Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Myanmar Language Class

Today I finished my Myanmar language class at Moe Myanmar language center.

The course costs 300.000 Kyatts (a bit more than 300 USD) for 20 hours.The classes consists of 4 to 6 persons but I was lucky enough to have followed this course with just another person.

Moe is a very good and patient teacher and together with her assistant they taught us the spoken Myanmar language, beginners level. We received one book and a CD with all lessons in spoken Burmese.

The beginners course comprises 10 lessons: survival phrases, numbers and money, meeting people, food, taxi and direction, addressing people and family, calendar days of the week, shopping, travel&accommodation, work&emergency words.

After each lesson we had an extensive review and this helped us a lot in the learning process. The teacher uses flashcards, listening exercises and quizzes.

Basically we learned the spoken language in Roman characters and it would go without saying that the writing and speaking course should follow, if time allows.

There are four different tones, with high, low, creaky and stopped. For example "la" in different tones would mean: lḁ - month, la - to come, la: - question particle: is it? or la' - middle!

The word order is subject - object - verb, and some phrases would be twisted when translated: Yei tǝ bu: pei pa, which means water one bottle give please. Please note that there are different ways of phonetically writing the language.

The language seemed very complicated at the beginning but once I got used to the phonetic and the many syllable structure (consonants followed by vowels) it became easier. I have the most difficulties at listening and translating from Myanmar into English because it is hard to split the phrase as the words are short syllables and of course they speak quickly.

Below the combination of words I like so far:
Myanmar: fast and strong.

Ein thaun: ein=home + thaun=prison but used together mean marriage :)
Hin yei: hin=curry + yei=water but used together mean soup.
Note that you can say soup in three different ways, one of which I mentioned.

Tar-tar (phonetically ta-ta) - Goodbye!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Myanmar, pe rânduri de poezie

Am promis să scriu și în limba maternă și imi țin promisiunea. Vă trimit în dar o poezie, ca un prim mesaj pentru voi, dragii mei vorbitori de limba română:

Am ajuns la noua casă,
Fără s-o simțim așa
Deschiși, fără așteptări
Ne-am lăsat surprinși de toate!
Oameni calzi și prietenoși,
Ne-am dorit din prima clipă
Să ne povestim de toate,
Ori prin gesturi, ori prin fapte
Am comunicat mereu,
Astfel am rămas surprinși
Noi de ei și ei de noi:
Oare cât puteam să fim
Diferiți în ale noastre
Gânduri, vorbe, sentimente?
Chiar deloc aș spune acum
Am găsit pe aceste locuri,
Oameni de atâția știuți
Ce-i găsești prin alte colțuri
Chiar în jurul tău privind
Sunt la fel cu cei de aici.
Pe alocuri zarvă mare,
Păsări, oameni și culoare,
Turnuri aurite, flori deosebite,
Cam așa aș rezuma
Imaginea din țara mea:
Myanmar sau Burma este
Unde-ncepe pentru noi 
Aventura noastră-n doi!

Sper că vă plac primele impresii!

Baloane de săpun zburând prin Scott market.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thut Ti - Myanmar Traditional Let Whay Club

The pictures below were made before and after our second training in the Let Whay Club which teaches Lethwei, the traditional Myanmar boxing. 

The club trains a lot of foreigners (expats), including ladies and it is owned by Win Zin Oo.
The one hour training starts with a 10 minutes exercise involving jumping on tires. Stretching follows the intense warm-up. Then a series of punches combinations follow. You will also learn the technique with different punches by advancing in different directions on lines drawn with chalk in the inner yard of the club. 

Once you become more experienced and your endurance increases you will start exercising on punching bags and start sparring in the ring. For sure, I will remain outside the ring but the training is very intense. After 10 minutes the sweat is pouring off you.

The main trainers are Lone Chaw, multiple champion and Saw Gor Mu Doe, both pictured below.

Lethwei continues to be the bloodiest of the Indo-Chinese martial arts, at least when it comes to professional competitions. For more info click here or watch an interesting movie where you can also see the training place here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Twante village visit

Last Saturday, 19 July, the Myanmar people commemorated Martyrs' Day, the day General Aung San and other ministers were assassinated. This happened in 1947, the year Burma gained independence from Britain, a process in which the General was deeply involved. 

His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, was 2 years old at that time. People in the capital, from what we saw, lay wreaths of flowers at his statue, a procession of people walked through the streets with pictures of the assassinated persons, and visited in great numbers the Bogyoke ("General" in Myanmar language) Museum. We already visited it and his last residence contains personal objects, furniture, and books. The house has a beautiful architecture and a nice garden. The collection inside is not huge and can be seen in at most one hour.

But last Saturday we decided to leave Yangon for a short trip on the other side of the Yangon River. We reached the jetty which is very busy with taxis and a wet market (it is close to the Strand hotel). The boats leave several times an hour. People transport all imaginable things from one side to the other. 

During the short trip the vendors offer from quail eggs and snacks to powder to remove stains with a live demonstration (just like in the sales channels). The river is not very wide but has some strong currents. From the boat you will notice the Yangon port.

Once on the other side the bustle and the noise restart. It was a kind of push and shove but it seemed everybody managed to find a way to quickly leave the jetty area. Unlike in Yangon where motorbikes are not allowed, there are plenty of those once you cross into Dala village. There are several rumors why the authorities have banned them from the city. The official reason is that they broke traffic rules frequently causing many accidents.

We did not sop in Dala and decided to continue to the Twante village. We found the following options to arrive in Twante, the place where you can visit traditional pottery workshops: trishaws, bikes, motorbikes, small buses, large old buses and taxis. We opted for the bus. And we started an approximately one hour trip covering 30 km over a bumpy road. The seats in the bus are cramped. Even I found it a bit difficult to sit. Each bus has a 'conductor' who shouts out the destination so that people know in which direction the bus is headed. He is also collecting the money from the passengers.

