2011: A Reckoning

Well, folks. We’ve established I am a horrible future predictor. The only reason I went out of a limb to post my plans up is because I am good at following through. I had planned all those trips. I knew when I was going to go, how I was going to go, where I was going to go.

Life has a way of getting in the way. Let’s see what happened, shall we:

Lombok. Oh. Sigh. This one irks me a little. I had an itinerary all planned out. And my work asked me to scrap the plans. I am not angry at my boss.. he did not have a choice anymore than I did. I am disappointed, though, at my fate. Lombok has been a destination on my list long before Bali made it.

Yosemite. This was a conscious elimination on my part. The cross-country road trip didn’t pan out. The moving company messed up my car shipment. I didn’t scrap the idea of a cross-country. I just changed the mode of transportation from a car to the train. A heck lot cheaper than renting a car for the entire trip, I must say. But in choosing the train, I was limited by time and route. While I said I want to go to the Yosemite Park, my heart wanted to go to the Glacier National Park. Anyone who has looked at the Amtrak map will know there are two destinations on the cross-country rail. Pacific Northwest. Or California. Glacier it was.

More on the latter trip in a later post.

I did, however, achieve my dream of going to Myanmar. It was easy and hard. I had already purchased the deeply discounted plane tickets through an advance sale in August 2010. $30, anyone? At that price, it was a gamble that I could afford loosing. But also with an actual plane ticket, it was easier to hold myself to the commitment.

More details of that trip:
Bagan
Mandalay
Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake
Photo slideshow

Fallen plans notwithstanding, I had a lot of plans that did happen. My celebratory year in review, take a look.

Let’s hope I’m better at carrying out my bucket list for 2012. What is it? Well, do I dare share? Maybe. Let me thinking about it. I honestly haven’t really planned that far yet. Any suggestions?

Myanmar: Summary in Photos

I am especially proud of this slideshow.. The photos aren’t necessarily all the ones I consider the best from the trip. But the selection well represents each area, each aspect of Myanmar that caught my interest and held my fascination. I hope you have a moment to sit back and enjoy.

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Sunset at U Bein Bridge

Final stop for the day. U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. Amarapura was the site of the royal palace very briefly before it moved to what is now Mandalay city proper. Now its claim to fame is the U Bein bridge.

For most tourists, the world’s longest teak bridge is notable because it is portrayed in front cover of the current edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook for Myanmar. The bridge is made of wood from an unused palace when the royal residence moved. Ironically, because much of the last royal residence and grounds were destroyed during World War II, these wood planks and Shwenandaw may be the only wooden remnants from the palace.

The planks are alarmingly wobbly and springy at some parts. I found myself wondering just how tested these planks are. Old historical wood structures aren’t all that common here and unlike the buildings which have subfloor layers and buttressed foundation, I can see down through the gaps to the trashy ground about 25 feet down. The average Myanmar person looks to weigh about 110 pounds… making me outsize and outweigh them.

The lake it goes over is very low, as it is the tail end of the dry season. Boats rowed through the bridge and back, carrying mostly tourists and an occasional romantic couple. Between human chatter, the ducks quack as their herders rush them off.

What I saw was more than a photo-op. For the locals, it seemed that they treat this 1.2 km bridge as an equivalent of a public park or shopping mall, depending on your background, where people came to gather. We arrived around sunset, and the bridge and the surrounding grounds were jam-packed. There was no lonely stroller scenic photo-op for those wanting to replicate the cover of the guide. Novices and monks strolled in groups, the adolescent and young boys much fooling around and watching girls like any boy, monk robes or not. Teenage girls giggled in gaggles, giving obvious sneaky looks at the boys. There were benches set up every 20 feet, perfect excuse for the young men to lounge while surreptitiously eying the passing female butts. Families brought the toddlers out to wobble their stops across the planks. Older monks sat at the cafes below the bridge, smoking cheroot and gossiping with village elders.

Up ahead: Mandalay

Mandalay holds the old Myanmar glory of being the last royal capital. Today stands as one of the country’s major cities by its own right.

Yangon was (more on the past tense later) the center of the modern government and its governing interests and international presence. I feel that Bagan is the home of the Burmese soul and Mandalay is the home of the Burmese hearts. Mandalay enchanted me. A bustling city by its own right, Mandalay has a history feel without loosing its sense of growth and development. While Mandalay was the last royal capital, the area still conveys the old dignity in its character.

Most of its old palatial sites was destroyed. A few unexpected survivors dotted the city landscape. For reasons unknown, one of the buildings were moved out of the palace grounds to Mandalay Hill. Over time, it eventually became the  Shwenandaw Monastery until someone discovered the origin of the building and the government turned it into a historic site.

The woodwork is amazing. The building itself has been moved a couple of times and the modern carpentry has made its way into the reconstruction process. However, the intricate foundation on stilts and the detail in the carvings on every inch of the wall, interior and exterior, makes it a formidable feat of architecture and design. Most of the wood carving details have faded or softened over time. But some probably never were there to begin with because the wood was just the base. The building had in its heyday been completely gilded. As the guide was explaining that, I mentally sized up the building and the quantity of gold it would take. Gold is $1500 an ounce today, people.

Nikon D90, fisheye lens, f/9, 1/320

Nikon D90, f/5, 1/30s

Another impressive site is Kuthodaw Pagoda. It wasn’t so much the main pagoda as the environs that was striking. Pagodas often start looking alike to many laypeople. But in this temple, the entire Buddhist scriptures were written out on marble slabs, single spaced, double sided. Each slab stood up housed in individual stupas. It took 729 slabs to cover the entire texts. Which means 729 individual dedicated housing units for each two-sided page. Each slab is about 14 cm thick, 1.5m high and 1m wide. It is said if stacked together, it is over 103 meters high, making is the world’s biggest book.

Nikon D90, f/8, 1/1000