Jambiya Sellers of Sana’a

Sana’a, Yemen.

Jambiya 3     Yes, I can proudly say I have been to, survived, and thoroughly enjoyed Yemen. What a country. So different from any other place I have been too. Exotic isn’t even the word for it. Mythical may be a better word for it. Cut off from the world, almost seemingly to be lost in time in places. Adventure, you got it. Excitement, around every corner. History, Culture, Nature …everywhere. The capital, Sana’a, one of the highest capitals in the world, founded somewhere around the 6th century BC (yes, BC), with a city center that I can only equate to looking and feeling like a life-size gingerbread house city, is simply outstanding. Walking these streets is an unexplainable feeling. Here is a place where you actually could almost be walking through time. Small alleyways in-between ancient mud brick houses which resemble ancient skyscrapers, tipped with elaborate friezes and white alabaster covered window frames framing out intricate stained glass windows. Turn a corner, a group of camels tied in the street. A man in “full garb” riding around the next, crossbow on his back, Jambiya in his belt, at full gallop, sword flailing at the camels side, face and head covered in cloth. Simply fantastic.

     Ok, this post isn’t simply about Yemen, or Sana’a. They will come over the next few weeks. This post is about the Jambiya, and the Jambiya sellers around Sana’a. Maybe getting ahead of myself already, you may be asking yourself “What the heck is a Jambiya?” A Jambiya, well, basically its a thick, around a foot long, dagger which Yemeni men carry strapped to the waist. The Jambiya positioned right in front on the belt. Pronounced JAM-bee-yah, this is often a man’s prized possession, historically passed down from father to son for generations. Historically, it was a weapon, a symbol of regional origin and social status, and an informal investment plan, since the daggers nearly always appreciate with time. Maybe the first thing you will notice strolling through any town in Yemen, and always displayed with pride. I gotta say, it is quite an intimidating and spectacular display too. …and if you haven’t noticed yet, I love this stuff. This is real manly man, no BS, I carry around a foot long razor blade sharp knife like it’s the 5th century kind of stuff… Love it. Adventure at its finest!!! Alright, back to reality. You can’t miss the Jambiya, and although quite intimidating, I found the sellers of these knives to be quite a cordial bunch. Head to Bab al’ Yemen, the Gate of Yemen, the main entrance into old Sana’a, and beyond you can find shop after shop of Jambiya sellers. PS: make sure you are still looking up as you pass through the gate. I don’t condone it, and it may not be right, but they still occasionally hang the bodies or heads of child molesters, thieves and other law breakers on the gate there. …suffice it to say, not much crime in Yemen when I was there. …and I told ya, like stepping back in time.

     OK, head past the gate, through the square, and into the markets. Past the Qat dealers, the sweets and candy shops. Intertwined throughout the market streets and alleyways. A little yell here, an Asalaam Alaikum there. Don’t worry about all the guys with AK’s over their shoulders, it’s just normal here. Three guns for every man, woman and child in the country at last count. It’s an honor thing. Everyone is nice enough, actually one of the “nicer” people I’ve met. Respond to some of those greetings, don’t worry that the man behind the counter is wearing a foot long knife, surrounded by foot long knives, as people with foot long knives try to make their way around you, as you are knocked by the butts and barrels of their Ak’s 🙂 It’s just how it is here. Did I mention I love Yemen?

