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Myanmar

Laughing women in Myanmar

Let’s laugh more often, more intense and for less reasons in 2014!

By | Myanmar | No Comments

Laughing women in MyanmarI met this lady in Bagan, Myanmar, where she wanted to sell some clothes to me and a friend of mine. While we were having fun bargaining, I captured her beautiful and whole heartedly laughter during the talk. When I think of Myanmar, I think – despite of its beautiful landscape and pagodas – mainly of its people. Although it is a very poor country, Burmese are very joyful and would  start most situations with a smile. They enjoy their newly gained freedom and are really loving and living life with a big curiosity for new things and education.

Thinking about 2014 New Year’s resolutions, I felt above all the “being a better person”, “quit bad habits” and “pushing yourself to new limits” I should simply consider to laugh more often, more intense and to worry less.

I wish all of you a wonderful start into 2014 hoping, you use more situation to have a great laughter and to have your friends around you to share these moments. Also – for the not-at-all-fun-times – I hope you surround yourself with people who cheer you up again, giving you back the ability to see the good and fun things in life.

I want to thank everyone supporting me during this year and especially those of you somewhere out there in this big world, keeping up my motivation to write this blog.

Kayan Women

Why the Kayan Women are no Long Neck Women

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Kayan WomenThe Kayan Women are a tribe living in the south east of Myanmar.  Starting at the age of five, the girls get a special neck ring, a piece of brass, which is coiled around their neck by ladies from the village. They also get bracelets and brass coils below their knees.

It seems as if it were several rings, decorating the neck, yet, it is one massive brass piece of 10 to 40 cm which is coiled around the neck or knees. At the age of around 16 the women get an extra coil of about 6 turns at the bottom of the neck. This part is not connected and can be loosened at night. In the daytime it covers the shoulder part a bit, as you can see on the picture.

Every 3 to 5 years the coil is taken off to replace it by a longer coil, which shows more rings. The procedure takes hours as it is hard to put the brass around the neck in a beautiful manner.

The neckless’ weight can get up to 10 kilos and up to 15 kilos for the arms an legs. As the women are working in the terrace fields, they have to walk with this heavy load day in and day out. The weight pushes the collarbone down and compresses the rib cage. This deformation makes the neck look lengthened, but it isn’t. For the appearance of the long neck, the women are also called Long Neck Women or Giraffe Women, terms, which the women feel offended by.

When the coil has to be removed for medical examinations, women prefer to put it back on afterwards, as the skin is usually discolored and the neck muscles are too weak to stabilize the head easily.

Unfortunately this rare custom has been discovered as a bargain for tourists in Thailand. Many women who fled to Thailand during the continuous turmoils in Myanmar, ended up in the Mae Hong Son camp, where they sit around to get money out of the tourists wallets. Neither do they get much revenue out of this, nor are they allowed to leave the villages.

Fishermen waiting during sun set, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake: Stunning, artistic fishing

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The Intha people, living at Inle Lake in Myanmar, developed a unique rowing technique, which is absolutely stunning. Since the local people are harvesting fruits and vegetables in floating gardens on the lake, the fishermen would not be able to see beyond these fields if they were sitting at the edge of the boat, rowing. This is why they stand at the very edge of the longboats on one leg, paddling with the other leg, wrapped around the paddle. They lock the back-end of the paddle under their armpit to balance their body. This technique gives them the chance to have both hands free to get the fisher net back in while they are rowing along the net in the water. To me is was absolutely fascinating to see such elegance, strength and body control amongst all men on the lake. It was as if they were doing very difficult Yoga classes on their boats day in and day out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3VngkhMD_M&feature=youtu.be

Lotus flowers, Myanmar

Lotus: A model for the industry and a robe for the monks

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Lotus is not only a picture-perfect but also a surprisingly fascinating plant.

First of all, it is known for its “Lotus effect”. The surface of the leaves does not allow water drops or other liquids to loose its round shape, but will leave the drop unchanged, so that it rolls off the surface. While the drop rolls of the surface, it takes all the dirt away as well. Therefore lotus is a symbol of purity in many Asian countries (despite the fact, that it grows in really dirty and often muddy water). The nanostructure of the surface causes this effect, which is shown in the video below. The lotus effect has become an inspiration to  the industry ever since Wilhelm Barthlott discovered the self-cleaning ability of the lotus surface in the 70s. 600 000 houses have been built with this surface worldwide, dirt on cloth with this surface just rolls off, glass surfaces are promoted as “self-cleaning” or “easy-to-clean”(e.g. the road charge system on the motorway in Germany) and awnings or sails which become dirty easily outside, would stay clean for a much longer time.

