Flying low with Air Asia

2018-01-29 08.58.33

If you are a frequent flyer, you became familiar with airports, planes, immigration and their routines. Familiarity that sometimes lead to complacency and tends to overlook minor things that can cause major irritation. My recent flight from Manila to Yangon was an example.  I have been patronizing an airline company for the past four years for my trips within the Southeast Asian region. Last Monday I was almost left behind due to ticketing issue.

Among ASEAN countries, citizens are allowed 21 days visa exemption for ordinary trips. Myanmar allows only 14 days. At the end of the 14 days, you either go out of the country or have your stay extended.  This is convenient for me because if I have multiple trips I don’t have to get visa but only make sure that I fly out before the 14 days.

My practice for the past 4 years is to buy two-way ticket going to Myanmar and back to the Philippines several months apart. In between, I schedule trips to Thailand. I only get Myanmar visa if I have to stay longer in the country due to work requirement.

The last trip from Manila was different. I bought a ticket with a return date on the first week of March. I have to proceed to Phnom Penh for another activity so I was thinking I don’t have to get a visa. But when I presented by ticket, a power-tripping Air Asia check-in staff asked for a visa. When I insisted that I don’t need a visa because I will be staying less than 14 days, he required a forwarding ticket to show that I would really fly out of Yangon. I explained that I will buy the ticket when I reach Yangon when the activity in Phnom Penh is confirmed. He would not listen to my explanation.

I was forced to buy, but I felt bullied into buying the forwarding ticket. No use of arguing, because I will not win. It is hard to imagine he has control of my trip. So I let go, and that would be  the last time I will fly Air Asia.

Advertisements

Once in a blue moon

20180131_191033

It was considered a rare lunar phenomenon with different names – super moon, blue moon and blood moon. The explanation was simple, the moon last January 31 was close to the earth which makes it look bigger than normal making it a Super Moon.  The bluish color is a reflection of the space dust which becomes more evident as the moon is at its brightest. Finally the blood moon is when the moon emerged from the lunar eclipse as the shadow of the earth falls on the surface of the moon.

I remember when I was a child, full moon is exciting as we can still play out in the streets with taguan, patintero and habulan, games children of today are not playing. Without electricity, I always look forward for the full moon as it bathe our community with light at night. Now I can see the brightness of the moon, but I cannot feel its light because of artificial illumination from LED billboards and street lights.

20180131_191200

Last Wednesday’s moon is really a super moon, like a polished silver coin tossed in the sky.  At several minutes past 6PM, people in the sky garden of a mall craned their necks to view the emerging moon. At 8PM the darkness crept and stole the bright light of the moon giving it a pale red hue. I missed the total eclipse and the ‘rising’ of the moon from darkness. But I know the light will always prevail.

17 Quotes in 2017

1a

My devotional guide for 2017 was the Light to my Path published by the Scripture Union, a Christian publishing house in the Philippines. It has 16 writers contributing to the 2017 daily devotional guide. There were nuggets of wisdom and I selected the best quotes that spoke to me in a very special way.

  1. Pride, in essence, is the belief that one does not need God; a proud person does not follow God’s rules – he makes his own. Such a person lives according to his desires; he lives with no fear of the Lord.After all, pride is the secret sin of the heart; it is not blatant like murder or stealing or telling lies.
  2. We should never take things into our hands if to do so would dishonor God, or presumptuously take on ourselves what is rightfully His.
  3. How complicated life becomes when we fail to seek the Lord’s guidance.Oftentimes, we find ourselves in sticky situations of our own making. This usually happens when we are tired, discouraged, and disappointed, or start trusting in our abilities.
  4. Do good even if this leads to suffering. Serve your masters faithfully whether they are good or bad. Jesus was their supreme example in enduring unjust suffering.
  5. Young people are idealistic, ambitious, daring, progressive in their thinking and sometimes more skilled than the older ones. It is tempting for them to be arrogant and rebellious.
  6. When we become leaders, some will come seeking to put us in their debt. This could lead to corruption in our leadership. But if we acknowledge God as the one who lifted us to that position, we are free to do what is right and pleasing to Him, owing no special favors to anyone, especially those who could turn on us when it serves their interest.
  7. Faithfulness does not always bring rewards or honor.But faithfulness to God will always be rewarded, though not always immediately, and not always in worldly ways.
  8. We are faithful to Him so long as He blesses us. But when things get rough and He seems nowhere to be found, many of us lose faith.
  9. Sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calm His child. (Leslie Gould).
  10. We cannot assume that God approves of our lifestyle simply because we are living in comfort. The righteous and the sinful both endure hardships and enjoy wealth. But those who seek to glorify Christ and are doers of His command will experience an abundant life according to the Bible because they have turned away from a self-seeking path.
  11. Don’t compare yourself to other believers; just follow the path the Lord has laid customized for you. Don’t let the feeling of inadequacy prevent you from serving Him; just follow the Lord as He speaks to you along the way.
  12. Christian fellowship should not be based on observance or non-observance of certain practices, but on relationship with Christ.
  13. But God had given the antidote to all fears.
  14. When we fail to exhibit godly qualities in our lives, we cannot exert a positive influence on the world and thus, are worthless Christians. Salt’s usefulness can only be realized when shaken out of the saltshaker and added to food. Likewise, we as Christians cannot live in isolation but must go out and touch other people’s lives.
  15. Habitually we are soft on ourselves but ruthless towards others. Jesus, however, wants us to be sterner with our own sins and more compassionate with the frailties of others.
  16. The spiritual goal is to overcome evil with good and not to destroy the agents or victims of evil.
  17. Morality is now subject to personal conviction and mutual tolerance. Killing unborn children is all right, marrying someone of the same gender is lauded, and divorcing your spouse when you grow tired of him/her is encouraged.

