Posts Tagged ‘Pyin Oo Lwin’

Myanmar Times, Part Five

November 6, 2013
Maymyo Governor House, Burma

Maymyo Governor House, Burma

Day 9
07-10-2013
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There were four power outages last night, the first time we’ve experienced a power cut and we get four of them in one evening, a trifle unfortunate that it should happen twice at the first occasion where I’ve had access to a computer and internet. Plunged into darkness and losing all you’ve just written in an e mail may be irritating, but I’m fairly sure the repercussions of no power will have been more of a nuisance elsewhere., the staff gave me a torch and brolly, as it also happened to be hammering down outside, and our chalet is a short walk from the main reception and dining area. The way they take the power outage in their stride suggests this is not a one off situation, and it doesn’t affect their smiles.
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While the power was actually on last night, Tim had been chatting to the staff at reception, and bounded up to me as I was attempting to write up some of the trip ready for blogging. I could see he was keen to impart some pearl of wisdom, so detached my fingers from the keyboard in anticipation, “man, that was spooky, you’ll never guess what happened”, “oh yeah, what’s that then”, probably not with the amount of keenness he’d been hoping for, but it didn’t diminish his appetite for telling the story, “a massive blue butterfly just landed on my head while I was talking to the guys at reception, and I was about to swat it away, cos I don’t like that sort of shit, and the guys shouted, ‘no no, don’t touch, good luck’, and they told me it’s a sign that someone in my family is watching over me, it’s fucking crazy man”. We already knew that the Burmese are a superstitious lot, why else would you let dogs and cows roam the roads with impunity, not to mention believing in reincarnation, but this was a nice way to be introduced to one of their beliefs, rather than reading it, or hearing second hand, it certainly put a huge smile on Tims face, and I think it may be safe to say, made his day, convinced by now that Granny iPad, aka Daw Pwa Sei, must indeed be watching over us, well him actually, but who am I to judge, it’s a good story either way.

Daw pwa Sei, Tims Great Grandma

Daw pwa Sei, Tims Great Grandma

Daw Pwa Sei

Daw Pwa sei, Tims Great Grandma

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Go Knee, or Gaungyi, (pronouced Gawn Yee), as I was corrected earlier, much to their amusement, told us he couldn’t take us out today as he had business elsewhere to attend to, instead Azani, who had driven up with us from Mandalay, would be our driver for the day. First up on the sight seeing was the Governor House, hoping to get a look inside this time, although we had been told no photo’s. The drive through Pyin Oo Lwin, or Maymo as it was previously known, is worth the trip on its own, rich in flower growers, very little traffic to speak of, and gloriously colourful miniature horse drawn carriages all over the place. As usual there were cows and dogs running, or ambling more like, all over, one dark brown cow had just settled and flumped himself down on the centre lines of the road, leaving the traffic to swerve around him, didn’t even flap an ear as mopeds and cars rattled past him, they in turn treated it as a perfectly normal occurrence.

No one bothers the cows, here in Maymo, or anywhere else in Burma

No one bothers the cows, here in Maymo, or anywhere else in Burma

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On arrival at the Governor House, it seemed as if we were going to be out of luck, but Azani made a phone call and a couple of lads from the hotel that own the place turned up within minutes and we were inside. Having believed at first that this was the original building, we were informed by the two lads that came up to let us in, that it had been all but destroyed by Japanese bombing in WW2, but had been rebuilt in 2005 as close to the original as possible. Judging by the original old photographs on display on the walls, they had done a pretty damn fine job, and then went the extra yard by having mannequins of colonial British household members dotted about, as well as photos of the last Governor and his, (mainly Indian), entourage hanging on the walls, ‘Watts and Skeen, Mandalay’ signed in the bottom corner of the photo’s. All through this mansion house were photo’s by Watts and Skeen, showing how each part had looked all those years ago, and if we hadn’t been told the story of the place having been obliterated by bombing, I would never have doubted this was the original.

Governot House mannequins, Maymyo, Burma

Governor House mannequins, Maymyo, Burma

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Driving away from the Governor House, I was hoping we’d stop in at the All Saints Church again, I felt there was more to be found out there, but Tim wasn’t keen so I didn’t push it. Azani took us to the bank in the town centre so we could change up some money, where two more of my Benjamin Franklins were turned back at me, “please, you have better?”, pointing to the slight creases in the middle, so I handed over my last two undamaged notes, (they did have those little stamps on one side though, but the teller didn’t look both sides thankfully, I felt guilty, as if I were peddling counterfeit notes), and figured I’d work something out along the way, hoping that 180,000 Kyats ought at least to last me until Rangoon in five days time. A stones throw from the bank was the Purcell Tower, a not particularly spectacular tower, with a clock at the top, apparently the clock tower was a gift from Queen Victoria, and it chimes 16 notes before the hour, the same as London’s Big Ben, although the date stamped on it is 1936, so I’m not sure what that signifies.

