The city of joy is how the locals repeatedly referred to their hometown as I was chatted up by friendly Kolkatans. Some refer to it as the city of firsts, for pioneering a number of achievements in India, or a city of palaces, for its wealth of architectural beauty. Kipling described it as a “city of dreadful night”, “magnificent”, “the many sided”. I can’t remember visiting a city with so much characterization attached to its name. Kolkata is probably all those things to different people.
During the day, its streets are filled with constant hustle and bustle, smells and car roars continuously compete for attention – often against the backdrop of architectural awe, creating a scene rarely replicated elsewhere. Buildings too, compete for attention. While some are nursed to withstand the perils of the city’s humid climate, others – full of history and culture – stand crumbling, waiting for better days. Some streets provide a moment’s rest before spitting you back out. Amidst chaos and the high-paced environment people always found ways to gracefully slow down, eager to strike a conversation – tell a story about a neighbourhood, their job, a cultural event, and of course, no conversation is complete without a mention of cricket. If couple of days is anything to judge by, Kolkata is all those things they call it.
Earlier this week I went on a work trip eastward to Kayin (Karen) State. A significant chunk of it was spent in a car, about 6 hours each way. Apart from being reminded of how big and diverse Myanmar is, traveling on land is also a good reminder of how dangerous roads can be. Myanmar is the only country I can think of where the majority of cars are right-hand drive (steering wheel on the right) driving in a right-hand traffic. So whenever someone attempts a takeover on a 2 lane highway, it isn’t really supported by the driver’s view of the oncoming traffic.
The drive nonetheless was scenic in parts, especially as we got closer to the capital Hpa-An. It’s surrounded by grandiose tall beautifully shaped mountains. We were crossing a bridge during sunset on the approach to the city when a view opened up with great colors and mountains stretching across the river. People weren’t allowed on the bridge, however, so I had to shoot out of a moving vehicle, across the seat through a window with the camera aimed in between window stickers and bridge support columns. To my own surprise a decently framed shot showed on my camera screen as I looked down expecting a picture of a blurry metal columns. Next time I hope for more time on foot.
Last week celebrations were on for the Thadingyut Festival (သီတင်းကျွတ်ပွဲတော်). It’s a Burmese Lighting Festival that takes place on the full moon of the Burmese Lunar month of Thadingyut. Celebrations are spread over a number of days with a downtown street blocked off from traffic and absorbed by a wave of people every evening. Vendors pay for a spot to set up shop offering all sorts of goods and services; from tattoos to underwear sale to a bucket of insects to munch on just a stall over.
I unfortunately, didn’t have much time out with my camera and would have to limit this post to a few random shots of some of the street vendors hard at work.
It’s been so long since my last post I almost forgot this website is still up and running. There’s been plenty of material to post, though unfortunately not as much in motivation or discipline to do so. As I’m starting a new adventure all of the mentioned should be in large supply.
I took this photo on an old train line that wraps around the city of Yangon. The train travels at a leisurely pace, not in any rush to get anywhere fast. That doesn’t seem to bother the passengers who are all smiles, and some even peak out the window for a light breeze.
First of all, thank you to those who shared my previous posts on Bolivia as it did bring some new visitors to the site. I’m always happy to share photos with more people 🙂 For now I’ll take a little pause from Bolivia (I will get back to it with more). This one is from northern Chile. An alternative title to this could be “the dumb luck”. I arrived late to Antofagasta without a particular plan. The city wasn’t of particular interest to me and I wasn’t in the most energetic state to look for a bed in the middle of the night. Instead I went to the bus terminal to see what’s out there at night that goes along the coast. The bus to Arica presented itself with perfect timing.
Shortly upon arrival I overheard that there is a surfing championship taking place. I’ve rushed towards the southern part of the city to la península del Alacrán(or isla del Alacrán) where the better surfers ride the waves. I’ve only managed to catch the preliminaries of the event, which were still massively entertaining. Even more so given that none of this was planned and I stumbled upon all the fun thanks to some dumb luck.
