Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burma 2012: Yangon, Bagan and Inle

Bagan Plains, Burma. 

On the viewing deck at the foot of the 11th-century built Htilominlo Temple, I asked a young Burmese lady if she’s ever traveled to Yangon to see the Shwedagon Pagoda. She smiled, and just as I expected, she said no, and added that her family is very poor and don't have the money to travel to the holiest site in all of Burma. Then she continued with words that got stuck in my head for the rest of my stay - “I can not to travel the world, but I have the world by just stay here.” I smiled back at her, didn’t say a word. I got her point. Because that pretty much sums up the vibe I felt when I chatted with cab drivers we hired in Yangon. Or the group of elderly vendors who happily handed me back my 100 US dollar bill, several hours after I mistakenly used it to pay for 10 dollars’ worth of souvenirs. Or the guide who we contracted to show us around Inle Lake, and the monk who showed us how the diamond sitting atop the mighty Shwedagon sparkles in different hues as one views it from 100 meters below. They all mentioned to me in one way or another that they have very little. But the irony is that each one of them didn't invite pity, rather, they made me feel they are doing just fine. Contentment, I guess that’s the perfect word to describe it. You feel it in a local eatery in 80’s-trapped Yangon, you see it in the faces of monks in dry and dusty Bagan, and you sense it in the silent dance of the Inthas as they gather lake grass beneath the calm waters of Inle Lake.

Here is a people who’ve been under a brutal military junta for half a century, a country under harsh economic embargoes for years, a race under poverty even as I write this. Yet I saw something on the contrary to what I expected to see. I was looking for a bunch of military thugs roaming the streets of Yangon, guns in tow, ready to harass people. There wasn't a single one. Rather I saw monks with pots on hand and people handing them cooked rice and lotus flowers. I was expecting horrendous traffic choking narrow alleys, and garbage strewn uncollected on every corner. But I saw wide open, clean streets and drivers following traffic lights. Heck, I was even expecting those souvenir vendors would deny I even bought stuff from any of them, but then they offered me a chair, assured me till I calmed down, took out a fan to relieve me of the heat, and even painted my face with “thanaka” while we waited for the lady to whom I handed my money. The lady was having lunch, and she cut that short, asked her husband to get their motorcycle roaring back to the shops so I wouldn't have to wait too long. And I saw people of all ages in the countless temples we visited solemnly praying and offering to God. There is a lesson to be learned in having so very little, and yet being able to get up each morning to offer thanks to a god by which one’s faith resides.

As Burma continues to open up to the world, and as tourists arrive by the busloads, I wonder if the words spoken by that young lady I talked to will soon spawn a whole different meaning. Will too much money flowing in from the world suddenly turn Burmese contentment into a mad rush for cash, such that her world she so ideally described becomes a world just like everywhere else – materialistic, cut-throat, ungrateful, uncontent. Unfortunately, there are signs pointing in that direction. Temples are becoming tourist traps, market people jacking up prices several hundred percent, stall owners telling an uninitiated tourist that the “longyi” he chose was for a guy, only to realize later, after getting laughed at by the entire market place, that he was lied to and that the design was actually for a lady. That tourist by the way, was me.

Only six days in Burma, but so many stories to tell. And I think I have taken a few good photographs from this trip too. I’m sharing some of them here (complete set is on my Facebook account), in the hope that they speak to you and give you as much pleasure as I had while I was in the Golden Land. Enjoy.

I have not posted anything for a while. Hopefully, this will kickstart another round of posts. I have so much to write about, and I don't even know where to begin! 

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

RIP Macy. Hello Gray!

Macy, my dear black Macbook served me well. She died a couple of weeks ago. Heat stroke I believe. She was too old and I must've worked her to the point of fatigue. The last thing I remember was that she refused to respond after I opened up another instance of YouTube (yes it's just that, not even the orgasm-inducing sites). She went on shock. Coma. Cardiac arrest. She never recovered after that.

More than any other reason, my heart sank after realizing I failed to back up my music and images...the two best things Macy was able to hold for me inside her generous bosom. I mourned her passing alright, but I almost choked on my chow mein realizing that her overused brain went completely kapoof on me as well.

She was five years old (can anybody tell me how old that is in the iWorld?). Aside from a severe spell of laziness, her getting sick and her eventual death were the main reason why I held off from writing anything on here. You see it's not like I write as easily and effortlessly like some bloggers I read, so Macy's tantrums and stalling tactics were enough reason to get distracted and for procrastination to kick in.

And after several failed attempt of reviving her, I decided, well, I will let her rest in peace.
So goodbye my dear dark lady. Thanks for the many years you have spent with me.

Macy, my dear 5-year old Macbook black.

But then of course, I now say hello to my one week old Gray! It's got big shoes to fill this one, and I hope he will serve me as long as Macy did when she was still working (considering the dent he made on my savings account, he better last at least twice as long with me). So far I am impressed. He works fast, he looks good. I am able to blog again and for that I am thrilled!

Gray, my 1-week old Macbook Pro.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011


It was awe inspiring in so many levels.

And I had goosebumps numerous times as I slowly strolled down the vast galleries showcasing some of the finest works of art from the masters I used to only read in books - Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Seurat, Sisley, Manet, Pissarro, Cabanel, Fantin-Latour, Seguin and many many more. On every turn, in every gallery, I couldn't count the number of times I blurted out "oh my god!".

But I almost burst into tears when I saw this (I am not kidding!), the showpiece of the very last gallery of the exhibition called Dreams and Reality, at the National Museum of Singapore. More than a hundred pieces on loan from the Musee D'Orsay Paris, but being in the presence of this piece is for me one of the highlights of my life. 

Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone, circa 1888. It's the real thing, hanging right there for everyone to admire. And I am one lucky chap to have seen and experienced it up close. 

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rome on Foot: Part II

I arrived in Rome and immediately headed out to see what the guidebooks mentioned were points of interests. But my goodness, there were just so many!

I started with the churches and the palazzos, and in Rome you see them in every corner.

I got lost a few times, and I remember desperately trying to fight off the cold especially after mid day. That's when the wind started getting nasty. I felt my ears and cheeks were numb a few times, and my lips were dry they felt like leather more than skin.

But I didn't want to stop, I thought I was wasting my time resting for more than five minutes.

With each few hundred meters I saw more. I remember saying "oh my god!" a number of times. I was just in awe. But how can one put into words just the experience of being there? More so while standing right next to these?

As customary for any tourist traveling to Rome, I threw several coins at the legendary fountains of Trevi and wished that someday I'll get the chance to see its beauty again.

I went on discovering the ancient ruins at the Palatino/Capitolino Hills. I intentionally put this spot towards the end of my day because I figured the setting sun would create the perfect lighting to capture great images. I think I managed to do just that.

I just had to see the Pantheon before calling it a day. Dinner was a big and comforting slice of warm pizza at the Piazza Navona.

My day ended with me taking a cab back to my hotel. It was getting way too cold to walk back anyway. Rome also gets a little bit scary at night, so my paranoia got the better of me. While the cab was navigating a narrow alley, I noticed signs that Christmas was just around the corner. Christmas lights in Rome were nothing compared to what Ayala Avenue has during Christmas season, but who needs lighting when the city itself is what people came there to see? I had a cappucino at a bar before settling back at my hotel.

The following day I made my way up to Vatican City, which I think was the highlight of this entire trip.

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