Purcell Tower, Maymyo, Burma

Purcell Tower, Maymyo, Burma

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Heading for what had been the tax office in Tims Grandad, Herbert Edward Wall’s, day, you can’t help but notice how many colonial style buildings there are here still, especially given that this town has been made the home of the military, and how they apparently blame just about everything bad that ever happened in the last 60 years of their control on the British Empire. I wonder why they stopped short of levelling the lot and removing any possible memory of its colonial past. The tax office as it was, is now a hospital, so I opted to hang around outside while Tim went in for a look around with Azani, this was another important part of the pilgrimage for Tim, seeing where his Grandad would probably have worked, much like when he touched the door of 379 Dalhousie street in Rangoon. Next up was St Josephs school and church, both in the same complex, we’re greeted by nuns at the entrance, and they take us on a guided tour, Tim gets Granny iPad out again and tells them his Dad and Auntie would have gone to school here, and quite probably church too. As with a lot of places we’ve passed in Myanmar, the kids here seem to love playing football, which looks like it should be pretty awkward in their longhi’s, but they manage quite well, and bare foot, it’s a cool sight to see. The church and school are both catholic, but the vast majority of the pupils are Buddhists, the Mother Superior told us that the army have put walls around them without asking, claiming some of their land, and planted a tree next to one of their buildings, knowing full well it would grow fast and tall, with the roots damaging all around them. You soon become aware that no one has a good word to say about their army, they just express dismay that from where they stand, it appears the only way to get rich in Myanmar is to become a part of it.
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I felt bad for the nuns, as if there was unsaid stuff that they worry about, the army appear to be an unspoken enemy, in public at least, a story we have heard all across the country. We drove to the neat little colonial built Pyin Oo Lwin railway station after St Josephs, a quiet place with grass growing between the tracks, and workers pushing a cart along the track with all their hand tools on it, as usual we are the only westerners around. Like so many of these old places, I would love to just glimpse how things were a hundred years back, not through any sentiment, but for historical perspective, I’m quite aware of the brutality the British are recorded as having handed out across their dominions, but often no more than the brutal leaders they displaced, and the British Government were no better to their own working classes in those days.

Pyin Oo Lwin railway station, Maymyo, Burma

Pyin Oo Lwin railway station, Maymyo, Burma

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As if it may have been planned from above, when Azani took us to the Feel restaurant, we were held up for a while because the military had been holding some kind of beano for a VIP there, and multiple expensive four wheel drive motors were queueing up to transport them out, all in aviator sunglasses and crisp uniforms, I raised my camera to try and sneak a few shots, but a couple of them stared right into our minibus as I was doing it and I’m ashamed to say I lost my bottle and lowered the camera, it’s funny how these things can affect you, but given what I’ve been told out here, had I been dragged out of the car and camera confiscated, I would only have had myself to blame.
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We finished this eventful sightseeing day with a trip to the National Kandawgi Botanical Gardens, which look as if they have come straight out of a Miss Marples novel, a sort of mini Kew Gardens around a lake, immaculately manicured, with every plant and tree named in Latin and English, as well as Burmese script, which looks at a glance like a load of slightly different circles. We walked up to the tower we had first seen from the Feel restaurant, but unfortunately it was a cloud filled day with intermittent rain, so the view wasnt great. There’s a lift to the top, which goes up ten storeys, which doubtless gives great vistas on a clear day, I could at least see our chalet at Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin through the mist. On the way back we got a tuk tuk, driving past an ancient looking wall very similar in design to the fort walls we had seen in Mandalay and Inwa, dusk was coming on, and soon we were contemplating our return to Mandalay the following day.
Some you notice here, is the ceaseless metallic drone of cicada beetles which echoes all around, you never see them, but can’t escape their sound.

