Day 9

Today was our ninth day in Myanmar, and our first day at Inle Lake. Our day started early. We departed the hotel in Mandalay to make our 8:40 flight to Heho Airport. After landing, we drove to our hotel past deforested lands, markets and shops. We spent some time walking around the Five Day Market, a large market that sells things from jeans to toothbrushes to fish and occurs once every five days. This was very different from any sort of farmers market that we see at home, and much larger than any other market that we have seen thus far. There was a lot of bargaining with prices, something we have seen just about everywhere in Myanmar. This is different than at home, where there is always a set price and no negotiation. After the market, we divided into groups of five and boarded small boats. The boats were unstable so it became a team effort to find the perfect balance as to not tip the boat. It was a beautiful ride filled with views of mountains and small huts on the riverside. We saw fishermen that are different from the fishermen that you would see at home. These men each have their own small canoe and used their foot and oar to move along the river. After lunch we took another boat ride through a fishing village. These villagers homes are built out of bamboo and wood and are right on the water. Rows upon rows of houses are built on stilts above the water, it was amazing. The people were so friendly, waving to us, coming out of there houses and peeking out there windows to say hello, it was so great to see that. I think that because this whole idea of tourism is so new to these people they get so excited seeing people and showing them how they live, but in a few years when tourism in Myanmar becomes greater the people will be less excited and rather more annoyed and over the idea.

We continued to a silk factory where we were able to witness the making of string and then how that string would be turned into beautiful silk pieces. The work place was old fashioned. Everything here was done both by hand and with the help of handmade wooden machines; this was nothing like what you would see in todays American factories. Now that Myanmar is no longer isolated from the world they will be open to the newest technology that would make their lives so much easier, but I hope that the places like the silk factory that we visited today will always stay old fashioned and in a sense more pure. These traditional ways make the things that they produce that much more valuable in my opinion. As we headed back we passed through a small farm village where right on the water tomatoes are grown, going through that area I probably got some of the best photos I will take this whole trip, I was gorgeous. Our day ended with yet another delicious meal and the anticipation for another great day in Myanmar to follow.

By Danny

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Day 8

This morning at about 5 am, Carleton, Ned, Rory and I ventured out into Mandalay’s streets in search of monks who, every morning, walk through parts of the city with their begging bowls. This ritual is the essence of their livelihood and even survival. Mandalay is laden with ritual, and this morning was just a small part of it. These early hours are the rare, tourist-free ones. I felt like I was peering into an open window of Burmese life, a window that few ever get to see into. The monks coming around for food is one of these rituals that, until this morning, felt to be a myth. The four of us finally spotted our first monk a few minutes away from our hotel. In all honesty we were all a little giddy when we saw him. Here he was, begging bowl and all—this ritual finally seemed real. Our excitement only grew when we watched him cross over to our side of the street and bring his bowl over to a woman standing with a large bowl cradled in her arms. Their interaction was short, no words were exchanged–something I expect to be quite the norm in this ritual–she handed him a tea bag, and that was all. The briefness of this exchange was shocking to me. I wondered if any of these monks ever spoke to the women who were serving them food. I wondered if even, day after day, year after year, if no words were exchanged. Could it be that the women had never heard these monk’s voices?

We followed him for another block before he veered off down a dark street. Then, it was onto the search for another monk. One wasn’t enough now, the four of us wanted to see as many of them as possible before heading back. After seeing more monks, snapping a few pictures and turning down random corners, our small group ended up at the train station. Throughout this whole trip we’ve heard how the train system in Myanmar isn’t that great; this system is old, decrepit, difficult to navigate and slow. The station was full of locals, immigrants, emigrants and lost travelers. In these early morning hours, the dimly lit trains, the station and the people all became one giant amorphous mass, moving and shifting in size and shape. Chaos seemed to envelop this area. Yet, it was a calm chaos that I have yet to experience in any of the other places around the world I have visited. As we walked by it, this chaos became just another layer of the hum and ritual of Mandalay.

Have I mentioned I love Myanmar? I love the people, the food (even if I don’t eat most of it because I’m a vegan), the sounds of the countless scooters, bikes, and buses, the smells of the food cooking (maybe not the fish, but most other things), I love nearly all of it.

