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Washcloths and Other Presents

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Today we met with Sue Wei Wei, the very pregnant niece of one of Nanette's students. She came to The Panda with a friend, Aung Ko, who is an English and engineering student. She spoke some Engish, but was shy, and Aung Ko spoke well, and looked to be the half Chinese that he is, with spiky and dyed hair. Her husband was working.

The ritual exchange of presents took place in the empty lobby. Nanette had been given a large bag of watches and electronic gadgets from Sue Wei Wei's uncle in the states, ridiculously expensive here, as well as some US cash for Sue Wei Wei to distribute to relatives. There is a story to this. When Nanette first spoke to the uncle about these gifts, he told her that he wanted us to bring some "wash cloths" for their family. Why would anyone want to send wash cloths to Burma as a present?

Nanette went over to the house to pick them up, and spoke to his wife about the gifts. "What is it that you want me to bring?"



"You know," and pointed to her watch. "Watchclocks."

"Ohhhhh. You mean watches."

Sar Ney nodded vigorously. "Watchclocks, that's right."

It is always an adventure trying to figure out Burmese pronunciation.

They wanted to give us many more things to bring over, not understanding that the weight was an issue. Nanette begged off on some, but in addition to the washcloths, MP3 players, and cell phones, I also carried a heavy bag of chocolate and several big bottles of fish oil tablets, presents for the Sayadow in Mandalay, whittled down to about a third of the original amount. Despite these weight reducing efforts, Sue Wei Wei now gave presents to us, longyis, a handbag, a shirt, fliip flops, even a sweater. I'm afraid that I wasn't exactly gracious as I tried to explain that it would be very hard to carry them. We insisted on returning the handbag, which she reluctantly took back.

We then took a cab to one of nicer city parks to walk and drink beer with Aung Ko. Sue Wei Wei went home, unable to walk in the heat with her pregnant belly. What did we discuss? Politics.

In mid-day we returned to the hotel to get out of the sun, and an hour later, much earlier than we expected, the mother of one of my students showed up.

The White Stuff on her Face is Thanaka, a Natural Suncreen
and Beauty Aide Made From the Bark of a Tree


This had been arranged, sort of, through the translation efforts of hotel staff. I thought that she would be accompanied by one of her sons, or was it her son-in-law who spoke English, as she spoke none. On the phone, Yu Yu's mother seemed to indicate that she wanted us to meet a particular monk, and give him an English lesson at his monastery. Okay, I thought, a bit of a strange request, but okay. Naturally she also came bearing gifts, a framed picture of The Golden Rock Pagoda, among other things. We didn't even bother trying to explain the weight problem to her. Impossible. We piled into the cab she had waiting outside, and were whisked off to a monastery not far from Shwedagon. The monk, also a Sayadow, head of the monastery, seemed to recognize me instantly. It took a while, but then the neurons starting firing. I had given him one English lesson with YuYu a few months back, when he was visiting the US. He wasn't expecting an English lesson now of course, he just wanted to see me and say hello. And he was expecting us. YuYu must have arranged it all in advance. We waited while Ashin and the other monks ate lunch, as is the custom, and then they served us. Ashin's English is so so at best, but he managed to ask where we were going, and where we would stay next. When we told him the name of the Sayadow in Mandalay, who he knew, he immediately got on his cell and made sure that U Diminiba knew exactly when we would arrive so that he could meet us. Ashin then took out both a still and digital camcorder, and took pictures of us. Things might be simple at the monastery, but the monks love their gadgets, in Burma and in the US. I reciprocated with my camera.


He gave us an enormous, five pounds at least, sack of tea. With some difficulty, I managed to get one of the young monks to take half back, saying it was far too much for us.

Finally we were given another tour of Shwedagon, though we tried to explain that we had already been. Probably not understanding this, the young monk took us there anyway, through the monks' entrance, so we wouldn't have to pay. Yu Yu's bent over mother insisted on carrying our sandals, despite our protests. Though I wasn't looking forward to it in the heat, we were taken to places we hadn't seen the first time, including temples with hand painted scenes of the life of Buddha, full of ornate gold and silver ritual objects. Without our monk, we had completely overlooked them.


Posted by jonshapiro 13:24 Archived in Myanmar Tagged postcards

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It is most exiting for me to read about your adventures with the Burmese - I think that besides writing the blog which is ofcourse important,for more tourists intending to travel, I do bless you for your volunteering - it is very kind and shows how considerate and loving persons you are

I can read between the lines about the respect you hold for the Burmese

Your desciption is very vivid as well as emotional

by Elona Kitron

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