ASIAN ADVENTURES … Burma [Myamar] was really awesome. I was a little conflicted about going to a country with an oppressive government that shoots monks and shuts schools to prevent democracy (that has already been fairly selected by the people in a national election). I didn't want to support that government and you can't help it if you go. However, I am so glad I went. The people depend on tourism. I can't say how many times I met people who wanted to go to university, but didn't have enough money, so they were my waiter, horse cart driver, souvenir salesman or boat driver. And the amazing thing about the people is how kind they are and happy to embrace foreigner and chat them up in English. The people are smart and there is a culture of learning there, much different from Laos, no matter how hard the government tries to derail their education system. The amazing thing was how few other tourists there were. It was high season and in contrast to Thailand and Laos, there was no one! It was crazy to see so few white people! It was really nice as a tourist; however, it is sad for the people, who depend on tourism to make a living and the tourists are staying away, many due to the government … We went to Yangon [Rangoon] the capital first, which has an amazing temple complex on a hill that was stunning, but other than that the town seemed really hectic, more like what I imagine India would be like, people everywhere on the street, selling everything, poverty everywhere, very rundown … Next we went to Bagan, which has more than 4,000 pagodas, in a 10 square mile area -- the land is just littered with them. You rent a bike or a horse cart and ride from pagoda to pagoda. It's an amazing site, and again so few tourists, however we did catch a full moon festival there, which meant Burmese tourists from all over the country make a pilgrimage there for one night and there is a huge fair (we went on a Ferris wheel that was completely wooden and man-powered!! Possibly not the safest thing we've ever done … One difficult thing about Bagan was the overwhelming number of people trying to sell you stuff. They were everywhere you went. It was especially difficult because about half the people you met were genuinely interested in you and the other half were hawking their goods. So you got good at a judging people quickly, which was necessary because if you even said hello to someone who was in the latter category they would follow you forever trying to sell you something. I had one guy walk with me for like a kilometer … However, I did meet many adorable children just wanting to practice their English or take a picture with me … After Bagan, we flew to Inle Lake, my favorite part of the trip. Inle lake is a giant lake in the Shan State of Burma, famous for the fishermen who row the boats with their legs, floating markets and floating gardens. We took two boat trips where a driver ferries you around to different sites around the lake. We visited a silk and lotus weaving studio, a silversmith, a paper and umbrella making shop, a cigarette making shop, a welding shop, a rice cake making shop, several temples, a monastery, a fruit and vegetable market. Visiting all the craft shops is a bit touristy, but the locals are making money from their handmade crafts, which you have to admire them for, and you can't really help buying stuff after they step you through the process of making it … Being out on the lake was so much fun, and the views were stunning! Seeing all the houses built on stilts over the water, watching the fishermen row with their foot, balancing on the other foot on the tip of their boats. It was magical … On our last night we splurged and stayed out on the lake on a stilted bungalow, with a wonderful sunset view over the lake which was pretty magical. The hotel we stayed at happened to be hosting a Burmese group from Yangon, and let me tell you Burmese love their Karaoke! … One day we rented bikes and rode around the countryside a bit and stopped at this old monastery and met three monks who invited us in for tea. We sat with them communicating mostly through mime, sipping tea and sucking on Mentos (the only thing I could find in my bag to share with them). They loved our digital camera, examined it from all directions … It was these sweet little encounters with the locals that really made the trip
SPEAKING OF MENTOS … Check out this video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-274981837129821058 … Definitely something spectacular to liven up a dull party.
WEEKLY QUOTA … “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.” -J. Paul Getty
THE TALKING GOURD
Half my life
Spent figuring your names:
I loved the way the family
Called you Otto,
From them I learned the names I used for years:
Dearest Wonderful Cousin.
You were Brother Thomas to the order,
In due course Thomas Berry of renown.
My soul had its own name for you:
Riding thermals over the Hudson
Roosting in the palisades, or the old Red Oak.
Now in a field of summer fireflies,
I call you Whirlwind.
You are everywhere.
Where will Thomas Berry be 50 years from now?”
An interviewer asks.
“Where I have always been,” you say.
I feel the laughter ripple
As you spin in rapture
With a hundred million stars.
Clinton, New Jersey