Finding Books in Yangon

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A short walk from the street booksellers of Pansodan, in the middle block of 39th Street, partly hidden in the row of stalls, the CLC bookstore is neatly tucked. CLC is a specialty shop selling Christian books and materials. It has a lot of newly printed books in Myanmar language; and a lot more English books, most of which are second-hand. But it was really a spring in the desert! It took almost an hour to have a quick browse of the floor-to-ceiling stack of books. Most of the known Christian writers have books there – Spurgeon, Stott, Piper, etc. I assumed some of the titles are now rare and out of print books.

There are few bookstores in Yangon. The big ones include Innwa and TAB and a branch of Monument Bookstore where English books are available. And if you have been going through these stores, after some time you can memorize the titles and you began to look for something new, different from the usual ‘new arrivals.’ I have to ask local people where to find books and bookstores. I sensed older intellectuals are the only ones reading now, because the young are already captured by smart phones and social media.

The people’s bookstores are in the streets. You can find them along Pansodan and Bogyoke streets in the downtown area. Stacks of newly printed and used Myanmar books are spread in the sidewalks where you can have a sneak peek. Reproduced ‘bestseller’ books about Myanmar are available among the booksellers, but if you are conscious about copyright and royalties for writers, then forget this place.

Back to CLC, a young pastor mentioned the bookstore to me and my wife. We prioritized the search for the bookstore and we were not frustrated. Only the thin wallet restricted my selections. After some mental computations and second thoughts, I settled for four ‘exotic’ titles:

  • Biblical Demonology by Merill Unger, as the title suggest, it is a study about demons as they are mentioned in the bible;
  • The Apocrypha, translated by Edgar Goodspeed, the books that were not included in the ‘standard’ bible, but are part of the Roman Catholic bible;
  • A Christian View of Money by Mark Vincent, managing finances based on biblical principles;
  • That None Should Perish by Ed Silvoso, an approach to evangelism in a city or urban location.

 

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A weekend of art and wine

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A group of artists filled the loft of Phayre’s Gastronomy last Friday evening. Neatly arranged in the long table were sets of canvass and palette. At the far end was another table where acrylic paints and brushes were stacked.  An easel with a sunset painting bursting with primary colors dominated the other end of the table.  No, these are not masters but aspiring artists joining the session to paint and to have fun.

Paint Et Sip is a monthly gathering of art enthusiasts to bond, to paint and to give to charity. Irish Alonso, the energetic organizer pointed out the main purpose of the event – promote art and help a small community school in Mon State. Portion of the income from the event will be used to help augment the salaries of teachers and improve the facilities of the school.

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There are two ways of painting your masterpiece. The first is to paint using the model painting in the easel. An artist from the nearby Pansodan Gallery will show the step-by-step process in ‘copying’ the model painting. He gives individual coaching to the artists how to blend and apply colors.

The other way is to do it on your own. Select a theme from a wide range of samples provided by the gallery, or you can paint whatever comes to your mind. To trigger the artistic juices of the artists, red wine and cheese were provided, so you can sip in between bush strokes.

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By 730pm, everybody was surprised with the obras almost done.  From blank canvasses, colors sprang out from images of scenery, flowers, mother and child, Picasso-inspired women.

 

Du30 Spoliarium

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It was not an accidental shooting. The police took him, forced him to hold a gun, ordered him to run, and then cold-bloodedly shot him.  Kian Loyd Delos Santos was a 17-year old Grade 11 student victim of the Philippine government’s war on drugs. A campaign promise to make the streets safer resulted to more than 13,000 deaths in the first year of the Duterte administration, most of them poor.

The killing was part of the 50 deaths in Caloocan City and Bulacan province in just 2 days of Operation Galugad, the Philippine National Police’s   campaign to rid the country of drug dealers. Users and small time pushers, and even those suspected were either killed in ‘official’ police operations or by vigilantes.

Big time drug lords remain at large and even cuddled by people close to the president just like what happened to the 6.4 billion pesos worth of shabu from China. It was openly shipped to the country and brazenly passed through the Bureau of Customs. The drugs were not intercepted at the customs checking counter but in warehouse somewhere in Manila. The Chinese ‘businessmen’ involved in the shipment turned out to be close friends of the presidential son, Paolo Duterte. Nobody died, the Chinese were protected and were presumed innocent.

Not like Kian who was presumed guilty and fair game to the  PNP operatives, mandated to serve and protect, not the people but their political patrons.  Earlier, the president described the killing of 32 individuals as ‘good’ and encouraged the police to kill more!

Life, or is it death imitating art?

Cruising the Irrawaddy River

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I expected to see the famed dolphins, but they failed to show up in the murky and silted waters of Irrawaddy. The water level was high and instead of frolicking dolphins, uprooted shrubs, trees and other debris floated in the strong current of the river.

This was my first time to go boating in the Irrawaddy River. Nope, it was not  the thousand-dollar 7-night trip  up north to Mandalay in a luxury ship. It was down south in a village in the heart of the Ayeyarwaddy Region. Joining a team of community organizers from Yangon Karuna (Catholic Charity), we travelled from Yangon to the township of Nyaung Done.

