Burma – Part 1

March 31, 2014 § 10 Comments

Old diesel trucks, tractors, motorbikes, trishaws, bicycles, and horse and ox driven carts are all modes of transport in Burma. Pictured here is Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, one of my favorite places we visited.

Old diesel trucks, tractors, motorbikes, trishaws, bicycles, and horse and ox driven carts are all modes of transport in Burma. Pictured here is Nyaung Shwe, on Inle Lake, one of my favorite places we visited.

Burma was incredible. For me, being there was a truly profound experience. Each day potentially ranged from easy to difficult traveling. At times it was amazing, mundane, frustrating, beautiful, astonishing, annoying, troubling, and absolutely wonderful. That said, I am unsure of how to even begin to sum up my time there.

What I do know is that this experience has led to a deeper understanding of my students, where they come from, and where Burma is at during this time of transition.

We saw multitudes of fantastic plants, animals, and landscapes– all of which have already greatly enriched the direction of my Flora Fauna print series. Think: groves of tall eucalyptus trees and gigantic aloe vera plants in the arid plains of upper Burma. Cows like skeletons being herded down the highways by barefoot child shepherds. Enormous, striking moths and butterflies (I’m 99% sure we witnessed a Mystical Bhutan Glory on Mt. Popa, but it was there and gone before we could blink an eye.) I had my sketchbook with me and made drawings and notes of everything that I could whenever we had down time. I’ll share some of those drawings soon.

We thought a lot about the question of why we travel– as more often than not traveling can be quite difficult. (An example: (An example: On a ten hour bus ride with no toilet on board and a single “bathroom” stop, the driver and his minions had picked up so many people along the way that even the rows between the seats were sold out and filled with men, women, and children standing or sitting on the bus floor on little plastic stools. Over winding, narrow mountain roads people were vomiting onto the floor which then ran under our feet and smelled awful. But we couldn’t open the windows because when you did the bus filled with choking exhaust fumes, and so on and so forth). After a while you end up asking yourself, why do I do this at all?

Well, my conclusion is (as it always seems to be) that there is an importance of seeing something with your own eyes that can truly broaden your understanding of a place.  Or if nothing else, traveling can help a person to have a new perspective on life– and so it did!

This week, I’d like to share a small selection of what we saw on our trip through Burma.

In Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), we hired a boatman for a few days to take us to interesting and hidden locations around the lake. This is the blue long boat with which we traveled.

In Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), we hired a boatman for a few days to take us to interesting and hidden locations around the lake. This is the blue long boat with which we traveled.

Novice Buddhist nuns in a golden monastery, Mandalay.

With shaved heads and wearing pink are novice Buddhist nuns in a golden monastery, Mandalay.

A very cool looking tourist on the famous U Bein bridge in Mandalay. U Bein is the longest teakwood bridge in the world and is ubiquitous with images of Burma.

A very cool looking tourist on the famous U Bein bridge in Mandalay. U Bein is the longest teakwood bridge in the world and is ubiquitous with images of Burma.

The setting sun over ancient ruins and temples in Bagan, Burma.

The setting sun over ancient ruins and temples in Bagan, Burma.

Hilltribe women selling vegetables in a market on Inle Lake. Many women here wear striking, bright hand woven scarves on their heads.

Hilltribe women selling vegetables in a market on Inle Lake. Many women here wear brightly colored hand woven scarves on their heads.

A typical scene in Burma: a 1940’s-60’s diesel truck with an exposed engine being stacked high with goods to be transported (sometimes stacked 2-3 times the height of the actual vehicle). Once it is packed to capacity, the truck then becomes a transport for people who sit on the top or stand hanging off of the back. We saw people traveling great distances this way despite the heat of the day or the dark of night.

A typical scene in Burma: a 1940’s-1960’s diesel truck with an exposed engine being stacked high with goods to be transported (sometimes stacked 2-3 times the height of the actual vehicle). Once it is packed to capacity, the truck then becomes a transport for people who sit on the top or stand hanging off of the back. We saw people traveling great distances this way despite the heat of the day or the dark of night.

At a bronze casting studio, a wax carver takes a moment to light his cheroot cigar. We visited many artisan shops and happily witnessed some incredible art production techniques. After the initial wooden frame is covered with a completed wax statue of the Buddha, it goes through a casting process that ends with a clay mold being made around the wax, and the wax melted out.  That mold is then is buried in the ground with one small entrance hole poking out of the earth which they then pour molten bronze into. Once cooled, the bronze pieces are taken out, assembled, cleaned with a grinder, and polished up for sale. Quite a process!