Myanmar Times Part Four

November 3, 2013
Maymyo Governor House, Burma

Maymyo Governor House, Burma

Day 8
06-10-2013

Having prepped the rucksack the night before, it was just a case of getting scrubbed up, having a last brekka in the hotel before shooting round to Seven Diamond Travel to book up our travels for when we return from Maymo, where we’re headed today. We had already booked the trip to Maymo with Seven Diamond a couple of days back, but realised things were going to get hectic if we wanted to fit everything in that we wanted to do, so decided to book up the rest of the trip with this mob as they had been so helpful. It was touch and go as we were being picked up from the hotel at noon, but we got out of there at 11.45 having arranged a trip up to Shwebo, another former capital of Burma, 133km north west of Mandalay, a driver for the trip and return, who would also show us around and take us to sites of interest. For our return from Shwebo, we also booked a coach down to Inle Lake, and a hotel, plus a sight seeing boat ride for when we got there, all in, 384 dollars between us, bargain. That was our next five days sorted.
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On the mini bus taking us up to Maymo, or Pyin Oo Lwin as it is known now in post colonial Myanmar, one of the other passengers happened to be an employee of the Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin, that we’re booked in to, Azani was his name, he was returning from a wedding ceremony with his mum. 153 km’s of mainly mountain roads, passing work groups of men and women repairing the washed away bits of road surface, dogs, as everywhere, roaming free, and looking down at the disappearing flatlands and Ayeyarwaddy river as we climbed ever higher towards the former Hill Station of colonial Maymo, where the British would retire to when the weather got too hot down in Mandalay and Rangoon. When we arrived at Pyin Oo Lwin, Azani and his mum were dropped off at their place, a blue wooden home no bigger than the beach huts over the locks on Southwick beach, in a terrace of these small homes. He opened up the shutter doors, and inside was a moped, and some wooden ramps, which he put out straight away, one for the front door, the next for the landing to the dirt track road. Having seen plenty of people living under nothing more than a tarpaulin, and some just under trees out here, I guess this is a step up from those situations, but you’re never far from a wake up call if you forget how poor these people are, which makes their smiling faces, and generally happy demeanour all the more impressive.

Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin foyer

Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin foyer

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At the hotel, we’re blown away by the opulence of it, maybe more so after what we’d just witnessed. It’s only a few years old, and built very much along colonial lines, it appears they are embracing the British past in order to encourage tourists, even down to an old British style phone box in the foyer, but made out of teak instead of our red metal efforts. The place is beautiful, and once again, so are the people in it, just incredibly friendly, and giggling from the off at us in our Longhi’s and shirt, “ahh, traditional, very beautiful”, then they burst into fits of giggles with each other. After booking in and dropping our stuff in the room, we wasted no time in asking how we could get about here, we had a few places to check up on in the area, where Tims dad may have been to school, and church, and possibly lived if the buildings survived. The guy at the desk that seemed to be in charge, ‘Go Knee’ his name sounded like, said he could take us around for 5000 Kyats in the hotel minibus. First up though, we were hungry, so Go Knee suggested the ‘Feel’ restaurant, an eatery sat next to a small lake, looking out to forested hills, and a large lookout tower in the distance. It was the perfect place to sit down and take in the surroundings after our journey, and the food was pretty damn good too. Rain began not long after we had sat down, but the cool temperatures after the sticky heat of the lowlands is most pleasant, it’s easy to see why the colonial Brits repaired up to places like this to escape the heat of Rangoon and Mandalay, as Tims Dad, Grandad, and family used to all those years ago.
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There are apparently nearly 200 old colonial buildings still existing here, and while I’m happy for the Burmese that they have their independence, I would love to have a glimpse of how things looked a hundred years back. And then the clouds let loose and we got a taste of the rainy season first hand, waiters running to relocate us away from the lakeside seats, and back to drier seating and tables. The combined noise of the rain hitting the roof and the lake drowns all surrounding conversation out, love it. The only westerners in the joint. Go Knee took us from the restaurant up to the old colonial Governors House, telling us on the way that the rain we had seen was nothing compared to when it ‘really rains’.
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What a place the Governors house is, in the most amazing setting, just how you might picture it in some novel, or an old World War Two movie. This distinctly British architecture, complete with mock Tudor boarding, set amid deeply forested hills behind, with perfect lawns surrounding it, like a little piece of English Home Counties in this humid hothouse of Burma. It even had what we were told was the original Governors car, an old Triumph Mayflower, as well as an old Humber, and it’s all owned by a hotel chain, they hire the place out for events, at about two thousand dollars or so a night. We were given a tour of the outside of the place, Go Knee had tried to get the keys for us, but said we had to come back next day to get in, meanwhile a couple of caretakers were happy to show us around the outside. It gave you a real sense of the power of the empire that had this place built, it even had an inside swimming pool.
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The Orignal Governors car apparently, a Triumph Mayflower

The Orignal Governors car apparently, a Triumph Mayflower

After an amusing photo session in these antique British made cars on the front drive through, we shot off. Stopping at the junction where the Governor House drive meets the road, we spotted an old church, the All Saints Anglican Church, at the foot of what is apparently called, ‘Governors Hill’, I have since found out that the Governors house was in fact the seat of the Colonial Government up until the Japanese bombed it in 1942, the church was known as the ‘Church of the Government’. We figured there might be some useful info in there, possibly stuff about Tims family, had to be worth a look at least. The vicar thought he recognised the name of Tims Great Grandma, Daw Pwa Sei, and said she may have been involved in some way with the Anglican church, and as with all the Burmese people we’d met, he wanted to help us in any way he could. It was dark by then, so we said we would come back the next day to see in daylight.

Commemorative plaque at the all saints church, Maymyo

Commemorative plaque at the all saints church, Maymyo