I took advantage of the fact that it had stopped raining for a while so I was taking a lot or pictures from the window. When it is not raining the windows provide the air conditioning but also a way for the men to spit out the red juice from the chewed betel (more about this in another post). So I had to pay attention from time to time at the man in front of me to be careful with my camera not to take pictures with red dots! 

Below some pictures from the rural Myanmar. There is a lot of water in this lowland area especially now in the rainy season so the locals use the land to plant rice. But there is generally a lot of wet land because as of Twante, to the south and south-west, the Irrawaddy Delta begins. Most people live in thatched bamboo houses and I was thinking about the monsoon season and the Nargis Cyclone. What chance do these people have in the face of these strong winds and heavy rains? Many people died when the 2008 Cyclone Nargis swept through this part of the country.

When we arrived in the main square of the village heavy clouds were announcing rain again. We took a taxi for a very short distance to reach the pottery workshops having as a guide a local person who was riding on the same bus with us. We visited four workshops which look like the one below and are owned by several families.

They produce many pottery items (water mugs, pots, scents supports, vases, clay water filters). In one workshop only one woman was working while in others you had families or more members of the family involved in the process of manufacturing. Everything is done manually. No workshop painted the final product. They told us they sell in Yangon and they can even ship to the capital if we are interested. In Yangon we saw a lot of pottery for sale but most of it is nicely painted. So we suppose this is done in the capital and they just buy the 'raw materials' from Twante.

On our way back we took a seat in the front of the bus. It started raining again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bagan - what you need to pack

Here is a list with things one should pack before leaving for Bagan:

- sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat (or a scarf);
- mosquito repellent for the dinners outside or for the evening cruise on the river;
- hand sanitizer: depending where you chose to eat it might be difficult to wash your hands;
- flip-flops: you have to leave your shoes at the entrance of each temple. You will walk inside and around the temple without shoes so be prepared to get very dirty at the end of the day. So, do not bring trainers and socks for the visit of the pagodas.
- plasters: not all pagodas are clean especially the courtyard where you have small stones where you can cut your feet easily;
- if you start the sightseeing at around 9am you will probably end the tour at around 17-18pm. It does not get dark but pack a flashlight in any case. Especially if you walk from your restaurant to your hotel: some small streets are poorly lighted.
- some lady vendors were asking about perfumes samples or lipstick as it is very expensive for them to buy. Why not make somebody happy?
- bring a lot of Kyatts; it is better to change the foreign currency in Yangon or another big city like Mandalay because you will not find a good exchange rate in Bagan.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bagan - an amazing place

We just returned from a long weekend in Bagan in our first trip outside Yangon to discover Myanmar.

Bagan is the place of the many ancient pagodas and stupas located on the Irrawaddy River, for more info see wikitravel.

We were a group of four and we chose to fly from Yangon to Nyaung U (Bagan): 1h10 min flight, 210 USD/person. Flights are in general very expensive in Myanmar despite the many companies which fly inside the country. There is also the bus option, much cheaper, in modern buses which leave Yangon twice a day but the trip takes around 10 hours, quite tiring. Well, the train takes 17 hours, so do not consider this option unless you stop on your way.

Not being the high season (which starts in November and ends in March) the hotel prices are quite good but still expensive compared with other countries in Asia. We booked on agoda.com (the Asian version of booking.com).

I would not say Bagan has a rainy season compared with the rain in Yangon. In the three days there were two light and short rains. For the rest of the time sunshine and 35C.

If you are young the preferred mode of transportation to visit the many pagodas and stupas would be the e-bike, which, in my opinion, is a scooter with pedals . The pedals you will never use as the "bike" is quite heavy. You can hire these bikes by reserving them with your hotel - a bit more expensive - or you can walk or cycle the normal bikes (free for the guests in most of the hotels) and get to the closest shop which rents the e-bikes. The next day they will bring the e-bikes to your hotel and they will pick them up in the evening. The rental for one full day was 6.000 Kyatts.

There are also other options: horse cart or rented car.

Taxis are more expensive than in Yangon and, of course, fewer. Be prepared to pay between 5.000 to 7.000 kyatts from airport to your hotel depending where your hotel is situated, and this in low season.

I would say that three full days are enough to visit the sights. You may visit the famous pagodas, take a boat trip on the river to admire the sunset, take a balloon flight (only in high season-very expensive but must be very beautiful!), or visit a laquerware workshop.

For the lunch or dinner I would recommend the Sunset Garden Restaurant in New Bagan, on the riverside. Below a link to a recent article from Myanmar Times about the restaurant:

In the morning just look on the map which you get in the airport or hotel and start riding your bike and stop on the road to visit the pagodas which you like. It is a very special place, with lots of old pagodas (11th-12th century), dusty side roads, few tourists, curious locals and lots of Buddhas. Amazing! We liked very much the old white or red stone of the pagodas and in some of them we climbed lots of stairs to the top from where you are able to admire the amazing surroundings.

The big pagodas are having vendors and Bagan is famous for the laquerware products and sand paintings. We bought both: laquerware from the Bagan House workshop to make sure we buy good quality and sand paintings from the vendors in the pagodas. We also had two guides in two of the pagodas. They were young locals, still studying who guided tourists in the free days. They were not insisting in guiding us and we found their explanations very useful.

Again, the people are amazing, curious, smiling, beautiful and simple. I even had the chance to photograph a few children monks.

 The beautiful Ananda Temple:

Some temples have preserved beautiful paintings:

After three full days we are back in Yangon and looking forward to the new week as I will start my Burmese language classes!!!