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Synagogues and art

Another day in Yangon

sunny 30 °C

We had seen most of our big sights the previous day. There was still a synagogue, art gallery, food and some book stores to enjoy. Being too tuckered out to order a Myanmar breakfast last night, we were stuck with the standard western breakfast which was good but bland in comparison.

We set off walking down Anawratha to 26th Street. More businesses were open down here during the day. We glimpsed an abandoned military building where once imposing fences topped with barbed wire were being torn down and the sidewalks widened. It appeared they no longer wanted to appear so uninviting. The sidewalks had improved substantially since my previous visit. Less broken concrete and less walking on the road for us.

We passed through a market, ripe with the scent of fresh and too often in this heat, not so fresh, meat and fish. The trucks and vendors made the streets virtually impassible without stepping on tomatoes, leafy vegetables or roasted nuts. Eventually after waiting in a few alternating cues of two-way foot traffic confined to a narrow stretch, we passed the potent market and found the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue down 26th street.

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When Burma was more open under British rule, many Jewish people lived and worked in Rangoon (known today as Yangon). They were very involved in the community through projects, business and helpful initiatives. As Myanmar closed up and with the invasion of the Japanese during the Second World War, business became more nationalized and much harder for the Jewish community to earn a living. The synagogue crowd lessened more and more.

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Today, they run occasional services for just under a dozen people and visitors. The owner, Moses Samuels (who since our visit has passed away and is now under the care of his son), came around to speak with us through a voice box. His son had written a lot of the information on the Jews of Burma featured on the notice board for us to enjoy. The structure of the building, built in 1893 was still in use. It had two stories with many benches and white and red curtains with gold menorahs and writing embroidered on them.

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We continued to 37th street (after checking the charitable restaurant one more time that seemed determined never to open, pity) to find the book stores and art gallery. We browsed through Bagan Book House which had an English section on Myanmar and Burmese culture along with their regular Burmese language selections. After some time and contemplation, I bought Myanmar Short Stories, translated by Ma Thanegi for about 7000 kyat ($7).

The Lokanat Art Gallery was housed in an early 20th century building at the end of the street. To get to the second floor, we took some questionable wooden stairs, hopefully a little less ancient than the building.

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It was quite large and the gallery took up a small portion of it. It held painted scenes of famous places in Myanmar, portraits and more abstract paintings in warm or cool colours. An artist was in house painting hats hung from the walk and explaining it to another Burmese man.

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We passed a few book markets on the street with mainly Burmese books and a few very rough looking English books that I suspected might have been passed around secretly for a few decades before the country opened back up to outside influences. It made me want to load up a bag full of books from Canada and bring them over for people to read.

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After buying a pomelo from a street vendor, we walked back to Lucky 7 for lunch. Bit heavy to carry around the fruit, but we missed them from China. To create the Lucky 7 teahouse, the sidewalk turned into a covered courtyard complete with a fountain. We both ordered puri dishes. Ryan's dish came with chicken curry and mine with potato. The puri was a thin, fried balloon-like Indian bread meant for dipping in the curry. It was tasty and filling, though Ryan found the potato to be the winner curry. The waiters all had t-shirts and shorts with 'lucky' followed by different numbers.

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The afternoon was relaxing and we only ventured out to find closed restaurants, so we ate at Motherland 2 again. Ryan had a tasty lemon chicken and I had less tasty veggie noodles. Not much food luck in Yangon so far for vegetarians. We packed up our bags so we could bus to Golden Rock early the following day. Sadly, no Myanmar breakfast available at those hours, but they'd give us the regular one.

So long Yangon.

Posted by Sarah.M 20:21 Archived in Myanmar Tagged art gallery yangon myanmar synagogue musmeah yeshua lokanat lucky7 Comments (0)

Pha Taem National Park

Waterfalls and rock art

Traffic was pretty light this morning around eight. Filling the bike us with fuel cost us a whopping 60 baht ($2) so we could understand the appeal of driving these vehicles. We followed the main road/highway that we'd come in on until the 2112, and took that until the National Park entrance. Admission was 100 baht each for the day.

Sao Chaliang came up first which were giant rock pillars that had eroded to look like mushrooms. It was almost like being back in the badlands with the desert-like vegetation and impressive coloured rocks.

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A bit of a walk up was a rock plateau with a significant crack/gap. It would have been quite the drop if we got caught in there. A viewpoint showed off the plains of the park and the visitor's centre. We went back down to see the mushroom rocks a bit closer once the crowds had dissipated a bit.