Secondly, at Inle Lake in Myanmar, people still wave clothes with lotus fibre. Some people say, these fibre were the  worlds most precious ones.They cut the stalk and role the tiny fibres on the table, forming a yarn which they will spin and wave later on. The scarfs made of lotus are similar to linen, but to form a scarf 6000 stalks of lotus are needed since the fibre is so thin. I read that waving lotus was “invited” 90 years ago, when a woman of the Inle villages wanted to give a robe to the abbot of the local church. While decorating buddha statues, she realized the fine fibres of the broken stalks. Since lotus has always been the plant of purity, it seemed to be the perfect material for the robe. Yet, it takes 120 000 lotus stalks to create a robe for a monk. To thank the woman for her wonderful present, the abbot changed her name from Daw Sar U (Mrs Sparrow-Egg) to Daw Kyar U (Mrs Lotus-Egg).

lacquerware rubber

Lacquerware: Stunning Burmese handcrafts

By | Myanmar | 6 Comments

Lacquerware was the most fascinating handcraft I saw in Myanmar. Men and women have been creating these beautiful, decorative vessels, plates and even furniture of bamboo or wood  since 1600 B.C. in China.

The Burmese straw-colored lacquer derives from a wild growing Burmese tree and turns black when exposed to air. Lacquer vessels, boxes and trays have a coiled or woven bamboo strip base often mixed with horsehair (see the coiled vase in the slide show; here no glue was used). The lacquer is mixed with ash to form a rubber-like substance which can be formed. The object is coated layer upon layer with lacquer and lacquer-ash mixtures to make a smooth surface and an – after a long drying period – object which is hard as stone.

Every layer of lacquer has to dry in a cellar for about a week. Depending on the quality of the item, it takes incredibly 20 to 100 layers of lacquer before it is polished and engraved free-handed with intricate designs, commonly using red, green and yellow – the Burmese colors – on a red or black background.

The finished product is a result of teamwork for months or years and not crafted by a single person. Holding these items in my hands, I admired the preciseness and talent of the people who created these wonderful pieces of art.  Lacquerware is produced in many countries nowadays, even in Germany, France and Russia. 

Bagan is the capital of lacquerware in Myanmar. In the beginning I did not know about the “real” lacquerware, but bought “fake” things instead. To distinguish between fake and real you need to check the colorings and the weight. A fake product is way lighter and the colors are painted and not rubbed into the carved areas. The items are also very beautiful, but will not last for very long. The colors will come off soon and the wood might break after some time.

LACQUERWARE PRODUCTION IN MYANMAR.

Firework exploding, Taunggyi

Taunggyi Festival: The craziest fireworks I have ever seen

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Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival is indeed the craziest festivals I have ever been to. It is one of the biggest national festivals which people travel to from all over Myanmar or even other countries. I got a ride on a motorbike in the dark accompanied by hundreds of cars and motorbikes honking their horns.

Different teams build their special hot air balloon during the year. Every team brings their balloon into the middle of the starting field with a dancing ceremony. The balloons start one after another for an entire week. The people of the festival bet on every balloon whether it is going to win or fail. A “winning” balloon rises into the air with a beautiful firework hanging below the balloon. A “failing” balloon does not rise into the air but stays on the ground and the fireworks explode on the ground, scaring all the people standing nearby.

If the balloon does not start it, is really dangerous, since there are thousands of people watching the spectacle. Everybody has to be careful to not be harmed by the explosion and would run for live in this case…

FAILING HOT AIR BALLOON AT TAUNGGYI

With this last SUNDAY BLOG in 2012 I wish all of you an amazing and safe New Years Eve and an inspiring and gentle start into 2013.

Stay health and happy,

Stephanie

Burmese woman applying Thanaka on her face

Thanaka: Burmese make-up

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Thanka seems to be the secret to the beautifully soft faces of Myanmar’s women and kids. Every woman uses Thanaka in Myanmar, a paste made of the bark of a tree. They rub the bark on a special stone and mix it with a bit of water. The yellowish-white paste is meant to protect the face from sun and aging. I tried the Thanaka paste during my trip and not only would it work as sun protection, it would also cure my allergic reaction to sun one day.

The women and kids apply the Thanaka paste to their skin and draw beautiful paintings on their face with it.

Thanka is not only sold as a piece of wood, but also as a ready to use paste in a box. Let’s see if this magic burmese make-up becomes popular in the western countries or if it remains a burmese secret.

Good morning, Bagan

Bagan: A travel dream caming true

By | Myanmar | One Comment

Ever since I saw a picture from Bagan, I knew I wanted to cycle between the pagodas one day and watch sunrises and sunsets from the top of the pagodas. Finally I got my visa and travelled Myanmar for the past three weeks (which is why last Sunday there was not a chance to write a SUNDAY BLOG, as I could not get online for a couple of days).

Although there are loads of tourists, you can still find some sandy lonely tracks where you will be enjoying the surrounding by yourself. If anyone of you considers going there, I can highly recommend to get up the Nanmyint Tower to have a Ballooning alike view with hardly any tourists (Yet you pay only 5 USD instead of 300 USD for the Ballooning).

I can hardly put in words, what Bagan is like. So please enjoy the pictures which might take you there a bit.