Best of April 2012

Another group of the best of photos for the Month of April. Click through on any photo for more details and information. We had spring break and visited Thailand and was lucky enough to get in another three weekend visits to the Wall. The most special part was catching the Wall in full spring blossoms. Photos below after the break.























1. – Beat from the Heat
Beat from the Heat

2. – Good Morning Railay
Good Morning Railay

3. – Paper Lanterns
Paper Lanterns

4. – Dark Horizon
Dark Horizon

5. – Aqua Marine
Aqua Marine

6. – The Captain
The Captain

7. – For A Time – first photo with new camera
For A Time

8. – Springtime at the Wall
Springtime at the Wall

9. – Golden Ridges
Golden Ridges

10. – Blossoms at JianKou
Blossoms at JianKou

11. – 大包

12. – Spring Kids
Spring Kids

13. – A Son Called Miles
A Son Called Miles

14. – The Curve
The Curve

15. – Passing Time
Passing Time

16. – Her Morning Ritual
Her Morning Ritual

17. – Riding the Streets of Beijing
Riding the Streets of Beijing

18. – Push

19. – Beijing State of Mind
Beijing State of Mind

20. – Beijing State of Mind
Beijing State of Mind

21. – First 11 Seconds

21. – We Would Be Heros
We Would Be Heros

22. – The Girls
The Girls

23. – Golden Wall
Golden Wall

24. – Walking Back
Walking Back

Categories: By Mark, living in beijing, photography, travel, travel outside of China | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The good, the bad and the ugly

After talking to a close friends daughter last night via FB about our feelings living abroad (she nannies in Paris), it got me thinking. We were talking about our likes vs. dislikes about the cities we live in and also the things we know we are going to miss when we move back to the states. We had a great conversation (her and Kiah are a year apart). This friend of ours lived near us in CA and for a while we helped take care of her daughter (the adult now in Paris) while our friend was working on her Master degree. We love those two and miss the great times we had in No. Cal.

In my mind I started thinking about the things that I will not miss (and not because I hate them but because I didn’t grow up around it and it’s not familiar to me) and then the things I will miss (because you just can’t experience them anywhere else). I’m going to start with the bad and the ugly, just to get it out of the way and then end on a happy note (the good). I have to say though that these things are cultural, they are not strange to Chinese, I’m not judging them at all, it’s their way. For example, they think it’s gross that we sit on a toilet, it’s disgusting to them, so instead if it’s a western toilet, they hover. My list is a list of things that I am not use to. I accept them, but I will not miss them.

Things I will not miss when I return to the states.
1. Seeing grown men pee, anywhere and everywhere. I should be use to it by now but it’s still a shocker. I see more grown men peeing outside then I see little kids. Miles has picked up the habit but then again, when in Rome or Beijing, right?
2. Men and women clearing their throats and spitting out a big one right next to me, behind me, in front of me (and you dodge). It happens all the time and the sound makes me jump each time I hear it, that and gag.
3. Smoking anywhere. We really have been spoiled in the states when it comes to smoking. I’m not putting my friends down that smoke but I have to say that I was very happy when they passed the law in the states that you cannot smoke in public places. Side note, is that they have the same kind of non-smoking vs. smoking that we once followed in the states years ago. You might be seated a few feet from the smoking area or a partition might separate the smoking vs. non-smoking area. Most of the time there is no distinction. The shocker is when you are in a mall and people just light up. Like I said, we are spoiled.
4. Pollution, that should have been at the top of the list. I know that there is pollution in the states but at home I’ve never had a cough that’s lasted 6 months even though I’m not sick.
5. Having people stare at my kids, touch them, want photos taken with them. Sometimes it’s fine and even funny. Especially when they look at Mark and I, then at the kids, then back to Mark and I and then back to the kids. Sometimes they will be brave and come up to us and ask how we have two black kids? Can they touch their hair, can they have a photo taken with them. I know it’s innocent because they are never rude and they are very sweet when asking. After a while it just gets old and it bothers Miles. He hides, he will start to cry and even walk away and hide somewhere. Sofi on the hand stands there and smiles, poses, lets them touch her hair and so on. It’s funny. She’s a movie star here. The thing that bothers me is when they don’t ask and they just walk up and start rubbing Miles head, or when they stare for a long time. I know they are curious and maybe it’s easier to be curious about children and hopefully they will realize we are alike no matter our skin but there has to be certain aspect of respect and of ones space.
6. Bargaining. I miss going into a store and buying what ever it is that I’m shopping for and paying the price (that is usually a reasonable price) and then leaving. It’s fun at first to go back and forth when figuring out a price but that gets old really fast. They start really high and then we say 20% of what they just said, then the acting begins. How can we say such a low price, they are poor, they have to make money for their family, we are rich Americans, these are real Ugg boots, are we sick, do we have a fever, how could we say such a low price and so on. They all have caculators and they say “c’mon, give me your best price”, which we then tell them that we did just give them our best price. Then they say “no really, how can you say that”? Then they lower their beginning price by about 10% and then we walk away and they either follow you, yelling “ok, ok come back mr. or mrs, we figure out a price, ok just come back”. We act like it’s a huge pain and we slowly walk back and then in the end we pay a lot less than their first price but we still pay more than we should. It’s a play, an act and I get tired of it. Can you imagine if I walked into Target and tried to do the reversal with an employee there over the price of a lego toy. They’d laugh at me, think I’m crazy and tell me to get lost. I hate it to be honest. I really dislike shopping in China. The one place I don’t have to bargain shop is at the grocery store. I’ve bargain shopped for everything from plates, to kids underwear to dvd’s. It’s weird and I will not miss it.
7. Rude taxi drivers. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to take a taxi and when I tell them where I want to go to, they wave me off and won’t take me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a foreigner, if they don’t know where it is, if they can’t read the card I show them (because a lot of them are from the country and can’t read and they only know the big landmarks in Beijing like the Forbidden city) or if the place I’m going to isn’t far enough for them to make very much money. Whatever the reasoning, on a blistering hot summer day, with kids who are dying of heat and you have tons of bags in your hands, is not the best time to have about 8 taxi drivers wave you off and say in English “no”. Sometimes we act like we are writing down their license plate number because it’s against the law for them to decline a passenger. They don’t seem to care though. Other times we just wait and wait. I can’t wait to drive my own car (which we don’t have because we sold our car in the states) when we get back home, crank up the a/c and listen to music that I understand and rock out.
7. Horn honking. I’ve heard that there are certain honking sounds to mean different things. Like one beep might mean, Hey I’m here so watch out. Where a couple long ones mean get out of my way. All I know is it’s all the time. Buses are the only vehicles on the streets that I never hear honk, they are big and they barrel down the roads and you better not be in their way. Everyone honks though, all the time and in a city of 22 million it makes it VERY loud. We live on the 29th floor of our building and you can hear honking late at night, as if a road full of 50 cars decided to all at once blare their horns together. At times I’ve learned to tune them out. It’s gotten to the point that the only time I notice it now is if I’m really missing home, if we are about to travel and get out of Beijing or we are headed home for holiday and then it’s like I hear it all the time.

