Friday, April 25, 2014

I CAN READ!

It's a quarter to five on a Friday.  Last month, this woulda been my favorite part of the week as it woulda been the end of the work week. Now, I'm looking out into the sky disappointed.

Back on Monday, I noticed thunderstorms predicted for today in Yangon.  First time I've seen that in a weather forecast in SE Asia since December. All week, I've been looking forward to the thunderstorms, which can be quite exciting here in the tropics. Also cools things down.

This morning while waiting on a download, I checked the weather on my phone again.  The hour-by-hour forecast said T-storms from 4 to 5 PM.  It's cloudy, but I am not seeing any ominous black clouds out there. Aww, man.

You can tell it's been a slow week when I'm disappointed by the inaccuracy of a weather report.

The download I mentioned was actually a streaming video that wasn't streaming.  See, I am a big Golden State Warriors fan, and my favorite basketball team was playing in a pivotal game 3 of their first round playoff matchup against the favored Los Angeles Clippers.  Game started at 9 AM here.  Although there are plenty of places around Yangon that have satellite TV that show NBA playoff games (I don't know of any, but I'm SURE they're out there), none of them are open at 9 AM.  What to do?

Somewhere, somehow, it'll be on the internet.  Even if it comes down to me just watching a text update thing, that's what'll have to be. The internet cafe about 6 blocks from my house offers about 50% (depending on how many other users are there) faster speeds than using my phone's hot spot at home, I trudged down there this morning to watch the game.

I found a site that was working pretty well!  The site where I was streaming it from was all in Chinese, but they offered three choices of feeds.  The one I picked was the original NBA TV feed, it streamed without too many hiccoughs, and the Warriors were winning!

Then the NBA TV feed ended because the game that had been on TNT was over and they were picking up coverage of the game in progress.

Oh.  I'll check out the other feeds.

Took a while, but I got CCTV5, and my team was now losing.  I think CCTV stands 'Communist Chinese Television', as the original audio feed was down to like 10% volume and I was listening to commentary from two Chinese analysts. In Mandarin, of course.  I understood like 2 words in 10, those two words being the names of the athletes.

It was getting to be later in the day, and the internet cafe, a big two-story establishment with about 60 to 80 computer stations in it, was starting to get full.  The speeds slowed down.

Got to be where I'd be able to watch like one minute of video followed by three minutes of the screen just being frozen while it buffered itself or whatever. Even during the commercials and time outs!  There were no controls to advance the feed even though we were falling way behind what was happening in real time.  At half time, I shut down the site and re-loaded to catch up to real time.  It was midway through the 3rd quarter. Still losing, but it was close.

By that time, the cafe was entirely packed.  At that point, I got 30 seconds of video for every five minutes waiting. I think I showed remarkable patience. I made it until two minutes left in the game.  My Warriors had made it close, but those Clips went on a run and it was an 8 point lead with not much time left. I clicked over to Facebook (which I had avoided for 4 hours knowing it would have shown me results), and sure enough, we lost.

In the words of the Chinese commentators I listened to for 5 hours, my team of Shi-Fan Ku-Lee, Kae Tom-Son and Igoo Dala lost out to that damn team from LA with Bae Gi-Fon and Zhis Pau.  Five hours it took to watch 2/3rds of a two hour basketball game.  Five hours at the cafe cost me all of $2, so it's not like it was expensive or anything.



It was not a wasted day though.  See, once I figured out the odd timing on one-minute on, four minutes off, I just used my time in the air-conditioned cafe to do other things.  Specifically, study my Burmese.  The written part.  I did those little 'draw this letter' exercises I've seen being used for beginning English students. I learned about vowel markers and then both spoke and wrote in Burmese what my book told me to. Studying wise, being out of my house and away from distractions, it was a very productive four minutes out of five. 


How many of you have memories of before you knew how to read? When you were about four years old, therebouts? I do. I remember being a little tiny kid riding around in the back of my mom's '62 Ford Fairlane and looking out onto the world and seeing all those signs with what I knew was writing, but I couldn't understand it. I remember being a very frustrated 4-year old living with illiteracy. 

