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4-8 March 2013. I begin this post by referring back to the previous one in which I wrote about the formation of the crop garden beds in Inle Lake. This photo shows a boat “loaded to the gunnels” with the grass-like weed that grows naturally in the lake and is used as the basis of the floating beds. In the background you can see plenty of water hyacinth that is also used as part of the mass that goes to make up the islands. Water hyacinth is an invasive, non-native plant, but at least they have found a use for it.

We had our heads buzzed in Nyaung Shwe. It was time. About every six weeks we find a barber and have a number two buzz cut. For the uninitiated the number refers to the attachment on the buzzer that determines the length.

It all began in India in February of 2012. Don had always had short neat hair, (well once he got over the longer hair and moustache trend of the 70’s). I’d had various hairstyles over the years but mostly short and styled. We’d been living in the dusty town of Tiruvannamalai, in south India, principally known for Ramana Marharshi’s ashram and the sacred Mount Arunachala. It was hot. I hated my hair. I’d previously had it dyed and the dye had washed out leaving that horrible brassy colour. We decided to get buzz cuts. A tiny hole in the wall barbershop near the ashram. At least it wasn’t just out on the street as many barbershops are in India. The filthiest comb I have ever seen. He combed my hair then buzzed my head. Then swept my head, shoulders and face with the roughest and filthiest hand floor brush I have ever seen. Despite the eeeeeeewww factor I was delirious with joy. Freedom! For seventy-five rupees! ($1.30) Don was next, then we both raced home and furiously washed our heads and faces with dandruff shampoo hoping it would have some antiseptic qualities. The picture on our gravatar was taken by my sister Suzanne that same day.

Since that first time, we’ve had our heads buzzed in many countries but nothing stands out like the first time in India. And now Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. Another hole in the wall barbershop. Another filthy comb, only this time he didn’t have the right attachment for the buzzer but convinced us the thickness of the comb would be the same as a number two. This was certainly the most uneven cut we’ve had. And he shaved my face to make my sideburns all straight and even like a man’s! I was horrified. Then shrugged. Nothing to be done. Hair grows.

We’ve been buzzed again here in Mexico in the small town of Melaque. The hairdresser called it the no-ego cut.

This photo is of Don in the barbershop in Tiruvannamalai. The floor brush used to sweep our faces is red and once-white and is sitting on the counter behind Don’s sunglasses. I have a photo of him having his hair buzzed in Nyaung Shwe but it’s most unflattering so he wouldn’t let me publish it 🙂

After a very early morning visit to the huge market in Nyaung Shwe we travelled a long way down the lake, and then a long way down a canal to the end, to another of the five Inle Lake rotating markets. Even though it was still early there were already dozens of boats there. These markets are huge, and big business. Farmers come from all around to sell their produce, middle men come to buy in bulk to transport it all over Burma, and families come to do their regular household shopping. Crowded and colourful, the sense of community is strong. Everyone has a purpose, everyone is busy. It’s business and it’s fun. For teenagers I think it’s the equivalent of going to the mall. Only better.

Don’s photo

This shows a small portion of the boats parked at the market. Somehow we managed to find our boat when we were ready to leave.

Delivering a crop to be transported to Nyaung Shwe and then to other outlets. Don’s photo.

Going home after the market

On the way back from the market we stopped at the “jumping cat” monastery. Its name is Nga Hpe Chaung and it was built in the 1850’s on teak columns in the middle of the lake. It is a handsome building housing many beautiful Buddhist artifacts, quite a few monks, and a bunch of cats. A while back the head abbot and some of the monks trained several of the cats to jump through hoops on demand. There are differing stories as to why it stopped. Apparently the trained cats have now died, as has that head abbot. Either his replacement didn’t think training cats was a suitable pastime for monks, or a tourist complained to the abbot that it was not a suitable pastime for monks. Hmmmmm. What would it take to train a cat? I know! I’ve got it. It would take patience, attention, focus, kindness, concentration, perseverance, time-out-of-time, and above all presence. Oh and what are the qualities required for meditation? I think they would be patience, attention, focus, kindness, concentration, perseverance, time-no-time, and above all, presence. Don’s word for the new abbot, or the tourist, or whoever it was, is officious. I like my word better – stupididiot. I have nothing more to say about the matter 🙂

Some photos from Don

And back in Nyaung Shwe

I had thought this would be my last post about Burma, but not. There’s so much to cover, so one more final post to come: a ten hour hike in the hills around Inle Lake including a brief visit to a Pa-O wedding, and some final thoughts about our time in this extraordinary country.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.