     Give it your best shot. “Let me see that Jambiya”. Na, don’t like that one. “How bout that one”. Don’t be shy, don’t be intimidated. It’s just a market, just like any other market, souk, mall or shopping center in any other country. This is the true adventurers mall! Don’t like this shop, move to the next. Smile, be happy, don’t offer if you’re not happy or really don’t want. It’ the market game. They’ll try to get you to offer, but you don’t have too. There are plenty of Jambiya shops and sellers, each one just a bit nicer and accommodating than the last …I’ve seen this game before. Have fun, ask questions, laugh, joke and exaggerate. Accept and enjoy the tea offered …yes, this is the Arabian Peninsula remember. Drinking the tea doesn’t mean you have to buy. This is just Arabian Peninsula hospitality!!! Thank them for the tea. They will almost always let you walk away unscathed by words …this isn’t one of those tourist markets either. Go to the next stall. Look, smile, communicate and learn and have fun. If you want to know the history of the Jambiya, just ask. From what I saw and heard, these guys are almost always just plain happy to explain their culture and the meaning of the Jambiya to foreigners, and almost always just as interested in you as you are in their wares. “What country are you from?”. “How do you like Yemen?”. “I hope you find Yemen is a great country”. All too often I had to answer yes to that last question. A great country. A truly honorable people. A place I thought only existed in dreams. A word of advice – if you don’t want to buy, just say so up front. No harm done. You have to remember this is still an economy, and market, driven by commerce. I found that these guys were actually more willing, more than any other country I’ve been too, to just talk. They were actually just interested in talking to a western foreigner more than anything else even after you told them you didn’t want to buy. Their business based on honor, like just about everything else in the country. Would they try to sell you a Jambiya during, or after, the conversation, even after you said this? Of course. But it would come with a smile and not the kind of exchange often encountered with more travelled kind of countries? …most definitely yes. You just laugh, smile and point out that you said you didn’t want to buy, and the seller almost always just poured another cup of tea and laughed back, continuing the conversation without another word of sale forthcoming. That said …I bought that one in the middle in the picture on the right. I also bought two more. Hmmm, maybe I did get had… If so, all in fun, and souvenirs I will never, ever, ever, regret buying. These guys were great, and Yemen was just outstanding. I can only hope to go back one day, considering it the most exotic country I have ever visited. Until than, I hope these guys keep selling. The country keeps going, and the world doesn’t encroach on the culture too much, as this is a country truly lost in time. I love Yemen. I have even been made fun of for spending money on visiting Yemen, but I only have to laugh at that. If people only knew, all the while hoping that not too many people find out…

     As an afterthought – it may sound like a very dangerous country, but just like any other – use common sense. The people I met in Yemen were some of the nicest, kindest, and most accomodating people I have ever met. Yes, there are guns galore. Yes, there are automatic weapons carried around nonchalantly like you would carry around a cellphone in New York. I think you just have to realize it’s not New York. This is what travel is all about, at least to me. Something different, exotic, interesting. Just because you carry a gun, doesn’t mean you use it. I find this to be more of the thinking in Yemen than I see in the US. It’s a matter of prestige, honor and culture. People are people, no matter where. As for Yemenis, I can actually say that they try and hold themselves higher than most. It’s a great country. It’s just as dangerous as any other, if not more, but honestly, sometimes less, even when surrounded by knives and guns.

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Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

     An amazing sight (site) indeed. I’ve seen a lot of monuments, pagodas, shrines, wonders of the world and everything else all over the world and am usually tough to impress these days, but the Shwedagon is impressive indeed. Built on a hill in the middle of Yangon and being the highest structure in the city, it can be seen for miles around. 2500 years old (according to legend), plated in gold, encrusted with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies and tipped off at the top with a single 76 carat diamond. Relics of the last four buddha’s kept inside – the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama.

     A platform containing hundreds of shrines and statues surrounds the main pagoda. Incense burning, rugs laid down, bells ringing. Four staircases leading up. A constant stream of monks. The “little ones” as inquisitive as an african child who doesn’t understand that the color doesn’t just rub off your skin. Faithful and worshipers only adds to the atmosphere. A cultural and religious centerpiece. Historically, an area of “last stand resistance” in war due to its elevated position and defendability. It’s definitely an icon of the city and a center for the Buddhist religion. There’s nothing like it that I’ve seen or heard of.

