Myanmar: Terracotta Frogs and Tunnels to Thailand

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Phew. It’s starting to heat up!! I’ve no idea how hot it actually is, just that this week is hotter than the last. My guess would be low 30s.

Saturday brought a tour of the Mottama Hills by some of our students. Mottama (aka Moke Ta Ma) is the next town over, connected by a bridge and is home to some of our class. There are many pagodas in the surrounding hills – at least 18 – and many of which don’t really receive visitors. At the first stop we were greeted by an old nun smoking cheroots and grinng toothlessly from the entrance. This was a sign of just how unusual the day ahead of us would be.

Stop two was another pagoda which just so happened to have a palm wine stand next door. Despite being 9am there was a man sitting on the raised bamboo platform drinking heartily from his large bamboo mug. I guess it’s a bit like the local Wetherspoons. He held out some money to us – I think he was trying to buy us a round. We declined but did have a taste. When the woman working there saw us she hastily ran into her hut and produced a clean glass which she filled from what looked like a dish washing bucket. Whilst it didn’t look appetising it was actually quite nice. Had it not been 9am and had we not had 11 students with us we might well have gone a few rounds with the local.

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Another stop was a small blue building which the students told us was a cave. Confused and amused we entered and realised what they were talking about. Inside was what looked like the beginning of a tunnel. Shining my torch into it yielded no result, but the students told us that this tunnel went all the way to the Thai border. Apparently there was a palace here once and this was their escape tunnel, though it is full of water now.

Leckie mentioned in his last journal post that there was the body of a monk on Shampoo Island who died 14 years ago. They claim that he never decomposed, but he is entombed so we can’t see.  In Mottama Hills there is a monk also who died 8 years ago. This one is on display. Whilst covered from nose to ankle he does indeed look to be mummified. This is hearsay of course, being that I’m a massive wuss and didn’t go in. I’ll take Leckie’s word for it!

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Our final stop was a monastery where last year one of our students had been a monk. The pagoda here is unusual in that it’s all white. There a large bell here which they say can never be moved – not because of its immense weight, but because of some spiritual power. There are many dents on the bell that look like bullet damage and we wondered if this has been sustained in the war. Nobody was sure though. It seems as though it’s not really something people talk about.

Later that day, after booking our onward bus journey to Mandalay, we stumbled across what looked like a beer garden at the entrance to the park. This was confirmed when a passing motorcyclist pointed and told us ‘I go to beer’. Well, who were we to say no? I doubt if this place had seen tourists before and everyone was very curious and very friendly. Beer came cold, with free beef soup and a much needed mosquitoe coil. We didn’t dwell long, being that there are no loos (the men were relieving themselves in the bush). A man very drunk on palm wine offered to drive us home on his motorbike. We politely declined his kind offer.

As we walked that day we had remarked that despite there being so many animals wandering across the roads, we hadn’t seen any road kill. To our horror we got our answer on the way home from the pub as we stumbled across a dog eating a sun baked dead cat. The smell was horrific.

The people continue to be the best thing about Mawlamyine. Everywhere we go people call out to us, small children wave and those with a little English seek to practice it. We never feel preyed upon or pressured. The only people that try to sell anything to you are the motorbike taxi drivers and their pitch only goes as far as “taxi?” If you say no they go away. You only have to say it once.

Sunday morning Thane took us to a traditional Myanmar tea house. I was able to get the milky tea that I like, complete with skin from warming long life milk. You can order meals, but they also place a variety of food on the table. You eat what you like and pay for only what you eat. Our table had spring rolls, dim sum, chicken buns, Myanmar rice sweets and pudding. In the end our bill came to under £2 for 3 people to eat their fill and have teas and coffees. You couldn’t even get a Starbucks for that in London. Bargain!

Despite being quite far, we walked home from the tea shop. We came through the park which houses a large gold statue of what appears to be Aung San. By now we were hot and sweaty. The sign looming overhead with a picture of a fancy restaurant seemed like a mirage. As we continued, there it was! We entered the property in a state of fascinated disbelief and were greeted with the murkiest swimming pool we’ve ever seen. Whilst there was someone swimming in there it did not look like a good idea. Oh well!

It had been an interesting walk, but also quite long and very hot. Given the dashed hope of clean, cool waters to submerge in, I was grateful of a cool shower when we got home. As I reached for the body wash I knocked everything off the shelf. For an instant I thought, ‘I don’t remember there being a terracotta frog in here’. This was only for an instant and then I hurriedly removed myself from the room. Like a green tree frog in size and shape, my shower companion was a kind of peach colour. After chasing it around the room for a while Leckie caught the frog and put it outside and I finally finished my shower. The incident was made all the more amusing by the 2 dozen or so small children in the house at the time doing their English lessons. They’re scared of us as it is, but properly freaked out when Leckie walked through the class carrying a frog!

Having been here for a few weeks now it feels like we know whole neighbourhood. Everywhere we go we run into people we know, whether it be a student, neighbour or one of the people who speaks to us in the street. It’s a far cry from the anonymity of London! But gradually we are sinking into routine here, returning smiles more easily and without suspicion, talking to strangers and slowing the pace if our walking. Looking forward to seeing what the next 3 weeks will bring.

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

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