At a bronze casting studio, a wax carver takes a moment to light his cheroot cigar. We visited many artisan shops and witnessed some fantastic craft production techniques. After the initial lightweight earthen frame is covered with a completed wax statue of the Buddha, a clay mold is made around the wax. The entire mold is heated by fire and the melted wax is drained out. That clay mold is then is completely buried in the ground with one small entrance hole poking out of the earth. They then pour molten bronze into this hole. Once cooled, the bronze pieces are taken out, assembled, cleaned with a grinder, and polished up for sale. Quite a process!

Mandalay was so vibrant and alive that it made Bangkok seem a little slow paced. People everywhere doing their thing!

Mandalay was so vibrant and alive that it made Bangkok seem a little slow paced. People everywhere doing their thing!

This is a long exposure photograph (much brighter than with the naked eye) of Mandalay at night. The streets of Mandalay are largely dark and unlit except by the headlights of motorbikes and cars. Blackouts in Burma are still a frequent occurrence.

This is a long exposure photograph (much brighter than with the naked eye) of Mandalay at night. The streets of Mandalay are largely dark and unlit except by the headlights of motorbikes and cars, as shown here. Blackouts in Burma are still a frequent occurrence.

A shadow on a bicycle in Mandalay, Burma.

A shadow on a bicycle in Mandalay, Burma.

Beth peeks out a doorway at the oldest carved teakwood monastery in Mandalay.

Beth peeks out a doorway at the oldest carved teakwood monastery in Mandalay.

A weaver in Inle Lake make thread from crushed lotus reeds using a hand crank and a bicycle wheel. Pretty ingenious!

A weaver in Inle Lake makes thread from crushed lotus reeds using a hand crank and a bicycle wheel. Pretty ingenious!

Relic restoration in Burma is more like, “Let’s just fix it up with some fresh paint!”

Relic restoration in Burma is more like, “Let’s just fix it up with some fresh paint!”

Hand carved teakwood Monastery, Mandalay.

Hand carved teakwood Monastery, Mandalay.

A young boy on a bike.

A young boy on a bike.

A fisherman with his longboat and net on Inle Lake, Burma.

A fisherman with his longboat and net on Inle Lake, Burma.

 

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§ 10 Responses to Burma – Part 1

  • jackbaumgartner says:

    You have captured quite a tremendous lot of atmosphere, Mikey. I am still reeling from the photographs of the bronze foundry, and the spinner of lotus reeds. I am proud of you for enduring the streams of vomit to gain experiences that will color the rest of your earthly life. What will it all reveal and mean, I wonder? Thank you for sharing a small portion with those of us who miss you.

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thank you for the kind comment, my friend. I truly appreciate your support in my endeavors, as always. I thought of you many times when I visited and witnessed different craft and art production studios. The bronze foundry (a more appropriate term for it than what I came up with by the way) was really ramshackle, chaotic and a bit intense.

      At one point I was trying to catch up with Beth and our guide and I accidentally walked over burning earth, scalding rocks, where a mold had been burned and was cooling. There were statues in every stage of development in every direction. I took a ton of photos of it and can share more soon. And the work flow was more like a free for all, with artisans everywhere doing different tasks, but not in a way that made any linear sense or seemed to have any order.

      Haha, in retrospect I think I wanted some logic to the whole thing, and had to figure out without language what came first in the process and why. But I remembered from Michael Wood’s BBC documentary The Story of India, which featured an explanation of the same style of craftsmanship, and it was an identical process so I could figure it out.

      • jackbaumgartner says:

        I look forward to seeing more pictures of your trip. You even got to do a fire-walk. I hope your shoes survived?

        What lens are you using over there on your camera?

      • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

        Thanks, man- I’ll share more images soon! I was hopping back and forth from my Canon 50mm to an 18-200mm zoom lens. It was kind of exhausting to change them so much as the 50mm isn’t right for everything and can’t even get some shots in the frame, but the photos are usually prettier with it…

        It’s like an oven outside these days in Mae Sot. Hope you are well!

  • Timothy Syrota says:

    A pleasure to be on this mailing list. peace man. Tim

  • How gorgeous. What a rich experience you must be having. Thank you for these great photos!

  • Effin breathtaking!

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