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Bilu Kyun, Ogre Island

sunny 34 °C

We walked over to Breeze Guesthouse to see if there'd be any breakfast served before the tour. They sent us off to the familiar grandmother, grandfather restaurant for the same thing we'd had yesterday. At least my stomach was familiar with what we were eating. After that, we waited at Breeze for awhile to get on the tour, although I had to run back to the restaurant to get the hat that I'd forgotten. Nine of us, including our guide Mr. Kyi, got in the tuktuk to the pier. It was a bit of a drive to reach it.

The boat heading to Bilu Kyun, also known as Ogre Island, had motorcycles stored in the seating undercarriage. We crawled over the top and into the back section. As we chatted with a woman from Australia, the boat fumes drifted over to make it a less pleasant trip. She'd been travelling with two French guys that she'd met and lived with in London. She shared some tips on minimum wage, buying cars and working in Australia, claiming we could get normal jobs and do more than just farm work to earn money. She wasn't super keen on this tour so far.


We got off the boat and into another tuktuk. We stopped near the rice fields to get pictures. Mr. Kyi shared that Ogre Island used to be populated by cannibals until the Mon people came and got rid of them. Now it was mainly farmers and some handcrafters that resided here.


There was loud music playing from a home and our tuktuk slowed right down. Mr. Kyi told us to go upstairs and we sat on the floor with the other villagers. Soon they brought us snacks like tea leaf salad, sticky rice cubes, and tea to celebrate the family's new novice monk. He had gone off to the monastery that morning.


Our guide soon called us downstairs for a table full of food that I could only describe as a vegetarian nightmare. Bowl after bowl of chicken, fish, and pork curries made their rounds. One dish looked like vegetables, but that was only because the meat was very fine and it clung to everything. I ate rice wishing I had eaten a bit more upstairs. I had thought a celebration for a monk would have less meat, but that was a wrong assumption. That ten a.m. meal probably counted as our included lunch, cutting costs wherever possible.


The house was decorated with a large tent and lines of heart-shaped balloons. They even hired a videographer who came to film us too. The money invested explained the meat, always a sign of wealth. We didn't stay too long.


Next we stopped to see a woman sewing together pieces of stretched bamboo to make hats. The women's hat had a wider brim like rice hats while the men's hats were smaller like a helmet. I tried one on but I wasn't feeling so great.


We took a long walk to a quarry to find a small swimming pool they had created. Some of us dunked our legs in but no one swam. It was also near a mine site where the workers would earn only around $20 for the rock they mined in one day. I assumed that wage would be split between them too. I tried to enjoy the stillness in the shade while it lasted. Today was quite hot.


The tuktuk brought us to a pipe factory where men sanded and made holes in small pipes meant to hold cigarettes. We watched them us tools to chip, shape and sand the wood that spun from a belt powered device. We were shepherded upstairs for a product display from pens to hairclips, massage and pipes, all made of wood. We had some fun trying out the not so obvious massage tools. A Korean woman who owned a restaurant in Northern India bought quite a bit as did a couple other guys on the tour. They gave us tea and coconut crisp snacks.


We could smell the next item on our itinerary before it came into view: the rubber band factory. Outside, bright pink and yellow rubber stretched over cylindrical rods was drying in the sun. We went inside the garage shop and saw the white rubber in liquid form in a large barrel. One of the workers poured in yellow dye. Another dunked the sets of wooden cylinders into the colourful rubber barrels.


To the side, two women had the dried tubes, now resembling sleeves, and were feeding them through a mechanical cutting machine. Small elastic bands came flying down to the colourful floor. They were shipped all over the country with the good ones getting sold at the market for 1000 kyat a pound. Not one worker wore a mask for the strong fumes, nor did they have protective footwear. I wondered how their health fared after working here.


With water and chemical, a man removed the dry sleeves of rubber from the cylinders. They would soon be sent off to the women to cut into bands. The factory also produced sheets of rubber that were used to make slippers or flipflops as we know them back home. Women out front sorted the good rubber bands from the broken.


On the way to our next destination, we passed a big wooden pipe statue. Fittingly, the next shop we visited was a pipe shop that also made walking sticks. One man told us how his father spent months working on the world's biggest pipe. There was also an Ogre pipe for sale where the smoke came out of its eyes.


We left shortly after too see a woman weave a rope out of old coconut skin. She'd wet the hairs, roll them into her hand, then twist them together, often adding more pieces.


Another ride took us to an area where people were cleaning up slate, sanding it then putting it into wooden frames, also sanded to perfection, so they could be used by school children. Most primary school students from years 1-3 used these to practise their writing. The slate pencil served as the writing utensil, a blast from the past.


Our last stop was a weaving area where women spun thread to make brightly coloured longyis often exported to Thailand. I bought a brightly coloured purple one for 5,000 kyat (about $5). The looms were all worked by hand and foot pedals with long bundles of thread wound and placed to create the pattern ahead of time.


On the boat ride back, we discovered some sexism in the seating arrangements. Only men were allowed on the top section, women either had to sit in the fumy back or underneath with the motorbikes. We chose the latter for cleaner air alongside some cute babies, women and a few men who hadn't gone upstairs.

For supper, we browsed a few menus where my vegetarian option was the omelette, a meal I couldn't bring myself to eat yet again. We went to the Cinderella Hotel for a fancy candlelit meal. I had tasty Malaysian fried noodles and Ryan had the Chicken Masala. The tables were bamboo and the courtyard was nice and relaxing. Finally, a tasty vegetarian meal.

Posted by Sarah.M 06:37 Archived in Myanmar Tagged weaving monk coconut pipe hats crafts celebration rope slate woodwork bilu_kyun ogre_island longyi

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