That's what it's been like living here in Thailand and Myanmar this last year+. I've been an illiterate. After spending all time in the cafe doing writing and reading drills, when I was walking home, I noticed a big sign in Burmese script. That's an 'L'..That squiggly there means it's aspirated, so it's like an 'HL'...with an 'a'..that's a d, and that thing there that looks like an S is definitely an N. Oh look, there's the rarely used 'Z' with no vowel sound on it at all which means... 

'HLEDAN ZI' Hledan Market! That's where I live! OMFG!! I CAN READ!!! I CAN READ!!! I'm not 4 years old any more! So excited. I smiled the whole way home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Numbering Something Familiar

I'm gonna need a tutor.  This trying to teach myself Burmese out of a book is iffy stuff.  Some of my flash cards:


Spent some time today working on my numbers. I'd been practicing one through ten, saying them in Burmese over and over to myself and then trying to use them when out in the world. I'm getting there. Heck, I'm sure I'll forget 4 or 7 or something like that on occasion, but I'll say after today, I'm pretty much there. I changed some money today, so I even got to practice using really big numbers like ko-thaun-chaun-thon (96,000).

Now, the written numbers, that I had just glanced at, until today when I decided I was going to really learn them. Important things, numbers. I made out flash cards, randomized them, and drilled myself. Staring at this chart, at first it looks really hard.

 
All those squiggly lines and strange shapes! You'll notice 'zero' is the same. I learned the symbol for '2' already too. See, the 200 Kyat note has JOO in each of it's corners, so whenever I looked in my wallet, JOO was looking back at me.

As I started to really look and think about it, the similarities really struck me! None of the Burmese letters are the same as our Latin alphabet, but their numbers sure are. Look there at the number '3'. The top part is the same as our 3. They just don't use a second semicircle. Take their symbol for the '4' turn it about 60 degrees counterclockwise and it looks a bit like a 4. Look at 6 and 9. They're the same as each other just flipped horizontally, just like our 6 and 9! (Okay, the 9 is backwards, but that 6 looks like a 6) Seven is easy; it's just a curvy 7. The 5 has the save curvy bottom as our 5.

What's going on here?

A Roman walks into a bar holds up two fingers and says “I'll have five beers please!”

See, our numbers aren't Latin like our letters. They're what we call 'Arabic' numerals, but from what I've read recently, they're central Asian. Burmese derives from Tibetan, a Central Asian language. The numbers don't just happen to look alike. They have common roots!

If you're learning Spanish or German or some European language other than Finnish or Basque, there's bits you already know. Bits that are the same as in your language. Not just bits actually, but whole chunks of it. Learning Burmese is tough because there are no common roots with English. Even the consonants and vowels are way different. You wouldn't believe how I excited I was to really see how something about this language connects with something I already know in English... err Arabic... what have you.

Aha! A thread of commonality! Something familiar! Yay! Oh I love Joo.. err... You, Burmese numbers!



Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hovel

Every morning when I wake up, I open the front door, swing open the back windows and push my interior dividing curtain aside to let the air through.  There's always a nice breeze early in the morning, and it's not too hot yet.  The raucous cawing of the crows, the haunting chanting of the monastery next door and all sounds of the market rise up from below. I can look out onto the morning scenes without being observed myself.  Yes, people act differently when they notice a foreigner around watching them.

My observations may border on voyeurism, and from up high, I can see over fences and such and watch people leading their everyday lives.  Time wise, it's a limited voyeurism, as either I gotta go to work or by 9 AM, it's starting to get unbearably hot and sticky, so the windows shut an the AC comes on.  I'm beginning to feel more and more at home here in Yangon, but it's these morning sights that impress on me a feeling that I am in a very different place.

Out the back window, there's the hovel.  Calling it a shack wouldn't be accurate. Shacks are generally better constructed. It's a hovel.  I think about 6 people are living in it.


The hovel is interesting to watch because it has no front wall.  I can see pretty much everything about this family's life right from my kitchen.  I don't think they can see me in the morning as the sun would be behind me.

Here's a closer look at the hovel.


If I ever want to remember how lucky I am to live in my somewhat modest apartment.  I just think about the hovel.  People, just like you and I, live there.  What's going on inside?