I think I could go on a bit more but I think it’s time to switch to the things I love about Beijing and that I know I’m going to miss very much.
1. The food (What else am I going to put as my number one thing?). Where else can you buy yummy Chinese food to feed a family of 4 for around 12$? There are so many places to choose from in a huge city like Beijing. Sure we have our usual places we like to frequent but there are so many other places to choose from that we could eat somewhere new every day and for a year and never eat at the same place twice. Granted we might come down with what Miles calls the “runs” after eating at a couple of these places, it comes with the territory but all in all the food is good and safe. Except for the time I came down with Giardia, ha ha. I can laugh now. There are also all kids of foreign restaurants to choose from. There are a lot of Muslim’s in Beijing and their food is delicious. There is everything from fat burger, to Indian, to a place called Grandma’s kitchen that serves pancakes and crepes. I think you can get about every type of food in Beijing, but it might not always taste the same or be good for that matter but it’s there.
2. The people. I love Chinese people and they make me smile. We have met some wonderful people here, some just random people that want to say hi when we are out and about and some that have become good friends. They are kind, curious and would give you the shirt off their backs if you asked. Three such people are Mr. Wang our driver, Mrs. Li our ayi and Robert our translator. When we do move back to the states I want to hide them in our suitcases and take them home with us. One day a few weeks ago Mr. Wang was waiting for the kids and I outside a building we had gone into to run an errand. When we came out Mr. Wang had the biggest smile on his face and waved and said “Miles”. Miles looked up at me and said ” I think he loves me”. It was so sweet and so true, our driver and ayi love the kids and the kids love them.
3. The history. One of my favorite places is The Forbidden City, built in 1406-1420. Though I love and appreciate the history of America, there is nothing that compares in history and historical sites as visting places in China. I’ve seen the Great Wall and hiked it, I’ve seen Tianamen square, the old wall of Nanjing and I’ve seen Hong Kong. Such history. Sadly, a lot was torn down while Mao was alive. There could be so much more but there is still much to enjoy.
4. Seeing and watching Miles and Sofia experience living abroad and having that place be Beijing. It’s been an amazing time for them here. They go to a great school with kids and teachers from all over the world. Also, to have them learn Mandarin has been so good for them. I love hearing Sofi or Miles correct me (not that it’s fun to be corrected) when I use the wrong tone when saying a word. I love that they know it and that they have Chinese class every day at school. We are going to have to find a tutor when we get home. I don’t want them to forget their Chinese.
5. I have enjoyed being close to so many great countries and being able to travel to them. We are in a great location with so many places that are fairly quick to get to by train or plane. We’ve been to some great places in China. Mark and the kids went to Vietnam while I was visiting my parents in the states. We went to Burma/Myanmar, Hong Kong and also Thailand and Mongolia. Never flying farther than 5 hrs away and that was to Thailand. Like I said, Beijing is a great central location.
6. I love that even despite the bad and the ugly that I listed above, I still love it here. It’s been hard on my health but I’d do it all over again. With anything wonderful I believe that there has to be good, bad and ugly. It makes the good so much better. I love Beijing and I will never forget our expat time here. Thank you Amazon!!!

Categories: By Stacey, eating in Beijing, friends, living in beijing, school, site seeing, travel, travel in china, travel outside of China | 4 Comments

Reflections on BCIS

The Geek Squad

March is the season of Student Led Conferences at Beijing City International School. A year ago we attended our first, after we’d only been in Beijing a couple of months.

The Little Scientist

We spent an hour each with both Miles and Sofi reviewing the school work they had done over the last year. Sofi was first, we went to her home room where she showed us a powerpoint that she’d prepared that walked through each of her subjects and the main projects she’s worked on. We then walked up to her science lab where we met her self-declared favorite teacher Mr. Desari. The lab facilities are amazing, a dozen individual stations each with their own ventilation systems. We first examined a filtration experiment where dirty water was poured through dirt, rocks, and cotton and came out clear. Mr. Desari then asked Sofi what was the one thing that hadn’t been removed from the water : salt. We then went to another station where Sofi showed us how they did an experiment where they boiled the water and condensed it into another beaker leaving the solid salt behind. They measured the weight of the water before and after and were able to detect a difference in the density of the water. From there we went to one of the stations that was set up for a demonstration of determining acidic / base and PH Balance. We used PH paper strips and an electric PH meter to measure the PH factor of common liquids such as milk, water and soap. Very cool stuff.

The Value of a Teacher

We walked over to Miles classroom, he was very excited and kept running out ahead of us. We met his teacher Mrs. Diba Kader. Miles has been lucky enough to have her last year for 1st grade and then again this year when she transitioned to teaching second grade. She’s been amazing and Miles has flourished under her gentle guidance.  He is doing 100% better on his reading, spelling and his confidence around others.  You can tell his genuine admiration and pride in pleasing her.  He was excited about getting his clip-board and walking us through is projects on timelines, important people and building structures.

The Swimmer

Afterwards we went over to the BCIS pool so the kids could show off their swimming skills.  Pretty sure they just wanted a chance to swim and play around.  Stac and I sat and watched them and it gave me pause to reflect on the education of our kids in China versus that in the US.

First and foremost the school at BCIS is full of top rate educators, like the headmaster Nick Bowley and teachers. Their focus and commitment to education is not unique, I believe you find that the world over no matter what school you attend.  However it seems that in general there are more great teachers in the international areas than in the US.  Perhaps its a result of better pay (I really have no idea what their pay scale is) or perhaps its the fact that the international experience attracts a different individual.  Either way we’ve loved the teachers we’ve had in Issaquah, but I’ve been impressed by those at BCIS.

Second the BCIS facilities and staff are world class.  Maybe not as nice as a Saudi prince’s school in Dubai, but compared to a public school in Washington they are pretty great.  Clearly a building does not a schools make but they are really exemplary.

Third, they have a huge focus on technology.  While there are many small things that could be improved here they are to me mostly cosmetic/usability issues that I am overly sensitive to given my vocation. In general the focus and use of tech far exceeds that in the US.  Every week for example the headmaster, principals of the elementary, middle and high school send out an wiki/electronic news letter. Each week Miles teacher sends out a wiki link recapping the week including pictures she takes and posts while in class.  All homework and grades on online and accessible by students and parents.  Each kid in middle school and high school is required to have a Mac (purchased by parents).  Very impressive and important for the way the future is going.

I wonder how much of these last two are the result of the increased financial capability of a private education system and the corresponding high tuition. I don’t mean to criticize the tuition as its paid by my company but it is obviously much much higher than the US public school. For ex-pats living in Beijing there are few alternative education opportunities, there are no public (or free) English schools in Beijing, though there are some Chinese schools that are supposed to accomodate foreigners. However  everything is taught in Chinese and the education systems are so different that its not really an option.  Combine this with the fact that parents are able to financially comply with requirements such all students to have a computers and there is more money to spend on facilities, on teachers and education materials.  Not only this but the fact that labor in China is much cheaper means most every teacher at the school has a Chinese assistant, which is a great aide to the teacher and students in terms of attention to their educational needs.

