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Monday, 31 August 2015

Inle Lake, Myanmar - Page 3

Written by Richard Taylor
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After a half hour of clear sailing, reeds were breaking the surface and clumps of green began to pass along side.  We were nearing the Floating Gardens and Kupa cut the engine once more, steering us into a narrow channel. The greenery was dense now and the produce varied – there were even tomatoes, floating on compressed mats of vegetation, held in place by long bamboo posts.  Tiny stilted huts stretched out to the horizon and there was a delicacy to the place.  I wondered about its practicality in high winds or typhoon but I supposed it worked for them.  Besides, a typhoon would devastate anything, floating or not.


Lotus fibre weaves are a specialty of the region and I was treated to a sampling at the Pa Don Mar shop.  The finished fabric is pretty coarse stuff (used for monk robes among other things) and is often mixed either with cotton, feeling much finer to the touch, or silk, which I imagine was restricted to the carriage trade or people in bigger boats.


“Phaung Daw Oo Paya?” asked Makai, when we were on our way again.


“What’s that again?”




I nodded.  A shrill little cry of “okay,” rose over the growl of the motor as she signaled to Kupa who took us down another canal.  There were more stilted dwellings and restaurants and shops, a veritable city of them.  We waved; waved at other boat tours, waved at the people crossing the bamboo bridges above us, waved at the children under the huts, perched on beams over the water surface.  Then we were alone again, traversing another narrow channel and the vegetation was dense, more so than the gardens, so that the canal was almost completely overgrown.  I thought we might run aground but it cleared finally, and another of Myanmar’s magnificent golden pagodas suddenly loomed before us, gleaming in the light of late afternoon.  Makai got the pole out and steered us into the wharf.  There was considerable boat traffic and visitors now – Phaung Daw Oo is the most important temple in the region and it bore the usual stamps of Myanmar’s temples:  Cool white tiles on the outside (after the required doffing of shoes, they feel very pleasant on the feet), icons and portraits inside, more than the usual number of donation boxes and a trio of Buddha statues raised on a central platform.  Thin pads of gold leaf were being offered to pilgrims and visitors, who applied it to the surface of the statues for luck.  Consequently, after years of this custom, the Buddha figures were unrecognizable blobs, Michelin Men left out in the sun.


After the temple had come the Long Necks.


“If you would like to take their picture, that is all right,” she said.


Of course I took a picture. I needed proof of my disapproval.  Hypocrisy? Curiousity?  Like photographing a car accident.  This is terrible.  Let me take a picture.  Oh well, different culture and all that.  I’ve taken pictures of locals:  Oh there’s a street sweeper; oh there’s someone cleaning squid; the man in the tree is chopping coconuts; how quaint, this delightful local colour.  My uneasiness has been mitigated somewhat by the dozens of times the locals run up to me with their pals or girlfriends or children, ask for “one picture please,” put their arms around me and smile broadly for the lens.  I’m a specimen too.  It’s different of course (any excuse will do).  It’s not the same with these two sisters though.  They’re not sitting by the doorway having a smoke break.  They’re there for me.  They sit on a bench so tourists can gawk at them.  One of them was smiling.  The other looked downcast.  What was she thinking?  “Look at my miserable lot,” “When’s dinner,” “Stop judging me you self-righteous foreign slug.”


I walked around the shop.  There were fabrics for sale and a plethora of carvings and Buddhist icons.  Another ‘long neck’ was weaving at a loom, pumping out a lovely rich fabric in shades of purple and red.  I felt better watching her.  Okay.  She’s not a freak show.  She’s doing something. She has a life.  She just happens to have an extended neck.


I took her picture too.


(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Monday, 31 August 2015

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