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The Elements of Typographic Style

Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullover

Minding the Earth, Mending the Word: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis

North Face Base Camp Duffel (Medium)




Mostly unedited entries from a journal I kept during the Hukaung Valley Rattan Survey (see Hukaung Valley Rattan Survey and HKV Rattan Survey.pdf). [NOTE: To read chronologically, start at the bottom with the January 04, 2005 post.]


January 09, 2008

Aye Chan Tha Inn, Room 203, Myitkyina, 2:49 PM (N25˚23.114', E97˚23.782')

The local departure lounge at the Yangon airport is a bit like a Third World bus station. Our tickets were small scraps of paper with Burmese writing on them, and although there were three or four planes on the tarmac, there was only one door. Some young ladies in uniforms were walking around telling people things,  maybe boarding times, but Andrew and I were depending on Saw Lwin to tell us when to get on the plane.

We finally got a signal from Saw Lwin and walked out to find our plane.  The Myanma Airways plane was a small jet that seated about 80 people. We were told that there are usually several hundred people that want to get on the flight and that we were able to get tickets because of our Forestry Department connections. The plane was clean, although somewhat old and worn, and the emergency exit sign was taped to the bulkhead.

The flight stopped in Mandalay before heading on to Myitkyina. Only a few people got off the plane, but three porters boarded carrying extra baggage which they proceeded to cram into the bathroom. They made about a dozen trips.  Among other things, they carried on the three huge cardboard boxes labeled "condoms". The two stewardesses giggled politely.

The Myitkyina airport is essentially a large, empty space surrounded by big trees and army guys with guns. After milling around awhile (I thought we were waiting for our bags), Saw Lwin informed us that now we had to leave the airport and walk to another place where they would bring the bags.  After walking about 200 meters we came to a market area jammed with parked cars.  One of them was the Forestry Department truck, a black Toyota Club Cab with "Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve" stenciled in large letters across the windshield. Andrew and I hopped in and were whisked away to the Aye Chan Tha Inn, a clean hotel in the center of town with several floors and stairways leading off in all directions. Andrew and I are sharing Room 203, which has two beds, carpet, a bathroom, a TV, and a clock that ticks very loudly. The door to the bathrooom has a faux stained-glass window. 


Aye Chan Tha Inn, Room 203, Myitkyina, 6:30 PM

Saw Lwin and Tun Shaung stopped by with our bags and we divided up the 40 million kyat.  They also brought t-shirts and baseball caps (see last frame of Mandalay Express) that say "Hukaung Rattan Survey".  We have enough for all of the team members and a dozen extra that we can give away as necessary. Clearly, they have done these trips before.


Aye Chan Tha Inn, Room 203, Myitkyina, 9:04 PM 

Back from dinner at a Chinese restaurant which is part of a big (and mostly empty) hotel along the river.   Tomorrow is the 57th anniversary of Kachin State and there will be a festival with native music and dance. Although we have meetings with the Secretary of Kachin State and a major rattan seller tomorrow, the festival is probably the real reason that we are spending two nights here.  I wore my new cap to dinner.


January 08, 2005

Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon, Room 533 (5:40 AM)

Early morning observations after sitting for an hour:

  • I've noticed that most neighborhoods have a little wooden kiosk with clay jays filled with water so that thirsty pedestrians can avail themselves of a cool drink. They are all over the city.
  • There is a slow, steady drumbeat from the local temples in the morning.  This apparently is broadcasting the merit accrued from the morning prayers to all that hear the sound.

We leave tomorrow. I need to initialize the GPS at some point today.


Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon, Room 533 (5:02 PM)

I accomplished everything that I needed to do today. I went to the Shwedagon pagoda, I had a nice lunch, I took a long nap, and I just got back from a refreshing swim.  The Shwedagon pagoda was, as always, majestic, exotic, and strangely calming. It's amazing how in the midst of so many people such a peaceful atmospherre can be maintained. Some background information. After Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment in about 600 B.C., he was visited by two brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, who were merchants from Myanmar. The two brothers offered the Buddha a gift of honey cakes, and, in return, he gave them eight hairs from his head.  The brothers presented the Buddha's hairs to the King of Okkalapa, who erected a pagoda to enshrine them. The original pagoda was 66 feet tall. From the 14th century onward, successive monarchs re-built Shwedagon until it reached its present height of 326 feet. In its current form, Shwedagon is a complex of pagodas sprawling out over 14 acres. The main pagoda is topped by a diamond orb containing 4,351 diamonds; the crowning jewel is 1,800 carats. The shaft is covered with half a ton of gold, 83,850 jewels, and 4,016 small gold bells.  The four corners of the temple complex are marked by large bo trees (Ficus religiosa), which were planted using cuttings from the original tree at Bodh Gaya, India, under which Siddhartha attained enlightenment.

When the sun goes down the temple complex is gloriously illuminated, and it is visible from many parts of Yangon.  For Burmese Buddhists, Shwedagon Paya is the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in the country.  It is a wonderful place to spend some time, be slow and quiet, and get focused before running some transects. I also got some great video footage (see Sunday at Shwedagon).

Than Myint just called from the lobby. He brought over our airplane tickets to Myitkyina together with a few receipts. On the airplane ticket receipt they had listed the serial numbers of every one of the $20 bills (30 in all) used to buy the tickets. Can't be too careful these days. I initialized the GPS.  The Summit Parkview Hotel, Room 533 is located at N16˚47.673', E96˚08.613' (EPE = 45 feet). My place in space, at the moment.