But more important than the factor of money is the style and focus of the education itself. The inquiry based approach, the de-focus (compared to US) on standardized testing and standardized curriculum and focus on the child’s needs and fostering creative and critical thinking I feel are much more effective in achieving real learning and creating the foundation and skills for future learning. The experience has been wonderful opportunity for our children and we are grateful.  Thanks to all at BCIS and those that made this possible.

A Year Later

Categories: bcis, By Mark, living in beijing | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Best of March 2012

Here is another collection of the best of for the Month of March. Click through on any photo for more details and information. I was lucky enough to make it to the Great Wall three weekends in March, the most special part was when a late spring snow storm dumped on JianKou and I was able to get out there for photos of the Wall in Snow. Photos below after the break.























1. – Sofi with her combed out, glasses and sock monkey
Little Miss Monkey

2. – Dry snow hanging off a tree at JianKou Great Wall
Winter Feathers

3. – The Great Wall in snow at JianKou
The Gentle Curve

4. – A tree that stands out on the Wall
Winter Tree

5. – Looking east from my bedroom window in Beijing
To The East

6. – beans@ concentrating at lunch
Hell on Beans

7. – Sofi on a morning before school

8. – Sofi on a day she just wasn’t moving real fast
Some Days Are Rough

9. – A foggy day in Beijing and a moment before work outside my office
The Dude Rides

10. – Dude’s awesome beard at the MuTianYu Wall
A Time in March

11. – A foggy day at the MuTianYu Great Wall
The Wall in Fog

12. – View east from bedroom with snow
And the Streets Shone

13. – View of ChaoYang Park dressed in snow
Snowy Chao Yang

14. – Reid inquisitive at church
Little Boy Blue

15. – View out my work window looking west
On the Otherside

16. – Light out the corridor at a tower on the Great Wall
The Tower Exit

17. – One of the amazing towers at JianKou Great Wall
Tower on the Ridge

18. – Miles at the BCIS Pool
The Swimmer

19. – Sofi at the BCIS Pool
With You All The Way

Categories: By Mark, photography | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Michelle Obama and Doris Day

Stac at Ngapali I’ve always hated my freckles, which come out like crazy in the summer. I would put way too much foundation on my face as a teenager to cover them up. My parents would tell me all the time how beautiful they are. My mom would tell me about how when they filmed Doris Day (which some of you won’t even know who I’m talking about) they used a soft focus film to cover up her freckles but how so many people thought she was so beautiful with her freckles. She told me that for the same reason we tell Sofi that her hair is beautiful and that so many people would love to have Sofi’s hair, we are never satisfied with what we have, are we? It never made me feel better by the way. I’m not saying anything bad about Doris Day but just like Sofi doesn’t want to be compared to the first lady (which is who some people compare Sofi’s hairstyle to and tell her that), I didn’t want to be compared to DD. She was an old woman in my mind, which is how Sofi sees Michelle Obama.

Sofia in the Golden Light Coming up with a new hairstyle for Sofi when she was little was no problem. I could do it myself and it took about 2 hrs. I would do little twists all over, sometimes a bunch of poofs and sometimes I could braid it myself. Now that she is older she wants styles I can’t do anymore. Thank goodness we found Maria (who works here in Beijing but is from Tanzania). She is a life saver but even with Maria to come do Sofi’s hair, it’s still a battle to figure out what to do with it so that Sofi is happy.

If we straighten her hair, she thinks that she looks like Michelle Obama (who is very beautiful but what 12 yr old girl wants the first lady’s hair style?) and friends at school have told her that as well. If she gets it in cornrows, then it’s too close to her scalp and goes all the way back and then people at school tell her she looks like a boy. She’s never happy and when Sofi isn’t happy, then no one is happy. That’s not an exaggeration either. 🙂

Maria is here at our place doing Sofi’s hair right now and we had to stop for about 20 minutes while Sofi had a breakdown. I feel for her, I really do. Maria has to put hot oil on her hair and then water and then use the straightener, which then makes the oil drip onto her scalp. Last time Sofi had her hair done (about two weeks ago, just to give you an idea how often we have it done) there were two places on her forehead where skin was burnt off from the oil dripping onto it. I’m glad I brought microderma with me and vitamin E. I’ve been applying those two like crazy the past two weeks.

Hair is a big deal for AA women and girls. To leave it looking plain and not having it styled is a big no-no and since I’m a caucasian woman raising an AA girl, I do not want to be lazy and just let it go. Plus Sofi is getting to that age, where it really matters to her what her hair looks like. Who am I kidding, Sofi has always cared what her hair looks like. She’s wanted straight hair forever. It makes me sad how bad she wants her hair to look like everyone else but at the same time, I understand. We tell her all the time how beautiful she is and how beautiful her hair is, but if her hair can’t be like all her friends, she won’t even listen to us. Having once been a teenage girl, I get it.

The dilema continues. Personally, I wish she would cut it really short. I think it would look beautiful. Maybe one day when she’s older. Until then, we will try the straightener, cornrows, braids and next a weave. If you see Sofi, please don’t tell her she looks like the First Lady (though we all know how beautiful Michelle Obama is).

Categories: By Stacey, sofia | Leave a comment

Jiankou in Snow

Winter Tower

Those trapped in the languid places of no seasons can’t understand the way a winter will change a place; or the way spring will bring new hope; summer will bring sun and Autumn the golden end of a season.  I was saddened when Beijing had a few warm days in February that I’d missed my chance to see the Great Wall in Snow.  I had already visited the wall in winter but just without snow.  When a winter storm blew in on the first Friday of March I had Robert call the Zhao’s to see if there was snow at the Wall.  His report was : “a lot”.

The Gentle Curve

Saturday I awoke at 4 am.  The dark morning is now no longer a dreadful hour; its an time of dull excitement at possible adventure that grows as I slowly waken.  By 4:30 I am in my Hyundai heading north on the 4th Ring Road.  The highways are clear of cars and I make great time driving 130 kmh. The Huairou exit is finally complete but the joining highway is still under construction so I make my way along surface streets to the left turn that begins climbing up through the fields.  Snow lined the street sides as I made my way past the narrow street of the villages and resorts.  As I climbed up over the pass there was 1-2 inches of snow covering the road as I slipped and slid in several places.  Down the other side I made my way past the many mountain resorts until the left turn to the valley of Jiankou.  Up until now the roads had been mostly clear but from here the road was solid snow  a good 4-5 inches deep.  I drove 30 kmh up the road, passing several cars that had slid off the night before and even a large tour bus that had pulled off the road before a small rise in the road.

