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.
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.
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 brightly colored hand woven scarves on their heads.
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 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!
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.
Beth peeks out a doorway at the oldest carved teakwood monastery in Mandalay.
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!”
Hand carved teakwood Monastery, Mandalay.
A young boy on a bike.
A fisherman with his longboat and net on Inle Lake, Burma.