Bonding with neighbors on Tazundaung

Tazundaung is a Buddhist festival observed in Myanmar a month after Thadingyut. Another holiday which means another opportunity for me to travel and explore. After reviewing my list, I decided to visit Bagan, the valley of temples and pagodas similar to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I have been to Angkor Wat and the temples around it on several occasions and I wanted to compare it with the temples of Bagan. The historical, cultural and architectural aspects of the place are of great interest to me.

When I shared the idea to my officemates that I would be traveling during Tazundaung, I was told the best place to enjoy the festival is in Taungyi in Shan State. The main attraction is the annual balloon festival where a competition on the most creative and the most decorated balloon is held. I remember reading an article several years ago where an accident happened and a flaming balloon feel on the crowd of onlookers killing people. I can also imagine all of Myanmar flocking to Taungyi by that time, and it would mean a big crowd. Too much people take away the relaxing part of a trip and I prefer thinner crowd and a more relaxed environment so I stuck to Bagan.

But something happened along the way, and I have to cancel my planned trip to Bagan. I cannot travel to Yangon also and so I have no choice but to stay at home in Hpa-an. My downtime in Hpa-an would mean time for me to write. The day before the festival I prepared for and set my mind for a day of writing. No lost opportunity, I will be productive and still enjoy the holiday.

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I woke up early with the sound of music wafting from the pagoda near our home. Ah, this is how they start the celebration. A little while another PA sounded with a much louder music. As the sun rose higher, our neighborhood became busy and noisy. Children started playing along the road, motorcycle come and goes and everybody seemed agog. Comfortably lodged in my favorite seat, I continued writing, tapping the laptop keyboard conscious of the busyness of the neighborhood.

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Ours is a quaint neighborhood. We are living in a traditional Kayin wooden house, the few remaining in the neighborhood, as the rest were transformed into cement-and-brick dwellings devoid of the traditional designs intrinsic in wooden homes. The influence of ‘modernity’ is creeping in the country and our neighborhood was not exempt. I feel good and enjoy living in a traditional wooden house.

The people are also nice. I can sense we are welcome as the only ‘alien’ in the community. Inability to communicate in English prevents our neighbors from relating with us, and us with them. Despite the language barrier, people smile and nod whenever we meet them, occasionally we share “mingalaba” greetings.

Our next-door neighbor reached out to us first. They sent us food one time, and this reminded me of the practice in the Philippines. When I was growing up in the province, it was a common practice to share food with neighbors. I usually do the part of bringing the food during lunch, proud of what we have to share. It was also customary to give back, so we always ended up with several dishes.

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Late in the afternoon, I heard them calling out and inviting us to join them. We gladly crossed over and were met with greetings from other neighbors who were enjoying the noodles served. The matriarch of the family was smiling and eagerly led us in the living room where we squatted in front of a round table. One of the ladies in the house knew simple English and she tried her best to be the translator. As they serve a steaming bowl of noodles called sotanghon in the Philippines, we tried to talk and boy oh boy, the topic was about the age! In Myanmar context, age is a good topic to start a conversation in community gatherings.

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We keep on talking, and relish several servings of sotanghon, until we have to stand to give way to other guests. People talked to us in local language and we tried our best to understand and answer with hand signals as if they can understand. That was warm and we felt accepted and a part of the community. My wife and I went back home comfortable with the reality that we are in good company. That night the small candles lighted along the road seemed brighter.

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