     The Legend (thanks to wikipedia): The story of Shwedagon Pagoda begins with two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, from the land of Ramanya, meeting the Lord Gautama Buddha and receiving eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshrined in Burma. The two brothers made their way to Burma and with the help of the local king, King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the hairs were taken from their golden casket to be enshrined some incredible things happened:

“There was a tumult among men and spirits … rays emitted by the Hairs
penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell …
the blind beheld objects … the deaf heard sounds … the dumb spoke distinctly …
the earth quaked … the winds of the ocean blew … Mount Meru shook …
lightning flashed … gems rained down until they were knee deep …
all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.”

 

     Heaven and hell, fire and brimstone kind of stuff. I love legends of the sort. It may not sound so good sitting there, in front of your computer. Yeah, whatever. But told by a mono-tonally speaking monk, swathed in red robes, with a totally serious look on his face, sitting “Buddha style”, as you are staring up at the pagoda, trying to persuade yourself that you can climb it and get that 76 carat diamond at the top, thinking about home – “Hey mom, check it out, look what I got from Myanmar”, as the monk pokes you back to reality …ok, where was I. Oh yes, that legend takes on a whole different meaning when told at that particular spot and not looking at a computer screen. Hmmm, maybe just a few hundred smalls one near the top, all that gold looks like it could be slippery…

     So, the moral of this part of the story. The Shwedagon is impressive, and worth its own article. …and don’t steal, it’s wrong. Even after seeing “things” like the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, The Pyramids of Egypt, The Boudhnath Stupa in Nepal, Petra, Lalibela, Timbuktu, The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Sana’a, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Nizwa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Mehrangarh Fort, Troy, Ephesus, Palmyra, The Ummayad Mosque, …gonna keep going because I’m impressing myself here… Termosses, Anatolia, The Bandiagara Escarpment, Mt. Everest, The Citadel of Aleppo, The Krak de Chevelier, Bosra, Wadi Rum, Mt Nebo, Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor, Meroe, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Kathmandu, Marrakech, Fez, Dakar, London, Venice, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Amman, Dahab, Addis Ababa, Lagos, Cotonou, Bamako, Lome, DC… Ok, sorry, you get the idea. After seeing all that, I was still impressed by this sight. It’s one you don’t wanna “rush” through. Spend some time. Go back more than once. Sit, relax, watch and talk to the people. For most people reading this, it will probably be a once in a lifetime visit, as it sadly may have been for me, but it will be a visit that will embed memories for a lifetime. It is well worth it.

     I still have to go through a lot of pictures I took here, so just two for now. I did post another of the Pagoda earlier if your interested: Blue Hour.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar VI – The Seamstress

Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters

First stop – Yangon.

    The unofficial capital of Myanmar, and the country’s financial hub – the capital “officially” moved to Naypyidaw in March 2006 by the military. By far the largest city in Myanmar at almost six million now. A short flight from Bangkok and a straightforward affair at the airport with minimal hassle. The first greetings you notice is the sea of Thanaka covered faces waiting outside the terminal. Like the aftermath of a peanut butter factory explosion at head level only. A thousand different tan lined designs with a pair of eyes staring through. Not a matching design in the crowd.

     Leaving the airport and driving through the city, one of the first big differences you will notice between Yangon and most SE Asian cities is the lack of motorbikes. Motorbikes aren’t allowed in the city limits. WoooHoooo! No masses of Hondas converging towards you at every street corner and crossing, like a dam above the Honda factory just broke. No playing the chicken game at every crossing. No head twisting looks as you step off the curb. Heck, no worrying about getting hit on the sidewalk. Ahhh…

    A few days seeing the sites. The massive Shwedagon Pagoda overlooking the city and shining through the night. If that’s not enough for you, there are numerous other pagodas, or payas, scattered throughout Yangon. The Maha Wizaya, Botataung, Kaba Aye, Chaukhtatgyi, Me La Mu, Ah Lain Nga Sint, Yau Kyaw, and Sule Paya (pictured below). Too many to count and each one as exotic as its name is hard to pronounce. Tired of all that gold and religion, head to the park, the Maha Pasana Guha, or “Great Cave”, or Kandawgyi Lake.

