January 15th, 2017:
I still have a couple other NGO projects that I worked on in the Inle Lake area to share, but I thought I would break that up with a few of my favorite travel images and stories from the 5 days I spent in the area. Other than the work I was doing there, there was a good amount of time spent on the lake, in the 5 day market (which happens every 5th day), and wandering the town of Nyuangshwe.
During one of the days I spent with Kaythi she took me along to a Novitiation Ceremony in Lae Thit Village. It’s a massive 4 day celebration for a young man who is about to enter the monastery to become a monk. The boy’s family will provide huge amounts of food and the entire village will eat, sing and celebrate for 4 days straight. The villagers will make donations to the family that will help cover some of the costs. When I asked Kaythi if this is like a wedding and she said “No. This is much larger!”
Below is Kyae Sin Lin, the boy who at the end of the 4 days will have his head shaved and will go into the monastery to learn about Buddhism and humility. The minimum time spent in with the monks will be 1 week, but it could last a month or even a year depending on the boys family. Kaythi guessed that Kyae Sin Lin was probably 9 or 10 years old.
Yoon Lei Ya Tee played the role of the Princess (below) for the celebration. I was later told by someone else that most girls acting as the princess would have also have there heads shaved at the end of the celebration and would go into the nunnery, but I can’t confirm this for Yoon Lei Ya Tee because I didn’t ask on the day I was there.
I woke up at 6am on market day to catch the early morning light and the crowded market while it was only locals doing their shopping and selling. If you have ever traveled you know many markets around the world become stops on a tourist checklist that end up swarming with other travelers. Not true here, I spent a solid two hours here without seeing another white face, just the inquisitive looks and smiles from the locals. It was the most colorful, alive, authentic and real market I have been to anywhere in the world, and I questioned even writing about it because now others will read this and seek it out.
Afternoon wanderings in Nyuangshwe.
One of my favorite mundane travel chores is to get a local haircut. Really, I never know exactly what my head will end up looking like, but I usually gesture to my scalp and ask for less hair. This one was complete with a scalp massage and a straight razor shave around my neck and ears. I have found Myanmar to have some of the most honest people of any country I have ever traveled in, but after the haircut when I asked how much I owed, the barber said “3000 Kyat. Regular price.” ($2.20)
Now I know that when someone feels like they need to clarify that what they are charging me is the “Regular price” it usually isn’t, but I didn’t feel overly scammed and I paid. The barber was still super friendly and at the end of the haircut I realized that he cut me in line in front of the two guys sitting behind me who I originally thought were just his friends hanging out.
A few days later I asked an American who has lived in Myanmar for 15 years how much a haircut should cost and he said about 1000 kyat ($0.75). Meh. I guess I should ask the price in advance next time.
One of the days I was there I heard that they city and Ministry of Tourism had decided to open a daily night market in Nyuangshwe so there would be some sort of evening activities (the city goes pretty much dead by 7:30pm). They kicked off the inaugural night with music, dancing and a Fire Balloon.
A Fire Balloon is a massive paper balloon, which is then filled with hot air using flaming bamboo torches before finally having a massive rack of fireworks attached to the bottom. The fireworks are lit and the balloon is release and it then proceeds to rain a fiery death from the sky. Seriously. A fire truck was present, but safety and burns didn’t seem high on the list of priorities as everyone scattered from the incoming fireballs.
I also learned that each November in Taunggyi fire balloon teams gather and compete with each other to see who can create the best balloon/fireworks display. I can only imagine the number of burn victims on that night.