OMG!  It's a girl with four legs!

No, not really.  Two sisters, I assume, laying on mats.  You can't see the one in the back's head. The younger one, I'm guessing she's about five, is chopping cucumbers on the floor with a very large knife.  I'll bet your parents didn't let you (err..made you) play with large knives when you were five!

So, that's it for the hovel for today.  I'll try not to invade their privacy too much; there won't be a Hovel Webcam being set up. 

As for me, I'm still on vacation. Enjoying the languid reality that I wake up everyday with absolutely nothing to do. Exploring Yangon's better and less well known attractions.  Yesterday, I recorded a ukulele video for the Underground at a nearby lake.  Today, I'm thinking about heading down to the National Museum. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Unexpected Journey. There and Back: Downtown Yangon

I picked up a wonderful book at a roadside bookseller here in Yangon today. It's titled Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia by Thant Myint-U. A bit repetitive at times, re-stating points he'd made earlier in the volume. Kinda like this was a collection of stand-alone essays, but all in all, a fascinating read for someone eager to understand more of the history, culture and possible future of this new country he's come to. I burned through half the book this afternoon alone. Noticed at that same bookseller, they carried two other books by this same author. Definitely going to pick those up too when I finish this one (which might yet be tonight).


There was a line from that book I have to share. "Marco Polo, who never went to Burma, but heard about it second hand, described this area as 'a very unfrequented country with great woods abounding in elephants and unicorns and a number of other wild beasts'."



Unicorns? Okay, sure that was written in the 14th Century, but if they were abounding then... where are they hiding the unicorns now?!?


Ain't seen no unicorns.


This morning, I embarked on a journey preceded by a simple concept. It was a suggestion that was given to me by someone when I first arrived in Bangkok about a year ago and was wondering how to begin exploring this strange, vast new city. 'Get on a random bus and just see where it takes you!' someone told me. I never did actually did that there, but the idea stuck with me.


That's what I did this morning.


Mixed feelings on the results. It didn't take me into someplace weird, isolated and unexpected. Big city buses don't do that; they take you where everyone wants to go, in this case, Downtown Yangon.


Way back before I even thought about coming here, I wrote an article for a Thai magazine aimed at English learners about the various ASEAN capitals. Yangon hasn't been the capital of Myanmar for 15 years, but it used to be, and its a heck of a lot more interesting than the new capital. Yangon's downtown specifically is very much wrapped up in Burma's English colonial past. As I learned when the researching the article, the British essentially built Yangon(nee Rangoon)'s downtown area, filling it with wide streets on a grid, monuments to imperialist Victorian architecture and lots of public spaces and parks. So different than the winding, narrow confusing roads of my part of town, streets typical of any Asian city.


Yet, in my 6 weeks here in Yangon, I had yet to visit downtown during the day. Done no sightseeing in that part, the most interesting part, of my new city. Did it today, quite by accident. It's where the random bus took me.


Some production notes on the video.



  • That odd chanting-singing you hear at the start of the video, that's what I hear every morning at 7 AM from the monastery near my home. I'm a morning person, and am usually up by then, but this 15 minutes or so of 'music' is them just saying, 'Good morning, Yangon!'
  • I'm not sure what the somewhat religious looking building I got off the bus to find at 0:46 in the video actually was. Could it have been the one Jewish synagogue here in Myanmar? No, too few points on the star.
  • I was overwhelmed by all the colonial architecture in downtown. Yeah, I knew it was there, but it was something else to see it in the cool light of the morning.
  • 1:33; Forget a supermarket.. We got hypermarkets!
  • The funky looking building at 2:12 is a Hindu temple, located appropriately in the Indian quarter of downtown. Wow. Never seen such a busy house of worship. Hinduism is, no matter what anyone might say, a polytheistic religion with hundreds and hundreds of deities. They all seemingly got little places on this one temple.
  • I've been pining for a pizza since Thingjan started. Just as I was dying of thirst in the increasingly hot morning, I came across a place and went in for something to drink. They had pizza on their menu. It was delicious! Generous with the toppings and on a crust that was not too thick and not too thin.
  • The place I visit starting at 2:45 is Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine hundreds of years old located in the middle of a traffic circle in the heart of downtown.
  • At 3:00, there's a horrified, piercing scream that didn't even register with me at the time I was recording, but when I heard it in the video, I had to include it. No idea who it was.
  • Unlike the temple kitties I'd seen at Wat Phra Keow in Bangkok, the temple kitties at Sule Pagoda were very skittish.
  • That beautiful, big white building at 3:18 is Yangon's City Hall.










