Friday, January 31, 2014

Fishing--Burmese Style

Fishing anywhere, anytime for anything.

Those who know me, know that as with Notre Dame--- Family, God, Notre Dame--perhaps it should be Family, God, Fishing for me. And as everywhere in the world (well, we'll see about that as we headed today to Dubai...) fishing is an occupation, avocation and way of life.

Inle Lake fisherman are famous for the way they fish.  Using a conical shaped bamboo cage, they place a net in the center. They then pull the center up, drop the cone to the bottom (recall it is only 9 Ft deep in much other lake), stir it up a bit and force the fish into the net around the sides. Now all that is complicated enough, but it's how they do all that from the front of a dugout, flat bottomed canoe that has become iconic.  You'll recognize the picture immediately as one repeated into the art of the region. 
I had intended to go out with one of the fisherman, but alas our group was late getting back to the lodge and so I missed the opportunity. Perhaps in the future?
So, here are a few picture of how it works and then several of these remarkable people doing their form of fishing.


Use what you have.

Sorry, I have been away a few days. The joys of the (non) internet--or Rudyard Kipling's method of communication remains alive and well in Burma.

We are back in Yangon after (and I know this sounds redundant of what I have already said) an amazing, unique, special and sometimes astounding visit to Inle Lake. Inle Lake is the heart of old Burma. The center of a culture we can only imagine today in the US, and a place that is on the cusp of enormous change perhaps better for the people, but sad for the world.  With the invasion of the "moderns" the old ways inevitably will give way.  But, for now, it was an honor and pleasure to have experienced it.

Having dodged Brahman bulls pulling carts, trucks driven by the engines I could not imagine actually run, motorbikes, bicycles, horse-drawn carts and folks just ambling down the middle of the road, I did not think there could be more--I was way wrong!  Pulling up to a river we were greeted by wooden boats (and I use the term "boat" loosely) about 25' long, no wider than 36" (enough for a wooden lawn chair--yep that's the seat--actually 4-5 in each boat) powered by the loudest engine invented since the Indianapolis 500. (We'll call it the Indianapolis Canoe-Boat Killer, "Killer" for short) And our driver, well he was a Burmese John Wayne. The lake is only 9' deep on average, with floating islands throughout, so the motor drives a long shafts straight back into the water and you go roughly the same speed as the Indy 500. At first sight a whole lot of people were clutching to the life preserver which, given the inch or so of water in the bottom of each boat, was probably not a bad idea. (Red Gas can--you've got to be kidding. Burmese John W. pulled out a yellow milk container, cut a water bottle in half for a funnel and proceeded to fill 'er up.)


So, as we fly across the lake in our make-shift wooden canoe-like boatee thingee (the "Killer"), there are 500 more of these boats coming at us from every direction, and just for giggles, the locals paddle a flat bottom dug-out canoe within inches of the Indy car/boat Killer. Well sometimes paddle, unless they put a motor on it (or at least it "sounds like" a motor). 

And then there are the "barge-canoes". As far as I could tell, these are just giant versions of the
Killer, but powered by a even louder open-air engine and carrying every form of produce, people and commerce you can imagine. (Remember, of course, there are no real roads here. Dirt tracks, yes, Roads, not really.) So we ingenious humans decide anything that can be powered with an ear-shattering engine ought to be preferable--and if it is on water, all the better.

And as we got closer to where we would stay the night, a fellow jumped into the boat and began paddling us--engine now off--with his right leg while standing on the edge of the boat. 

So, the sun setting on Inle Lake, we did indeed enter the magic kingdom. Cabins built on stilts, connected to walkways, rising out of the lake. It was magic.

Sunday, January 26, 2014



Traveling the Far East can be the magnificent hotels of Hong Kong and Tokyo. So too, it can be the marvelous beach resorts of Thailand and even very nice hotels here in Burma. But I thought, as long as the internet will allow today (which may be quite short) I will try to provide a glimpse of some of what I truly enjoy--the "life" of Burma beyond the temples.
Here is a typical market in a small town (New Bagan).

The merchants around the holy Buddhist sites, even in the sites themselves are a bit disconcerting to Westerners but appear to be accepted as commonplace. Here are those corridors leading to the Buddha statutes.