Our entire group met in the lobby around 9 and the twenty-three of us took off for a walking tour around the area. This was the perfect continuation of our morning excursion, except now our group had grown drastically in size thus making our ability to blend in ten times harder. I’ve never experienced the kind of disruptiveness that our group, and I’m sure others, bring to local areas. You can’t miss a mass of foreigners with their fancy cameras, mostly blonde hair, and that look in their eyes, caught between being lost and hoping to find something familiar and relatable. Personally I have felt the strong feeling of unfamiliarity everywhere in Myanmar. The cultural difference between what I am used to and what I see here is vast, and I’m not even sure I have begun to properly comprehend it.

It was today that I felt, for the first time, like I could stay here long-term. For the first time I felt as though I could be familiar with this city and perhaps, one day, fall into step with the rhythm and hum that is Mandalay.

I think one of the great things about Mandalay, and other places we’ve seen in Myanmar is how little the separation is between rich and poor. Yes, there are gated driveways and yes, there is a clear line between the wealthy homes and the poorer homes but from what I have seen this does not change the respect between the people of Myanmar. The women, regardless of status, wake up in the morning to give food to the monks, men and women who sell fruits/vegetables at markets will give free produce to a family that can’t afford it; the locals watch out for each other. This factor may be what produces the hum of calmness. It’s a hum that I wish I felt in other cities, such as New York City.

I think it’s safe to say that Myanmar is like no place I have ever seen, and will ever see again. The pace at which it is changing is unfathomable, even to some locals. I’m curious as to how different this country will be in one, five, ten years. Will it be recognizable? Will the separation of wealth become greater? Will this calm hum crumble as a need to grow bigger and faster takes over? Or will Myanmar rise to the top and show the rest of the world how its done?

 

I really don’t know.

 

By Maddy

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Day 7

Today we woke up early and hopped on the bus and headed for the Irrawaddy River.  The river bank was alive with all sorts of fishing boats and barges. We got on our boat and went on a one hour-long boat ride upriver. The river was shining in the sunlight, its dark waters moving slowly down stream in this dry season.

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Our guide said if we were lucky we might see a dolphin, which I thought was really cool. We landed on the beach and started heading for the village of Ming Gun. First we went and saw the base of a pagoda that wasn’t finished.

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It had tons of cracks in it from previous earthquakes. It was supposed to be 500 feet tall finished but was only around 150 feet. I thought even at 150 feet it was still gigantic. After that we walked over to a huge bell.

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Everyone rang the bell and some people even went inside it. Inside the bell were all these writing in Burmese and English. People would right things to their loved ones and things that they thought were funny or cool. Then we walked around the village for a while looking at the shops and getting water. We saw a huge white pagoda that was pretty amazing.

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It was different because most of the pagodas we’ve seen so far have been gold but this one was white. Then we stopped at a beverage place and Mr.Schade bought me a coconut to drink.

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I thought I wouldn’t like it but it was actually pretty good. We then got back on the boat and headed back down river. Most people slept on the boat ride back. To tell the truth I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t see any dolphins. We then went out to lunch at a restaurant on the riverbank.

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A lot of people ordered chicken, fish, and rice. Tons of people at lunch got up to use the bathroom and many others were not feeling well. After lunch we headed back to the hotel and some people decided to stay (Mostly those who went to the bathroom at the restaurant) while other people went to jade and wood artisans. The work they did was amazing and the time they put into it was unbelievable.

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After that we all came back to the hotel for free time. During free time people hung out with people from other rooms and wrote their journal entries. After free time we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Most people were not hungry because of all the snacks we ate and also some people were still not feeling well from lunch. After dinner we came back to the hotel, most of us were really tired and just showered and went right to bed. And that concluded another great day in Myanmar.

 

By Jared and Wyeth

Day 6

Waking up wasn’t easy, but in the end of the day it was certainly worth it. Our day started with a wake up call at 5:45 am, so that we could eat a nice and early breakfast. As we came out for breakfast there was a heavy smoke surrounding the hotel to clear away the mosquitoes. After breakfast we hopped aboard the bus for the last bus ride in Bagon. After an incredibly short plane ride, we were in a whole different part of country. Here there was farmland everywhere.“A giant food trough,” as Schade commented. 

