Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ridin' the Rangoon (Yangon) Rails

One of the scavenges in the Global Scavenger Hunt was to board Yangon's Circular Train at Central Station and ride it for at least two stops.

We went to Yangon's Central Station and tried to figure out how to buy a ticket. I stood in line at the ticket window. The man who had been working there left his position behind the cage, walked around to the front and then pushed his way through the crowd. He jumped up onto the counter and squatted so that he could use his blue marker pen to write updates on the board.

Way up in the upper left corner of this photo, the small blue sign says "Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourists." Unfortunately, that sign is a rare specimen of any information not in Burmese.

Bought the tickets

Checked the Map
Waiting for the Train

Excellent People Watching

"Brimming With Optimism"

Riding the Train

The blue "Air Conditioned" sign over the doorway is a joke (and it's not funny)

One stop we didn't get off at

Trainman gives the "all clear" signal, waving a green cloth flag out the window

Monday, April 29, 2019

Which Buddha is the Real Buddha?

Which statue is the real Buddha?  I'll never know.
These photos are from just one day's visit to eight temples in Old Bagan, Myanmar. We saw all of these Buddhas. And many more.

It's hard to believe they are all the same person.

Terribly Toasty Temples

Cloth walkway doesn't reach all the way

There are so many temples scattered throughout the Archeological Zone in Bagan, Myanmar that from all the stuff I read, I can't find agreement on how many temples there are. One brochure said "over 2,200." Another guide said there are ruins of 10,000 temples.  However many there are, I can say this. They were all hot. Really, really hot.

You must remove your shoes to visit a temple complex. Only a few of the temples let you wear socks.

No socks allowed (see the sign with the red X's in the left rear of the photo?)

Most of the time, it's bare skin against sizzling stone. Some temples have laid carpet or placed cloth pads that you can hop onto for a moment, before braving the next step onto searing stone.

We found people resting inside the temples, where it was cooler in the shade.
Group nap
Hiding from the sun

Sally crossing the stones; gotta run!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Q. What's that Yellow Stuff? A. Thanaka

We noticed a smudge here, a dab there. At first, when we saw yellow paint on women's faces in Myanmar we didn't think anything of it. Dirt? Yellow Caladyrl instead of pink? 

But then, we saw women and girls with leaves drawn onto their faces. The girls in this photo clinched it that this yellow stuff is on purpose. Nobody has a leaf drawn on her face by mistake. 

The yellow pigment is call thanaka. It comes from grinding the wood of the thanaka tree, a species local to Myanmar. When the wood is scraped from the trunk into a fine powder, it is mixed with water into a paste. Women (mostly women; very few men use it) spread the paste onto their skin. Some paint their thanaka into leaf shapes for decoration. Thanaka is believed to protect against sunburn and to cool the skin. Some people also spread it over their arms. 

We visited a thanaka market where logs are sold. Trees must be about 35 years old or more to be able to produce the powder for the paste.

Even babies get thanaka'ed (if you can say that). Even if you can't say it, that baby's pretty cute, right?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kayaking in Abu Dhabi’s Mangroves

As a diversion from all the showy, gold-encrusted glitz of Abu Dhabi, Sally and I went kayaking. We rented a double kayak on the waterside walkway at the Eastern Mangroves Hotel and Spa. The name of the place alone suggests that kayaking in Abu Dhabi won’t involve roughing it. After strolling by the ATM, an inviting al fresco cafe and a luxury yacht dealership, we arrived at the kayak rental dock. The rental guy dragged the plastic boat down to the edge of the downward-tilting ramp, handed paddles to us and told us to get seated. He pushed us down into the water and pointed out the suggested course. We were lowered to eye level at the tangled thickets of mangroves. A soft breeze and the temperature drop felt great. The first thing we passed in our nature experience was a distant panorama of Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers lining the Arabian gulf coastline. The buildings are very tall and very glassy. 

We paddled forward a little more. If you paddle sloppily and out of synch, splashing happens and you get wet. That was a good thing in this heat. 

We then turned a corner to follow the open channel within the mangroves. A piece of dredging equipment was parked on the side and we saw about 20 workmen nearby, all wearing green neon life jackets. After about 15 minutes, we had enough of nature experience Abu Dhabi-style. We retraced our path and returned to the dock. Next up: visiting the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Hard Part of the Global Scavenger Hunt

The Global Scavenger Hunt is for fun. It is like doing an exhausting and exhilarating puzzle. New and weird things come at you. You try to get enough sleep but can’t. When you finally hit the pillow, it’s hard to turn off your brain. 