Thursday, April 17, 2014

Yacht Rock for Day Five.

The fifth day of Thingjan. The water play seems to have died down, but the Buddhist monastery a block from my home blasts away on their sound system like it's Holy Week.

Err, it is Holy Week. Yesterday was Palm Wednesday, and tomorrow is Good Friday.  Here, it's day five of Thingjan... and everything is still closed.  Supermarkets, most restaurants, the important stuff. I've had this surreal desire for a pizza for a few days now. Thailand's most popular pizza restaurant, The Pizza Company, recently opened a restaurant not too far from my home here in Yangon, Myanmar. Been there once already.  It was good.

Went there again tonight, thinking Day Five, they have to have re-opened.

Nope.  They were closed.

Their lights were on. There were half a dozen staff visible just inside the locked glass doors. One of them came out to talk to me.

"Tomorrow, we'll be open from..."

I stopped him there. What you're doing fucking tomorrow don't mean shit!  I want pizza NOW!!

Thingjan has been fun. I've never experienced a celebration quite like this. The whole society switched modes in honor of this holiday. I'm looking forward to next year. 

As this holiday has provided me with a lot of time off, I've been busy with my two favorite hobbies: video making and uke playing! I got some of both to share with you.

Last week, I went to Ngwe Saung on the west coast of Myanmar. About 100 miles from here.  On the way home, in the daylight, I recorded a bunch of stuff from the window of the bus.  Jeez.  How could anyone make that kind of footage interesting?  Set it to some Kill Bill.



Now, that's going back like a week. 

A couple days ago, I posted a video here that I made after some angry disappointment. See, I thought I'd already made it, but when I went to upload it, I couldn't find it. So, I made it from scratch all over again.  When I went to upload it (the vid from my last blog), well, lo and behold, there was the first one!  Since it's already online, I suppose I should share.




As I said, ukulele playing has been part here of my month off. What an interesting theme this week from my friends as the Seasons of the Ukulele community.  It's YACHT ROCK week!  This being that smooth, soft rock that dominated the airwaves, the early MTV and best seller charts in the late 70's and early 80's. Think Artists like Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald.  Bands like Chicago, Alan Parsons Project, The Doobie Brothers, Asia.. that kind of stuff.

Easy listening rock that pre-yuppies enjoyed on their yachts...

I actually made TWO videos (thus far) this this Yacht Rock theme.  The first was a classic love duet I sang with myself...

Err... umm.. it looks like my Kyats have run out on my pre-pay phone/internet conncection. Can't get anything to download. I hope I can up load this.

As for the songs, you'll have to view them on my YouTube page: youtube.com/jokolondo.


never mind... got it to work by yelling at the top of my lungs about how much the internet sucks here. Somehow, things are working better now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thingjan continues...

From what I understood, Thingjan, the Buddhist New Year here in Myanmar, was a three-day holiday. We're at the end of day four, and from what I see, there's no signs of things dying down.  Most the businesses are still closed and people still are throwing water on each other. Wild stuff.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Myanmar New Year Water Festival!

It's Thingjan!  (pronounced TINGjan, with a heavy aspiration on that first 'T')

The Buddhist New Year, and the biggest holiday of the year in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka amongst other places.  Was told that everything is shut down for these three days, and so I'm well stocked up with hot dogs, bread, cup-o-noodles and potato chips in case I have to eat at home, but this morning, I decided to head off in search of food anyways to see what was up.

Thingjan is a water festival.  Along with visiting family and wishing one another an auspicious new year, THingjan is about dousing complete strangers with ice cold water, something that really ain't so bad this time of the year, the height of the hot, dry season here.  It's a 103 degrees and you're going to throw water on me?  Can't complain.