This is a rural country with 75% of the population still living on farms and rural areas. It's not surprising that many people use the rivers to travel and so like the Amazon these boats are often covered from the sun.



Do you get the impression the Troupi' have traveled to Shangri La. We are, after all on the great silk road of Marco Polo in areas traversed by Genghis Kahn and the Buddha. The weather is marvelous, albeit a bit hot for us Midwesterners. The people are nothing short of totally pleasant and we are staying at remarkable hotels in exotic cities (I mean, really, did you ever think you would visit Mandalay and Rangoon?). But, of course, there is much more to visiting remote, strange and often unheard-of places. The risks are real, and in great measure that makes it exciting beyond anything else. Karen is, of course, the intrepid, but reluctant traveler. I, as a Greek, could wander the world endlessly in search of Atlantis.  So, we make a good pair--moderation induced by marriage, but a dose of the exotic risk as well.
DNP.  For those who are not baseball fans, "DNP" means "Did not Play", and we have had a number of those along the way. At least half, maybe 3/4, of those who have come to Burma have had some down time. As we have a number of doctors along, they consulted (charged nothing--so very un-American) with each other and decided we are all coming down with a viral infection of some sort. A 24 hour bug that, well, let us say, causes one to wish he had a "western" style bathroom.
SCHEDULE. No surprise here, retirement has taught us the value of a good nap, but apparently we are in a minority. (And the average age of folks on this trip is about 10 years older than us.) I did not know that someone on a vacation could gleefully get up each morning at about 3 a.m. to put luggage in the hall for pickup and then be on a bus to an airport by 6, arrive in the next destination with a box breakfast in hand in order to begin no later than 9 a.m. for hiking thru a thousand temples in the Burma wilderness for 10 hours.  I thought such schedules were reserved for federal trials, mothers with babies (Colleen & Addie, for example) and all the rest who love the feeling of sleep deprivation. I was wrong, of course, because a pre-packaged  "tour" apparently breeds this early morning crowd.
For the record, Karen and I are taking today off, sitting by a beautiful fountain under the palm trees, reading, writing and drinking some adult beverages. (I may even smoke a cigar.) Such is the life of an eccentric Wisconsin couple. (They think we're the odd ones for actually wanting to stop and breath....)
SHOES. There is a custom that one removes their shoes when entering a Buddhist Temple or Monastery. In theory, of course, this is a sign of respect and cleanliness. Which, of course, would be true if, let's say, you were hosting a dinner party for 4. But, let's multiply that number by roughly 20 million (or so it seems) and then add wandering dogs and cats to the mix--all walking sans shoes, sans socks over stones, brick, marble, wood, water etc. Now, I'm not being critical or anything, but, seriously, does that seem like a good idea? (See, DNP above--cause and effect?) Particularly entertaining is how all the Westerners bring a gross or so of hand cleaners and use them on their feet every time before putting their shoes back on after leaving the temple. The Burmese bus drivers bring the wipes and hand them out to all us eccentrically clean folks of European descent.

So, as I sit by the fountain contemplating an afternoon nap today, this remarkable voyage continues. But, as they say, "real boats rock" and before I extol the great virtues of Third World Far Eastern travels a bit too much, I thought a reminder that this is not Club Med Travel might be in order. (Excepting the "Med" part might be right, just a different version....)

PIctures at Bagan, Burma

Pictures only begin to tell the story.

As promised, here are some pictures from Bagan, Burma. We have just arrived in Mandalay and there are already stories to tell, but before I head to supper and a Burmese Puppet show, I thought you might enjoy some of the images of one of the most interesting places we, or anyone, could ever visit.

That is real gold
Here are a few of the thousands of other temples.

And now a few of the Buddha's--All are gold plated.

Friday, January 24, 2014



Internet is very spotty so unfortunately no pictures and a short post today. 
What we saw today was akin to the Pyramids, the Acropolis and the Roman Coliseum.

Today we flew deep into rural Burma--halfway to Mandalay--to Bagan, Burma. Turbo prop plane, one runway, middle of one of the poorest countries in Asia. The average income is said to be about $10/day.

