Buddhist monks in southeast Asia (and maybe other places as well) make a procession every morning in their communities to accept food from their neighbors. According to their practice, the food must be simple, nutritious and purposefully without rich flavors or beauty. It should sustain life, but not stimulate desire.
One morning I went out for a sunrise view from one of the ancient temples, and heard the 6 am chanting starting at the Ananda Temple just a 3 minute walk from my front door. I went over and discovered a group of older monks making a line to receive their day's sustenance. I watched the proceedings while the chanting was echoing hauntingly around the temple complex. And I also made these pictures of course.
The next morning I went in search of a procession of young monks that always make their way around Old Bagan, and found them on one of the dirt roads just 2 blocks from my front door.
They walk around the village in a line usually with the younger boys leading the way and the older ones perfectly paced behind them. They look especially striking in their burgundy robes as they walk the hard-packed roads under the sheltering trees during the soft morning light.
I couldn’t think of a lovelier way to start my day.
We met the most welcoming people in a Pa-O village while traveling in Shan State, Myanmar.
Our guide, who lives in a village nearby, took us on a stroll through the village, and introduced us to several people along the way. They were all very sweet and very curious about us Westerners.
We talked (through our guide of course) to two ladies processing two tons of dried garlic, which was to be sent to the markets nearby.
Their children were transfixed and a little frightened by us. One even burst into tears when I moved a little too close.
The 80-year-old matriarch of the family was fascinated by Kai and her blond hair and fair skin. She had had no real contact with Westerners, and never seen a blond person before. She couldn't stop touching her skin and hair, in the sweetest possible way. It made her so happy.
The experience was another happy one we will never forget in Myanmar.
In the days we spent in the very fertile Shan State area of Myanmar, we never saw people using a tractor to work the land (plowing, harvesting, moving the harvest, etc.), all of the work is done by people and oxen.
As we drove through the area we spotted women bringing in their harvest of tender green teas.
We stopped, and our private guide gave us a way to talk to the sweet ladies making their harvest. We were happy to see them, and they were very curious about us. And they were also happy to have a little help from my girls, who, it turns out, love to pluck little leaves from bushes.
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Pakokku, a town on the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar (Burma) was the site of an important protest march by local monks in the early stages of the Saffron Revolution. We had the great fortune to visit the monastery where the protests began. We were also introduced to some of the local residents, many of which hadn’t seen a Westerner in person before. It was an experience that we will never forget. Here are a few photos from our visit.
As we walked among the 800-year-old crumbling Buddhist pagodas of Indein, Myanmar, these sweet ladies were peddling their handmade and very colorful garments. And of course, we were immediately drawn into a world of amber and crimson, of violet and fuchsia, lavender and amethyst, and of apricot and azure.
It wasn’t long before my family was trapped by swaths of vibrant colors being spun around their swirling heads. And naturally, they didn’t leave empty-handed.
During the spectacle, I couldn’t help but see the incredible contrast between the fresh colors of the garments against the fading bricks of the crumbling pagodas.
Tree roots are taking down these besieged, but proud, structures brick-by-ancient brick. And sub-tropical rain and wind aren’t helping much either.
We left these colorful ladies and elegant pagodas a little lighter in the pocketbook, and a little richer for the experience.
Farmers on Inle Lake, Myanmar grow their crops on floating islands over the open water of the large fresh water lake. They produce enormous amounts of vegetables of all kinds, but they specialize in tomatoes. The floating islands are essentially neat rows of water hyacinth plants and mineral-rich silt from the bottom of the lake, which are held in place by tall bamboo poles.
The vegetables are grown on top of the makeshift islands and flourish with constant access to water and nutrients. The farmers produce about 50,000 tons of tomatoes annually on the hundreds of acres of floating “land”.
Farmers tend their crops row-by-row in small handmade wooden boats made in the villages nearby. They build temporary houses (on stilts of course) to be close to their gardens, and to avoid the long rowing trek back to their villages in the motor-less boats.
Like the fishermen on Inle Lake, farmers use a method of rowing that is not found in any other place on the planet. They effortlessly balance themselves upright on the precarious stern of their boats, and use one leg to do the rowing and navigating. I just don’t know how they do it.
When motored boats pass by in the larger channels around the farms, the islands bounce up and down like buoys on open water. It’s a little disorienting.
It was also fascinating.
One of our most wonderful experiences in Bagan this year was our visit to a small school in Minnanthu village.
Our guide (Oak Kar) walked into the school yard and asked the children to gather around. We had carried pencils, pens, note pads, stickers, and most importantly, American candy from the other side of the world to give to these children, and we began to give them away.
The children were pretty excited, but quiet and very sweet. They were also just as curious about the blond and light-skinned people visiting their school. It was probably quite a surprise.
We only had a short time with these sweet little people, but we loved it. Maybe we'll get a chance to go back sometime.
We were driving along in a very fertile part of the Shan State in Myanmar, when I spotted some men bringing in their harvest of cauliflower.
In the three days we were in the area, we never saw people using a tractor to work the land (plowing, harvesting, moving the harvest, etc.), so all of the work is done by people and oxen, and in this place the men were doing just that.
Naturally, we stopped to make some photos.
The men were curious that a Westerner would stop by to see what they were doing, and seemed very happy to let me make some photos.
So, here's a glimpse of very nice cauliflower harvesters on the other side of the world.
I observed a monk teaching a small group of women as we passed through the Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung Monastery in Shan State, Myanmar. The teakwood structure is several hundred years old and full of wonderful dedications to the Buddha. I could have spent days lingering around the monastery.
The pagodas of Indein, Myanmar are slowly being consumed by the forces of nature.
Plants are sinking their deep roots into the iron-rich bricks, prying them apart one by one. Rain and wind are clawing relentlessly at their surfaces, peeling off layer after layer of their outer skin.
So, after more than 800 years of the unsympathetic law of gravity, the pagodas are exhausted. Deeply exhausted. And defiant, and proud, and lovely, and elegant, resilient, grounded, gorgeous, solid, and of course, simply beautiful.