But with all the running around fun, it isn’t until you sit still and talk with people that you can think about the issues just below the surface. 

I’m thinking about the female Filipino taxi driver who picked us up from the fish market in Abu Dhabi. She and her sister work to send money back home. But the pay isn’t nearly as good as it had been. They are thinking of New Zealand or Canada where they might try for better opportunity. But in Abu Dhabi as a woman driver, she enjoys an advantage. Under Abu Dhabi’s Muslim rules, it is extremely rare to find a woman driver. The local Emirati women and their husbands prefer that the women be driven by women.  But that isn’t enough to make a difference in her life. And what new hurdles would face her if she tried to move to a new country?

On a plane back to the United States, I caught a headline that the Myanmar government again ruled against the journalists whose work exposed governmental abuse of Rohinga people. I’m replaying in my head the conversation I had with the Buddhist meditation master. My guess is that he would not sympathize. He could say that the journalists wrote inflammatory stories. Perhaps they don’t deserve leniency. When he and I spoke, he had volunteered his opinion questioning whether there even was such a thing as the Rohinga people. He referred back to the time when the British ruled Burma, and the British imported Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to work in the colony. According to him, those were the legitimate immigrants into Burma. He got himself all worked up, angrily asking, "Who are the people that are called Rohinga? Where are they from?" 

Those are troublesome questions at this stage of this controversy. I have since learned that United Nations' probes revealed that a segment of Buddhists (maybe my meditation instructor?) incite hatred and religious intolerance against Rohingas. The Myanmar government is accused of human rights violations for arbitrarily arresting and torturing Rohingas. Moreover, the journalists’ basic rights are at stake. And the Buddhist master, who won’t hurt a mosquito while it bites him, is annoyed at the suggestion that Rohinga people deserve any rights at all. 

Grabbing points doing scavenges such as eating weird things or climbing pagodas is comparatively easy. When you try to process complicated political and economic issues, hunting globally is dramatically more challenging. And an appreciation of the issues sticks around a lot longer. 

Scoring the Global Scavenger Hunt

A Note on Competition as we moved across the world.

Sally and I are traveling as a team in the Global Scavenger Hunt competition. Our team name is Fillies - in part because we met growing up in Philly. 

We are competing, but not really. We are only participating in the first half of the trip. We will peel off after Day 12 of 23. Thus, it is not possible for us to win the game. However, each country we visit is a separate leg, with its own scores and rankings. We can and do compete in each country.

The data from the legs are rolled into overall scores after weighing them for level of difficulty and number of days spent in that country. For example, one day of scavenging in Vancouver was a par 1, versus four days in Myanmar, assigned a par 5. 

Our scores:
  1. Vancouver- we are pretty sure we won, but the leg was a trial run. No scores were posted. In wrapping up the Vancouver leg, the trip leader, Bill Chalmers announced that the Fillies (that’s us) did the most scavenges and he called us overachievers. Alas, it doesn’t count. 
  2. Vietnam- We came in 4th. (I was a little cranky because we thought we would be first. We were out the door at 5:00 a.m., hard charged strategically and followed the rules assiduously. But, we got dinged by an alternate interpretation).
  3. Myanmar- dead last. No surprise, because we chose to break the rule limiting in-country flights to two. It cost us a 750 point penalty. We took three flights: Yangon to Mandalay. Mandalay to Bagan. Bagan to Yangon. We did it to position ourselves to be in Bagan before sunrise for the dreamy hot air ballon experience that I have wanted to do forever. Figuring we were in the red anyway, why not go deeper so we could maximize our visit and see the most of Myanmar? We broke two other rules: no internet research and limiting a taxi to two scavenges. All said, we got to see a lot more of Myanmar than we ever could have if we hadn’t decided to “go red.”
  4. Bangkok- We came in 2nd. 
  5. Abu Dhabi - No idea. We left before the scores were announced.  

Really, the scores don’t matter unless you win the whole competition. The prize for winning is getting to go again the next year for free. The fun is in doing the scavenges and in racking up points while playing.

Departure area of Abu Dhabi airport. This cheesy camel photo prop, is in the corridor on the way to US Customs and Border Patrol Preclearance. After clearing immigration in Abu Dhabi's airport, when you land in the US, it's as though you arrived on a domestic flight. No immigration or customs lines required.