The ladies near the noodle stand today kept giggling at us as we ate. Sara and I kept wondering if we were doing something wrong, but smiled back and felt self-conscious.
Soda? 800 kyat. Beer? 600 kyat, which is about $0.60. The priorities in Myanmar are clear.
Today was surprisingly cooler than we expected, albeit humid. We left the hotel at 6:30 to see the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, one of the holiest spots for Buddhists in Burma that is said to house some of Buddha’s hair in its magnificent golden stupa. On the way, we passed a gorgeous Catholic church, a Hindu temple, and a mosque. Yesterday, I saw a sign for Jehovah’s Witness. I’m not sure why the religious diversity here surprises me, but it does. In Indonesia, for example, there are only five religions recognized by the government.
All of the chairs and tables at the food stands are kid-sized. It’s funny to watch big guys with tattoos and earrings crouch in these tiny chairs to sip their tea.
The pagoda at night is also stunning — bright gold against black sky. There was also a bajillion cute babies crawling around.
There are many Indians in Burma, and they wear the same longyi and cosmetics as other ethnic groups. I wonder how many of them are Indian-Burmese and how many might be more recent immigrants. Did they keep their ancestors’ language or do they just speak Burmese? Do they view themselves as Indians or Burmese first, the way I identify as an American before I identify as Indian? So many questions. I think I need to find some more books on the Indian diaspora in Burma when I get back.
Tomorrow afternoon we leave to Bagan, which is known for its hot weather and many temples. There are so many pictures I wish I could share, but it appears I’ll have to save it for after I get back to the States.
A compilation of ideas based on what I brought and other Fulbrighters brought: Chocolates, stickers, American-themed pencils, U.S. flag pins, coins (I discovered some Indonesians love coins when I left), a few college t-shirts for more “important” people, baseball hats, U.S. made soap, stuff from your state!
The possibilities are seriously endless. I brought a combination of some bigger items and lots of little things. I also didn’t give everything away as soon as I arrived — I saved some for later in the year, particularly right before I left.
Hope this helps! I’d be more than happy to answer some more questions either over Ask or send me your email!
I’m not sure what I expected Yangon to look like when I landed, but I did find myself surprised with what I saw. “MASTERCARD ACCEPTED HERE!” yelled one sign outside the airport. “PEPSI, SO REFRESHING!” screamed another. The airport, of course, is somewhat close to the ritzy part of town. It was amazing to see these gigantic mansions peeking out from behind walls. I felt like I was driving through a tropical version of West Bloomfield, Michigan. Further away from the big houses, it looks more like an Indian city, with curlicued bars on the windows. I guess I’ll have more of an idea about what things look like once we start exploring tomorrow.
Burmese sounds like the strange child of Bengali and Chinese. My ears are unsuccessfully trying to understand the language.
Teenage boys wear longyis with flat-brim hats. I saw a teenage girl wearing a fitted skirt in traditional print, but with a cut-off jean jacket. Youth pushing the edges of their fashion.
Lots of young men smoking. A sixteen-year-old full of confidence was puffing at a cigarette as he helped push a broken taxi up a hill
Burmese rap blasts from the stereo as we drive to the hotel. You know sometimes how non-American rap doesn’t quite sound like rap but you think, “I think this is supposed to be rap!”? That.
Our room has one fan that futilely spins the hot air. There are also fleece blankets on the bed, which I don’t quite understand. The hallway was cooler than the room! I passed out for a sweaty two hours.
Quite a few women’s faces painted with thanaka cream, a cream made from bark. It’s usually for cosmetic purposes and occasionally arrange in patterns, but also gives a cooling sensation and protects from sunburn.
Today was a public holiday so the streets were full of people as we passed the pagodas. Couples clung to each other as they walked, whispering to each other under bright umbrellas.
It is all of the little moments, honestly. Successfully navigating the traditional market on my own. Watching my students dream up fabulous dream vacations to places like Crabby Patty Island and Vampire Land. Whizzing past the rice paddies near my house on my bicycle. Traveling. Having my house full of students practicing their speeches for an English competition. Stopping at the juice and french fry stand for some fresh sirsak (soursop) juice. Figuring out how to bake cookies in my rice cooker. Feeding an orangutan a banana. Having someone ask me if I’m Indonesian after conversing in bahasa Indonesia. Going to a school basketball game with my kids. Watching television with my ibu and her family.
I was interviewed by The Hairpin about my experience living and teaching in Indonesia, which is sort of like a dream come true? Check it out!
