Indian Ocean without having to go through the narrow straits of S.E. Asia.  Already they’ve built pipelines and road and a port in Burma.  I get the feeling China is quietly absorbing this country.  The road is choked by semitrailers and trucks taking produce to China, bringing goods from China.   20160305_172724
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We pass Kyuthkhine, Hseinni and Lashio.  Late afternoon sees us in Hsipaw on the Dokhtawady River, a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy.

The country of names.  Names that evoke feelings of a time long gone. Romance of the East – Irrawaddy, Mekong, Burma Road, Rangoon … and Mandalay.

Interestingly, we hear ‘Burma’ far more often than ‘Myanmar’.  Good – I like the old name.

20160305_170913.jpgAung Sun Suu Kyi is universally revered.  When I ask how the military holds so much power in the new parliament, I learn that there are at least three warlords in N.W. Burma, each with their own army.  One of those armies has more firepower than the Burmese army.  The military ‘deals’ with these warlords.  Not sure just what sort of deals.  The military dealt themselves into parliament on this basis, the ability to deal with what could perhaps be a problem for the government.

Hsipaw (called Tee-Bor locally) is a former Shan royal city.  The Shan Royal Palace was home to the Sky Prince until the military takeover in 1962.  Few foreigners come here, so the area remains authentic Burma.  Laid back atmosphere, charming locals.  Much of Asia has lost this, so go to northern Burma before it changes.

We get to a sign “Riverside Hsipaw Resort.”  Access is by a broken, dirt track, through run-down areas, enough to make us wonder what this ‘resort’ will be like.

Not a worry. To awake alongside the Irrawaddy is manna for the soul, especially in the fabulous Riverside Hsipaw Resort.

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Maybe here the Muse will find me, and I will get further along with Book 4 in my Williams Series.

Or maybe not…

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M2MvM – China’s One Child Policy

Met an impressive Chinese bloke, mid-30’s probably. So proud of his country. If he’s representative of the new China, then hang on world for the China Century.

He told us that the 35 year-long one child policy is no longer in force. But the hangover continues.

imagesHis wife was the second daughter of an ordinary Chinese family. As such, she was illegal.   Her parents were fined much more than they could afford for having more than one child and took decades to pay it off. They had to get their daughter away from easy reach of authority, so they moved to Inner Mongolia.

Such children could not get passports, I.D. cards, any sort of official recognition that they existed. Like the black economy, they were called “black” people.

The young man’s marriage to his “black” wife could not be officially recorded. Their children could not be officially citizens.

There were ways.  Many years and a lot of money, years of petitioning authorities, while the wheel was slowly turning, official attitudes softening. The repeal of that policy enabled our friend to “legalize” his wife’s very existence, their marriage, their children. They now live in Beijing. With passports, ID cards.

He spoke with an openness on matters political that surprised me. His love for and his pride in Mother China so evident. China’s future rests in the hands of his generation, and I hope there are many like him.

Very impressive.

A perfect template for a character in a novel. I’ll work on it.

John Bell Books

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