In the dark ahead I saw a group of people walking up the road.  There were more than a dozen Chinese people dressed in winter gear, all in their shells, their waterproof pants and gaiters. They looked like one eye cyclops as each one wore a headlamp on the forehead.  I passed them slowly before coming to the village gate. The guard house was dark and I stopped the car and walked up to the window as the caretaker turned on the light and took my 20 rmb in exchange for my entrance ticket. The last kilometer through the village brought me to the end of the road and the parking beneath the big blue line that declared the Great Wall was closed to the public.  (What it really means is the Great Wall isn’t under public maintenance and travel at your own risk).

Winter Tree

I changed into my boots and threw my cameras in my pack and headed up the valley toward the far back end and the wall. This trail gradually approaches the Wall and only in the last few 100 meters does it gradually climb to the Wall.  From here I headed north along the wall towards the 9 Eye Tower though I had no intention of climbing all the way to the large tower.  The snow didn’t pose much of an issue as there actually floor of the wall is all but gone in this section, the flagstones long ago cracked, broken and covered by the encroaching trees and shrubberies.  A slight fog blew over the further sections and the Wall only revealed itself a little at a time.

Winter Feathers

I spent several hours climbing along the familiar Wall, only different in the snow and fog. The old towers, their large wooden doors long decayed and lost, watched over the winter Wall with their crumbling ceilings and their ever faithful arches.  After reaching a high point, I returned. Along the way I noticed that many of the trees had “beards” of snow hanging from their branches, almost light hoar frost but more wispy and feathery.  I watched for a while as these branches of snow blew gently in the wind.  Back to the entry point I climbed down off the wall and slipped and slid down the trail to the valley below.  A quick step made short time of the trail and I was back at the village. It was only 9:30 and I wandered up towards Zhao’s to say hello.  The youngest daughter was peering down from the courtyard as I said hello. I asked her if I could buy some breakfast and she ushered me in.

Snow Crested

While she cooked I stood in courtyard conversing in broken sentences with the mother who had just finished making a large box of dofu (tofu) and was sweeping out the hearth.   She carried a bowl of waste water out to the edge of the steep steps and threw it off as she turned back toward the house she heard a car coming and stopped to see who was approaching. When you live literally at the end of the road and its winter when things are slow, every passing car is something to be inspected and considered.  A local was puttering down the road in a three wheeled tractor with a big bundle of clothes or something.

The daughter returned with two pieces of steamed bread and a couple of fried eggs. She welcomed me into their home to sit on the kang and eat in warmth. The eldest daughter lay sound asleep next to me and the mother came in to watch some awful tacky singers on TV.  The daughter brought me a large bowl of zhou (congee or porridge) made of corn and rice.  I ate and showed them pictures of the wall and the trees covered in snow. The mother proclaimed how beautiful they were and how special it was that I’d been able to see such a sight.  She told me how smart I was for not going up to ZhengBeiLou where everyone else was headed this morning.   As we laughed and joked on their warm kang she told me as should write a book about JianKou and I said to myself maybe I will.  Now that I’ve finally seen it in every season in all the colors and the starkness of the snow.

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Categories: By Mark, hiking, living in beijing, outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Best of Jan & Feb 2012

January and February were busy months, we barely returned from the holidays and Kiah’s wedding when it was time for Chinese New Year, we headed off to Myanmar and upon return I headed to the States for work.  So this post is a big one as there were lot of amazing photographic opportunities.  You can click through any photo for more details about where and when.  A lot of these photos are from Myanmar, there are a set of videos and blogs linked off the collection on Flickr.

Alligator Tears

Evening Prayers

For Better Times

Smiling Buddha

The Explorers

Balloons over Bagan

Gleaming Shwezigon

The Vent


Golden Bagan

Sofia in the Golden Light

The Sheppards

Dawn Patrol

Balloons over Bagan

Over Bagan

Temple Caretakers

The Keeper

The Look


Inle Lake

Inle Village

Paddling Man

Paddling Inle Lake

The Bridge over Water

Frère Jacques


The Green Scarf

Scatter Sunshine

Morning Walk

Boats of Ngapali Beach


Not a Care

Dinner Time

She Can Fly

Bagan Sunrise


Shi Xin Jumps

Trekking Along

Down through the Fog

I Can See the Light

Shi Xin

Ez and Mitchell

Good Morning Beijing

Good Morning Beijing

This Rabbit Don't Walk

Something Left to Say

Riding the Rails

Oh For the Hair

Categories: By Mark, photography, travel, travel outside of China | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

Ngapali Beach and Home


There is something about the ocean that attracts our modern souls; a respite for rest, relaxation and restoration.  Some aspect of the sun, the surf and the sand calms and soothes us; the quintessential paradise that we soak up.  Ngapali sits on a nice 2-3 mile beach of white sand on the Bay of Bengal.  We flew in over the water and landed on a lonely airstrip whose only purpose is tourists for the ocean.  We caught a bus and road down the very bumpy road past resort after resort to nearly the end of the road.  We piled out and immediately were drawn to the beach.  The water was warm, warmer than Hawaii, just cool enough to be refreshing but not too warm like Florida which I think is uncomfortable.  The waves were not as big as Vietnam in Hoi An, though those were the result of the side winds from the edge of a typhoon.  The ocean floor is shallow and the kids played for hours in the lolling rollers.  Our place at the Amata Resort was next to the last hotel on the beach, reputedly one of the nicest on the beach.  The rooms were nice and the beach was gorgeous.   Beach chairs with umbrellas made from bamboo and palm fronds lined the beach where sun bathers and kids laid out and played.

Playing in the Sun

The first morning I woke early and was out of the room by 6 am in the dark walking down the beach heading for the Jade Tawe fishing village.  I tucked my Chaco’s in my pack and the sand was firm and flat beneath my bare feet as I strode on in the dark.  I crossed a small river and rounded the bend where in the early morning dark I could see the outline of fishing boats in the bay.  A fire flared down the beach in the dark as a palm frond was thrown on; when I reached the fire I found a group of 6 women and a very short man squatting around the fire keeping warm.  They invited me to squat with them and get warm.  They were bundled in coats and hats while I was in shorts and very thin short sleeve shirt.  Their openness and warmth was characteristic of everyone we met in Myanmar.  I sat on my haunches for a while while the conversed, the wind was blowing the smoke in my face and before too long I excused myself and kept walking.  My goal was to find the Buddha that sat high on a hill on the next bay over.  Before too long though I rounded several small rocky points and came to the end of the beach with a headland rising to cliffs. I climbed up some steps in the hill to a point covered in banana trees to see the Buddha sitting on top of the hill on the bay opposite from where I stood.  The sun was rising and there was a bit of color in the sky.  I watched for a few moments before turning back and retracing my steps up the beach.