As I ventured out to experience, and of course, document this holiday, I had my camera in a clear plastic bag, ready for the water play.  Thing is, Thingjan is aa three-day event. Day one is supposed to be for the children. It's their day to douse the adults and each other with water. Sure enough, feet from my condo door, there was a little girl with her dad, tossing buckets of water on anyone within range.

Except me.

I made it to the main road seeing similar threats of water abuse, but I didn't get wet. Got to one of my favorite restaurants, had brunch, watched as the kids from the restaurant assaulted passers-by with their water guns, but they left me, a paying customer, alone.

Got all the way home without getting wet.

What the fuck?

This is my first Songkran (the Thai name for this holiday)/Thingjan, and I've read multiple accounts from folks online who plan on holing up in their apartments and avoiding the chaos of the next three (now two) days.  They made it sound like walking out your door was like taking your into your own hands.

Here now I'd been out and didn't even get wet.  What I think happened is that yes, the first part of the day was for the children. As I walked down the street, me being a big, older, male foreigner by myself, I cut an intimidating figure.  None of the kids had the guts to be the first to spray me.  Just by me being me, I scared them

After brunch, an hour or two later, I realized I needed something. Back out to the street.  This time, again I wasn't wettened until a passing 'party truck', sponsored by Pepsi, caught me with a passing glance of spray.

That was all it took.  The gloves were off.  In trying to get to the neighborhood mom & pop store (the only thing open on the holiday), I had to get past a water terrorist station populated by a gang of underage hydrodemons. They came after me once I was in sight.  By feinting one way and going another, I isolated one kid on one side of a parked truck with only him and his bucket keeping me from dryness and freedom.  I charged.

He lifted his bucket as I got to him.  I took it from his hands. Turned it the other way and poured it on him.  HA! I may be old and slow, but I'm bigger and smarter than you, kid!

Unfortunately, this turn of events took a few seconds, which was all his cohort needed to come to his aid.  I got doused. Soaked.  Drenched.

Walked into the store moments later wringing the wetness from my shirt.

I can't wait until tomorrow when all the pretenses of this holiday being 'for the kids' are gone.


Friday, April 11, 2014

If You Can't Beat Em; Join Em!

As I mentioned in the video tour of my neighborhood, the monastery half a block from my place is the center of this corner of the Hledan Market community. Every morning at 7 AM, they play music and prayers over their substantial sound system, which I don't mind as I'm usually up earlier than that. Today though, their sound system reached new levels at the hands of a skilled deejay. The bass rattled my windows. Made the floor shake. I couldn't really do any of my audio/video editing stuff I've been doing all day today. So, I went next door, grabbed the neighbor kid who waters my plants and said, “you, you're going to be my cameraman!” and headed off to the monastery.


Sure enough, there was a stage set up, from which I'm going to hear more of later tonight. I walked up on stage and asked for a mic. If you can't beat em, join em!


Day Two: Snorkeling, Shopping, Ukulele and Fire Dancers

Who remembers the film Castaway with Tom Hanks? A big plot point in that story was getting his improvised raft past the crashing surf. I've been to lotsa beaches in my life. I've played in the water in all of them. When calm, like in Phuket and the north coast of Java, I floated around in the water and peacefully enjoyed the ocean. In place like California, the South of Bali and recently, Ngwe Saung here in Myanmar, when there were big waves coming in, I got to bodysurf, that fun activity where you let your body be taken into shore like a surfboard would be. You get to feel completely outta control as the crashing wave twists and turns you completely beyond any ability for you to manipulate. Good fun.


Big waves are fun coming in. If you're trying to get a boat out, different story. I didn't get it on video because I knew my camera might get wet, but `getting our 5 person canoe out past the the crashing waves was an experience as Tom-Hanks-Castaway as I will ever experience. I commend the crew for their sense of timing of the waves and their rowing skills. Otherwise, This is Burma #11 would have never commenced.





