Thursday, October 08, 2009

Myanmar and a bit of Typhoon 18

Last night, we knew we were in for a bit of a jolt, but I figured a Japanese typhoon would have nothing on the hurricanes I went through back in Florida. Usually, Toyama is protected from earthquakes, typhoons, and Godzilla attacks because of the Northern Alps hugging us. The wind seems to have found its way around the peaks, this time.

J and I woke sometime around 5am with no hope of going back to sleep. The wind was battering our veranda door and I could hear the empty bins in the hallway blowing to and fro. Donning pants, because we are fancy, we went downstairs to make sure our bikes were not blowing into the moat around the apartment, or flying through my car's windshield, as I was picturing in my mind. No problems in bike land, and the wind seemed to be much more mellow 4 floors down.

Most schools in the prefecture have closed down for the day... for the students. Yup, all the teachers were expected to put on our superhero capes and brave the roads this morning. I am not complaining because I live less than a 5 minute drive from work, but other ALTs were much less fortunate since Japan Rail canceled nearly all their trains today, and few of us have cars. Zannen, what can you do but complain?

On to other news. My trip to Myanmar back in July/early August was fantastic and beautiful, so here are some of the highlights!

For those wondering "why Myanmar?" I give you my dear Kara.

We went to school together for a year in Lancaster, England and traveled together in Europe and Africa. I hadn't seen her for nearly 7 years, and couldn't pass up the chance to come see her when she was living and working so nearby. She is doing amazing things in Yangon and around the country. I have always been in awe of how passionate Kara is about her work, but to see her in her element and to meet the people she is helping and motivating was truly inspiring. Being around a friend that you admire and love who is doing what they want to be doing, no qualms, no hesitation, is an ass-kicking and motivational experience. I had a fantastic time, drank a ton of tea, squeezed in some yoga, fell in love with thanaka (the goo on my face, above), and got my mind back into focus. Can't ask for more in a friend or a vacation.

The above picture and these below are from Na-gar Glass Studio in Yangon.

This family run self-taught company that was once the glassware crutch for the whole country. Because many products are blocked from being imported, Myanmar has become self-dependent in many ways, to save money, and sometimes just to survive.

We spent some time being shown around by Mr. Myay, an older gentleman who used to run the crucibles and furnaces. He spoke of the studios practices, recycling glass because there was no other option, and their technique of lower temperature crucibles, which leads to a signature bubbling within the pieces. He proudly showed us the 6 crucibles which each used to contain a different color of glass, and their handmade annealing furnace and sanders.

When Nargis hit on May 2nd 2008, the towering shade trees that surrounded the outdoor studio fell down taking the roof and almost the entire studio with it. What had been built from scratch and tweaked to perfection suddenly quashed. The studio site is now growing over with vines and roots, vases and wine glasses lay amidst the leaves and mulch, with centipedes crawling over them.

Devastating but also eerily beautiful, the studio hasn't been running since the cyclone. The family depends on sales made of previous work laying around the forest. We wandered and dug into piles here and there. I found what I was looking for half-buried in the mud. It felt like an excavation praying against nicks or cracks, finally I unearthed a nearly 4 foot high vase.

Getting "baby" (dubbed such because of the loving way the studio ladies wrapped it up) through airport security in both Myanmar and Thailand was a bit tough, but we made it back to Japan in one piece.

Kara and I headed north to Bagan by bus, a trip slightly reminiscent of our trek to Marrakesh, years ago. This time with more chocolate and less panic. The bus ride was somewhat surreal since we had two passport/national ID checkpoints and the new "capital" city, Naypyidaw to go through. The approach to Naypyidaw was much like the approach to Disneyworld. A long stretch of road with lights along the sides, vastly different from the surrounding area. Like you are heading to wonderland. Except Naypyidaw is much less "wonderland" and much more a leech on the country's resources and money. No joke, even the zoo was picked up and moved away from Yangon, so the "people" could benefit from it. This makes perfect sense if the only "people" the government is concerned about are its own workers.
I digress...

Bagan, on the other hand, is a lovely and quiet area. Tourists were few and far between, partly due to the time of year we visited, but also because of Aung San Suu Kyi's plea for a travel boycott. A large part of this is due to tourist money being funneled into the pockets of the junta government. I believe that carefully planned travel, where govt run hotels and transportation are avoided, can only benefit the country. Many of the people we met, including some of Kara's old students have jobs that depend on tourism, and also use the opportunity to speak to foreigners and learn other languages. Some manage to learn enough so that they can study abroad and return to Myanmar to help their country and teach others.

Bagan was an astounding city, very relaxed and overflowing with history.

If you climbed to the top of one of the higher paya, you could see nothing but Paya all around you. Surrounded by gorgeous temples, each housing its own art, statues, and unique history.

We spent 2 days wandering through the desert, talking to local artists selling paintings and bells, and avoiding herds of goats on the roads. Loved it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

2009 World Heritage Update!

Update! Up to 39 now, and hoping to add a few more in the next 12 months.

World Heritage Site List


Australia: Great Barrier Reef
Australia: Gondwana Rainforests


Cambodia: Angkor

Czech Republic
Czech Republic: Historic Centre of Prague


France: Chartes Cathedral
France: Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay
France: Palace and Park of Versailles
France: Amiens Cathedral
France: Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
France: Cathedral of Notre-Dame
France: Paris, Banks of the Seine


Italy: Historic Centre of Rome
Italy: Vatican City
Italy: Historic Centre of Florence
Italy: Venice and its Lagoon
Italy: City of Verona


Japan: Himeji-jo
Japan: Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Japan: Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Japan: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
Japan: Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area
Japan: Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
Japan: Yakushima
Japan: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Japan: Shirakami-Sanchi

Japan: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Japan: Itsukushima Shinto Shrine


Morocco: Medina of Marrakesh
Morocco: Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddiou


Poland: Historic City Centre of Warsaw


Switzerland: Junfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn

United Kingdom

United Kingdom: Frontiers of the Roman Empire
United Kingdom: Westminster Palace, Abbey, and Saint Margaret's Church
United Kingdom: Tower of London
United Kingdom: Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
United Kingdom: Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City

United States of America

United States: Everglades National Park
United States: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

United States: Statue of Liberty

Just an update on some missing Japanese sites, and the most recent addition of Shirakami-Sanchi. Will post photos from the hikes up soon.