Golden Children

By the time I reached the village of Jade Tawe the fisherman were returning with their early mornings catch and the sun was just cresting the palm trees and lighting up the bright colors of the boats.  The fishermen I saw were off loading laundry baskets full of sardines.  Girls would wade out into the water and collect the basket on poles and carry them up on to the beach to where straw covered the sand, which was in turn covered with a blue tarp.  Women would take the baskets and using large shallow oval baskets gather up some fish and throw them across the blue tarp.  Mixed among the sardines where a few large fish, flat round as several silver dollars. Other women walked among the sardines and gathered these larger fish in baskets.  The sardines dried in the sun and were sold to inland locations in Myanmar.  I was told that inland dried fish actually sold for more than fresh fish because of it was highly prized, not that Myanmar had the capability of delivering fresh fish inland anyway.

Boats of Ngapali Beach

We spent the rest of the day playing in the waves and laying on the beach reading and enjoying the sun.  Not many better ways to spend a day.  Local women would walk up and down the beach with large baskets of pineapple and bananas balanced on their head.  They would wave and attempt to make eye contact encouraging you to buy some pineapple.  A fresh one would cost you 3000 kyat ($4) which was pretty expensive given local food prices but delicious none the less.  Local tour guides would also walk along the beach gently asking if you were interested in taking a boat out for a half day for 15000 kyat.  We met the charmer of them all Zhu and agreed that the next day we’d go out with him around 9:30 am.

Bhudda on the Hill

The following morning I woke at 5 and got my bag and camera together and picked up a bike at the front desk.  I set off down the road with a headlamp on attempting to find the Buddha on the hill again.  The directions in Lonely Planet said roughly to head down the rode and then hang left along the ocean until you found a path up to the Buddha.  I biked to the end of the road and then some to where the road ended and I found some local folks in the dark by buildings waiting for the fishing boats to come in.  I could see the Buddha lit up across the bay and asked which direction I needed to go.  No one felt like helping or understood me. It was too dark to see whether there was land ahead or water so I kept going until I rode through some derelict buildings and reached the end of the trail.  Unable to see I decided to sit out and wait until the sky lightened enough to see the way.  I sat down on the hillside and read my Kindle app until things got a bit brighter. Finally I could see that I had missed making a left and I was on the far side of the bay; I needed to retrace my footsteps and head round the beach.  I made my way back through the buildings and down the road, which was extremely rocky and full of potholes. As soon as I saw a chance I made my way out to the ocean where the firm flat sand was a nice smooth alternative to the road.  I came to the end of the beach where a headland and cliff rose up above me.  I wasn’t really sure where the road/path was that led up, but there was a yellow clay cliff that led directly up to the buddha, so I stashed my bike behind a rock and I started up.  Not really steep enough to be in any danger of falling, but loose enough that you had to use all fours to scramble and gain purchase, I made my way to the top in 10 minutes or so.  The sun was just coloring the sky and the big buddha that stood atop a huge pink lotus flower stood against the sky.  I admired the view from the point and walked around the grounds a bit before heading back down the path, which was easy to spot in daylight and would easily have been rideable in a bike.  On my way back down the road I ran into Zhu and he encouraged me to go see the local fish market before things closed up at 8 am.  I wandered deep into the market where there was a wide variety of fresh seafood for sale :  small 3 lb tuna, nice big 4-5 lb red snapper, fresh squid, octopus, lobster and crab.  Anything that swam in the ocean you could want to eat.

Seafood Shack

Later that morning around 9:30 Sofi and I joined the Sheppards for our boat ride, this time Finn had been struck by the stomach flu the night before, but he came along.  We set out with Zhu’s brother (seemed everyone was a relative of his), we motored out in the surf just off shore next to a small island that is just off Ngapali Beach.  They pulled out the fishing poles which were plastic soda pop bottles with fishing line wound round them and hook upon which they put some fresh squid.  We dropped the lines over the side until they hit bottom and then dangled them just above the sea floor.  Before long we’d all had bites and most everyone caught a fish or two, though they were super teeny tiny fish.  Lesley started feeling sea sick and we pulled anchor and motored around the end of the island to a small sand spit on the the side that had a small beach shack with a restaurant.  Lesley stayed with Eli and Finn (who promptly fell fast asleep) while Austin, Sofi and myself went back on the boat to snorkel a bit in the bay over which the buddha watched.   The visibility wasn’t spectacular, the coral was mediocre and there weren’t many fish, but Sofi and I enjoyed kicking around among the waves and rocks.  Heading back after a while, Sofi and I agreed to watch Finn while Austin and Lesley took Eli out snorkeling.  Finn slept soundly on the sand and Sofi and I ordered up some lunch : I had a fresh grilled snapper and Sofi two fresh grilled crabs.  The food was absolutely delicious, probably the freshest best tasting seafood meal I’ve ever had, simple but so tasty. The setting on the sand with the wind and ocean didn’t hurt either.  The Sheppards returned and Lesley climbed out of the boat and lay on the sand hugging the beach, her sea sickness had returned while snorkeling.  After they had lunch as well we got back in the boat and dropped Lesley and Finn off at the beach just across from the shack and they walked back, happy to have dry solid land instead of the rollicking waves.  We motored back down the beach in front of our hotel where they dropped us off.  Not a bad way to spend 5 hours or so for around $18 USD.

Not a Care

We hung out on the beach again until sunset and then met at local seafood restaurant across the street from the hotel for a celebratory birthday dinner with the Sheppard’s for Austin’s 35th.  He had lobster and we enjoyed some delicious avocado salad and grilled cashews along with snapper, tuna and crab.   The next day we relaxed in the morning before riding the bus down the very bumpy road to the airport where we took the short flight back up to Yangon as the sun set.   We were picked up by a driver and dropped off at the Kandawgyi Palace for the night.

The next day we had until the afternoon to see a few more sights.  Lesley and I went out early to see Chaukhtatgyi Paya which housed the massive Chaukhtatgyi reclining Buddha.  I was a little disappointed that buddha was housed in building with a covered awning and the light just wasn’t all that nice due to the roof over head.  We wandered around the adjacent monasteries, enjoying the morning scenes of the monks waking up and starting their day.  Back in the car we headed to the central down town Pagoda at Sule Paya before heading to the Bogyoke Market where Lesley wanted to buy trinkets.   I wandered around an old train station, walked through a bit of the market, but having left my wallet at the hotel didn’t see much point and went and hung out back at the van with the driver reading my book until Lesley showed up.  We returned the hotel where we grabbed a quick breakfast and loaded up the luggage and the families to go see Shwedagon one more time before we left.  We arrived around noon and the sun was beating hot for a February day. The gleaming gold of the pagoda and all the adjacent gleaming stupa were blinding in the noonday sun, we stayed in the shadows as we circumnavigated the structure.  Families sat in adjacent covered wings enjoying their noon day meal.  Back in the car we decided to head to the airport.