My exposure to surfing doesn’t go beyond the occasional trips to gorgeous Tofino in British Columbia. Generally speaking, I don’t have a lot of experience with board sports beyond snowboarding. Looking at surfing with that reference point makes it an interestingly unique sport. What I find special is the dynamism and the fundamental need to respond to your environment. Mountains do vary and the conditions do change from day to day, from hour to hour. While it takes a lot of experience to be able to read the mountain and keep safe, the response to your environment is not as dynamic. Sure every part of the mountain presents a different obstacle and that’s part of the charm but in the moment the mountain is static (unless you get hit by an avalanche or something). This is not to say snowboarding isn’t dynamic (that would be wrong to say), different dynamism would maybe be a fairer description. Both sports present a rousing combination of patience and energy. Trying to read a wave is a challenge for me, it dictates the setting and prompts you to respond that very moment. It may not mean much coming from me, given how bad of a surfer I am. And surely reading waves becomes second nature to those who practice but I imagine the thrill of responding to them would still remain for many.
Watching the pros in real life has turned out to be a special experience. It’s an addicting environment and even in these cold rocky waters it’s easy to see how one can get sucked into this lifestyle. Waves in this particular spot break onto rocks which keeps beginners out of the waters. I thought they were large enough to keep a saneperson out. A week later towards the middle of the country I’ve met a guy from Arica. I showed him these photos and he partially unimpressed by the size of the waves replied that these aren’t all that special; that at times things get even more violent. He mentioned an incident a few years back when a brazilian surfer got sucked onto these rocks and seriously injured his head.
P.S. To end on a positive, I’ve come across this visually stunning surfing video that might be fitting with the post.
I love strolling around markets! Partly because I find them interesting as an economist and maybe partly because as a kid I’ve been constantly dragged to bazaars and various food markets all over my hometown. I’ve been lucky enough to wander around markets in many parts of the world. A big general market and a sunday animal market in Kashgar come to mind as something special. But they’re definitely not my favourites. The so called black market in Ulan Bator, small food markets in Bosnia and Croatia, various markets around Mexico are all a lot of fun. What differentiates them is not only what is being traded but of course the people who trade. I’m not the most chatty person and am often on a quiet side but depending on my mood and a place I do feel the need to integrate beyond the basics. I speak at least one language from each of the latin, slavic and turkic language families which allows for at least very basic communication with the locals. It’s amazing how far can basic knowledge of a language go and how similar two languages can be. For example, to my own amazement my crappy command of turkish was enough to hold an insightful conversation with a local music teacher in a shack in Kashgar (Uyghurs speak a turkic language). Though sometimes my rehearsed phrases in Croatia got me in trouble and made me appear more fluent than I actually am, so pretty quickly I couldn’t keep up with chatty locals.
These photos are from a market in La Paz, or El alto to be more precise. It’s the highest market I’ve ever been to at 4100 metres above sea level. It’s no doubt the market with the best view and sometimes that on its own was enough to consume all of my attention (maybe it’s also the lack of oxygen). It’s unbelievable what you could find that high in the mountains, from korean music to chips for your motherboard to Chevy camaros. Some things are legit, some are stolen and of course if you look in the right places you can find a bunch of illegal things too (I’ll let your imagination play here). The amount of things being traded is overwhelming, it’s Adam Smith’s invisible hand at play, and a free market advocates’ playground with no government intervention, regulations or taxes. Except it’s not … because It’s Bolivia. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with some of the most intelligent people in Bolivia (probably the most educated). They’ve interestingly pointed out that where the government is weak the civil society is pretty strong. So in a way it is a free market with Adam Smith’s invisible hand but (not so free after all) with Marxist defence of a class. Who gets into these markets is not always straight forward. The entrance of bigger electronic firms like Sony is a good example where they couldn’t just come and open shop, civil society had a say in it collectively as to what the terms would be and who is allowed to sell.
If you think about it even for a little bit it’s pretty amazing. This community organization doesn’t stop with economics. Though there is a country level judicial system a lot of judgement is passed without government involvement. What constitutes a crime, who and how is a person punished is decided by a community. I’ve heard of a story where a female foreign worker in a community was harassed by one of its members. It was decided to tie him to a tree and let insects have their way, I’ll let your imagination go wild again ! Passing through one other community there was a sign that said “The thief will be found and burnt as punishment”. Whether this was the “official” community announcement or unfounded threat I don’t know, but either way the organizational power and strength of civil society in Bolivia is truly incredible. If you factor in the cultural diversity (there are around 35 indigenous languages) it becomes a significant challenge to understand … but oh so interesting.