“Mingalaba” I say and smile at the small child whose face is streaked with the traditional paste like face paint call Thanaka.
I’m rewarded with a genuine and happy grin—the kind that extends from depths of eyes to wiggle of toes. He’s thrilled to hear me say hello in his language.
I’m meandering with the Belmond group through a small, remote village in Myanmar, where foreigners are very rare. We’re as much of a novelty to this child as he is to me.
He lives in a small bamboo house with his family and probably grand parents. Meals are cooked over an open fire. There’s no running water or bathroom facilities. He probably will not receive more than five years of education. He will spend from one week to several months in a monastery.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been in the news of late because of the apparent loosening of the grip of the oppressive military dictatorship. The leadership of Aun Sun Suu Kye has generated lots of publicity. It’s an exciting time in this country. I felt really lucky to be able to experience it first hand as a tourist. “The Lady” as she is called there is generating a new optimism in one of the poorest countries in the world.
More and more people are going to Myanmar to see this exotic country for themselves. Actually almost 5 million in 2015. Many go to Yangon, the capital with his decaying buildings from the British era. Great Britain ruled Burma when it also controlled India, interested in acquiring teak for ship building.
The major site to see in Yangon is the huge Shwedagon Pagoda—oldest in Southeast Asia. It is gold and glorious and the center of civic and religious life in Yangon. But other visitors go to Bagan (I’ll blog about that in the future) and Mandalay, the former capital the country. It is the religious center of a very religious country.
We also found Inle Lake fascinating. I think it is a “must do” if you are going to this part of the world. I’m sorry we didn’t stay there longer.
We had an opportunity to take an eight day River Boat cruise (Belmond) from Yangon to Bagan, where for hour after hour we cruised up a river never seeing another tourist boat, resort, hotel, bill board or many signs of modern life. Instead we saw small villages, people plowing fields behind oxen, women washing clothes and their children in the water and many fishing boats. There were no docks to tie up to….instead our crew dug down and inserted stakes to hold us each night.
It was spectacular. I loved the morning sunrises with views like this.
Late afternoon I did tai chi on the deck, trying to master an ancient form of exercise, challenged both by the exercise but also trying to stay focused with the gorgeous and distracting views on either side of the boat.
I expressed awe continually over the pagodas—sometimes a dozen around a small village. I will write more about what they were and why so many in another post. It was fascinating to see the monks going from hut to hut to collect something to eat. And the nuns in their pure pink robes, gentle and sweet.
My memory is flooded with images of golden temples, the sweet Thanaka painted faces of women selling produce at the markets while tending the children and the fishermen on Inle Lake, balancing on one leg, paddling with the other.
It was Magical. Mystifying. Magnetic. Myanmar.