Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Baby brother pagoda

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As I mentioned before, there’s no shortage of pagodas and monasteries in Yangon. This neighbourhood pagoda was the other side of my hotel from the monastery featured in my previous post. In the first and last pictures in this set, you can just about make out Shwedagon Paya on the city skyline, looking down on its baby brother.

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In the street just outside, there’s a row of small workshops where craftsmen make and sell miniature Buddha replicas covered in gold leaf.

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Green and red

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You don’t have to go very far to find a Buddhist site of one kind or another in Yangon. While the iconic Shwedagon Paya looks down on the city from its hilltop, at street level there are countless pagodas, monasteries and shrines in various sizes and states of repair. This slightly ramshackle monastery was just across the street from my hotel, and if I was better at keeping notes while I travel, I’d be able to tell you its name.

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Nostalgia and sloth

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Even though my autumn trip to Myanmar wasn’t that long ago, I’m already feeling a little nostalgic about it, perhaps because the weather here in Hanoi has turned cold and wet, perhaps because I’ve barely picked up my camera since I got back. It’s a familiar pattern for me: I go away on a trip, take loads of pictures, then come home and spend so much time sorting and editing that I neglect to take any new pictures, thus losing all the momentum that I built up while I was away. I’m a simple man, and my tiny brain can only cope with one project at a time, it would seem. I know that some photographers always have a camera with them, and are constantly shooting, but it’s never really been that way for me. I tend to have periods of activity, followed by periods of, for want of a better word, sloth. This used to bother me a lot more than it does now. I may not be taking any new photographs at the moment, but I still have more from the Myanmar trip to go through, and I know that, sooner or later, the urge to do something new will take hold again.

In the meantime, here are a few more from Shan state in northern Myanmar, taken in Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw in November last year.

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Oooh, Pyin Oo Lwin

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Pyin Oo Lwin, a couple of hours from Mandalay and at the edge of the Shan Plateau, has a little bit of everything I like about Myanmar. The mixture of cultures and influences – Burmese, Shan, Chinese, Indian, British – can be seen in the people, food and architecture, while its cooler climate and slightly quirky atmosphere reminded me a little of Dalat in Vietnam.

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pyin-oo-lwin-up

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The Devil of Mandalay and other pictures

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I don’t have many regrets about my autumn trip to Myanmar, but I do wish that I’d spent a little more time in Mandalay. The pictures here are some of my favourites from the trip, but there are too many others, not shown here, where I just didn’t quite capture the mood. Still, at least it gives me an excuse to go back another time.

This will be my last post of the year, so I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone following the site. I know I’m not very good at replying to comments, but that doesn’t mean they go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you, and happy new year, everybody.

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The Devil of Mandalay

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Betel

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Chewing betelnut (actually a combination of betel leaves and areca nut, Wikipedia tells me) is a major part of the culture in Myanmar. Betel provides a mild stimulant, but also stains the chewer’s teeth red and is a major cause of cancer. This series of pictures from Mandalay shows the areca nuts being sliced and sorted; the betel leaves being arranged in baskets for sale at the market; a street stand selling parcels of nuts and leaves; and a betel smile.

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The Nay Pyi Taw Experience

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There’s a huge amount of beauty in Myanmar, but very little of it is to be found in Nay Pyi Taw, the newly-built capital city. The military regime decided early this century that the country needed a new, modern capital, and so set about building one from scratch in the middle of nowhere, at roughly the halfway point between the former capitals of Yangon and Mandalay (I have a mental image of a general sticking a pin in a map and saying, with a shrug, “yep, that’ll do.”). Government ministries and military headquarters were duly moved from Yangon to the new city about ten years ago, while pretty much everyone else stayed put, resulting in a sprawling, desolate, uniquely charmless and oddly fascinating capital, made up of traffic-free multi-lane highways and largely deserted open spaces. It feels like a city designed by a committee of people who have never lived in, or even been to, a city. In fact, it barely feels like a city at all. It’s more like someone tied a motorway in knots and randomly scattered some buildings about.

I spent a couple of days in Nay Pyi Taw at the beginning of November, scooting around on a rented motorbike in blazing sunshine, looking for something interesting to photograph. I wouldn’t say it was the highlight of my trip to Myanmar, but I can honestly say that it’s quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited and, while I never want to go there again, I’m glad I had my Nay Pyi Taw experience.

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Uppatasanti Paya, the only Buddhist pagoda to appear austere and unwelcoming

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Myoma, south-east Asia’s most boring market

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Twenty lanes, two vehicles

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Entrance to the Ministry of Something

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Just a few years ago, this was farmland, and much of Nay Pyi Taw’s vast open space still feels rural, as farmers do their best to ignore the city that is being built around them

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See the sights of Nay Pyi Taw – don’t miss the State Guest House or the Government Office

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It’ll be nice when it’s finished

Dusk to dawn at the Golden Rock

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The gold-covered, gravity-defying boulder at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo is an important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, and an increasingly recognisable image of Myanmar. I spent an evening and a morning there, watching the colours change as the sun set and rose.

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Pilgrims attach gold leaf to the rock’s surface

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4.45pm. Blue and gold

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Offerings

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5.30pm. The last light of day

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Pilgrims light candles. Many of these visitors will stay all night

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6.00pm. As the sunlight fades, the rock is flood-lit from behind and below

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5.15am. The dark before the dawn

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5.45am. Sunrise

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Monks ask for alms in front of a mini Golden Rock

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