 

Inle getaway

Visit to Inle Lake was ‘inserted’ as me and my wife were on our trip back to the Philippines. The original plan was to visit Bagan, but it was changed as the nature tripping became the focus of the trip.  We opted to fly instead of a night bus trip to maximize the time. The Air KBZ flight was very comfortable with the airlines’ new ATR 72. It was a turboprop, but has an ambiance of a jet, smooth flying.

From the Heho airport, the taxi charged 25,000 kyats to the township of Nyaung Shwe.  The jump off point to the lake. A thirty-minute trip, at the entrance of the township, a checkpoint collected $10 from each tourist as entrance fee.

We went straight to the hotel which is a  bargain at $25 a night. The room was simple and spacious with a balcony overlooking the town center. Located just one block away from the Mingalar Market, it is accessible to most amenities in town. The staff were courteous and helpful, and most can understand and speak English.

Just beside the hotel is the T&T Minimart where you can find  grocery items. My wife forgot her hair comb, and we were lucky to find one in there. Most of the bars, restaurants and travel agents are just walking distance. Breakfast was good, with eggs prepared either boiled, scrambled sunny-side,   selection of bread or fried rice  with fruits (banana and papaya) and free flowing brewed coffee!

The only deficient is the lack of hot water in the bath, and with temperature at 15 degrees, you can do away with early morning bath, and that for a Filipino is  a great inconvenience!

After ditching our bags, we looked for a place to have lunch. Near the hotel is the The Garden Restaurant  offering Shan and Thai foods.  The food was good – we selected chicken rice and pork belly rice. I was surprised to get no just ordinary pork belly, but one stewed in blood, just like what we call in the Philippines dinuguan. Fresh fruit juices are available. Prices are fair.  It was good which made us decide to go back the following day. Good value for money.

20171215_12550520171215_123536

In the afternoon after some rest, we proceeded to the cultural museum. It was the old palace of the Sawbwa of Nyaung Shwe. During  colonial times, Shan State is divided into several  principalities ruled by a Sawbwa. The palace is generically called Haw (maybe a derivative from the English word house?),  where the Sawbwa holds court. The building is huge compared to other locally constructed houses, made up of bricks and other permanent materials. But it is poorly maintained, despite being manage by a government agency, or maybe because of the agency’s limited resources.  The 2,000 kyats entrance fee is quite cheap.   Inside, the building pictures and some artifacts are found. What impressed me is the wide space that used to be the court of the Sawbwa, and the old teak wood used as posts and pillar of the house.  On the western side an old cannon with French inscription is also on display.

20171215_13221620171215_135229

After the Cultural Museum, the next stop was the Red Mountain Estate. There are two vineyards and wineries in Myanmar, both of them in Shan State. The Red Mountain Estate is closer to Nyaung Swe where we stayed. Most of the travel guides recommended a bicycle ride to the place, but due to me and my wife’s age, we decided to hire a motorized tricycle. Several meters from the gate, the driver told us to walk, which I estimated at more than a hundred meters.  We walked along the vineyard and reached the top, we were a little bit catching our breath.

The view from the restaurant was great. It overlooked the valley, and some groups were enjoying their bottles. We went inside and crossed over to the wine tasting section overlooking a portion of the vineyard. A set of four wines were offered for tasting: 2 whites – 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and 2015 Late harvest; 2 reds – 2014 Syrah and 2015 Shiraz. At 5,000 kyats, it’s cheap! The verdict – Sauvignon Blanc for the white and Shiraz for the red.

20171215_143736

There were so many  good places to eat in Nyaung Shwe. Dinner was at the Ginki Bar and Restaurant, another good restaurant close to our hotel.   The ambiance of the place was good, with  teak wood panels and furniture. There was a stage with guitars and we thought there is live music. We were told not at that time.  The food list offers Shan and surprisingly Thai food selections. I ordered vegetables, easily accessible in Shan State. The cooking was fine, finished the whole meal. I could have eaten more and stayed longer if there was music.

Early morning the following day was the visit to the lake itself. We left the jetty at 8am, which was foggy and cold. Aside from the lifejacket, thick blanket was part of the attire. The lake was misty and it took us several minutes to encounter the Inle fishermen.  The first group was close to the mouth of the river  from Nyaung Shwe. They wore the same baggy trousers and traditional headgears you see in promotional pictures with their conical  nets. It was so tourist-y as they posed to the oncoming boats. Later in other parts of the lake, we encountered real fishermen who were indeed fishing, and I had a bit of guilt as we circle around them, thinking how could they catch fish when we disturb the place they were fishing.