     Downtown Yangon, with its fin-de-siècle architecture, gently crumbling, decaying and fading with time. Being the former British colonial capital, Yangon has the highest number of colonial period buildings in Southeast Asia. Buildings like the former High Court, the former Secretariat buildings, St Paul’s and the legendary Strand Hotel are all excellent examples of the bygone era. For me though, the buildings are just a backdrop for some really interesting characters that can be found throughout the streets of downtown. From soldiers to hawkers to homeless to children. Most of the back streets in downtown form one long continuous maze of a market. I find just wandering is the best way to find things. So much to see that isn’t on any map or in any guide. …you can’t find what you’re not looking for, so this truly is a city where getting lost can be the best way to see the sites.

     Make sure you try the Dagon beer, named after Yangon. Huh? Named after Yangon you ask? …Yangon was founded as Dagon in the 6th century AD by the Mon, who dominated Lower Burma at that time. Dagon was a small fishing village centered about the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon, renamed it “Yangon”, and added settlements around Dagon. …and how do you record that moment in history? With Dagon Beer of course!!! Than there is always Myanmar Beer, blue & red labels. A great place to enjoy one (or more): …while watching a rugby match or Premier League, Traders Gallery Bar & Restaurant is top-notch and highly recommended. I even had quesadilla’s there that were surprisingly great, as well as any other snack I tried. They even have a Happy Hour…

     Aung San Suu Kyi, freed on Novermber 13, 2010. Wish I was there for that. I hear her street is open now. When I was there it was a bit tough getting past the tanks, but once you got past them you only had about two hundred military with automatics to deal with. I bet it’s a lot easier now 😛

     Don’t miss the Bogyoke Aung San Market. It’s a virtual maze. You think you’ve seen it all, than go upstairs, than across the walkway, than across the street, than through the little alley, etc, etc. There are some really interesting pieces in here (just make sure you can actually get them through customs) and anything can be had here from souvenirs to clothes to food to anything else imaginable. Also a good place for changing money – don’t worry about looking for money changers, they’ll find you …believe me, they’ll find you. If a mazelike indoor type market isn’t to your liking, the streets all around are basically extensions of the market. A great place to walk around even if your not looking to shop. From the market it’s an “easy”, eh-hem, walk down to The Strand which really shouldn’t be missed. Just don’t fight to much with the military telling you you can’t walk on “this” side of the street, cross the fifty lane deathway at a quick pace, dodge the kids if you like, or not, they are fun… Than scratch your head as the military on “this” side tells you – you can’t walk on “this” side and cross the deathway again. The walk is well worth it, and you wander around the Strand for a while, have tea or coffee in the lobby, bar or restaurant and soak up the cold air conditioning while admiring the teak-wood, bamboo and old world type interior. On your way, if you have any extra hair gel on you, give some to Beckham pictured on the right here …and watch him instantly put it in his hair and animatedly start jumping up and down showing you how much he looks like David Beckham, as he screams over and over, Beckham, BECKHAM, BECKHAM!!!. …as his sister tries to sell you every postcard in the book. Good times… Just a note: this picture was taken next to a guy with an automatic (rifle) screaming at the kids to leave me alone from about a foot to the right, as I screamed at him to leave the kids alone, as the kids got up, as Beckham told his sister to look at the camera …and hurry up, as the guy yelled, as I clicked, as the gun waved, as the kids smiled, as Beckham fixed his hair. The kids did a great job of not running away crying and screaming, or crossing the road to the other side. …not really sure what the guy was yelling at them for, but the gun was big and his voice intimidating. If I knew what he was saying I probably would have run away crying and screaming, but, the joys of ignorance. 🙂

     Enough for now. I haven’t talked much about the Shwedagon Pagoda. Next post.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

Simple

Abomey, Benin.

     Sometimes life is simple. It’s just plain black & white. A lot of places in Africa, I got that same feeling. Simple, not easy. Almost animalistic. Survival of the fittest. You live and work that day to eat and survive that day. If you have the luxury of falling asleep that night, you won on that day. Everything else is just “fluff”.

