Sunday, March 25, 2012

Henna - Make Me Beautiful

Looking at the hand of a co-worker, I can guess with reasonable certainty that they attended a wedding function. Swirling paisley, floral, and curvilinear forms adorn the fingers, hands, and palm. Sometimes the design spreads past the wrist as well. Although henna can be used to decorate the hands at other functions (and even for fun), the wedding designs are particularly detailed - especially for that of the bride. In fact, the name of the bride is sometimes artfully hidden within the design.

A natural dye made from ground leaves of a small flowering shrub grown in hot climates. The color of henna ranges from orange to near black, depending on the region of origin. A type of "temporary tattoo, mehendi designs can last from a few days to up to a month. Although the use of henna can be found world-wide, it is particularly popular in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, North African countries, Egypt, and Bangladesh. India is the third country in which I've lived where henna was used as a beauty material. In Tunisia and India, it dyed aging hair a bright orange color or helped to hide grey. In India and Mali, women would gather together prior to an important function and have henna designs applied to their hands and feet. Already popular in ancient Egypt, the use of henna will continue to beautify the bodies of people, long after many modern treatments have faded away.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Fisherman Farewell

Determined to make the most of every last moment we had before we had to leave for the one-room airport at Ngapoli Beach, I darted back out to the shoreline. Sporting a Burmese hat, muscle shirt, and a stogie, this fisherman calmly cast his net out into the shallows. His throw was swift and precise, indicators of collective practice. I would have loved to have watched him and other laborers make their living along this beach, but it was time to go. Such tranquil images are how I will remember Myanmar and hope that even when it becomes a stronger player in the tourism scene, this remains.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tropical Drink on an Island

A boat took us through some choppy waters to a small island, where we enjoyed a tropical drink while looking out over the setting horizon. Back on the mainland, the sun had now dipped below the Bay of Bengal. The silhouetted boat contrasted sharply with the intensely warm hues of the sky and reflecting wet shoreline, showing off its glory. Alas, the moment quickly faded, ushering in our last night in this relatively unknown paradise. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Relaxing on Ngapoli Beach

A delayed flight and short ride later, we arrived at Ngapoli Beach. This beach area had been a favorite destination of a former colleague of ours, and now we were about to be captivated by its beauty. The sun was already setting, so I quickly brought out my camera and snapped a few photos, capturing the intensely warm colors through the palm fronds before the light faded. We had but one day to take in the quiet, clean beach and clear, warm waters. The pace here was decidedly slower and low-key. Seafood, tropical drinks, and coconut water was plentiful. Women balancing plates of fruit on their heads walked the shoreline, hoping to make a few sales from the limited number of beach-goers. Between some long beach walks, reading under the umbrella, tide-pool critter searching, and some swimming in the waves, time quickly went by. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Glimpses in a Floating Village

Moving onward, we entered the waters of the village. From open windows, boats, or steps leading down from their stilted wooden homes, children and mothers alike paused to wave to their floating visitors. Children ran from window to window to catch additional glimpses and wave excitedly a few more times. Women even paused from river laundry duties to participate in the greetings. Colorful clothing hung from clotheslines in front of most homes, a bumper crop due to the first clear skies in several days. A few men tended floating gardens; a few boys flew kites in the small patch of grass next to their house. It is likely that such scenes would have been more numerous had we experienced fair weather during our time at Inle Lake, but we would have to take these small moments as being sufficient.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inle Lake Fishermen

Saying goodbye to our cute cabin, we boarded the boat for one last time. Finally, the lake and distant shore were visible - no more rain and fog shrouding the view! With plenty of time before our flight, we convinced the boat driver to make a wide sweep around near the fishermen and then over to a village. The fishermen proudly displayed rowing skills with a foot and fishing using nets or large conical fish traps. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Up to our Ankles in Mud

Finally in the early hours of our last morning on Inle Lake, the rain ceased. Determined to meet some locals, we headed in the direction towards the nearest village. We stubbornly plodded through the gooey mud path next to the fields, trying not to lose our shoes or mess up our clothing too much. Past a tiny creek, we met a young boy playing outside his house, all too eager to show off with the family puppy in front of his captive foreign audience. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ikats and Lotus Stalks

After a lunch of Shan noodle soup and tea at a local café, we took the boat to a weaving workshop. While the wooden loom setup was similar to those I had seen elsewhere, a material used was unique. Here, delicate strands from inside the lotus stalk were carefully removed, spun, and woven. The workshop also included ikat style weaving, with only the weft fibers being tie-dyed in distinctive patterns. 

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Burma Cat Café, where we enjoyed the company of some of the most friendly (and beautiful) cats I have seen. The owner of the café has made it her mission to bring back the amicable breed to its native home in Myanmar/Burma. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Basics of Modern Society

This morning I read an article in The Hindu newspaper entitled "Half of India's homes have cellphones, but not toilets" and cut it out to comment about it. Upon returning home from school, I had to wait until the two hour daily power cut was lifted before I could begin blogging about the topic. Once the power went back on, I was able to use the water filter, make some chai on my gas stove, and heat up some dinner in my microwave oven. The power went off briefly again, then the internet was down for a few minutes. Again, the power went off, forcing me to write in the dark (using my wonderful MacBook Pro) and without AC to counteract the high humidity of Chennai.