Pani puri is popular street snack in India. The vendor pokes a hole into a puffed, hollow puri and fills it to the brim with potatoes, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, onion, and chili. You eat them one by one, pausing to pour the excess pani (water) from the plate.
We were passing Vivekananda Park when my aunt gave me a quick look. “So… do you like pani puri?”
I demurred at first, recalling all the other visits to India when I was younger, where my parents hadn’t let me try street food due to the water.
“There’s a man who uses mineral water,” she added.
Done deal. I was sold! My aunt jumped out of the car and animatedly conversed with the puchka-walla. We produced our bottle of mineral water and I enjoyed my first streetside pani puri, followed by a roud of dahi puri (featured on the right). I watched students play soccer in the field behind the stand and tried not to spill the pani all over my clothes.
The Marble Palace in North Calcutta oozes with crumbling grandeur. It was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, “a wealthy Bengali merchant with a passion for collecting works of art.” His descendants still live on the massive property.
The architecture reflects a fusion of Eastern and Western sensibilities. While basically Neoclassical in style, the house also has a typical Bengali courtyard at its center where the family would often have its pujas. I could imagine people swishing in saris and striding in crisp dhotis through the courtyard. Old bird cages also line its edge, the home to some stunning parrots.
Lavish and kitschy art objects are displayed next to paintings of real value, such as a Rubens and a Titian. The walls are covered with intricate curlicues like frosting on a pale blue wedding cake, and the floor is made from delicately pattern marble. Multiple chandeliers, heavy with hundreds of crystals, dangle in each room. Every inch is covered with art, and I have never seen so many statues in one place. I think you could say the style was a bit Rococo, even.
According to my mother, who had visited when she was younger, the palace had once been home to a gorilla. “It had its own room!” Considering the over-the-top decoration, I can easily believe that the sprawling building would also be home to an over-the-top sight. Next to the house is the Marble Palace Zoo, which was the first zoo in India. It’s now home to many birds, deer, and antelope.
The Marble Palace’s decay, however, is pretty evident. The grand fountain sits in a shallow pond thick with algae. The furniture is covered with dusty sheets, obscuring deeply faded seat cushions. Much of the interior of the house could use a fresh coat of paint. I certainly wish the guide hadn’t rush us through the house, and that an explanatory pamphlet of some sort had been available. Peering into dim, dusty, and stunning rooms, I also wondered how they protected the hundreds of paintings from Calcutta’s notorious humidity.
Still, it is completely worth a visit. Definitely a hidden gem in this city. Admission is free.
A.k.a King Rama IX of Thailand.
So this guy’s picture is all over Thailand and actually it’s starting to freak me out. Sometimes it’s big pictures in gold frames. Sometimes it’s little pictures over a door. They have young King Rama, old King Rama, King Rama the naturalist, King Rama with his wife, King Rama doing stuff, but always always always the glasses. Look:
I mean he makes those glasses look good, but still, sometimes we wonder what Queen Rama thinks of them. Speaking of these glasses, this week I learned that my Dad could be the King of Thailand, if the glasses are in some way integral to the job. Which they appear to be.
Here’s what’s freaky. 1. At 6:00 pm one day we were coming off the elevated train and walking through the station when I noticed that everyone was holding still. The dozen or so people in that part of the station had just stopped. And there was a march playing over the PA. One of those jaunty ones with a choir that is very clearly patriotic. Conclusion: at 6 pm in public places the national anthem is played and everyone halts for a few minutes while this happens.
2. We went to see a movie at the theater. After the trailers had played but before the credits started, a yellow message appeared on screen in Thai and English. The theater was quiet and everyone had stood up. Everyone but us. The message onscreen said “please stand for the singing of the Royal Anthem.” Seriously right before the start of The Great Gatsby everyone was standing while the royal anthem played. It played over drawn images of the king on a yellow background. They had the king taking pictures, the king kneeling down to speak with a beggar woman, the king sitting on his jeep reflecting, the king with his advisers. It was weird because first anything like this is weird second this is what I thought went on in North Korean cinemas third Thailand is most definitely a democracy.
I went onto youtube to find the video and it turns out that there are more than one of these we love the king movies. Look, here’s a one different from the one I saw. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5fN5iKXzvI
They really like their king.
Seth sums up one very interesting thing we witnessed in Thailand.
Picking mangoes with my cousins in Kolkata. These West Bengal mangoes are so sweet and fit into the palm of your hand. It’s good to be back!