     …the scars on the cheeks a symbol of this boys tribe, made with razor blades a few weeks after birth. Your in the middle of the land of voodoo here, in Abomey. It can’t be easy, and it’s definitely not simple, but sometimes it just looks that way.

February 7, 2008

Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters

Mandalay, Myanmar.

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar II – Before You Go

A word of caution…

     Continuing with my Myanmar theme and posts. If you are going to Myanmar, I can’t caution enough about bringing “new” money. I mean new, new, new. Brand spankin’ new. No creases, marks, holes, tears new. No folding and putting in your pocket new. Like no other country I’ve visited, and I’ve visited a few. This was a sign posted at the entrance to the Mandalay Palace. Maybe the best, if not the most ironic, thing is that most of the local money you will exchange for, Kyat it’s called, will be in worse shape than this sign. Much worse, but can be used without even a second glance or thought.

     I think the word in this sign is “punishement” (yes, check the sign, it’s spelled correctly). They take a bill with a little crease in it and they get …”punishe-ed”. That just sucks…

 September 27, 2010

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

Travels through Myanmar II – Before You Go

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar I – Mingalaba!!! 

     Let’s see. Where to start. Get the boring stuff out of the way – some general advice before you go:

Visa:      OK, first off, I would recommend getting a visa in your home country for this one. In the states it’s a no-hassle straightforward process, although a bit of paperwork is involved. Overseas, it gets a bit tougher and complicated depending on the political situation and particular country your trying to get the visa in. I received mine in the states with no problem. Two people I was traveling with received theirs in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a lot of hassle, a few bribe attempts, and a lot of visits to the Myanmar embassy over a ten, yes ten, day period. They were worried we were gonna sell the girl (my brothers wife). They just didn’t seem to understand that if we were gonna sell the girl, we could probably get a much better price in just about any other country in the world …although she does like to shop a lot …hmmm. The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok was also contacted as an alternative but they didn’t seem to be too excited about issuing visas at the time either. So, if you know your going, get a Visa at home, and possibly avoid a lot of hassle and confusion, as well as possible human trafficking charges.

Money:     It used to be mandatory for tourists to exchange $200.00 USD for FEC’s on arrival but this no longer seems to be the case. Note: this could probably change any second, so take with a grain of salt. FEC’s, Foreign Exchange Certificates, were basically a “tourist only” currency which was almost always difficult to get rid of because the locals would actually lose out of the exchange due to government taxes and exchange rates. So no FEC’s for now, that’s a good thing, both for the visitor and the people there. US Dollars are the preferred currency, although Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, Euro’s and English Pounds were also widely accepted. The trick there is that you need to have absolutely brand new currency. US dollars should be 2008 or newer. No marks, No creases, No smudges, or anything like that. This is a big one too. I mean nothing. You can’t fold bills and carry them in your pocket because the crease that causes renders most bills “illegal” and useless. We actually had to leave the country a few days early, having $2000.00 USD in cash that was useless. Spent our last good dollar at the airport. Ashame really, because the people there and the economy could probably use every tourist dollar they can get …but the government won’t let the people take them!!! Don’t blame the people for this either. There are no foreign banks in Myanmar, everyone pulled out. Visa, MasterCard, JCB, AmEx …they all pulled their services years ago. It is almost like a bad rumor that has spread. Creases in bills, illegal. A small mark in the corner, illegal… The problem is, if someone takes the bill, they lose money because of a lesser exchange rate they will receive for it.

     On that note (no pun intended), my advice would be to exchange money on the black market, you’ll get a much higher rate than government rates. Illegal, yes, but even the businesses with the government rates will tell you to go down the street and get a better rate. Ha!!! As I said, great people.  An alternative to black market exchangers is to book tours, hotels, flights, trains, boats or whatever else you may need through certain businesses in the country that have access to, or travel out of the country. These agents will take most bills because they know that they are perfectly fine in other countries and they are able to “launder” them in Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, etc. The trade off is that you have to use the money right there, booking through them. We found one guy who was particularly helpful in this, with offices in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. We booked airline tickets, ferry tickets and hotels through him and were nothing but pleasantly surprised with the service and honesty. I don’t want to name the company here, but send me a message if you want particulars.