20171216_08230420171216_085321

We reached the villages on stilts and in those villages we visited handicraft producers. A silversmith, who showed how pure silver is being transformed to jewelries; lotus weaving enterprise; scarf weaving enterprise done by Padaung women.

20171216_09301120171216_100922

At around 11am we were finished and went back to the jetty, starved and looking for the fastest food.

The last night in Nyaung shwe was planned to have dinner at a rooftop restaurant.  We saw  a poster promoting a hotel’s  rooftop bar and restaurant. When we arrived I was turned off to see those entering the hotel  were required to take off their shoes before entering the lobby. I saw several layers of shoes and sandals at the entrance of the hotel and I decided not to proceed. I was thinking it is ok if it was a private home as taking off shoes is customary in Myanmar, but for a hotel, it was inconvenient and unnecessary.

Instead we just walked along the main road and found the Panna Thar restaurant. We were the only customer save for a Japanese-looking  youngster enjoying his meal in one corner of the restaurant. The place offered Shan food and we ordered one for each of us. When the food arrived, we were surprised to see that an order is good for 2 persons, our orders was then good for 4 persons! I tried ABC Stout for my drink as the local Myanmar beer is too light for me.

That was it, two days and two nights in Inle.

20171216_085310

Banned Films at the Memory! International Heritage Film Festival

2017-11-10 09.22.35

Fear of the influence and the possible contradicting response of the people move authorities to ban films. Films are banned based on certain parameters like culture, morality and political expediency. Stirring the emotions and channeling people’s thoughts towards action make filmmakers effective influencers, an attribute missing from people who wield power.

People are usually attracted to anything outlawed which further enhances the value of banned films. There is a saying that goes, ‘forbidden fruits are sweet.’ Banning films produce the opposite result as people crave to see what is prohibited and increase the demand instead reducing interest in the subject.

Time change and what is unacceptable at one time may not be considered dangerous in some other time. Some subjects become tolerable as perspectives change. Previously banned films may seem ridiculous at present, but dangerous at the time they were produced.

20171110_085843

It was remarkable for the organizers of Memory! International Heritage Film Festival to include banned films on its 5th edition which run from November 6-12 at the Waziya Theater. The theater in itself is reminiscent of the past, an old cinema house, closed I suppose with the advent of digital films, DVD and VCD, smart phones, YouTube and Netflix. Of the total 63 films total, 20 were banned covering topics on war communism colonialism morality and religion.  I have viewed four:

  1. Different from the others (1919)

A silent movie featuring the effects of a law in Germany against homosexuality. It was considered as the first film featuring homosexuality, a subject considered taboo in Europe at that time.

  1. All quiet on the western front (1930)

The film was considered an anti-war sentiment. It shows the realities in the frontlines of World War I and how it transformed young people and the needless sacrifice of the youth in the name of patriotism and national honor.

  1. Battleship Potemkin (1905)

Another black-and-white silent movie featuring the takeover by Bolshevik revolutionaries of a battleship and its collaboration with the people when it docked at the port of Odessa. Purely a political propaganda, this was banned by the Tzar of Russia.

  1. The men who tread the tiger’s tail (1945)

This film by Akira Korusawa featured the resolve of a samurai. It was banned by the US occupation forces in Japan after the World War II as it fanned nationalist sentiments in Japan.

When I was young, sex-oriented films were restricted and classified as for adults only. As far as I know, I was too young to view these kinds of films. Local film companies at that time produce either Cinderella-type tear jerkers, romantic comedy films or filipinized western films – western as in cowboys and Indians. Young as I was, I enjoyed western films with forested background instead of desert, bananas trees instead of cactuses and grass huts instead of wooden honky-tonks.

 

My first encounter with censorship was with a Japanese TV animation series Voltes V. In the 70’s the craze were sci-fi heroes like the Sky Rangers and animations like Voltes V and Transformers.  Very few people owned TV sets in our neighborhood at that time, and there was no electricity. Diesel generators have to be used to provide power. Late afternoon and early evening periods saw houses with TV packed as the whole community enjoy the shows.

vv

Voltes V was the favorite among young people, and many were surprised when suddenly it was taken out of the regular programming.  My friends and I were furious because we enjoyed the series and we were not given the chance to see how the story ended. It turned out the ending episode showed the people rose in revolt against the ruling class. This was what the government wanted to avoid, to encourage any act of rebellion against the Marcos regime.

Nowadays, it was like declaring the Episode 8 of the Game of Thrones will not be shown anymore. And that was not because of artistic or marketing reasons but by political intervention.

Marcos was overthrown, and finally the censored part of Voltes V was shown. I had a closure  and I felt satisfied. I can even sing the Voltes V theme song even now.

2017-09-22 21.43.00

This is the second of EU-supported film festival in Yangon. Last September 22-October 1 the European Film Festival was shown at the Nay Pyi Taw Cinema featuring films from EU member countries.

Finding Books in Yangon

20170830_092634

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.

 

A weekend of art and wine

20170819_183103

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.

20170819_181817

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.

20170819_174929

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.