We arrived at this insane temple that was covered in gold leaf. This thing looked like something straight out of a movie. It is still a shock at how much gold leaf is used in some sacred sites.

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After wandering around the temple for a bit, we wandered into this gallery with all these nice looking paintings. These paintings told a story, but we were not very sure what it was. My favorite was this painting with the elephants.

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After the temple, we made our way to the hotel for check in and some rest. In that time my group went wandering the city and we found a supermarket with so much food. We were so happy, we came in smiling and running around looking for food; the locals and the workers were giggling and surprised at the same time. We found all different snacks that we would bring back to the hotel. After we arrived we told the others, and of course they wanted to go as well. So I (Luca) showed them the way to the supermarket. Next, we bussed to the place where gold leaf is made and boy, was this place a shock. In America we would have this all run by machines, but here it is all done by human labor.

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A single piece takes 5 hours of manual labor. This hammer that he is swinging was heavy, 3 kilograms to be exact, and is heavier than any hammer or mallet I have used before. After hours of hitting these little packets of gold leaf they get their finished product.

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A single piece takes 5 hours of manual labor. This hammer that he is swinging was heavy, 3 kilograms to be exact, and is heavier than any hammer or mallet I have used before. After hours of hitting these little packets of gold leaf they get their finished product.

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Today was an amazing day and we all had a lot of fun. We had a great dinner by the river and we all were very tired so we went back to the hotel and all hit the hay.

 

By Luca and Tasio

Day 5

“So Many Steps!”

The day started off with a nice breakfast at the hotel and an hour-long bus ride to Mount Popa. On our way to the mountain we stopped on a little side hut. The first thing that caught everyone’s attention was the cow that was walking in a circle. Looking closer at what was going on we found out that the cow was turning the wood that was grinding up the peanuts to make oil. The day before we saw the same process, but that one was moving by an engine. That was something that definitely made me think about efficiency. At the one we saw today there was a man that kept the cow on track versus a similar process we saw yesterday but this one was the controlled by a machine.

Another cool thing about that stop was that although it may have seemed like a simple little place there was actually a huge business going on. Using the tree sap the people have created their own alcohol. Being interested in entrepreneurship myself I found this very interesting because they were really starting up something great. It would be really interesting to see how the business would be like in a couple of years considering the amount of tourism that has happened in the past two years.

After buying a couple of snacks from the hut we made our way to Mount Popa. Although we had to walk an enormous amount of stairs the view was definitely worth it. I was able to capture some great footage with my GoPro. One thing that I noticed while walking around at the top was the amount of donation areas, and the about of what seemed like local Burmese people alongside tourists. When walking up the first flights of stairs there was a lot of shops as well as food stands which made me think about how long ago all of those shops were set up and if they popped up as a result of the tourism.

After the steps we ate lunch at a restaurant bordering the riverbank. It was such a nice lunch and a lot of people enjoyed their meals.  The view was absolutely amazing, but it got a lot of us thinking about how high the water would be coming up in the next couple of months for the flood season.

Today was the first day where we got the afternoon off and everyone was really excited to be able to go in groups into the village. A couple of the boys rented bikes (which was only a dollar per hour) and a couple of the girls took a horse drawn carriage ride around. Maddy and I found ourselves walking around and settling at a little side food stand playing cards and talking about the trip so far.

We then all had to meet up back at the hotel and meet up with our groups. My group and I have to focus on Myanmar, a once closed off economy, now being an open economic hub and how it is reacting to all of the pressures.  We got some great input on the topic from all the teachers and have started to talk about what we want our product to be.

Lastly, we went to dinner right near our hotel and once again the table conversations didn’t disappoint me. This trip has such interesting people and being able to be part of it has been nothing but great. Hearing stories from everyone was really nice, especially when I was able to talk to Ms. Walker about skiing and all of the places that she went to as a kid.

Can’t wait to see how the trip to Mandalay will be like tomorrow!

