Scenes from Myanmar

(click on any photo for a larger version) 

This trip took place in December, but I'm just getting around to posting the pictures. We only saw a small part of the country, but what we saw was different from any place I've been previously. Forthwith some of the highlights. 

The lady to the left is a typical figure. The traditional longyi still predominates. Not a few men weat something similar. 

Gemstones are a local product. I had it half in mind to buy a pair of cufflinks as a souvenir, but I never saw such. I'm not sure the concept of "cufflinks" even exists in Myanmar. For that matter, I never saw a necktie while in the country. I heartily approve.

December in Yangon is like June in Maryland. It was a delightful respite from winter back home; on the other hand I can't imagine what summer would be like.

We stayed in the Governor's Residence, Yangon, which was literally the residence of the colonial governor when Burma was a British colony. This is my new favorite hotel of any place in the world. 



The hotel is not large, but the service exceeds any place I have seen. If you asked where something was, they would not tell you but rather take you there. I believe the local wage level allows them to hire ample staff to attend to the guests' every need. Each evening around 8:00 there was a knock on the door and a concerned pair of employees wanting to know if we needed anything done, or maybe some cookies. And at various points we found employees standing ready in the corridors, just in case we happened to need something as we were walking by. 


Pool at the Governor's Residence, which by design resembles something of a pond.


There is no "lobby" as such, but rather this little space, which is open to the outdoors. When you arrive you are invited to sit and have some tea. You are asked to provide your passports, and then a few minutes later they bring a form for you to sign and then escort you to your room.


Breakfast every morning was on this veranda. For me it was idyllic, but, again, I don't know how it could be with the heat and mosquitos of summer.

Another story which illustrates the attitude. Our last day in Yangon we were scheduled to leave the for the airport at 6:00 in the evening. We of course checked out of our room in the morning, before going out for the day. We came back to the hotel with a couple of hours to spare. The hotel provided a free room for us to relax in, inviting us even to shower and order room service.


This the "Elephant Coach" (no actual elephant included). This goes again to indicate the level of service in the country. For the city tour that I had requested, we were provided with this refurbished bus which could easily have held over a dozen passengers, for just the two of us. The bus came with a staff of three--a well-educated guide, a driver, and a "flight attendant" who made sure we were well-provided with juice and cold towels.


The Elephant Coach was appointed with wood furnishings, including this hand-carved air vent.


Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the city, a large gold-cased stupa atop a hill. When Southeast Asians say "pagoda" it seems they refer to an entire temple complex rather than just a single structure. The impressive stupa is surrounded by an equally impressive complex, It took us over an hour to make a leisurely circuit.



Kids visiting the pagoda. You see some wearing thanaka, a sort of sunscreen/cosmetic made from paste of a fragrant wood.


The actual stupa.

And now, change of locale. We took a flight for an overnight trip to Bagan, a small town famous for its literally hundreds of antique temples. I have a theory, BTW, that airline service in any randomly-chosen foreign country will be superior to that in the U.S. Myanmar did not upset the pattern.


The Bagan Lodge is very nice, although it can't compete with the Governor's Residence in my heart. Bagan has quite an arid landscape--somewhat scattered trees and scrub, but no grass to speak of. I had the feeling that I might be in someplace like Arizona.



This interesting little fixture in the lobby of the Bagan lodge (also open to the outdoors)--I christened the Three Eternal Urinators.


Instant noodles in the Bagan market. I don't know whether our instant noodles taste better, but they surely aren't as much fun.


Custom is to remove all footgear when entering a temple. This differs from the Japanese custom, which is only a practical measure to keep floors clean. In Myanmar the feet must be totally bare, and as often as not you will be walking outdoors anyway.


Just chillin' at the temple...


One of Bagan's many temples. This picture shows a detail which I also found interesting--note the panel of LEDs in the building entrance. I did not see many of these but I suspect budget is the limiting factor. I have not encountered such a mixture of the old and the new anywhere else--imagine if a Gothic cathedral equipped Jesus with an electric halo.



In Bagan, by the way, we were forced to rough it with a staff of only two to look after our every need. In fact our Bagan guide was an inspiring young local woman, always knowledgeable and considerate. Although her financial level was on a totally different scale from here in the USA, she seemed to live without the anxiety for the future that many people here experience. 


A devout cat.


The largest of Bagan's temples.


A rural village. The local economy is tightly interconnected: cotton is grown, spun, and woven into cloth; the unused parts of the cotton are fed to cattle, etc. Electricity was brought in just a couple of years ago. But they have found a new source of income in tourists. Our guide here was yet another  impressive young woman: speaking English, Japanese, and excellent self-taught French.



On the way out of the country, this impressed me. Note how the airport seats are not designed to stop you from taking a nap--and I saw several people taking advantage. And even more--note the generous amount of space in the background. If only I had had my roller skates...


And finally: preparations for a New Years Eve party as we were leaving town...

English/Thai Pun Sighting



Thought this was cute... spotted on a bag of potato chips. This is a variation on the Lays potato-chip logo:

This version is modified for Thailand. At a glance it appears to say something like "Lay." But if you ignore the big "L" the other two letters are the Thai symbols:

ลย

These are Thai letters corresponding to L-Y. So the Thai version of the brand name is hidden inside the English.



The Dirty Secret your Parents Never Told You about Columbus

There are people are see what is in front of their eyes, who learn what is told to them. And then there are exceptional individuals with special powers of insight, who see patterns and connections that others overlook.

I am one of those exceptional individuals.

Consider these well-known facts:

1. Horses were introduced to the Americas soon after Columbus's 1492 voyage (in fact by Columbus in 1493).

2. Crossing the Atlantic by ship in the era of Columbus took roughly a month or more.

3. Ships of the era were small by today's standards, with few amenities. Most of the crew were expected to sleep wherever they could find space. The Captain's own stateroom was not much bigger than an elevator.

Where did the horses ride on the ship? Clearly they must have been confined to a small space during the long weeks of the voyage.

And now we come to the crucial insight, whereby events of centuries ago suddenly shed light on the human condition today:

When your parents told you there was not enough space in the family room to keep a pony, clearly they were lying.

The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing



Interesting article at the Atlantic on the creation of a new alphabet for the Fulani language.

Marred by a slight instance of cultural chauvinism: I snorted my milk at the following sentence: "But unlike Arabic, whose short vowels are written as diacritical marks above and below letters, the script assigned its five vowels proper letters." Arabic vowels may be different from Latin vowels; that hardly makes them "improper."

I also learned a useful marketing idea for those creating a new alphabet: Choose a catchy word with no repeating letters; make those letters the first of your alphabet; then take that same word to be the name of your alphabet (just as "alphabet"="Alpha"+"Beta", the first two letters of the Greek alphabet). Such is the case with "Adlam", the new alphabet described here.