Today was a treat for Myanmar government teachers. They had the day off of school on account of it being a full moon day. The teachers have to make up the missed day on the following Saturday, so it’s not completely playing truant, but it did mean that I was able to spend a day off duty with the wonderful group of ladies that I have been training.
After an extra hour in bed compared to my usual Monday morning alarm of 5am, I caught the number 48 bus to the Shwe Baho hospital. This was the agreed location that I was meeting the first of my teachers so that she could ensure that I got the right bus for the trip that we were taking. It would not have made for a fun day out if I had gotten myself lost before we began!
It was a warm day and as I waited for my guide to get off of her bus, I was looking forward to seeing some Myanmar culture. It seems to be a sad but true fact that when one works in a place, there’s never quite the time or inclination to go and visit the typical tourist destinations. Sure enough, there was Ma Khine, dressed in a lovely pink floral longyi outfit. I had initially worried that I wouldn’t recognize her out of her green and white teacher’s uniform, but my fears were unfounded as we hopped on the 181 bus to Thanlyin. We soon arrived at the archway entrance to the National Village, which houses a replica of each of the living spaces for the main 8 ethic groups in Myanmar. These are the Bamar, Rakhine, Mon, Kayin, Kachin, Chin, Shan and Kayah races. Each house is bigger and nicer than what would probably be typical for the region, but there are distinct different wces in the 8 buildings, including the number of rooms, number of fireplaces and the layout of the room configuration. Some of the houses, including the Mon house, have a bachelor room at the front of the house. The Mon guide was lovely and very helpful. She explained that the bachelor room served two purposes. The first was as protection for the house; the young healthy man would be the first point of access for any would be intruders. The second use was so that the virile young man could pop off in the night to seek pleasure and not disturb his family when he returned late at night! Inside many of the houses there was also a virgin room where the young ladies could slumber undisturbed.
We paid the entrance fee, which was substantially higher for me as a foreigner than for my students. Ma Khine did try to reason with the cashier that I was dressed in typical Myanmar fashion and that I was accompanying Myamar people, but her efforts went to waste and I handed over my foreigner fee. To be honest, the discrepancy in cost doesn’t bother me. I think that it seems like a fairly sensible thing to do. I come from a very touristy region of the UK and it soon gets expensive to show visitors around the place. My Mum and I have often lamented that we should have a local pass which give a discounted rate. It seems that is exactly what Myanmar does!
The first thing that we did after entering was to climb the 200 odd steps to the top of Nan Mint Tower which stands in the middle of a very pretty pathway leading to the various houses. Two of my students accompanied me to the top. The views were breathtaking. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and we could look out all over Yangon and we could even see the enormous Shwe Dagon Pagoda. I like seeing the Shwe Dagon because I know that it is close to where I live and so it really helps to give me a sense of direction and perspective. We took a few of our own photos, and I was asked to be in the photographs of some local sightseers before we rejoined the other teachers who had quite sensibly stayed at the bottom of the tower in the shade of the lush trees.
We fed the fish that live in the lake with bread crusts. The fish have enormous mouths for the size of their body, and I was slightly anxious about throwing a crust with too much enthusiasm and ending up in the lake as part of the meal for the fishes! Luckily I found that I was actually pretty stable on my feet and I was able to concentrate on throwing the crusts as far from me as possible as to not risk to possibility of the fish jumping at me from their watery dwelling. This was another photo opportunity for my students who seemed to relished my enthusiasm to feed the fish!
My lovely students had prepared lunch for all of us, and so at around 11:30 we found a suitable place to picnic. By this point the weather had taken a turn for the worse and we found somewhere undercover to sit and eat. In fact, my students had a good giggle and asked after my husband when it turned out that our picnic spot was the normal place for young couples to come and spend time together. Of course, as we were all female the effect was somewhat lost on us, but that didn’t dampen the mood or the taste of the delicious lunch.
Each of the replica houses has a gift shop beside it, as well as some defining feature of the local area. For the Rakhine house, this means Mrauk Oo. It was nice to know that we had seen the real life historical place, and the replica brought back good memories of our trip. My students were insistent on buying me small mementos of our day together, and so I ended up with quite a collection of items from the various gift stalls. Thank you very much, it is certainly a day out that I could never forget.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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