Let's see if I can get it uploaded before this internet cafe closes...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ngwe Saung Beach

Quaint. Off-the-beaten path. Clean. Friendly. I'm at the end of my first full day here at Ngwe Saung, a little beach resort town on Myanmar's Bay of Bengal coast, and these are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe this place. Relaxed, unspoiled, accommodating and different come to mind as well

One month and a day after arriving in Yangon, I had my first opportunity to get out of town and see some more of this beautiful country. I didn't get to see much of it on the ride here as I took the night bus, but enough to note this part of Myanmar, so close to the largest city, isn't all that full of people. The view out the darkened windows was mostly black, with an occasional candle or lantern burning in isolated shacks.

It's about 100 miles as the crow flies from Yangon to Ngwe Saung; the trip took five and a half hours. We left at 9:30 PM and arrived at 3 in the morning. Allowing for a half hour rest break, that's still an average of 20 mph. It wasn't traffic; it was the roads. There's no direct way from the former capital, and we ended up zigzagging our way through the Irriwaddy delta. All two-lane, very bumpy highways.

Arriving at 3 AM anywhere is a little disorienting, so you can imagine what it felt like rolling into an isolated community in Burma without even a companion who could speak Burmese. Could I check into my hotel at 3 AM? Usually you can't check in until 11 AM; that's sorta a worldwide standard. As the only expensive part of this trip thus far has been the price of the rooms ($30/night may not sound like a lot by western standards, but most places in the Third World, a room like I got would cost half that or less), I really didn't want to pay for an initial night's stay. I thought I would find a cafe in the village, or just chill on the beach until a reasonable hour to ask to check in.

Umm... No. No such thing. The village of Ngwe Saung isn't awake at 3 AM, but apparently, the hotels are used to people arriving from Yangon at that hour.
They put me up in another room for free (at least they said it was free; if it's on my bill at check out, I'll be pissed off)

Slept in a bit, and on awakening, stumbled down the beach a 20 second walk from my room.

Wow. The azure seas, the white sands, the coconut trees, the complete absence of anyone else that I could see completely took my breath away. The water was warm and clean. Not bathtub warm, not uncomfortably warm, it was just right. Goldilocks temperature.


In fact, I thought about Goldilocks today as I considered my choice in coming here. As for a vacation, I certainly could have gone a more ambitious, and expensive trip. I coulda stayed home and explored Yangon. I think I picked the choice that was just right. I'm sure there are sleepier beach towns than this here in Myanmar and all over the world. I've been to Pattaya, Phuket and Bali which are on the other extreme and overdeveloped. My choice of coming here was just right. There are three resort towns here on this coast of Myanmar. Haven't been to the other two, but Ngapali is the most famous, serviced by an airport and somewhat popular with international tourists. It's very posh and expensive there. Just up the coast from here is ________ -________, the most popular weekend getaway for the locals, less expensive than here but, from what I've read, a bit dirty and crowded. Ngwe Saung falls between these two extremes and so far, has been just right. The Goldilocks destination.


After a nice breakfast, I rented a motorcycle and set out to explore the town. Visited a pagoda, found myself on some pretty rough roads, had some delicious fruit. It's all in the video at the end. I really wanted to set up a snorkling trip. Found a place and got that set up for tomorrow. At lunch, I hooked up with my travelling companions, made our way to the fishing village south of here and drove back on the beach. My thanks to the guy at the gas station who also had the pressure washer. I didn't want to roll into my hotel with a bike I'd rented encrusted in sand.


So, that's it for day one. Tomorrow, it's off to do something I haven't done in 24 years: snorkeling on a tropical reef. It's like swimming in an aquarium.


For now, it's time for a midnight swim.





Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Visit to the Drugs Elimination Museum

There's a spectacular building pretty much right next door to where I teach. There doesn't seem to be a lot going on there. The huge grounds are modestly maintained.  I don't see anyone going in or coming out. It's kinda mysterious.  Turns out, it's the Yangon Drugs Elimination Museum, and after talking about it with a new friend and fellow teacher, she invited me to visit it with her.  A unique experience...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

At the YaCHt Club with no Yachts

Today is the first day of my one month Myanmar New Year break, and we've certainly gone into it with a bang. The last two nights have been very musical. The music stirs something in me. Part of me just wants to spend the next month sitting in my room, practicing my ukulele and guitar playing and just enmeshing myself in music. It's self-contagious, this music thing. The more you do it, the more you want to do it.

