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Trip reports - Local lives in Thanlyin, Yangon

Travel to experience local lives (September 2008)

We usually choose the places to go when we plan for a trip. The firsts that come into our minds are the popular places stuffed with beautiful things, amazing items, wonderful nature, once in a year festival or other events, historically or archaeologically welknown locations.

However when we relocate to a place, not for a holiday, but because of work or other reasons, we usually find beautiful and cool things that we happen to love in the new place even though the place might otherwise never qualify for a special holiday destination.

It sounds like if we can see it, any place has something to offer everyone. These photos were taken at very normal, easy to go and easy to miss places, not far away from Yangon. You will see a bit of how travellers can experience the local lives in a humble place. These places are to the south of Yangon and Bago rivers.

An old wooden house
An old house in Thanlyin

An old house in a large village in Thanlyin. The brick and concrete footing and foundation; wood walling, doors and tall windows are all apparently without a proper maintenance. However they still look like operational. When you are in front of the house with 3 dimensional views of the structure from virtually infinite directions and distances together with smell and touch of the surrounding and weather - it is cool - it makes you feel like you know where you are. You might think about the influence the carpenter and the first owner of the house would have at the time of construction. You might want to know what kind of wood have been used, from which region of the country, and the method of transportation available at that time. And if it was before or during the World War II? It might as well be a Government office in the past. The drinking water pot in front of the house must be a new addition or to replace an old one. That is a tradition of Myanmar people to offer water to the travellers. The single electric meter out of three entrances on the right gives you food for thought.

Such old buildings are not difficult to find in Myanmar especially outside of cities. They are related to recent history, the lives of people now and past, the generations of family and their relation with the neighbouring community. It is good if you have a local person going together to talk and exchange ideas.

An old wood and brick house
An old wood and brick house in Thanlyin

This one has basically the same door and window design except that columns are made of brick and cement. Both have corruguated sheets roofs. These might be the later replacement of old baked clay or wooden roofing. This second one is in better shape. It has its fence and gate and there is evidence that people still live.

These old buildings both large and small tell us something about the place; and when compared with the newer ones we can sense the development of the area. It is likely, if they belong to private owners, that the inhabitants are traditionally affluent families with diminishing wealth due to some reasons. The former generations might be merchants trading farm products from the surrounding paddy and other farms. Or they could be store owners as well selling such items as house-hold necessities, medicines, clothes to villagers.

A Tailor shop
A tailor shop in the neighbourhood

This tailor shop is located in equally crumbling, but not very old, wooden building. People here do not easily throw away their clothes because of a cut or a split. They send to a shop like this for repair. There are also no stores selling brand clothes ready made to size in factory, except those school uniforms sold in the market or at schools. So People sometimes come here to have their clothes made to size. The man operating the mechanical sewing machine might have been making clothes for many years. Then look at the wooden door plates leaning against the shop. How do they close and open the door? Why did the man select to work as a tailor instead of agriculture work? Don't be surprised if he used to be a goal keeper of the township representative football team many years ago.

A pagoda on an river island
A pagoda on an island in the middle of river (Kyauk Tan)

In Myanmar Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries are everywhere. They are especially found on top of hills, on the river bank, on an island, in a commanding location. This one was built on an island occupying the whole land that you wouldn't recognize the shape of the original island. Such is a special pagoda that local folks like to go on weekends and on full-moon days. People visit the pagoda by ferry boats. At the pagoda people pray and make offering at the Buddha images, and may see the fortune tellers there. Some people make donation to press gold plates on the images, and build extension shelters.. and the pagoda compound gets bigger and bigger.

On the day of pagoda festival (almost all famous pagodas has its own festival) there will be stage shows, bigger donations for the pagoda and the monks, shops from local and nearby towns, and much bigger crowds. These days are the happy times for every one. Teenage and twenty something girls and boys meet, friends meet, families get together, parents buy things kids have been asking for months.

Take a look at the boat foreground of the picture, which is not the pagoda ferry boat. See the mechanism the boat man operates to move the rudder. What the boat could be?

Shops, tri-cycle transporters
Shops, tri cycle transporters near the island pagoda in Kyauk Tan

A small market street in front of a pagoda compound. There are restaurants selling rice plates, fried noodle, tea, Burmese rice soup with fish, etc. Until the consumer packaged products came years ago the marketing was simple. You would find couple of pieces of wood, some nails and a hammer to construct a sign, paint and write the menu available. But now alongside the traditional marketing there are factory-made plastic advertisement, factory-made packaging with ready to eat convenient processed foods inside coming in great quantity. These products sell really well while people slowly become weaker bodies constructed of processed food and garbage mountains getting higher and smellier.

Three wheeler taxies with paddle power still transport people and merchandise. There is very thin automobile traffic. On weekends, Saturday and Sunday, you could see some cars arriving with visitors or tourists to the pagoda. Why the Buddhist culture is so important and so embedded in their life? Is is still true to the current young and new generation? Signs of diminishing influence on people by Buddhist culture is apparent, but the essence of the religion in people minds remains, or it might become stronger nowadays because we are seeing the truth of the Buddhist teaching in real life. Here with a knowledgable and open minded local person you can talk about Buddhism and Buddhist culture for as long as the time permits.

