Sunday, December 10, 2017

visages villages

After breakfast, we set off for the Governor's mansion, built in the British colonial era and now used occasionally as a fancy hotel. 

Various Governors lived here in the British era, and they are commemorated in startlingly lifelike wax figures, if you ignore the occasional green skin and red eyes.
Governors were in residence through 1946, despite the Japanese occupation to the south. 
Soldiers are posed throughout the building. This one had lost his arm.
Julia Morgan would admire the swimming pool. 

Burmese residents were represented as well. 
General Aung San, the democracy leader considered the father of modern Burma, and the father of Aung San Su Kyi 
Later we stumbled across this delightful Hindu temple. 
The town houses many mansions. This entrance way suited my tastes. 

We were nearly the only non-Asians in town, and children and older women and taxi drivers said hello to us and turned and giggled. But Hello Kitty lady actually stopped with her matching parasol to say hello. 
After a lavish lunch and a ride in a horse-drawn carriage straight out of Cinderella, we took a taxi to the Eternal Pagoda. The Buddha it houses is made entirely of marble.
We found Vegas Buddha hard to resist, The lights of his aura animate.

Back to San Francisco restaurant for a last dinner of Chinese stirfries and superb local tea.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

city of flower

After the sleeper train was full, I bought tickets on the overnight VIP bus to Pyin oo Lwin, north of Mandalay. The bus left the station at 8 pm, and a taxi was due to pick us up at 6 pm. But at 5:30, knocking on the door. The driver was downstairs, cranky. Fridays nights are bad traffic. We loaded up, preparing to go 15 km to the bus station. After an hour, we'd barely gotten out of downtown. Two hours in, we had bouts of traffic mixed with free eling. At 7:40, we were very close: giant buses in every direction.
The bus station itself was as close to hell as you can imagine. Sprawling in every direction with ten or twenty companies, named in curlicue Burmese script.
Our surly driver asked for directions, asked again, drove between buses and passengers, and somehow dropped us in front of the bus to Pyin oo Lwin a few minutes before departure. We took our seats, in a bus decoration in Barney theme colors, snuggling under the purple blankets against the fierce a/c.

12 hours later, we were in another place and time. Another country even.
Charming Pyin oo Lwin, also known as Maymyo, was a hill station frequented by British officers. It is above 4000 feet, so the air here is cool and clean, quite a change from steamy, noisy Yangon.
We checked into the Golden Gate resort, with the San Francisco restaurant, in a bungalow decorated with woven bamboo walls.
Then we set off for the Royal Kandagawyi Gardens, the week before the flower festival. The gardens were founded 101 years ago, and some of the bamboo and yew trees are very tall.
This reminded me of Last Year at Marienbad.
We were, for the most part, the only non-Asian guests. Well-dressed Burmese families and school groups took selfies and strolled among the flowers and ferns.

Petrified wood
Poinsettas taller than I am
Coffee berries in the edible garden
Feeding bananas to two taksins, a cross between a goat and an antelope (! sorry, no pictures). And a bamboo forest straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And this gorgeous collection of orchids.

The people watching was top notch too.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Great Railway Bazaar

We spent yesterday running important errands and eating delicious food, with plans to take a sleeper train up to Mandalay Friday night.
The train station was hot and sprawling, with few signs in English. Burmese is mysterious and to my eyes, indecipherable.
 In Myanmar, people like lines. British legacy, perhaps.
After standing in several different lines, they told me I had to come back tomorrow (Friday) for sleeper class tickets. 
When I returned today, they said the sleepers to Mandalay were all sold out. 

Me: but you told me to come back tomorrow?!

Guy behind the counter: You want tickets for tomorrow?

A friendly tout who spoke better English directed me to an agent who sold VIP bus tickets. An hour later, they were procured.

Along the way, I picked up healthy street food: tofu stuffed with shredded cabbage and chiles. They cost 100 kyat each or less than 14¢ each.

Travel plans finally accomplished, I set off for Myanmar's last synagogue, built in 1896 in the British Colonial era.
 Inside, it reminded me of a synagogue I visited in the East End of London, from the same era.

The chandeliers are a bit sparklier.
Moses Samuels, whose family came from Iraq, promised his father he would keep the synagogue open as long as there were Jews in Myanmar. Many families left when the Japanese occupied Burma during World War II. Today, there are perhaps 20 Burmese Jews left in the country, including Moses' son Sammy, who keeps the synagogue open. I'm sorry not to have met Moses. He is remembered well.
When I was in Havana in 2009, Janet and I visited a synagogue, which was also fascinating. The woman we met had family from Chicago.

That extra bit of shalom sparkle.

And so we wander. Contentedly. 

Next stop: Pyin oo Lwin. By overnight bus.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Burmese Days

I made it! I was supposed to go to Burma in 1999, but there was a hostage crisis at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, so we went to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos instead. 

This is Sule pagoda, right in the heart of everything.
It's hot and sticky, after hours cooped up in planes and airports. Everyone was out at the park, taking pictures. This monument above honors Burmese independence from the British in 1948, a year after India and Pakistan left the empire.

Yangon City Hall looks like it belongs in LA, or perhaps Shangri La, aside from the peacocks. 

By contrast, High Court building is in an old British style.

Yangon is nothing if not polytheistic. Although most people in Myanmar are Buddhists, the city is home to Hindu temples, 
Anglican, Methodist, and Catholic churches, 
a synagogue, and many mosques.

The traffic is dreadful. I was pleased to figure out how to cross the street without getting run over, by following local women and monks.

This is the block by our hotel. We're on a quieter side street. Still, I'll be happy to get out of the city.

Lots of cool decorative touches. Because of Myanmar's location, it combined the crafts of Southeast Asia with the garish colors of South Asia.

I took $200 out of the ATM. It was distributed in a giant stack of 5000 kyat notes, work around US$4 each. This isn't even all of them.

I had a cup of tea and a bowl of noodles at the cafe downstairs. The little boy whose family owns the place thought it was hilarious that I said "Mingalabah" to him. Total cost: 80¢.
Finally this picture is for my mom. I really wanted to get a fresh orange juice in the airport in Guangzhou just to see how the machine worked. But it only took cash (Chinese yuan) or a few mobile payments I don't have. I'll get one on the way home.

This is the first holiday trip in years that I haven't overplanned (which doesn't mean I haven't been up late reading guidebooks and bus schedules for months). We have two nights here and Yangon and the rest...we'll see.