January 07, 2005

Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon, Room 533 (7:06 AM)

I discovered this morning after sunrise that my room has a beautiful view of Shwedagon pagoda (see Sunday at Shwedagon), the largest temple complex in the city.


Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon, Room 533 (4:45 PM)

Spent all day at the WCS Yangon office and have made most of the arrangements for the trip. We got collecting permits approved by the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division (NWCD) of the Forest Department, we found out that we can use the plant driers at the Botany Department of the University of Yangon, and we got our visa renewals started by turning in photocopies of our passport and two passport photos. We will be collecting at least four duplicate specimens of everything: one set for the Forestry Department, one set for Yangon University, and two sets for NYBG.  We also turned over $4,500 to have converted to kyat in small bills to be used for covering the expenses of the expedition, e.g. food, field assistants, and elephant and truck rental.

We also met the rest of the crew (see HKVRattanSurvey.pdf for more details and images of everyone) and were pleased to find that they are all really nice guys. U Tin Maung Ohn, is from the Botany Department at Yangon University. Tall, skinny man with glasses who is somewhat quiet but smiles alot. U Saw Lwin is the orchidologist who sent me several e-mails before we arrived to Myanmar.  His English is quite good, and he has been on several expeditions with Alan Rabinowitz; one to the Hukaung Valley in 1999. He is a very gregarious man, has traveled through the U.S., and he certainly seems to know his orchids. U Myint Maung is the Forest Department warden for the Hukaung Valley, and he will essentially be our liaison with "The Authorities". Again, a nice man who is very knowledgeable about the area and a good resource. U Kyaw Lwin (no relation to U Saw Lwin) is a biologist from Mandalay University. Seems quiet and somewhat tentative relative to everyone else, but very pleasant. U Tun Shaung is from the local WCS office and is a photographer sent to document the adventure.

When the money changer finally made it back to the office around 4:00 PM it was quite a show. The $4,500 had turned into 40 million kyat - all in 500 kyat bills. This was an enormous, extremely heavy block of money. [NOTE: We learned that you get a better exchange rate for larger bills.  We had brought all our cash in $20 bills, and we told that it would have been better to bring $100 bills. So you know.]

Our flight to Myitkyina on Sunday leaves at an unspecified hour, usually sometime in the morning. Bibiana from the WCS office will call us tomorrow afternoon to let us know what time we need to be packed up Sunday morning.  Two round-trip tickets for foreigners are $660.

We went to lunch with the whole crew to a local restaurant.  Not a foreigner in site. Good thing that Saw Lwin was there to translate (the first of many times...).  I had a big plate of rice with two curried prawns, some creamed corn, mixed vegetables with cauliflower, some type of soup with leaves floating in it that I didn't actually taste (the broth looked kind of murky), and lime juice with sugar and salt to drink.

Tomorrow will be a day to rest before our departure on Sunday, and I will probably walk down to spend a few hours in Shwedagon pagoda.  Hopefully the wood carvers will still have their shops set up outside the pagoda. I bought some beautiful Buddha statues from them on my last visit.


January 06, 2005

Amari Airport Hotel, Bangkok (12:46 AM)

I have arrived, bags and all, to a very nice business hotel in the Bangkok airport with lots of hardwood paneling, Thai weavings, and natural fibers. Ran into a gentleman in the lobby who was being flown home by the Australian government because he had lost both his business and his wife to the tsunami.  He had lived in Thailand for 8 years.  The encounter provided a useful perspective on things and a bit of sadness to sleep on...which is exactly what I plan to do now.  Left no wake-up call. Flight tomorrow to Yangon leaves at 6:00 PM.


Bangkok Airpory, Gate 5 (4:30 PM)

Our flight is departing in about an hour and we are just sitting and fidgeting like everyone else at this gate. It's one of those where you don't get right on the plane, but instead pile into a bus and drive to the far end of the airport where the Thai Airways planes to Myanmar are parked. The duration of the flight is only 50 minutes, but the cultural change will be notable as we travel back in time about 50 years to Yangon.


Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon, Room 533 (9:42 PM)

Made it to Yangon. The flight was full, which was surprising, and our bags were absolutely the last ones to come out on carousel (always disconcerting). The chaos of the Yangon airport was a refreshing change from Hong Kong and Bangkok. Everything looks about 15 years old and a bit shabby, a mass of humanity shouting and grabbing bags, all of the signage is in a script that is completely unintelligible, and that warm, moist tropical air.  No air-conditioned airport for Myanmar. No English, either.

The Summit Parkview Hotel doesn't have the tasteful, understated elegance of the Sakura Residence where we have previously stayed in Yangon, but the hotel is totally adequate and seems more local. The lights in the restaurant are not dimmed to provide atmosphere, but are on high and the pop music from the bar next door is blaring. This is what I am more accustomed to anyway in my travels, and it feels very familiar and comfortable. My solar panel made it through three plane changes in the duffle bag unscathed. The local WCS folks will come pick us up at 8:30 tomorrow morning


January 05, 2005

Hong Kong airport

Made it to Hong Kong, and now I'm in that "international flight, cramped for 15 hours, stay up all night, thrashed" mode.  Hong Kong airport is new and quite spacious, airy, and nicely designed. I bought a bottle of water and ate a handful of pills. I'm also thinking about eating that Clif Bar that I packed (thx, Elysa). Only language heard at this point is Chinese, although the sales people speak some English. We should be boarding in about half an hour if all goes well.