The township was just an hour away from Yangon, but the terrible traffic in downtown took us two hours to reach the main highway in Hlaing Tharyar making the trip a total of three hours. There was a small jetty in the bank of the Irrawaddy River where the water taxis were parked. We just hopped in on the nearest boat and off we go. The boat goes with the flow of the river and the driver, or was it called the boatman, positioned the boat at the center of the river.  The boat was small and nimble, swaying as we encounter the small waves made by boats from the opposite direction.

There was a small jetty in the bank of the Irrawaddy River where the water taxis were parked. We just hopped in on the nearest boat and off we go. The boat goes with the flow of the river and the driver, or was it called the boatman, positioned the boat at the center of the river.  The boat was small and nimble, swaying as we encounter the small waves made by boats from the opposite direction.

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It took us thirty minutes to reach the village of Tar Wa. From the bank of the river, we walked several meters on the dike protecting the communities along it. The dike stands at more than three meters high, reinforced with sands bags. It seemed low and my suspicion was confirmed when a team member informed me that the water goes beyond the height of the dike after several days of continuous rain.

We went directly to the village pagoda where the people were already waiting for the team. We arrived in the village and the meeting started at 11:45AM, quite late and we ended at 2PM.  A small packet of biscuits were distributed as the meeting progressed and I was surprised everyone survived! Everyone in the team was happy, four savings groups were formed as a result of our visit.

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After lunch, the water taxi was called so we waited for another thirty minutes. At around 3:30PM we were on our way back to the township  jetty.  Now we were cruising against the flow of the river, so the boatman positioned the boat close to the riverbank. This time  I appreciated the scenery.

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The green stretches of the bank you see from the middle of the river were actually trees of varying sizes, dominated by big acacia trees overhanging its branches to the river. The  overhang  provides shade and protect the passengers of  small boats from the glaring sun during sunny days.

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Patches of  vegetable gardens and banana trees with overgrowths punctuated the riverbank.   One of the rustic views I appreciated much was the traditional house with a long line of betel nut trees in front of it. It reminds me of our house when I was a child growing up in rural Philippines.

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A long line of colourful longyi being air-dried was a sight akin to the flags flying in the mast of ocean-going ships. Small fish baits and pens also dotted the banks.

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On the ‘ugly’ side, eroding banks and falling trees and shrubs add to the siltation of the river. And worse, plastic and other trash were either embedded in the sandy bank or floated in the waters.

The Eugenia leaves at the prow of the boat swayed against the wind as we reached the jetty. Maybe next time, after the monsoon season when the water is clear,  I will see the dolphins.

 

Dining (off) style

Health foods are the main fare of my meals with my body high in sugar. I follow the dictum, ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ My meals are heavy in carbo in the morning and mid-morning. For dinner it is always the unusually healthy foods bought at the community market in 38th Street.

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The sample menu tonight: steamed purple sweet potato, red bananas and boiled duck egg.  The soft texture of the sweet potato remind me of my childhood days when the lowly camote (as sweet potato is called) is our usual snacks. Now it is a prized commodity as we have to scour the markets of Yangon to find it. Nice combination with the hard-boiled duck egg. For the finale, the 2014 Beau-Rivage Bourdeaux flushed them down the gut!

Dressing properly

There is a saying in French, l’habit ne fait pas le moine, which roughly means a habit does not make you a monk.  When Malacanang released a picture of President Duterte shabbily wearing a camouflage uniform, netizens were aghast and some closet military with Twitter accounts lambasted the president for disrespecting the military uniform and unbecoming of a commander-in-chief.

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The president may be comfortable in the camouflage worn like a street thug – in ‘plunging neckline’, rolled-up sleeves and rubber shoes with polka dot socks – but it demeans the military who put premium in their uniforms.  He deserves demerits or even 50 push-ups if he were a cadet.  Comparing with the other ASEAN leaders, they look ‘matikas’ in their camouflage attire.

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Yes, if you are a monk, you should wear the habit (with poise)!

 

Guardians of the temples

Travelling allows you to see the world from a different perspective. For me, it brings joy to be in a different place, immersing in a different culture and all the diversities it has to offer. It also reveals unusual things hidden behind the most common things you see every day.  One such experience happened while driving along the foot of the Kulen Mountain in Cambodia.

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As we navigate the dusty road going to a remote village, lo and behold, I saw a Buddhist temple gate guarded by rabbits! Yes smiling rabbits with up straight ears! And why would it seem unusual?  Because most of the temple guards are ferocious and mean-looking animals.

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In Myanmar, temples are guarded by chinthe, the mythical lion. The four entrances to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon are guarded by pairs of giant chinthes.

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I have also seen a temple guarded by a dragon. It is different from the wide-neck-cobra-like snakes behind Buddha statues common in Myanmar.

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In Thailand, the chinthes or singha as it is locally called are even reinforced by monsters with swords.

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In Cambodia, besides the chinthes, the seven-headed (sometimes five-headed) Naga are favourite guardians particularly in some temples in the Angkor Wat complex.

Back to the guardian rabbits, maybe the monks in the pagoda are not afraid of the spirits that they posted cuddly and smiling rabbits instead of huge and fearsome animals.