I looked back at the Census 2011 statistics highlighted in the article, comparing Indian residents in rural and urban areas. While the typical Indian household is cross-generational, 37% live in one-room households. I have three bedrooms and live alone. Only 17% of rural residents (and 62% urban) have tap water from a filtered source. Nearly half of all Indian households lack a toilet; I have three. Unlike most rural residents, I can cook my food over gas - and not with firewood. Less than 1% of rural households have a computer with internet (8.3% for urban); I have a laptop, smartphone, and iPad. Contrast this with cell phone statistics; nearly 50% of rural and 64% of urban households possess a cell phone. Walking through slum areas, I can attest to this high number - in fact, some young men in these areas try to master texting with the phone in one hand and answer a call with the other. Less than five percent (and surprisingly under 10% in urban) own a car or other four-wheel vehicle. Urbanites (35%) utilize a scooter/motorcycle, while 46% of rural households use a bicycle.

The power has just come on again, in time for me to hit publish - once my wireless is up and running. I have no right to complain, for I have access to more than almost all those living in India and in many developing countries.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monks and Finger Puppets

Near the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda, we stopped for a few moments at a metal constructed monastery building housing young monks. Sporting knitted caps and sweaters underneath their robes, these youngsters emerged from their warm blankets to check out the visiting foreigners through the open window. They got a kick out of the tiny finger puppet one of my travel mates had brought along. A dominant boy quickly pushed to the front to try out the dwarf, giggling as he bent his finger. Regardless of location and occupation, kids love such simple toys.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda

With a tour of the village scrapped due to the weather, we headed towards the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda. According to a sign partway up the covered corridor, the pagoda dates back to the reign of King Thawka (273-232BC). Many of the 1,054 stupas dotting the grounds date back to the 14th-18th century. With bricks partially exposed and greenery taking hold on their sloped “chimneys,” the stupas had a decaying beauty to them. Some of the stupas, particularly those nearer to the pagoda, had been recently fixed up and given a gold paint job, but they looked out of place in what reminded me of a forlorn cemetery. Although I was taking a slight risk bringing out my SLR in the inclement weather, the beautiful sculptural creations of the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda beckoned to be photographed.


Shwedagon PagodaAdorning the deity with flowersStupa ReflectionsBuddha and ornate woodworkLotsa Pagodas and StupasMonk taking PHoto
Sitting in front of Golden BuddhasOrnamental goldworkMirror reflections columnDays of the WeekIMG_0444Shwedagon Pagoda 326 ft
Very Large BuddhaColored Glass MosaicBeautiful wookdwork and columnTop of PagodaMyanmar BoyFlower Seller at Pagoda
Buddhist TrinketsLamps ablazeGlowing lamps and templeShwedagon, nightGolden Pagoda agianst Dark Night SkyGlitzy Halo

Yangon, a set on Flickr.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nagging Rain of Inle Lake

Despite the nagging rain, we forged ahead the next morning, braving the cold and wet while traveling across the lake to reach a village. Due to the weather, the lake was devoid of the usual fishermen and gardeners who normally would be tending their floating gardens. We had to trust my friend who had visited here that the beautiful scene she described was a normal sight here. On a positive note, I like the atmospheric effect it created on some distant village homes. It might not have been the type of photography normally achieved on Inle Lake, but I would have to take it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jumping Cat Monastery

The 18th century monastery Ngaphechaung better known as “The Jumping Cat Monastery” was next on the agenda. Walking in the dimly lit room past the beautiful carved wooden altars with Buddhist statues on them, we had a discussion with a monk who was well-versed about places and culture of America. After buying some crude nativity sets in lacquer round boxes (a rather odd place to find Christian gifts, but we took advantage of the shopping opportunity), we watched the stars of the place - the cats - jumping through hoops of varying heights. The cats appeared quite experienced at doing the tricks but seemed more interested in getting treats at the end of their jumping.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Venerated and Forbidden

Our first site visited was actually the most disappointing place for me on the entire trip. Although not quite sure what we were going to see, we paid the photography fee and walked up the steps leading into a newer Buddhist structure. Men were crowding around and photographing the objects of interest, located in the center of the structure. A sign indicated that women were forbidden from going any further, so we had to wait until some men left before our womanly eyes could lay sight from a distance on the objects of veneration - five smaller Buddha statues. According to our guide, these statues have been laden with so much gold foil over the last few centuries, that their distinguishing features are no longer visible. Pointing to a golden boat with a chicken head in the front, she enthusiastically went on to say that a boating accident once caused the statues to sink to the bottom of the lake, but that one magically found its own way back to the temple, with seaweed still around its ear. Not all that impressed with the statues nor the story, the “golden blobs” became a part of our subsequent animated discussions. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

One-Room Airport, Inle Lake Market

Sadly, our time was over in Bagan and we were back in its tiny one-room airport. Flights were announced by a man holding a sign and shouting as he went through the crowd. There were no assigned seats on the plane - just choose your own. Just one flight later, we were at the He Ho airport, which had no luggage carousel at all. After an hour ride through winding mountainous roads in rather misty weather, we stopped at a local market located just before Inle Lake. Our narrow, motorized boat made its way to the hotel where we would be staying for the next two days, during which time the umbrella and blanket would become welcome items.