And what we have seen takes our breath away--thousands, and I mean THOUSANDS, of pagodas, temples and monuments built around the year 1,000. Literally, around ever corner there is another huge temple to Buddha. 60' tall, gold leafed, Buddha's. Temples with a thousand Buddha statues. Frescoes on walls telling the life of Buddha that are over a 1000 years old.  And there is another one as far as the eye can see. 
These were erected by kings, merchants, princes and others at enormous cost. You see Burma was, at the time, one of the riches nations in the World. Marco Polo visited and called it one of the great wonders of the world.
We visited first by bus and then by a horse drawn two person carriage. There are no cabs and almost not cars. The river is filled with boats that are identical to the boats of the Amazon. (tomorrow we will be taking one of those boats), but the primary mode of transport remains walking.

I would so like to post pictures, but the internet connection is very poor. I will try to do that as soon as we have enough internet power. That may be on Sunday when we move to Mandalay.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Feel of a Place


Loving travel can mean many things. It's hilarious, tragic and a bit weird to think around the world America is defined by a trip to Las Vegas, New York and perhaps a trip to that lovable mouse (Florida or California--take your pick). But that really is how most outside the US hope to see America. I mean how in the world does Lambeau Field, endless corn in Illinois and a trip to Culvers/Rips/(name your favorite) compete? 
So, we try very hard not to define our travels by the giant temple, magnificent statue or tall building. Great stuff. Really important. Very memorable. Will certainly do that on these pages in coming days. But, if time permits, we really do try to experience and see more.  For now, a few words about the "feel."

Democracy comes at a price. It's called "chaos." I mean think about it. You have a country ruled with an iron fist for thirty years. Burma went from the second most prosperous country in Asia in 1948 (when it became independent) to one of its poorest by the mid 1990's. That socialist agenda, administered by the military and others, destroyed the economy. As we looked at buildings today it was reminiscent of our trips to Russia where Irkutsk--the "Paris of Eastern Russia" according to Chekov--was a ghost of itself by the 1980's. Great architecture fallen into a wasteland of neglect.

But, given a chance at freedom, people everywhere grasp for it. Here, there are vendors everywhere. They sell fruit, vegetables, watches, clothes, lunch, Children's toys--you name it, they are trying to sell it. Only a few years ago, the socialist government would not allow it, but today it is everywhere.

I love it! Free people, free markets, democracy in action....traffic jams of joy

Will it succeed? Will it fail? Don't have a clue.  And to say it is precarious is to state the obvious. More later on what our guides are openly saying, but as the US Ambassador (whom we met with for over an hour today) said, this is a country that has been in a 65 year civil war. It continues today in parts of the country. And while people say they don't see the change they also say "but we sure don't want to go back to the way it was.".
This is going to be a very interesting trip in the coming ten days.... now I am sure of it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Travel with Jim can be a bit risky.

A dark woods is a frightening place for many. Yet, I'll walk in our woods back home at 2 a.m. and enjoy every minute. Travel can be like that--today is what many people fear. Today is the day Karen says the proof she loves me is that she'd ever consider doing this at all.

Our day began at the magnificent Mandarin Oriental, in downtown Hong Kong. A city of perhaps 6-7 million people. In the heart of perhaps the greatest financial center in the world. Beautiful gardens within walking distance of the headquarters of the Bank of China a/k/a USA's Credit Card

Some might recall the day when airports varied--when you could go up on the roof at O'Hare Airport or walk to the gate with your guests. Maybe you remember when stadiums were so different from one another that you could identify them by the quirky outfield, the odd goalposts, the seats without backs. Ah, but the world changed and airports, though quite different in some ways, became homogenized. The traveler through Atlanta could be the traveler thru Hong Kong.  Here is the Hong Kong International airport (notice the McDonald's, Starbucks and even a Greek place)

Hey, I found out what Pajama Boy was doing before he became the Obamacare spokesperson.

And of course here's the new doctor you'll be seeing too.

So, that was our day in transit.
We traveled thru Kuala Lumpur--a rather scary airport where we encountered women in burka's and men who certainly were not going to open the door for Karen. From the fastidiousness of Hong Kong British, to a very different feel in an equally splendid airport in Malaysia. Even as the architecture did not vary, the people certainly did.