     The local currency is called “Kyat”, and, if your thinking these will be brand new and spotless, think again. Maybe, the dirtiest, most ripped up currency I have ever seen. We received a few bills that were actually just a bunch of parts, maybe 20 or 30, slapped between two pieces of clear tape. Mindboggling. A 2009 US Dollar is illegal, but a one Kyat note torn into thirty pieces, flushed down the toilet and covered in mud is perfectly fine. One of those “huh?” types of moments. A lot of talk about money, but well worth reading if you’re going there. This country was like nothing I have ever seen before when it came to exchanging money. Believe me, you’ll be thankful when you go to check out of a hotel and have to sit there worrying as the front desk meticulously looks at every bill, as you sit there for fifteen minutes thinking, ummm, how are we going to pay for this if they don’t take these?

Police/Military:     Be prepared to see a large police and military presence wherever you go. Military on the corner all over the cities. Tanks, rolling down the street. Automatic weapons everywhere. I’ve sort of become accustomed to guns, and lately my motto has become “It ain’t a vacation until I either hear or see an AK, or someone points one at me” …having gone through Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Burkina Faso in the last couple years, to name a few of the more “volatile” countries. For those that aren’t so comfortable around guns. Well, use common sense. Don’t fight with these guys. Don’t mess with them, don’t argue, and don’t go around trying to snap pictures of them. Most are extremely nice people who are there to protect, not to harm, you. Being a “tourist”, I find that most military and police go out of their way to help, knowing I am a tourist and am just there to see the country and spend money there. The majority of military and police who I have talked too just want to make sure that I will go home with great memories, great stories about the people and country, and that I tell other people to visit when I do get home. Most are just normal people doing a job.

Local Custom:     As always, try to follow local etiquette. In Myanmar, I would suggest to try a bit harder, as the people here aren’t used to the mass of tourists that some other countries in the area are used too. I had no problem whatsoever, but in respect to the people, I would suggest to learn as much as you can before you go. The usual Buddhist and SE Asia etiquette applies, and there is nothing that I would really point out in particular. If nothing else, remember the word for Hello – “Mingalaba” – and when someone passes you by and says hello, turn around and say “Ming –a –la –ba”, and often, more times than not, you will watch a huge smile erupt from the face of the recipient. Honestly, this applies to almost any country you visit. I can’t speak any other language but English, but I can say hello in Burmese, Amharic, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, French, Spanish, and about 10 different African dialects. That one word goes along way in establishing communication, even if you don’t know any other.

     Also, certain things apply in Myanmar that you usually don’t see. Child labor is one of them that really comes to the forefront here. Poverty is another. Different ways of life and different foods and customs. It’s all part of traveling. Some good, some bad. Most often, very different from what your used too.

     Enough of the boring stuff, and I’m I’ve already made this post way longer than I intended.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters

Travels through Myanmar I – Mingalaba!!!

     I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about Myanmar lately, so I figured I would write a few articles about my recent trip to the country in the winter of 2010. I’ll start with a little introduction article and follow-up with an article a day for the next few days. I would love to do it all in one, but Myanmar deserves much more than just a small article, and I’m already up to two thousand words and barely touching the surface, so I’ll post a little at a time, with pictures of course. …at least pictures I have already gone through as I still have a whole bunch to look at. I’ll add links at the bottom of this, and all forthcoming articles, with the continued posts also, so you don’t have to go looking. If you’re interested in visiting, and are looking for something in particular, leave me a comment or send me an email.

Mingalaba!!!   

