In the continuing saga of my mother’s letters from Burma, 1955… The family took a trip from Pyinmana to Kalaw for a mini vacation. Kalaw is in the mountains so cooler than Pyinmana (and of course was where the British spent their holidays in colonial times). Traveling in those days and places was not an easy task.
“We started out from here last Wednesday morning at 7:30 – The Hewitts and Doss, our bearer, in their jeep, and us and Doss’s mother (who lives near Kalaw) in our jeep. Kalaw is about 160 miles northeast of Pyinmana. In true Burma traveling fashion, we had our water, coffee, lunch, soap, and all other necessities right along with us. Hewitts even took an extra 5 gallons of gasoline, but we passed three oil stations between here and Kalaw, so used up the gas and thew the smelly can away. Since our jeeps are new, we did not bother to take extra tires and parts, as people do who travel in older vehicles.
The worst part of the road is the first 20 miles north of Pyinmana, and that wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been expecting, so rather enjoyed even that. The roads are only one car width with all passing vehicles putting one set of wheels on the often muddy and always rutty shoulders. One bridge was out, but there was a definite rut around that was passable. This end of the trip is in the arid valley and very dry and hot. Not much vegetation – sort of like scrub-brush land at home. There are no fences along the roads, no road signs to speak of, and certainly no billboards or advertising of any sort. We didn’t see a single real automobile – only jeeps, a few station wagons, many trucks all overloaded and often in a dilapidated condition, pony carts, bullock carts (which often have a separate rut on the shoulder), and lots of pedestrians; besides herds of cattle, ponytailed sheep, goats and water buffalo grazing over the roads. As I say, there were three oil stations – one at Tacon, one at Meiktila and one at Thazi – all without restrooms! We got to Meiktila, about 90 miles from Pyinmana, about 11am and ate our lunch in a sort of park on the highway mid the stares of many local people. Then we headed east toward the Shan States and the mountains. The road starts to rise and we found lush jungle growth on all sides with a big snake slithering across the road once, monkeys chattering, flowering teak trees, and perfectly gorgeous views on occasion. The roads are not so bumpy, but are still without fences or barriers of any kind, and passing one of those big trucks on a sharp mountain curve often made one catch one’s breath! We arrived in Kalaw (rhymes with guffhaw) about 2:30 after making excellent time. (Note: 7 hours to go 160 miles was considered excellent time.)
The main attraction in the hill areas besides the cool weather and lovely scenery is the interesting bazaars where the different hill tribes sell their crops and handicrafts. These hill tribes are very colorful and usually quite friendly. I am always interested in their jewelry which is solid silver usually in the form of heavy bracelets or heavy large earrings. One tribe of interest is the one in which the women wear brass bracelets just below the knee. I’m sure these must be painful at times – especially if the woman has gained weight, for they are soldered on and never taken off. These people make lovely trinkets out of silver which they sell, and also very interesting and pretty baskets of different designs and uses. You may be sure we came home well-stocked with jewelry and baskets – as well as delicious fresh vegetables and a bunch of blue orchids which we hope to grow here.
On Saturday evening we were invited to Kingswood School – a Methodist Mission boarding school, also a day school. A friend of ours, the minister’s wife from Rangoon, was running it for a few months until a regular headmistress arrives from the States, and so she wanted us to see the school and get to know some of the children. We found the school to be a beautiful place with fine brick buildings set in the hillside amid more beautiful flowers. It conforms to government standards for schools and prepares children for entering the University of Rangoon. It’s teachers are all very well qualified and the Christian atmosphere, although most of the children are not Christian, is a very fine influence besides being very pleasant. Pre-war the school was filled to capacity but now with the troubled times there are only 30 boarders but almost 300 in the day school. I feel sure now that the internal trouble in this country is diminishing, Kingswood will regain its former popularity. After dinner that evening we played games with the children and then all sat around the fireplace (with a real fire) and sang songs, ending with a prayer to the tune of Brahms’s Lullaby. It was a lovely evening for all of us.
Most of these bazaars are what we call “a five day bazaar” which means the hill people come into town once every five days, and that is the big bazaar when all the place is full of products for sale. It happened the big day was on Sunday – the day we left to return to Pyinmana – but we got up early and went bazaaring before we started for home. Our trip home was uneventful and we drove in here about 3:30 pm.
There was just one blot on our otherwise delightful holiday – while we were bazaaring in a little village not far from Kalaw one morning, a dog bit Bill on the leg. Since we do not know the dog and have no way of seeing it within a week or ten days to know if it has died of rabies poor Bill will have to take the 14 rabies shots to be sure! They are perfectly terrible to take, but we can’t take the chance, for dogs with rabies are very prevalent in this country and everyone takes the shots if there is any question at all. But I guess we should be glad that such shots are available and that we know enough to take them.“
I wonder if the trip is very different today. They stayed at the Kalaw Heritage Hotel, built in 1903, the second oldest hotel in Myanmar – still there today (pictured above in 1955).
This week I took a trip to the MIA (Minnesota Institute of Arts) museum to see “Eternal Offerings, Chinese Ritual Bronzes”. The bronzes were from the museum collection but the display was what made the show. It was very atmospheric. At first I felt disoriented. It was dark and there were mirrors and “pools” and silks blowing in the wind. Once my eyes adjusted and I figured it all out, it was impressive. The rooms were Setting the Scene, An Animistic World, Temple, Ritual, Banquet, Rule of Propriety, Coming Full Circle.
Rule of Propriety
Like I said, atmospheric…
It is kind of snowing, sleeting, slushing today. Winter’s last hurrah.