Two nights ago, I made my performance debut here in Myanmar. It was at a hotel bar. I was there with a few new friends, and there was a band up on stage that was alternating between several singers. “Well,” I thought, “as long as they're alternating singers, why can't I be part of the rotation?” So, I asked if I could sing and they let me.

I guess I did okay because soon afterwards, I got requests. This is a picture of the note that was sent to our table from the adjacent table, asking me to sing their favorites. I was honored and humbled to get this note. I'd already sung one of the songs on the list (before they'd gotten there), and I think I eventually did Let It Be (the specifics of two nights ago are kinda hazy now), but if I were to dedicate my song from next night, last night, it would be to the guy who sent me the note. It made me feel appreciated and honored to have 'a fan', and sewed a seed in my head for the CCR tune on the list. 

Last night, we went to the yacht club on Yangon's Inya Lake. At least, it was called a yacht club. There was nary a yacht to be seen. Indeed, the site was on one of Yangon's scenic lakes, but no one would moor a yacht on a city lake, right?

Initially, I was taken via taxi to the wrong yacht club. A friend had written the name of the place I was going in phonetic and Burmese script on a slip of paper. Before I showed it to the driver, I did my best pronouncing what was written, but was not understood. As usual. The subtleties of verb tone and the very different consonants here makes it very hard for a non-native to be understood, even if you 'know' the words. In the end, I showed the slip of paper to the taxi driver who seemed quite confident he knew where it was. I got in the cab, and when I said the words again in his language, he graciously repeated them, allowing me to hear how I'd spoken incorrectly. Eventually, he said in English, “ah yes, the yaCHt club”, making the CH sound in the middle of the word. Since he was so kind as to correct my pronounciation, I thought I'd do the same.


“It might be confusing with that 'CH' spelling in there,” I told him, “but we actually say it yahht.”


“You are from America?” he asked.



“Yes.”


“Well, that's the American way of saying it.”



I didn't feel the need to argue the point.


Even then, he dropped me off at the wrong yachtless yacht club. When I eventually found the place (it was a quarter mile down the road), the venue was beautiful and I got to hear one of the more interesting musicians I've ever heard in my life: a singing violin player.


See, you don't think of violinists as vocalists. Seems to me that is inherently difficult to play the violin and sing at the same time. You need the chin to hold the instrument in place, right? This guy proved me wrong.In doing so, his misuse in a single lyric of both 'was/were' and 'in/on' made me cringe as an English teacher.


I talked to him during one of their breaks, mentioned I thought I could CCR pretty well, and he invited me up on stage to sing with him Wow. My performance debut here in Yangon continued into a second evening. 



In other news, I've called off the ambitious trip onto the roads less traveled that I talked about a couple blogs ago.  It's too iffy and too expensive.  I got lots I can do right here in Yangon, including doing the more well beaten path up to Mandalay and Bagan, for which I can plan more readily and understand the costs involved.  The trip down the peninsula was confusing and difficult.  

I also want to take much of the next month to learn the local language.  I've purchased a very nice book called Burmese for Beginners. I have practice partners anyplace I go as the Burmese love to laugh at my attempts are speaking their difficult language.  Just tonight, the entire waitstaff of a nearby restaurant stood at attention while I rattled off: "Ti', Hni', Thon:, Lei:, Nga... (one, two, three, etc.). They were smiling ear to ear and when I finished my onr to ten with no mistakes and without looking at my book, I too felt proud. 



Yeah, been here a month and only now do I know my numbers.  Pretty bad, really.  That said, one of my regrets from my time in Thailand is that I didn't learn more of the language.  I lived there almost a year, and in that time, I learned maybe 70 words or so.  Certainly not enough to carry on a conversation.  I don't want to have learned so little a year from as I did in Thailand. Both languages are hard to learn, but I think I'll do better this time. 

Wow! It's Lao - Part 7: Luang Prabang to Nong Kiauw

After spending two nights in Luang Prabang, I was eager to get back out onto the road and continue my ride through the beautiful Lao cou...