     Myanmar, Burma, Yangon, Rangoon, Bagan, Pagan, … One of the interesting nuances seen within the borders of this lesser traveled SE Asian country is the changes of names that have occurred in recent history. The country recognized now as Myanmar, often still called Burma by the various locals. Yangon, the capital, still abbreviated as RGN, for Rangoon, by a lot of airlines in the world. Bagan, Pagan, almost interchangeable in name. Whether old or new, it doesn’t really seem to matter as versions are used and intertwined in conversations around the world, as well as in the country itself. Seems to depend on each individuals political affiliation, as well as world views and opinion of the government there.

     Animism, Buddhism, Hinduism. Some call it the “Land of Green Ghosts”, others the true Land of Smiles. One of the last military regimes in the world. Often referred to as one of the most exotic destinations in the world. With fields of ancient temples for as far as the eye can see. Mountain top temples peaking through the clouds throughout the north. One of the centerpieces of Buddhism in the form of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. An endearing people and culture who are often cut off from the rest of the world. Some question whether it is morally right to go. I say yes. Go. See some of the great sights of this country and talk to some of the great people. Use local restaurants, hotels and transport, don’t support the government type establishments, and make it right to go. The people can use the money, and they can certainly use any information about the world outside of Myanmar’s borders.

     If you’re going, be prepared for frustration, poverty, child labor and lots of police and military with a lot of big guns. On the other hand, be prepared to meet some of the kindest, gentlest people you will probably ever meet. Sights like I have never seen in any other country, conversations that will leave you questioning many things, and a country full of history, life and color. Leave your cell phone at home, as well as your computer. ATM cards, useless, there are no ATM’s. Credit cards, only in a few select hotels in Yangon, otherwise …nope. It’s different, it’s exotic, and it’s an adventure.

     As an overview: I flew into Yangon. From the lively markets in the backstreets, surrounded by crumbling and moss-covered colonial architecture, to the massive, glowing Shwedagon Pagoda. A city almost lost in time and slowly fading as time goes by. Sitting on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy River, the city itself has the feeling of one just watching, and waiting. Never in a hurry, but knowing full well that one day that will change. Just waiting for the tides to change and sweep up everyone and everything in it’s path. A sleeping dragon that can be woken at any moment. From Yangon up too Mandalay, a city almost synonymous with the word exotic when talking about travel destinations. A city full of culture and history with a name that stirs the imagination. Mingun, Sagaing, Inwa (Ava), and Amarapura. Ancient cities from empires past that surround Mandalay. Each one with a different reason to visit, whether it be the longest Teak bridge in the world, hills filled with shrines, pagodas, spires and shrines of any shape and form imaginable. Each one capital of a different time, empire and people. Ninety miles down the river, or eighteen hours by a very interesting ferry, the ancient fields of Bagan. A site to rival the greatest wonders of the world.

Mingalaba, hello in Burmese. Welcome to Myanmar!!!

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar II – Before You Go

The Boys

Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal.

     A few of “The Boys” sittin’ around on the banks of the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath. Some of the more interesting people I’ve met on my travels really. I sat and talked to these guys over a period of a couple of days and they were quite cordial and humorous. A bit more about sadhu’s here. If you read – I would take the article as a general overview, and not quite literally as entirely factual and representative of every sadhu out there.

     These guys here can be seen all over the internet, and most likely in any guidebook to the Kathmandu Valley (there are actually pictures of them on the wiki page linked above). From Lonely Planet to personal photo galleries across the web. All too ready to “pose” for the cameras, they know how to ham it up and have fun. The guy with the rolled up hair I liked to call “Robin Hood” as he did remind me of him for some reason. A good time and a much different experience than whats going on across the river (the burning of bodies, the cornea excision center, etc, etc).

     One of the great reasons to travel really. Meeting cultures totally different from your own and learning about those cultures while actually being immersed in them. …and talking and learning about the lives of people as seen below. It does just fascinate me.

August 13, 2009

Two short previous posts on Pashupatinath: “Sadhu Joe” & “Already Parted“.