Monday, December 31

Myanmar - Su Paung Kyun village

Season’s greetings.
The weather on Rarotonga for the past week or so has been wet and windy but today, New Year’s Eve is sunny and warm. Apparently that’s not going to last long – there’s more and wind on the way to welcome 2013. However, we’re much better off than Fiji and Samoa with cyclone Evan and now the Solomons with cyclone Freda.
I’m still going through video from my trip to Burma. Our journey on the RV Katha Pandaw took us to a small village called Su Paung Kyun on the bank of the Irrawaddy River in Central Myanmar (Burma).
We had a short glimpse of the rural lifestyle.
During the wet season the village would be situated by the river so most of the houses were on stilts. The land left above water as the river level drops is used for crops, mostly lab lab beans hereabouts. Women in the village were winnowing beans from the last harvest. Since it was a Saturday when we visited, the children were not at school and they were obviously as fascinated by us as we were by them! Our guide told us that we were the first foreigners to go to that particular village but with the way tourism is increasing in Burma we won’t be the last.
Things will change but I hope the people can remain as delightful as they are now.

Sunday, December 23

The Golden Land - Myanmar highlights

A few years ago the big question about Burma was should you go at all? A repressive military government crushed any protests and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (aka The Lady) was under house arrest in spite of winning an election. Some countries imposed economic sanctions on Burma and opponents of the regime wanted tourists to stay away because too much of their money went into government coffers.
Things have changed. The military junta was dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a nominally civilian government installed, though the military is still influential. Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of parliament and an ever-increasing trickle of tourists is set to become a flood in the very near future.
The question now is should I call it Burma or Myanmar?
Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948 but the name wasn’t changed until 1989. The BBC calls it Burma, as does The Lady. Barack Obama used both names on his recent trip there. Pandaw, the riverboat cruise company, call it Burma.  I think more people (of my age anyway) have heard of Burma than Myanmar even though not many know exactly where it is.
In speech I tend to call it Burma, in writing Myanmar.
Our boat, the RV Katha Pandaw, sailed on the Irrawaddy River. The Burmese name for this is the Ayeyarwady but the colonial British misheard this hence the Irrawaddy. I’m totally in sympathy with that. Much easier to pronounce.
Regardless of what you call it, Myanmar is a fascinating country.
The Irrawaddy is wide and muddy and winds through fertile plains and low hills. Many of the villages we visited were remote and would have been difficult to get to other than by boat. There the pace of life is slow but in the areas where tourism is taking off it’s all changing. This is especially true at Bagan, famous for the three thousand pagodas and stupas that dot the plain, and U Bein’s bridge, the world’s longest teak span and one of Myanmar’s most photographed sights.
This video shows some of the highlights of our 10 day journey and some of the delightful people we met.
Incidentally, Barack Obama and entourage came to Myanmar just before we were due to return to Yangon and stayed at our hotel. They took over the entire hotel; the management cancelled the bookings of everyone else and that didn’t please tour companies who had to scramble to find accommodation at short notice. And it was all for less than six hours!

Monday, December 17

Shwebo earthquake in Central Myanmar

I was on holiday in Myanmar for most of November and spent part of that time on a river boat, the Pandaw Katha, cruising down the Irrawaddy. While I was there  a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the Shwebo region of Central Myanmar on 11 November 2012. A bridge underconstruction near the village of Nwe Nyein collapsed and buildings in the village were damaged.
Our boat was about 500 metres from the bridge when the earthquake struck and we saw the bridge fall.
The general manager of Pandaw in Myanmar, John Arkell, and our tour guide Daniel Townsend, went to the village to see what help we could provide. They found many of the buildings had been damaged and villagers were too frightened to go back inside so were sitting in groups on the open ground. The school was one of the buildings damaged but fortunately it was a Sunday and children weren't there.
The boat passengers raised about US$1000 and Daniel and John took that back to the village and handed it over to the headman. Villagers then used it to buy food and organise cooking areas and utensils and get material for shelters.

Tuesday, December 11

Zumba at Rarotonga's Sevens in Heaven

Back from Burma (Myanmar really but that doesn't have the same alliterative potential).
I've been on holiday for the past month first travelling down the Irrawaddy and in the north east of Myanmar and then spending five days in Singapore. It was great but internet access was  infrequent hence the long gap since my last blog update. To be honest I don't think I'd have spent much time updating the blog even if the internet had been fast and frequent. Much more fun watching the world go by from the deck of a riverboat (in spite of the earthquake).
Before I took off Rarotonga's annual Sevens in Heaven rugby tournament took place on 1, 2 and 3 November.
Some of our local zumba fans had been practising hard to provide the entertainment on  Friday and Saurday and this video shows the Friday gang going through their Gangnam Style paces.
Nana Hirata, one of our cool local instructors, did a terrific job choreographing the routine and training the dancers and the whole thing was a huge amount of fun.
On the Saturday an increased number of dancers put on another show that incorporated a heap more zumba songs and moves. Hope I'll be able to get some of that online later.
In the meantime I've got hours of holiday video to edit.
Catch you later!