And then we arrived in Yangon (Rangoon in the past), Myanmar (Burma). There will be much more later, including a visit tomorrow with the US Ambassador, but for today the contrast between Hong Kong, where every Westerner may feel comfortable eating in a Michelin Star restaurant to a true Third World country is enough to consider.
Closed to Westerners for nearly 30 years, Burma has only opened to us in the past 24 months.  So to say it is a risk that not many would be willing to take is not saying more than the obvious.  But that is what makes it so exciting don't you think?  And, well, we did go to Siberia, though the second time Karen deferred to Bill Morgan (and his famous Russian Bathhouse experience.... do tell, do tell--another time). And when I suggested the Amazon this past year, Karen said that was a step too far, though Colin Campbell (yeah the former Chief Judge from Phoenix who before he became so darn famous was my roommate and debate partner at Northwestern) was persuaded to go and learn to fish (really, had never before fished--but learned in the Amazon.... do tell, do tell--also another time).
Sorry, again I digressed. The point was--no risk, no reward. Or maybe it was--it's great because it's hard. No, I think it was, Jim has a screw loose and will probably be trampled by an elephant someday while fishing for an extinct species in the mountains of Tibet, but he died with a smile.

Hong Kong in a downtown park to Burma from a cab... all in a single day. Here it is. And it is proof Karen deserves sainthood (but, of course, she's Lutheran and they don't believe in saints).

Sunday, January 19, 2014


America's Greatest Export.

"There's no business like show business, Like no business I know..." (add music)

So you're one of a billion or so. Stuck in the backwoods of Maoist China or the back-alleys of Kowloon, Hong Kong. You really want to be Michael Jordan, but 5'3" might not cut it the NBA. So, maybe you're Roxie Hart (Chicago), that shy, petite, bubbly young girl from the country ready to do whatever it will take to be a "star". You have only a few yen, but you know if you can just get to the Mecca of movies you'll be the star you were meant to be..... That dream is not limited to America.

Welcome to the Walk of Stars. That famous sidewalk with stars emblazoned with the great actresses and actors names, handprints and a mystical feeling.  There it is a Chinese Theater right there on the Walk. No not Grauman's Chinese Theater. This one is in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and for a billion people it is, indeed, Hollywood.

Now I admit a bit of nationalistic pride when it comes to the movies. I mean, seriously, who doesn't have a soft spot for Jimmy Stewart. He might have been the meanest, most cantankerous son-of-dog the bounty hunter guy in real life, but "It's a Wonderful Life"-- ah, the image. America's greatest export was it's ability to make-believe. We are the country with streets paved in gold, where anybody can become a millionaire and given recent history who would doubt 'anyone' can be President. (No politics in that one, you can pick whomever you would like....) The dreams are all possible and the optimism never ends. That's Hollywood (or at least that's the Hollywood we once had...)
So, today we crossed the South China Sea from Hong Kong to the mainland  of China on--and I'm not making this up--the "Star" Ferry.  The cost--2.00 Hong Kong Dollars (26 cents). For 26 cents you can pass from the greatest financial center arguably in the world, to a country whose recent history is, let us say, checkered. 

But, before you reach the land of the Great Satan of the Orient (and greatest supplier of yoyo's, iPad, hello kitty dolls, computer chips and Target/WalMart/Kmart/Dollar General products the world has ever known) there is the Walk of Stars. The real goal for the billion or so Chinese children of tomorrow.
I say this, because most of China was, in fact, visiting with us today. At least it felt like that But, hey, I'm from rural Wisconsin and sometimes it feels like a visit to the Piggy Wiggly is a visit to the city.
Here it is China-style.

As it happens, Karen and I are strolling with our new-found billion or so friends on the Walk of Stars when it occurs to me that the greatest star of the them all might be right here. That star who eclipses all stars of the era. A man who defied gravity. A man who could leap over others, slam them to the ground, perform feats no one thought possible....

No, not him! 

This guy!!!!

Bruce Lee. Kung Fu extraordinaire. Now, That's a star!  And the proof of that? Everyone wants to imitate him--Everyone wants to be "just like Mike a/k/a BRUCE

I am now certain that dreams do come true. And whether or not they may come true, it is the dreams we chase that make so much else possible. Dreams are not limited to America, but America has made dreams possible for the world.