By Selena

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Day 4

Today was our fourth day in Myanmar and our second day in Bagan. We woke up at 8:00 in the morning, ate breakfast, and then left at 9:30. We drove and picked up bikes to ride around Bagan. We rode to a temple and walked around. The temple was very beautiful and the view from the top was amazing. After the temple we cycled to a small village. The village was small, but they were developed.  They had things such as generators and solar panels. After cycling we ate lunch and returned to the hotel for a small break. Following the break we went on a pony ride around the back streets of Bagan. The things we could see while on the pony ride amazed me. We saw temples, small villages, people, and animals. The pony ride was very bumpy but it was really fun. After the pony ride we went on boats to watch the sunset. On the boat we visited a small beach and we watched the sun set over the water. After the boat ride we went to dinner and returned to the hotel for nighttime.

 

By Rory Gallaher

 

 

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Day 3

On our third day in Myanmar we woke up around 7:30, just in time to catch our early morning flight to Bagan. As we landed in Bagan we were greeted by our new tour guide, Ang. We went to lunch, and then afterwards went sightseeing. Bagan is the ruins of what was the capital of a tenth century Pagan Empire. What is left today are tens of thousands of temples and pagodas, almost as far as the eye can see. A pagoda is solid while a temple  is a structure one can walk into. We spent our first sunset in Bagan, sitting at the top of a large stone pagoda overlooking ruins. After this and a satisfying dinner, we went back to the Floral Breeze hotel. That night we warmly welcomed the AC system and comfortable beds.

 

By Daisja

Photos by Maddy

 

Day 2

Today was our first full day in Myanmar, which was spent in the city of Yangon. Everyone was tired due to the minimal amount of sleep we all got the night before. Our first day in Yangon was filled with amazing experiences, adventures, and activities. Our first stop was at one of the only nunneries in Yangon. Girls are sent to these nunneries by their parents to provide a better life for them that they would have not been able to provide at home. At the nunnery we were able to witness the serving of one of their two meals of the day. This one is around lunchtime and consists of a very large bowl of rice. We then offered them gifts of school supplies. Next we went back on the bus and went to lunch at a local restaurant where we had a choice of chicken, fish, or vegetables with rice. After lunch we got a chance to visit a beautiful synagogue where Sami, the director of our tour, told us about the history of the Jewish community in Myanmar, and how he is 1/20 of the Jews in all of Myanmar. Next we got back onto the bus and drove to the giant replica of the reclining Buddha statue. There we saw many monks and Buddhists praying to the Buddha. Then, we drove to a beautiful park where we had some time to walk around and take in the natural beauty of Yangon. Next, we went to a local market where we got to experience what it is like to shop and bargain with the local vendors. Everyone was a bit overwhelmed by this experience, because there was so much to see and so much going on at the market. Lastly, we drove to the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda where we watched the sunset.

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By Hannah Dayton

 

Day 1

February 25th. The day we set off on our journey to Myanmar. Nerves and excitement were running through all twenty- three of us, from the moment we stepped on the Hampton Jitney at 9 am. After getting our final “comfortable” nap on the jitney ride, we got our bags together and were off to the airport. Checking in and security was extremely easy and fast. We had a two-hour time period to ourselves to walk around JFK and buy necessary snacks for the long trip ahead. At 1:20 pm we boarded the plane, got our last stretches in, and braced ourselves for the long 15 hours that awaited us. The plane ride was as “good” as a 15-hour plane ride could be. With the occasional baby cries, awful freezing air conditioning, and smelly airplane food. There was a wide selection of movies, which helped occupy a good 5 hours of the trip. Finally after what seemed like forever we were off the plane, and in Hong-Kong. Eager for a taste of home, we all ran to the Starbucks that was placed in the airport. After getting our tastes of delicious sugary Frappuccino’s we walked to the end of the airport to where we awaited our next flight to our final destination, Yangon. We boarded the three-hour flight with messy hair and dirty clothes and were off. This flight was a piece of cake compared to the other one. We got off the plane went through customs and received our luggage all in a matter of 45 minutes. Departed the airplane and were all embraced with the sultry Myanmar air.

 

By Constance Caiola