Wednesday, March 2, 2016

To Mawlamyine!

At Uzina Pagoda in Mawlamyine.

Today, we left Yangon for Mawlamyine ("Maw-lay-me-yang"). We checked out of the hotel and took our suitcases downstairs where our driver was already waiting for us. But, Spring was nowhere in sight. Apparently, he lives in a neighborhood very near the airport and we'll be driving past it to Mawlamyine so we'll be picking him up on the way.

Speaking of Spring, I caught a glimpse of his guide ID yesterday and saw his Burmese name - Nway Oo. I guess that translates to Spring in English. But even though I know his proper name, he asked that we call him by his nickname, so Spring it will continue to be.

Speaking of nicknames, as Ayşe was packing last night, she some how came to the conclusion that she had lost quite a bit of US money since arriving into Myanmar. She was both upset and perturbed at the thought of what she had lost though both Bro and I assured her that she had plenty of money for the rest of the trip. We both think she actually spent it all without realizing it.  In any case, I teased her by telling her that she was now as poor as a church mouse but since we are not in the land of churches, but in the land of pagodas, I nicknamed her Pagoda Mouse :-)  Hopefully, a bit of humor will lessen her grief.  I have to admit, I completely empathized with her.

Back to our road trip to Mawlamyine.  We did pick up Spring on our way out of town.  Our first stop of the day was at Taukkyan War Cemetery, the largest of the three war cemeteries in Myanmar.  As with most war cemeteries, Taukkyan is very well tended to.



I was expecting to see the tombstones of Myanmar soldiers who had died in combat in World War II and was surprised that cemetery contains tombstones of Commonwealth nations that died in battle in the country that was then known as Burma.  


The cemetery contains 6,374 Commonwealth graves of the Second World War, 867 of them unidentified and in the 1950s, the graves of 52 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War were brought into the cemetery as well. 


Many of the graves were relocated from smaller battlefied cemeteries that were either difficult to access and or maintained.  Graves were also recovered from isolated jungle and roadside sites. 



Commemorative words are inscribed in languages of the nations that had soldiers who lost their lives in Burma.










As described on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the Taukkyan War Cemetery also contains:
"The Rangoon Memorial, which bears the names of almost 27,000 men of the Commonwealth land forces who died during the campaigns in  Burma and who have no known grave.
The Taukkyan Cremation Memorial, commemorating more than 1,000 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith.
The Taukkyan Memorial which commemorates 46 servicemen of both wars who died and were buried elsewhere in Burma but whose graves could not be maintained."
It must have been quite an enormous undertaking for Myanmar to do all this but it is remarkable that this small country has not forgotten those who went to battle and lost their lives, fighting side by side with Burmese soldiers.  I have never been to a war cemetery like this before.  It was very humbling and touching.

Our drive took us through the part of Myanmar where pomelos are the main crop.  Of course, we had to stop to check out a fruit stand.

As our driver pulled up and parked the van, a few kids came scurrying up.  I didn't see what they had in their rattan cages until I got out. They were attempting to sell pigeons.   Hmmm....I wonder what they think tourists will do with pigeons.  One shake of my head and they let me be. Of course, Ayşe is the child magnet so they swarmed around her.  She didn't want to have anything to do with pigeons so it took more effort on her part than on mine to ward off the kids but eventually, they left her behind.



We first had a bit of a coffee break.  Stuff here looks strong because they boil the grounds with the water, classic Asian way of *brewing* coffee but it's far from strong.  The Burmese drink it with a squirt of lime.  I tried the lime thing.  Not my cup of coffee.




As I walked out of the roadside cafe, I spotted a woman across the street with a small crowd of people hovering around her.  Curious about what she was selling, I decided to cross the road and check out the action.  Turns out she was selling bugs!  Yes, roasted grasshoppers to be more precise.  I called snack!




I'm a bit of a grasshopper connoisseur, don't you know?  I had my first taste in Mexico in 2011 and then again in Mexico in 2013 when I returned to Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations so I'm overdue for more :-)

I sampled one and then got a small tin's worth.  The other two are not into munching on bugs so I got whole bag - it was a small bag, all to myself!



Our car was parked just in front of a pomelo orchard.  We walked down to take a closer look at the trees and the fruits.


A few of the fruits were wrapped up in paper.  My grandmother used to do this with the fruit trees in her yard - it's to deter birds from nipping at the fruit before it can be picked.


The pomelo here are much larger in size than what I can find in my Asian supermarket and because they are picked when they are fully ripe, they are much sweeter.  I'm still not a pomelo convert though.


Those ginormous fruit, on the stand in front of the woman, are pomelos!

Our next stop was another meal break at a nice and very large roadside restaurant.  According to Spring, it was a branch of the Feel Myanmar Food restaurant that we had lunch at yesterday.  Well, we knew the ordering routine so we each went up to the counter and picked out our meat dish.

Spring and our driver having their meal.  They ordered thali plates which  looked more delicious than our meal!



Our road trip continued after lunch.  It would be at least another 3 hours driving before we would reach Mawlamyine.


It was around 4p when we arrived into Mawlamyine.

Mawlamyine, formerly Moulmein, is the fourth largest city in Myanmar and is the capital and largest city of Mon State.

When Spring first mentioned Mawlamyine to us, he kept referring to it as George Orwell's city because it was while living here that Orwell penned his famous 1936 memoir, "Shooting an Elephant" and he used Mawlamyine as the setting.  The essay begins:

"In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me."

Rudyard Kipling also mentioned the city in his poem titled, "Mandalay"

"By the old Moulmein pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me".

We quickly checked into our hotel - the Cinderella Hotel before continuing with our sightseeing in town.  Spring wasted no time taking us to our first sightseeing destination - Uzina Pagoda.


There is debate as to how the pagoda got its name.  Some believe that it was named after a sage, named Uzina, who lived during the reign of King Asoka.   Another legend tells the story of a simple villager who found a pot of gold buried in a bamboo grove while collecting shoots on the hill where the pagoda now stands. He and his wife became rich and built the pagoda on the hill, which is said to have given up its treasures to them. The old Mon name for this pagoda is Kyaikpatan, named after the hill on which it stands.  Record books indicate that the pagoda was rebuilt in 1832 and then later in 1886.

We just took a short walk around the small complex.  Unlike Shwedagon Pagoda which was crowded with people, there was barely anyone here.  Such a big difference when you visit a smaller town.














Spring was saving a very special destination for sun set -  Kyaik Than Lan Pagoda, the pagoda that Kipling references in his poem.  We would head there next.

It's nice to have finally made it to Mawlamyine and so far, I'm not disappointed with our decision to come here.