2015
06.23

A day spent in two gardens.  A word about colonial architecture and the use of motorcycle helmets.  A Muslim community with a difference.  Internet!

I hope these guys in Pyin O Lwin know what they got!

This small mountain town is over 3200 feet above sea levels and a full 10 degrees C/18 degrees F cooler than Mandalay in the valley.  I almost forgot that I was in Myanmar during the hot season!  I needed no air-conditioning, I did not drip water within minutes of drying off after a shower, I did not feel fatigued by noon.   No wonder the British discovered this.

To date, you can drive around Pyin O Lwin and spot a few of the old colonial mansions.  Some of them still are owned by foreigners, others are upper middle class homes, a few have been converted into luxury hotels.  Dark red brick and exposed timbers seem to have been one of the preferred building styles.  Many of these mansions came with acres of property around them, now beautifully manicured with flower gardens, or used to grow fruit trees and vegetable gardens.  If ever I wanted to own property in Myanmar it would have to be here!

The town radiates prosperity in many ways:  an unusual number of well-maintained educational institutions are spread around town.  Upper class hotels, restaurants, and spas are advertised.  And several religious institutions other than Buddhist monasteries indicate wealth: several beautiful churches and the most impressive, well-kept mosque I have seen anywhere in Myanmar.

Last night at the night market — a local specialty where about two dozen men and women open stalls in a downtown street between 5:30 and 9 PM and bake, roast, cook and simmer the most delicious variety of local foods for very little money — I had met my scooter man, Aruna.  He met me as agreed at the hotel this morning and took me on a Circular Road Tour, sampling some of the old mansions.

The helmet he handed me was broken (the inside strip fell out and the strap used to fasten the helmet was missing).  Just wear it for pretend was his suggestion!  Excuse me?!  Helmets are not for show; they are not a joke, they are for safety!  His excuse: helmets are too expensive.  He has not earned enough money recently.  I fastened the strap as best as I could and said a prayer to St. Christopher before hopping on.  I had observed many people wearing helmets just for “pretend”.  One time, I saw a helmet fly off a driver in the middle of a busy road — there comes a great traffic hazard!  What gets me most, is to see young mothers who wear helmets, but drive with one hand, holding their babies with the other hand under their “free” arm!  Who is going to be dead here if anything happens?!  What are these people thinking?  Babies!!!!!!!

After circling town and looking at some of the mansions, I was heading to the recommended tourist spot:  The Botanical Garden. If you are into trees, butterflies, subspecies of bamboo, or exotic birds you could probably spend days in this beautifully maintained garden.  I simply enjoyed the feel of the beautiful spot, listened to the birds from the aviary making exotic sounds, and to the deafening cicadas, which were in rock-concert mode.  Except for the one small golden pagoda which was put smack in the middle of a small island, nothing reminded you of Myanmar.  A small Butterfly Museum held one of the most extensive butterfly collections from across the world I have ever seen.  If it were not for the very unpleasant thought that each of these beautiful critters displayed so elegantly in each of the many glass cases had to be killed to show off their beauty here, this was almost enjoyable.

Pyin O Lwinians know how to have fun!  Across the Botanical Gardens there were two more parks:  An Amusement Park — yes!  I am not sure what’s in it but judging by the number of motorcycles in front of it, it was the winner among young people.  And a National Landmark Garden which displayed about 20 distinct monuments and sights (including an oil well and a beach) representing the seven different states and various regions of Myanmar.  Not bad!

Walk long enough in any of these or in any other city park and you will find young people hanging out, smooching.  It’s a good sight to see especially after my ten years of travels in the Middle East where a sight like this could have gotten the youngsters into serious trouble.

I stayed at the Ruby Hotel, a Muslim-owned place, two blocks from the mosque and obviously in the middle of the Muslim quarter.  I asked the owner — as I have asked so many other Myanmarians — of his nationality.  His answer: Muslim.  No, I responded, I don’t mean what is your religion, I am asking about your ethnic background.  Many generations ago, his father came from Bangladesh, his mother from Pakistan.  He is a citizen of Myanmar with all rights of citizenship, including ownership of a lucrative downtown hotel.  He is an immigrant and a citizen as I am an immigrant and citizen in the U.S.  That seems to be one of the biggest differences between the Muslims in the Rakhine State and Muslims elsewhere:  Muslims elsewhere do not claim native origins and therefore by implication do not claim any right to any land.  They live as Muslims in the Shan or any other State among the Shan or any other people who are Buddhists.  They are not converts, they are immigrants.  I wonder if there are any internal converts in Myanmar?  I have not come across any yet.  I will keep looking.

A share-taxi took me back to hot, hot Mandalay.  One more night out with Mama/Sister, one more nice dinner, one more massage.  Nanbwe was very excited to see me and even more excited to hear that I was no longer sick.  This time, we went for Thai food and for an hour long foot massage — in contrast to the painful body massage, this turned out to be a very gentle affair.  $6 well spent!

Good night — or rather not.  I finally have internet again at the guesthouse and will work through the night posting pictures. Yeah, the sacrifices needed for the blog…  You have no idea. 🙂

Go Internet and please don’t let me down!