A Chtholic Church in a town
A Catholic Church in a village on Thanlyin - Kyauk Tan road

Like any other country in the world, Burma (Myanmar) is a mix of different cultures, races and tribes, and religions. Four dominent religions in the country are said to be Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Here is a Catholic Church in a small town in its usual architectural design you can see everywhere in the world. Compared to the Buddhist population the populations of other religions are small. However people do not care much about who is who. They care for good friendship, help in the time of need, and support to each other regardless of religion.

An entrance door to the Chtholic Church
An entrance door to the Catholic Church

We can study something about the Church architecture, building design, masonry and carpentry made in a Myanmar town. On the days like this it is quiet and you can spend time to take photos of the details of design, workmanship, materials used of each corner and arch work.

Windows and glasses of the Chtholic Church
Windows and glasses of the Catholic Church

Before you go inside there are windows, frames, glasses, columns to see from the outside. Inside, there are still more to see. In addition to the Christian related teaching and practice there are more things. You might meet someone and have a nice conversation on any subject.

A farm hut
A farm hut on Thanlyin - Kyauk Tan road

Looks like a business goes wrong in September - a month we usually see lush green paddy. It is 3 months after the cyclone that hit this area near the sea to the south of Yangon along with the towns in Ayeyarwaddy division killing many people and destroying a lot of properties and farms. The family is at the time being doing other businesses that come by such as giving a hand in transporting products for the shops. They do raising or taking care of other people cattle. Rice farming will also be done as it is the main trade. Far behind you can see the yellow structure of a Pagoda.

A cow girl
A girl herding buffalos

A daughter of the family herding buffalos on the road. She is wearing a Burmese traditional make-up on her face (tha-na-kha), a sarong as a skirt, and a boy's shirt on top of a girl's blouse. Her dark skin tells us about her life under the sun. She probably started helping her parents since a young age. I have seen children helping parents in the mountain farms, riverside farms, and many places in south Asia. Is it child labour, or is it by necessity or by life requirement? Views of a thing from different lives will be different. Different frames of reference naturally make different judgements on the same event. It is kind of relativity and we will continue to have distinct ways of seeing things. To make our travel worth while we should create understanding, should try to see things from other people's shoes; and to be able to see the different views we should communicate and it is good to have someone who understands both sides facilitating the understanding.

Look beyond in the photo and you will see the buses. It seems some development has arrived. It might be a new college or a school and a bus station.

A table and chairs in a restaurant
A table and chairs in a restaurant

Small wooden table and chairs in a food shop talk about the lives there too. Where everything is hard to get, expensive to buy, economy must be the first thing to think about. Still they are able to use real wood. Such restaurant usually sells tea and coffee, rice based main dishes, as well as light or refreshment meals. In the villages there maybe just one or no restaurant, but every town has restaurants and stores selling food. Rice is the staple food. They have some vegetable and lesser amount of fruits. Meat and eggs are not plenty. Myanmar people's intake of food value is much less than the amount people in the developed countries consume thus making them smaller. Not only food, Burmese consume less resources of the world per capita compared to the developed world. In other words, these people contribute only small amount to the destruction of the world and its resources.

A cart with bottled water
A cart with bottled water

Bottled water delivery by a push cart on a city street. In the past there was no bottled water. It was only about 15 years ago these water cleaning machines (purification filters) started being imported. The push cart is made of pieces of angle irons and a couple of round bar - left over from a construction site - in a small home base workshop with basic bending and electric welding facilities.

A river side walk
A river side walk (Nga Myo Yeik stream or Pazundaung creek)

It is time to move to a diferent place. This is a foot path made of sand bags in case there is flood from the river. Next few photos will show you the life and scenes you could experience from this short walk back yard of a village on the bank of a stream located within Yangon greater area.

The windows overlooking the river
The windows overlooking the stream

A view from a roof-top
A view from a roof-top

Chances are you might find an un-finished building, or a building under construction in a monastery. Monasteries are public places and thus you can enter if the gate is not closed. This and the next three photos are taken from a roof of a low rise extension building in a monastery. It is late evening; the sun is already setting behind the September sky filled with clouds. Below in front of you are the monastery structures. On the other bank are a complex of residential and industrial villages in a town lacking high rise buildings. The remaining coconut palm trees un-beaten by the cyclone 3 months ago sway in the wind.

A paddle boat in the river
A paddle boat in the river

Two people come back home in a paddle boat. Don't know where they have come back from.

Colours along an un-known stream
Colours of water during the sun down

Young monks or novices studying
Young monks or novices studying

Young monks studying Buddhist literature for the coming test. They have to learn in Pali language written in Myanmar letters. Pali may be written in any alphabet - Burmese or Thai or English. Even though they study Pali language, only few of them master Pali language for daily use apart from the Buddhist teaching. They have dictionary books: Pali-Myanmar-Pali or Myanmar-Pali-Myanmar.

If you happen to walk the street at night
If you happen to walk a street at night

There is a high probability that the electricity will be off, or only the street lights maybe on. You will see a single young girl or boy coming back home from work walking the narrow and long light-less street. It became normal since about 20 years ago for people to go and come depending on the working hours regardless of whether or not they have light. Indeed many villages in the country never have electricity. On the other story, some villages located near the power stations may enjoy 24 hours electricity. Almost all residential quarters in Yangon receive only half day electricity. Bagan is said to get full day electricity due to a power station not far away.

Offering Monks' alm in the rain
Offering monk's alm in September rain

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