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The visitor's centre, with an extremely rocky parking lot, was at the end of the road. We jumped off the bike to figure out which way to go to reach the walks to the historic rock art. The route to the cave paintings was not really clearly marked, but after following the crowds we got on the right track.

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The path led us to impressive cliffs even without the cave paintings. They were quite tall and stood by the nearby Mekong river. Opposite the water was Laos, so we'd come pretty far East. After a bit of walking, we discovered our first cave paintings which depicted people and animals. The people had triangular heads and almost reminded us of aliens. The animals ranged from a whale to turtles and fish. The paintings were red in colour and according to the signs were 3,000 to 4,000 years old. There were some paintings of hands as well.

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The next cliff had criss-crossed line paintings under one of the ledges which was a bamboo fish trap called 'blister'. The paintings were done at a significant height when the water levels must have been higher. They were part of the death rituals although there wasn't much further information to indicate why or how.

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Our walk back took us along the riverside where they'd filmed part of the movie Alexander from the cliff tops. We stopped off at the restaurant across from the visitor's centre for lunch and had some fried rice that was alright.

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Ryan navigated the tricky parking lot exit on the bike. The drive to Soi Sawan waterfall was thankfully smoother, 20 kilometres or so which took longer on a slower scooter. It was nice to have the wind against us to cool off.

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There was a small walk to the falls. The trek down was not so bad but heading back up would be a challenge. There was a small thin stream running from the top of a rocky peak. Holes had been eroded in the rock floor at the bottom and were filled with water. Kids had fun splashing in the puddles. It was dry season but some water trickled down the falls.

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To the side of one of the falls was a giant rock valley. From the smoothness of the rocks it, was pretty clear these would be another falls during wet season. We climbed around on the rocks to get some fun photos. The valley was so large we felt like ants.

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There was a mini falls closer to the higher one where a river drained out the water. People were rock jumping and swimming. It would have been fun to have a bathing suit.

After the walk to the top, we decided to check out the wildflower fields. A hot, sunny walk revealed that they were sparse at best. We turned around a few kilometres in only to find that the cliffs we sought were in that direction too. We didn't have the energy to retrace those steps so we hopped back on the bike.

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Next was Saeng Chan waterfall, another half hour or so away. It was easy enough to walk there from the parking lot, just a short flight of stairs. A decent amount of water ran from the stream up top. There was a small calm pool surrounded by vegetation at the bottom of the falls. Aside from the occasional shout or scream, it was quite serene. As we got closer, we could see the crescent or heart shaped hole formed by the erosion of the falls.

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We went up to the falls, then behind them to climb up the cave area steps to the stream which fed the top of the falls. It was neat to see the hole and the drop but signs warned us not to get too close. Ryan joked one of us should jump to the bottom and meet the other there.

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We drove back after one more visit to the bottom of the falls. Since we were fighting the clock and still needed gas, our pace was quicker than before. There was a gas station just before the main road and it only cost us 65 baht ($2.15) to fill up the tank. The hour plus drive began after that. Except for us trying to return the bike for 5:20, Ryan was really enjoyed the drive. I was just trying to sit without my legs going numb or tipping the thing over.

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The bike made it back with fifteen minutes to spare. We rented it for another day then rode off to Two Colour River just down the street. This was where the Mekong and Moon rivers colours were meant to converge. The light from the setting sun obscured the colour a bit, but the sunset was beautiful too. Some visiting Thai travellers showed us Laos on the other side and asked us how our trip was going.

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We had supper at a restaurant on the river and ordered a big fried rice, mixed veggie dish and Ryan had some fried chicken. It hit the spot and we enjoyed the bright gazebo decorations.

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Posted by Sarah.M 19:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged art park colour thailand river waterfall national rock chan sao two pha taem chaliang saeng Comments (0)

Art and Airplanes in Beijing

sunny -4 °C

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On Saturday, we headed to the National Art Museum. It met my friend's two specifications: indoors and not far from the apartment. We only had to walk ten minutes and it was free to boot if you brought your passport/local ID card. The museum turned out to be quite busy. It featured modern art, sometimes using bold, bright colours, abstract style or portraits of local people. There was a neat red chair sculpture with wooden antlers that my friend wanted for her apartment.

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The next sections featured jade carvings from Chen Lizhong. Some were large pieces and extremely detailed. Others were tiny with the same amount of detail, so small we had no idea how they managed it. Maybe with trained mice. Birds with various beak lengths and lotus leaves on the brink of death were the themes of one artist's collection.