As we arrived around two pm we saw that our flight had been delayed from 2:15 to 3:15 pm.  Mistakenly I had read 14:15 pm in military time as 4:15 pm departure instead of 2:15 departure.  We were late!  Not too worried due to the delay we went to counter only to find all the China Air personal were gone and the counter closed.  We walked back and forth between other counters and airline offices until we found someone at Myanmar Air who made some phone calls and said we needed to get to the China Air office on the otherside of the terminal in arrival.  We walked / quickly shuffled over to find we couldn’t enter because the office was through immigration and we didn’t have a boarding pass.  Back to the departure side of the terminal we asked the  girls at the help desk for help. They walked us back to the arrival side to security, we weren’t’ able to enter because we didn’t have a security pass so we waited while they took our passports and disappeared into the back. Still not super worried as we had 50 minutes left until departure Austin and I felt if we could just reach someone we’d be able to get on the flight.  Sadly the girls returned to tell us that the our seats had been given to others and that we could complain to the Air China office, but we’d need a security pass which could be obtained at the security office back on the arrival side.  At this point there seemed little point in trying more here at the airport so we went to use the phone, called our travel agent who suggested we stay at the Seasons Yangon which was a five minute walk from the airport.  Given the heat and how much our wives weren’t in trouble we opted to take a taxi the three minutes.

The Seasons of Yangon is where stranded travelers at the Yangon Airport go to die.  Maybe 30 years ago the hotel had probably been in its heyday, probably then the only nice international airport next to the airport. Now it was rundown, with tired looking help at the front desk and worn carpets up the stairs to our small rooms.  But for $40 USD a night for doubles and only $15 for an extra bed we couldn’t complain. Luckily Austin had a stash of cash left and he paid for both rooms, which thankfully were air-conditioned.   Austin and I used the computer in the business center which had an internet connection to find tickets for the next day on Thai Air to Bangkok where we’d wait for an 8 hour layover and then on to Beijing on Sri Lankan Air where we’d land at 2 am in the morning.  Relieved to actually have a way out of Mayanmar we ate at a small adjacent cafe and retired to our rooms for the night.

The next morning we ate at our complimentary free breakfast, I had the rice congee with peanuts and pickled veggies while the kids and Stac had toast.  We got the airport and through security (finally) and took the short one hour flight to Bangkok.  Lesley, Eli and Finn stayed in Bangkok for the week (since they had school off) and the rest of us waited out the hours for connecting flight. The Bangkok airport is big!  It has four levels with lots of shops and feels way more of a cosmopolitan airport than Beijing (even though Beijing is the largest airport in the world).  I was impressed by the reverent Buddhism of everyone in the airport, after a purchase they would bow and say a phrase in Thai for a blessing.  I was so excited to be able to walk up to an ATM and stick in my plastic card and get money out!  We ate, bought magazines and waited until our 8:30 pm departure to Beijing.  The flight was uneventful except for the delicious spicy airplane food and the striking stewards and stewardesses in their traditional blue uniforms.  We landed at 2 am and were home in bed by 3:45 am.  A long day but we’d made it  out of Myanmar.

Reflecting several weeks later I treasured the time we’d been able to spend in such a beautiful country full of warm and friendly people who welcomed us everywhere we went.   We’d seen some of the most amazing scenery, from temples a 1000 years old, to lakes cold and clear, golden pagodas pointing skyward and beautiful beaches.  Stac and I both commented on what a magical time we’d had and how we couldn’t wait to return some day.

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Categories: By Mark, travel | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Beyond Yangon!

BeforeI hadn’t realized until the night before we left for Myanmar how traumatic it had been when I’d dislocated my elbow a little under a year ago in Guilin. I couldn’t sleep the night before and it wasn’t because I was excited. I tossed and turned all night, was sick to my stomach and I was really shaky. The next morning as we headed to the Beijing airport at 5:30am had me feeling the same way. It wasn’t for about two more days, when we got to Bagan that I was able I relax and feel good about traveling in Asia again.  This trip we came prepared though with medicine to deal with all kids of aches and pains incase anything bad happened again. That small knowledge gave me comfort.

We arrived in Yangon (the only city with an International airport but that’s said kind of loosely) in the late afternoon. It was close to dinnertime and the kids were tired of flying all day. Little did they know we were getting up again the next morning to fly to Bagan on the 6:30am flight?  Some of us went to see the biggest temple in Myanmar and some of us stayed back at the hotel to eat dinner and relax.

Shwezigon PagodaThe next morning came very early as we headed to the airport again. We got into Bagan around 9am, took our stuff to our hotel (the Amazing Bagan Resort), let the kids run around a little and then head out with our tour guide to see some temples (temples you can inside of and stupas you cannot, just a little fyi for you to know) and stupas and then have a local Myanmar lunch. The first temple we saw is named Shweizegan.
It holds bones of a Buddha. We spent about 2 hrs. walking around, seeing all the amazing statues, hearing stories about Buddha from our guide and letting the kids run and play.

Heading to LunchOne thing that I really loved about all the temples and stupas we saw is that you have to remove your shoes before entering them or the area around them. It made me think of when Moses saw the burning bush and God told him to remove his shoes because he stood on holy ground. The temples were very spiritual and I cannot imagine walking through them without taking off my shoes. We had been told before to take flip-flops or shoes that are easy to remove because we would be constantly taking them off. It was the best advice.


That day we had a local lunch (not my favorite, except for the chick peas, those were delicious) and then went back to the hotel to let the kids swim. That night we went to a temple that had the steepest  (and narrowest) steps going up to the roof, which we climbed to see the sunset. The Golden Girls I literally crawled up the stairs while a local woman held a flashlight for me so that I could see. The whole time in her broken English she kept saying “ watch the head, watch the head”. It sounds really lame but those steps to me were as scary to climb as it is for me to ride a roller coaster (which I never do btw). It was a major feat for me,mainly because of how narrow it was and I have claustrophobia. Ha ha. The sunset was amazing. We stayed up on the roof taking amazing photos, talking to some locals and also our guide and watching Miles and Eli run around down below scouting out other small temples and stupas.  Later they would try and convince us they heard a cobra or some large animal growl at them. I had no idea that cobras growled.

The rest of our time in Bagan was spent seeing more amazing temples and stupas (there are more than 4000 in Bagan), riding in horse The Explorersbuggies to see them, eating yummy Thai food, swimming at the hotel, going to some markets, and also visiting a monastery where a bunch of little monks were studying. These monks were orphans and destined to be monks because of that. I loved all the red soil in Bagan, it made me think of southern Utah, I loved seeing all the termite hills (as weird as that sounds) around the town (I’ve seen them in magazines before and then here I was seeing them in person, very cool), I loved the people and all their smiling faces and how their eyes would sparkle and scrunch up when they said hello and smiled. I loved the children, who were very inquisitive of us and I loved the care and respect the people have of the temples.

The next morning we flew to Heho, then took a van ride for about an hour (very windy). The night before Austin had been sick and throwing up. During the very bumpy and windy road he kept throwing up. I’m quite prone to gagging when someone else is sick and this ride was no exception. In fact, when we arrived at Inle lake (you have to take a boat because it is the only way to get to any hotel on the lake) I was the last one in the van to try and get out but Austin was in front of me practically losing a lung and I couldn’t get out. I sat in the back closed my eyes and plugged my ears until he was finished. It seemed to go on for about 5 minutes.  Poor Austin. Throughout the trip everyone in his family got sick and was throwing up. Our family got colds but nothing else, thank goodness.

