Myanmar: Farewell Mawlamyine

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Our last week in Mawlamyine has been somewhat less structured, allowing us time to happen upon things and discover more ourselves – just the way we like it.

One afternoon whilst wandering around town two people came running after us, said they were English students and asked if we could spare a few minutes to speak to their class. We followed them back and found the most wonderful, lively classroom. Their teacher was Edward. A Myanmar national who has lived and worked in Bangkok and has now come to Mawlamyine to use his exceptional English skills. Edward held his classes attention by making learning fun and his class seemed to really respect him for it. As well as making them chase down foreigners in the street, he had a cash penalty system for speaking Myanmar in the classroom. Once a reasonable about of money has been accrued, they donate the money to a local charity. There was not a text book in sight and it was really nice to see someone doing things so differently.

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Edward’s English class

We haven’t yet mentioned our creeper. There’s a man that lives in a house on the corner of our street who had been staring at and following us since we got here. The most disconcerting is when he seems to be waiting for us at 5am and when he follows us to the end of our shared driveway at night and watches which house we go in to. As we approach he leaps from his chair, unlocks his balcony door and follows. This week we decided that enough was enough and have tried a few things. First we said hello to him (in Myanmar). He looked confused, smiled and still followed. Then we pointed at him and talked about him to our Myanmar flatmates. No change. Then we struck on the answer. Now we just stare at him. It freezes him in his tracks. He still leaps up but just sits back down, stares back and pretends that he wasn’t doing anything in the first place.

We’ve since found out that he had been working in Malaysia and had returned mentally unwell. It’s well know that the conditions of Myanmar workers in Malaysia are pretty awful and some make allegations of forced steroid use to get 15 hour days out of them. I suppose the other thing to consider is why he went there in the first place as many Myanmar fled to Malaysia as refugees. Whatever the case it’s taken its toll on this man. I feel sorry for him, but am wary of him too.

Also this week we’ve had our scepticism challenged. Every now and then a monk does something odd that I wouldn’t have associated with Buddhism before. During our trip to the caves, a monk gave one of our students a piece of paper with lottery numbers on it. These were winning numbers he said. We laughed and just shrugged. Another of our students took this more seriously, played the numbers and won $100USD. Surely a coincidence but a little spooky…

As the students enjoy games of chance we have bought them each a lottery ticket in the hope that one will win big and come visit us in Australia. You can buy tickets everywhere, there are even men that ride around in tuk tuks and bicycle drawn carts blasting music and selling tickets. One parked himself in our driveway for a good 5 minutes the other night as our neighbours picked their tickets.

As well as the ticket we’ve had a class photo printed and laminated for each student. One of our students was hiding or behind the camera in each picture so Leckie had creatively added him in for his picture.

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Our class photo

Waking around this week we’ve also noticed that the street lights all have switches on them. It’s like a bedside lamp cord that hangs down which presumably you can use to just switch the light off. The temptation to test the theory is huge, but I haven’t done so.

Our final field trip was to Bilu Island (Ogre Island). There’s not a whole lot there to see, but there were a few incidents of note as we travelled around:

* The men that operated the long tail boats for the 5 minute run to the island wanted to charge more because we are foreigners. Thane shouted at them and eventually they gave in. Foreigner pricing is so pants! (and a sure fire way to drive tourists away.)

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Our students prepared for a dusty ride

* At one of the pagodas, one of our students began lifting a small boulder. Confused we sought an explanation. She had made a wish in prayer and it’s believed that if your wish will come true you can lift the boulder, if not then the boulder will be inexplicably too heavy to lift. This was made all the more amusing as the student doing this is five foot nothing and tiny.

* The driver of our long tail boat on the way back decided to start the boat on fumes to try to cross the (tidal with a strong current) river. He ran out of fuel half way across leaving us stranded and drifting until another boat came and towed us.  Unfortunately 2 of our students are terrified of being on water as they can’t swim and it turned out to be quite the ordeal for them.

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Being towed by another boat after ours stopped mid-crossing

* Standing on the side of the road we were passed by a shirtless young man on a bicycle blasting techno from speakers attached to the bike, with a chicken tucked under his arm. We couldn’t help laughing.

* We got an up close look at one of the crocodile instruments.

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Used in traditional Mon performances, we just called it a crocodile instrument

Unwinding later that evening with a beer, we’d not long finished watching the sunset when we heard a screech, a bang and the shocked wailing of a woman. The place emptied in a heartbeat as everyone ran to help or rubberneck. It seems that a 4WD had hit a scooter. Thankfully no one was seriously injured, but it definitely validated for me all the walking we’ve been doing in lieu of getting motorbike taxis.

Today has been a bit bitter sweet. We had a small informal ceremony where we presented our students with their certificates and gifts. They had some lovely gifts for us as well. As a group they had purchased us an item of jewellery each and our Karen students presented us each with a traditional longyi of the Karen people. There was even a beautiful letter from one. They’re all coming to the bus station with us tomorrow so it’s not a final goodbye, but sad nonetheless. We’re so proud of how far they’ve come and hope that some will visit Australia one day so that we can share our culture in return.

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Farewell lunch

Posted from Mawlamyine, Mon, Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

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