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http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141030_283264.htm

Next, we went upstairs to check out a photography exhibit which featured photographers from all over the world, but a fair chunk from the US. They were part of the Straight Photography movement from 1839-2014. The exhibit featured photographers like Ansel Adams, Kim Weston and many others from similar photography groups. Many had collaborated in the past. Some shots had double exposures to juxtapose different images and others employed Photoshop-like techniques that had inspired the software. The macro flower photography was one of my favourites.

http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141030_283259.htm

On the top floor, a Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, was featured along with his many paintings with a theme of rebuilding the country. It also featured his portraits and large murals. Since it was the weekend, many children were there taking art classes as they sketched away the scenes in Rivera's murals, typically the non-nude ones.

http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141011_283047.htm

We went back down to the first floor to see the exhibits we missed. One Chinese artist, Liu Yunsheng, did portraits of people from Yunnan and Tibet provinces so realistically they looked like photographs. He did very well with expressive eyes and capturing lighting.

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http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201411/t20141104_283469.htm

For supper, we were pretty starved considering we hardly did breakfast and lunch was a piece of chocolate cake for me, strudel for Ryan and coffee for my friend. The restaurant my friend wanted us to visit didn't open until 5:30 so we found Grandma's Kitchen instead. We sat inside the cozy backpacker joint with a Western themed menu as Christmas music played in the background. The most important part was that it was warm. The food was just alright, but we stayed mainly to enjoy the atmosphere and company.

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Sunday, Ryan and I made our way to the aviation museum bright and early. We rode the subway until the end of line 5 then caught the 643 bus. We even got seats! A couple on the bus chatted with Ryan to help him find our stop and to ask about our trip. They told us we were very brave to get on a bus and not really know where we were going. I wasn't sure if it was bravery, cheapness, the anticipation that there would be friendly, helpful locals to point us in the right direction or a combination of the three that motivated us.

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The walk there was a bit long through a flat open field with harsh winter winds penetrating our fall jackets. Half the exhibits were outdoors. Joy. The first collection had many Soviet designed Chinese MIG fighter jets and other aircraft mostly from the Korean war era. They also had Soviet copies of the American built DC-3's along with a few dozen tail dragger Chinese YAKs and a few rarer tri-gears. It was even possible to sit in the cockpit of a retired MIG or enter the Chairman Mao's personal aircraft, for a fee of course. Surprisingly, you could get as close as you wanted to all of the planes in the outdoor displays.

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After making our way through all of the MIGS outside, we decided to warm up and check out the one of the indoor displays. During the Cold War era, the Chinese had built a large bunker beneath Datangshan mountain to protect their aircraft from enemy bombing raids. Since the airfield was no longer in use, it was turned into part of the museum.

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Inside the very long bunker were aircraft from all over the world and different time periods. Including some aircraft on loan from sharing agreements with other countries. They also had some rotary-wing aircraft including the impressively large Russian Hind-D, a rough looking Chinook and a few old Hueys. They had some World War 2 British trainers and even a DHC-2 Beaver. China's first own designed production aircraft was also on display.

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While viewing a few more MIGS, it was interesting to read descriptions of the Chinese perspective of the Korean war. Their collection featured MIGS that had shot down American-Allied aircraft and were quite proud of their own fighter ace pilots. After seeing most of the aircraft on display, we walked through a few exhibits that were all Chinese with no English translations.

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Entering back into the cold, we made our way to the far end of the outdoor displays and quickly looked at the artillery and old radar/communication sections. Many of the larger aircraft were located at the end as well including a ORBIS flying hospital and an amphibious plane sitting in pond. There was a bomber and some passenger planes as well. With the cold nipping at our cheeks, we decided against touring the larger museum and caught the bus and subway back into Beijing.

My friend had a work supper event so we decided to revisit the hutongs for some Greek food. Again it was pricy but Ryan would have probably given a newborn child for a gyro. His didn't come as expected as the pita was more like a base and the meat built atop like a cheeseless Greek pizza, but he still enjoyed it. My veggie moussaka was tasty but Winnipeg's wide selection of amazing Greek restaurants had spoiled me and made the dish hard to live up to its Canadian counterpart. Ryan's also convinced we needed to visit Greece in our lifetime as he stared at all the photos on the walls.

Posted by Sarah.M 03:49 Archived in China Tagged art china museum national photography mig aviation bomber Comments (0)

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