Paddling Inle LakeOur boat ride was fun and the scenery in that area is breathtaking. After checking into our hotel, we unpacked, ate some lunch (which was amazing) and then we took a boat down the lake with Lesley, Finn and Eli. We saw a silver making factory, a floating tomato garden (actually everything is floating, the villages, some of the hotels and a lot of monasteries).  We even saw a small cat swimming from one piece of ground to another. That was very strange to see. We then went to a monastery to see cats that the monks have trained to jump through hoops and do tricks. While at the monastery Mark told me I could walk up on this platform to see a bunch of really cool Buddha statues but then was pretty much scolded by a Burmese guide for being up there. Come to find out, only men can walk up there and women cannot. I felt so bad and apologized to a monk that was walking past as I stepped back down. He looked at me with a huge smile on his face which I took to mean that it was ok, not to do it again but that it was ok.

I think that Inle Lake, next to Zion National Park has to be one of the most peaceful natural surroundings that I’ve been to. I hope to go back there again someday. While sitting out on the deck of the hotel eating lunch one day, Miles kept telling me all the people we know that he thought would love to be there. They were Kiah and Ramon, my parents and our good friend Shari. It was very cute. He said to me “don’t you think grandma and grandpa would think this was so pretty?” I told him that they would love it. Then he said, “They wouldn’t be able to handle getting in and out of the boat though.”

I loved the peaceful feeling of the lake and the people, I loved how they created villages that floated on the water and how even in a little village you would see a piece of ground about 12 feet by 12 feet where kids were playing volleyball. I also loved gliding along on the lake watching the fisherman pull in their nets, net after net. I loved seeing Monks and Nuns who always had a smile for us. I loved the food that was made with great care and presented in such a beautiful manner.  I was very sad to leave Inle and could’ve stayed there for a week.

After leaving Inle Lake we flew to Ngapali. What a great place to end our trip. We took a bus ride from the airport to our hotel (the Amata), which took us about 25 minutes. Every time we’d get a glimpse of the ocean to our right, we’d all sigh. We got to the hotel, checked in and headed straight to the beach. Mark and I watched Miles and Sofi as they swam in the water, splashed and enjoy being in the warmth of the ocean and away from the cold weather of Beijing. We ate at the hotel that night, which was really expensive and not that great. That was the only time we ate there, the rest of the time we walked across the street to local places and had the best (and cheapest) seafood.

Boats of Ngapali BeachWe spent all of our time at the beach, laying out soaking up some sun, swimming in the ocean, playing in the sand and just relaxing. We needed it after the past couple months that we’ve had. The hotel had a really beautiful pool but no one ever swam in it, why would you with the ocean right there? Our hotel was right on the beach of the Bay of Bengal. It was amazing. There were so many French and German older couples staying in Ngapali, I’d say that was the majority of foreigners visiting that area. There was a little area at the hotel with books and magazines that had been left by past guests and you could take them anytime to read and then return later. I was so excited on our first day to go check out a book. All the books were either in German or French and some I think were Swedish. None were in English. My German is not good enough for me to read a book. Thank goodness for the Kindle.

I loved being able to sit on a lounge chair and relax while the kids swam, I loved the women that walked up and down the beach with a platter rested on their heads full of coconuts and pineapple that you could buy for very cheap and they’d cut it and bag it for you. I loved the seafood, especially the red snapper and shrimp. I loved that my kids had so much fun and had this wide-open playground to get all their energy out on and then fall asleep early at night. I loved having time with Mark, sitting and talking and not worrying about the kids being bored. I loved talking with other foreign families (I’ve noticed how living abroad that people are more apt to just start talking to you and ask where you are from, where you live and so on) who were in Myanmar during Chinese New Year with their families.

It was an amazing trip. It ended on a semi bad note though, but nothing awful. We flew from Ngapali back to Yangon to spend one night and fly out on a Sunday. Mark read the departure time incorrectly. It was in military time (as everything here is) and said 14:15pm. He read it as 4:15pm. We got to the airport at 2:30 (the plane was already boarded and the door were shut) and realized our mistake. I say “Our” because it shouldn’t have just been up to Mark to know when our flight took off. I should have checked myself. Yangon “international” airport isn’t very big and there are only so many flights leaving daily and even weekly from Yangon back to China. Actually there are only flights two days a week from Yangon to Kunming to Beijing. The next day would be Thursday. We ended up staying overnight in a scary motel (probably at one time very luxurious but now kind of a sty) and flying the next day to Bangkok. We had an 8 hr layover and then got into Beijing around 2am and home by 3:45am. The kids were suppose to have started school that day but obviously missed it. I can laugh now about the ending to our magical trip but the day we missed the flight was not so funny.

The Look

I hope we get back to Myanmar again one day.I’d love to take Kiah and Ramon. I hope that the countries tourism continues to grow (but not too quickly) and that it helps them financially. It’s a beautiful country, amazing and spiritual people and full of such wonderful history.

Golden Bagan


Categories: By Stacey, friends, travel, travel outside of China | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Inle Lake

Inle Lake
Inle Lake is south east of Mandalay and is fairly high at 3000 feet above sea level. The lake is large, around 13 miles long with a surface area of around 45 square miles.  The lake is fairly shallow, around 7 feet and is long and narrow.  There aren’t really defined shores to the lake but lots of marsh and tributary.  Most of the hotels at the lake are on the water and there are also numerous villages and monasteries that are set on the lake.  Streets and paths are replaced by water and cars are replaced by boats that are parked underneath the houses that are raised on stilts.  Even the gardens are floating on masses of floating vegetation, anchored down by bamboo poles and piled high with seaweed for compost.

Riding the Waterways

To get there you usually fly in to HeHo a sleep town whose only attraction is the airstrip you land on.  From there you transfer via car a short 20 miles to Inle Lake, but the drive will take over and hour as the “road” is mostly single lane with shoulders of rocks and potholes, cars give way in order of size and you climb up over a series of mountains and then down into the town of Nampan where you have to pay an entrance fee of $5 usd per person for an Inle Zone ticket.  Surprisingly for me at least once into town we pulled into a shop where they told us we had to hire a boat to take us to our hotel which was on the lake.  We drove down to the dock, while parking and unloading luggage Austin proceed to have the loudest episode of barfing, induced by something he’d ate. I quickly exited and helped load our luggage into to different long boats. Each family of four settled into their cushioned seats and we zipped down the river  toward the lake.

The Waterway

Before getting to the lake proper we took a sudden left down a smallish looking side canal and zoomed along until we came to a village, all the houses set up on stilts. We passed by two monasteries set over the water and then past floating gardens until we crossed over a bamboo log laid across the canal and pulled up to a dock. The engine was cut and two young men climbed on and proceeded rowing with their legs across a small lagon where we pulled up to the Inle Princess Resort dock.  We were greeted with hot towels and a cool drink and escorted down a garden path to checkin and then to our rooms which overlooked a lilly covered pond.  I don’t think I’ll ever have a more dramatic entrance to a hotel.

Paddling Out

We arrived mid-day and after settling into our room, which was spacious, we headed over to the lodge for lunch.  We sat outside on the deck overlooking the lake.  The menu said that if you wanted to join them in the kitchen they’d be happy to help you prepare your food.  Sofi decided to take them up on their offer and I accompanied her as we went down to the kitchen where she and a chef prepared her pizza.  After lunch Stac, Miles, Sofi and myself headed out with Lesley and her kids on the lake.  (Austin went straight to their room and promptly fell asleep).  We road down past the village, near the lakes edge there was a huge swath of floating vegetation and with a big push on the motor when pushed through out onto the lake.

Fisherman on Inle Lake

The first thing we came to was a series of boats on the water.  The fisherman were fishing.  They stand on the end of their long narrow skiffs with their nets in both hands, feeding the nets out into the water.  WIth both hands occupied, their oar sits tucked under one arm with one leg curled around the end in the water.  This way they can paddle along while keeping their hands free.  Then they circle their nets and using big long bamboo poles they strike the water, scaring the fish into the nets where they gather then in and put the fish in their boats.  From there we zipped down the lake to another small village where we visited a silver smith.  Clearly part of the “tourist trap”, we learned how they heated and hammered silver, looked at their wares and left.  Next was a quick drive by the floating gardens and then over to the Jumping Cat Monastery, Nga Hpe Kyaung.  This is a beautiful old wooden monastery set on the water has amazing wooden statues of Buddha and of course the cats which will in fact jump through hoops.  Cats are everywhere at Inle Lake, we saw them on boats, in peoples houses, we even saw one actually swimming across one of the waterways.  The cats did jump, but I was much more interested in the decor, architecture and the monks.

Then we zoomed across the lake headed back north towards our hotel.  We stopped along the way where the water was a bit deeper and I jumped into the water and swam for a bit before climbing back in the boat.  I dried off as we raced north across the water and back to the hotel as the sunset behind the hills and the sky turned dark blue with the outline of orange sky.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the hotel lodge. Later that night things began to really cool off and around 8 pm they came around with coals and lit the stove in our room to heat things up.

Dawn Patrol

Padlding Man

The next morning I woke up at 5:30 and got dressed.  I met a local young man at the hotel’s dock and I sat down on a cushion in a small skiff.  He put his paddle behind his leg and we set off across the lagoon in the dark.  We paddled through the small village, and past the monastery.   In the village people were brushing their teeth, and washing dishes in the water on the steps below their house where they reached the water.  We paddled out among the gardens and toward the lake.  That big bar of vegetation was too much for my oarsman to overcome and while we probably could have gotten over I would have ended up getting wet and with both cameras and my laptop in my backpack (I’d checked my mail before we’d left) I didn’t want to risk it.


Back at the hotel I went back to the lobby to check my mail again.  Since leaving Yangon the wireless had become less and less. Inle was a satellite dial up and I could practically watch an email download over the course of a minute, bit by bit.  The problem was we were running low on cash.  I hadn’t really taken that “No ATM” thing serious enough and I hadn’t really brought a significant stash with me.  We weren’t spending crazy but taking boat taxi’s and buggys and tour guides and eating at the hotel was starting to add up, we were running low.  Luckily I was able to get ahold of a friend who lived in Singapore who could easily transfer money to our travel agent’s bank and they in turn had a group coming into Inle and would deliver me cash.

The Bridge over Water

After grabbing Sofi and a quick break for breakfast we headed out again on the boats, this time with all the Sheppards Austin in tow, recovered from a day of rest.  Miles had the “squirts” and stayed behind with Stac in the hotel.  Our first stop was a small village nearby to see a morning market. We pulled up along side a long bridge. A young boy of five saw us zooming alongside and decided to race us down the bridge. He ran as fast as his little legs would go and beat us to the end. We walked the half mile into the market and saw folks selling everything from flowers to curved machetes they were making right there with bamboo bellows. I bought a few trinkets and we walked back to the boat.


We headed south on the boat again.  This time our destination was a small building where they wove silk, wool and lotus plants into cloth.  The building had two floors where they over a half dozen looms. All of them were run by foot power, with the shuttles whipping back and forth between the strings in various fashion, some by pulling a string back and forth others by flipping them by hand.  The most complicated one we saw had a man that was throwing three different shuttles back and forth in various fashions to make a beautiful pattern of material.  It was fascinating to watch them work, amazing that we as a civilization mastered this intricacy pre-industrial age and that people still keep the art alive, though here in Myanmar its because its the most economical way to do it not because they have a choice.

Bound for School

Afterwards we went to a restaurant that was run by the same people that owned the Inle Princess Resort, they had an organic garden next door where they grew all the fresh vegetables and in the lower level they had a cat house with 48 burmese cats with their own island. They were reintroducing the burmese cats to Myanmar and had plans to begin breeding them for sale.  After a lovely lunch of fresh Inle Fish and coconut chicken noodle soup we got back in the boat and headed for Inthein. This involved a long boat ride up a tributary side river.  Every once in a while there were short small bamboo dams that covered 80% of the river.  The boat sped up and “jumped” up the 2 feet or so where the water poured through.  Along the way we saw children walking home from school, men bathing in the river and several folks washing their water buffalo.  Along the way we also passed several men riding down big clumps of bamboo that had been cut in the mountains and was being transported down to the lake.

We arrived in Inthein around 4:30 we were late in the day and most tourists had left, there were only a couple of boats at the doc.  We walked through town, across the bridge and past the large bamboo forests toward Shwe Inn Thein Paya, a compound with over 1400 small zedi stupa that dotted the hillside.  To get there though you had to first walk along a very very long covered corridor entrance way, it must have been well over half a kilometer, entirely flanked on either side by vendors.  Sofi and I walked quick up the the walkway while the Sheppards moseyed near the entrance.  Finally near the top we entered the actual temple, which was quite small and then walked out the back through the crumbling zedi, they were everywhere.  Some were decaying and crumbling with spider-web covered buddha and others had been recently restored and gleamed in setting sun in their fresh coat of gilded paint.  After exploring around for a while we found the temple closed, our shoes waiting for us outside the front gate. Skipping back down the walkway, most of the vendors had closed up for the night and had covered their wares or were carting them away.

We rejoined the Sheppards near the bottom and walked back out to the river, passing a ox carrying bamboo to the river, 5 little puppies curled in the dust sleeping and a couple of restaurants; one where we saw a monk playing pool with the local crew.  Back on the boat we sped down the river and across the lake as the sun again set. I’d been on the water from sun up to sundown and was dead tired.  I slept soundly that night.

Sadly the next day was our departure from Inle in the afternoon.  We loved our time on this gorgeous lake where the light shines low and the people row with one leg.  It felt ages away from anything I’d ever seen and I wish we could have stayed a week and I’ll dream of this place until we return.

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Categories: By Mark, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments