For the third time in Myanmar

From waste mountains, floods and lots of optimism

We had big plans for our third return to Myanmar! On our last visit, we have set clear goals about what we want to change in „our“ school Aung Oo Myae. But then, a little miracle happenend and Veronica got pregnant. Therefore, our goals and plans for the upcoming trip had to be adjusted a little bit.

However, it looked at the beginning as if we could not travel to Myanmar this time: The unusually heavy monsoon rains in early August caused floods nearly everywhere in the country and claimed many lives. „Is it not just stupid, to travel during pregnancy in a catastrophe area?“ How many times have we asked ourselves this question! After much deliberation and several consultations with the school, we have finally decided to travel to Mandalay, because fortunately, this region was not too much affected by the intense rains.

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Much has changed since our last not two visits in Aung Oo Myae: As always, we slept on the floor, showered us with the brown dirty river water and quickly adapted to the life in the monastery. The student numbers has increased once more compared to last year: About 2350 children attend Aung Oo Myae now – far too many fort he small school facilities! While we learned from the media that the Swiss teachers complained about the poor air quality in the domestic classrooms, we stood again in front of more than 80 children in hopelessly overcrowded, stuffy and far too narrow classrooms and tried to by all means to teach them some English. But the large numbers of students bring another huge problem: Endless mountains of waste! Unfortunately, people in Myanmar have become accustomed, to throw the trash just on the floor. The country sinks into a waste-chaos: In the lakes and rivers, there is probably in the meantime more plastic than water. On roads and fields, you litterally have to find your way through the garbage, and even behind monasteries or museums are endless mountains of waste… If the government will not solve this problem, soon Myanmar will perish in the waste.

landfill site in Myanmar

landfill site in Sagaing, Myanmar

„Every great journey begins with the first step.“ According to this motto we wanted to act, and at least make „our“ school to a clean place and develop a „waste awareness“ in the minds of our children (with the hope that they will continue to spread our idea). Health and education are our professions (and passions) – that’s why we wanted to start with a clean learning environment.

behind the school building

behind the school building

Our idea was well received by the principale and the teachers: After we had given detailed information about the proper handling of waste (core message: waste belongs in the trash bins and not on the ground) to all the 2350 children, we launched the biggest clean-up campaign which the school has ever seen.

information for all children

information for all children

And this with resounding success: Aung Oo Myae has become a really clean place! On the whole school grounds are now garbage bins – and they are being used now! We were even able to introduce the recycling of PET and aluminum – that is something we are particularly proud of! Whether and how long the euphoria will last is very difficult to predict. But the teachers and students promised to continue with our project and to keep the school clean. How great would that be!

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Especially enthusiastic about our idea was Aung Thu Phio, a young monk and teacher of Aung Myae Oo: He has invited us to the school in his native village, almost 3 hours away of Sagaing, to visit and the children there and teach them in the proper handling of waste. This trip, including the lectures to more than a thousand enthusiastic children and the visit to Aung Thu Phios family in a very remote area of Myanmar are among the big highlights of this Myanmar travel!

Lunch with friends of Aung Myae Oo and Aung Thun Phios family

Lunch with friends of Aung Myae Oo and Aung Thun Phios family

Teaching about garbage in Aung Thun Phios native village

Teaching about garbage in Aung Thun Phios native village

But we have also been acitve in other areas: For example, we have given all teachers a course in first aid for children, wer re-launched the school pharmacy, we taught English to children and teachers and diligently created all the necessary conditions that finally volunteers can sart teaching English in Aung Myae Oo school.

Veronica teaching first aid to the teachers

Veronica teaching first aid to the teachers

In addition to that, we have now officially established our „HEFT Foundation“ (Health & Education for Tomorrow „), which aims to support Aung Oo Myae sustainably in the future.

Yes, we are really proud of everything we have achieved in the past month. And we continue to be convinced to do the right thing!

Exhausted but happy, we have left Myanmar towards Thailand, to meet a friend in Bangkok and then travel back again together to Myanmar in early October. And what happens then? We have plans. But as a famous saying says: „If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans…!“ We will see. Stay tuned – we will inform soon on our website about it!

If you want a real insight into our daily work in Aung Oo Myae, we recommend you to read the next article further down on this page „An ordinary day in Aung Oo Myae“. Have fun!

See more fotos under the Menu: „Fotos Asien / Myanmar 3“

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An ordinary day in Aung Myae Oo

Diary for August 11, 2015

Like every morning we wake up at 5:30: Not through our alarm clock, but through the noise of several children who are learning somewhere near our accommodation loudly their schoolwork at heart. Almost shouting, they keep repeating chemical formulas, English vocabulary or mathematical laws – that’s how people in Myanmar do learn!

We use the „freshness of the morning“ and a walk between the countless monasteries of Sagaing Hill towards our favorite Pagoda. On the way, we meet lots of Buddhist monks of all ages who ask on their daily begging tour for food. Their day has already started long before ours.

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At 7 clock, the English lesson for teachers begins. Although their work starts only at 8:30, they came already at 7 clock voluntarily to school, to take advantage of our English lessons. There is probably no other work that is as rewarding as theaching these extremely motivated and ambitious teachers.

After a quick breakfast – we brought from Australia milk powder and muesli – we go back to school classes. This time we teach a class with about 80 children of primary school age a few English sentences in a stuffy and overcrowded classroom. Unfortunately, this lesson is more entertainment than real learning for the children – with such large classes and lack of teaching materials, it is impossible for us to hold proper lessons. Still, it’s fun – and maybe the children are just through these contacts encouraged to learn more English.

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We observe again and again how students sit in front of their classrooms or on the stairs and listen to the lessons, because they have no place indoors. It’s really hot – estimated 37 degrees. We ask ourselves, how ever children can so learn something under these circumstances!

From all classrooms, we hear children shout in chorus. Teaching in Myanmar means: The teacher speaks a something before, and the students repeat (scream!) exactly his words without thinking or questioning what was ever said. They are not encouraged to think for themselves or to critically question what they learn – apparently, not even in Universities.

At first, we have criticized this type of teaching – but if you criticize, you should also have a suggestion for improvement. And we did not. We really have no idea how to teach 80 children better under these circumstances …

It is at 11 clock. A small group of tourists is walking interested in the school grounds. We go up to them and inform them of the school and the life in the monastery. As always, they euphorically take pictures of the cheerful small monks and nuns, running around happily in the school grounds and welcoming tourists with flowers and a big grin. Will the tourists ever know what tragic fate this so happy acting children might have experienced?

We cook pasta (which we brought from Thailand) with tomato sauce for lunch: As Veronica is pregnant, we have to be extra careful with your diet. We have Nilar, a teacher colleague, invited for lunch. Today, she tries for the first time in her live pasta. In Myanmar, people usually eat rice three times a day.

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The heat in our room is just too much. We make a short siesta – work for us under these conditions is impossible. Actually, it is the rainy season, but we have not seen rain for days …

We hold talks with friends of the school to establish our HEFT Foundation. It needs a lot of time to build up the conditions and structures for it. Only for opening an international bank account, we had to visit a total of 8 banks and lead countless phone calls. But we are convinced that this work is definitely worth – only with our foundation, we will be truly able to give long-term support for our school.

In our room, we give young students English lessons. Two little nuns and a young girl are knocking on the door. They give us three fruits and glimpse repeatedly curious in our room. Except for „Hello how are you“, they can not speak any English. But their smile and grin it continuously. It is not their last visit this afternoon. Like every day at around 5pm, „Dong Dong“, our little monk-friend knocks on the door and gives Vero as a wreath of flowers.

At 7pm, after dinner, the English lessons for teachers start again. Most of them have taught all day, and some will have to return to their classes again after English and teach until 11pm (!). But that does not seem to bother them: Motivated and disciplined, they join the English lessons and are overjoyed and thankful that they are able to learn English with us. It is just amazing how committed these teachers are to their work and their school!

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By 9pm, the monk „Ponchi“, the headmaster, visits us. „Have you eaten yet?“ He greets us with a smile. We talk to him about the future plans of the school, our ideas and goals. These meetings with „Ponchi“ are very efficient. He is open and grateful for our proposals and viewpoints. We are confident to start with our Waste Management Project (with the aim to keep the school clean) soon (see article „For the third time in Myanmar.“)

It is 11pm. There sounds a familiar noise from the classroom near our accommodation. A teacher is still teaching his class. Incredible, how 12-year-old children at this time still can learn biology… Later, we go with the same noises that woke us up in the morning to sleep: Children and adolescents, who are screamingly repeating and learning by heart what they learnt during the day in the lessons. We already know that they will be awake the next morning long before us.

So much has happened that day ,so much were we allowed to experience, so many new things were we allowed to see and learn… and yet, it’s just a normal day for us at „our“ school Aung Oo Myae in Myanmar.

More fotos: See in the Menu „Fotos Asien / Myanmar 3“

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3 countries in 11 days

In Australia, we have set ourselves monuments by creating a beautiful mosaique and building the worlds most beautiful compost a tour friend’s Michelle home. After 6 beautiful weeks in Cairns, the time has come to leave the „red continent“.

Real Art: Veros Mosaik

Real Art: Veros Mosaik

Schön, einzigartig, praktisch... Wer möchte nicht so einen tollen Designer-Kompost in seinem Garten haben?

Schön, einzigartig, praktisch… Wer möchte nicht so einen tollen Designer-Kompost in seinem Garten haben?

In Singapore, we stepped for the first time in three months again on Asian soil. Singapore is probably the cleanest and best developed and arranged city in Southeast Asia. But that also has its reason: For even smallest law breaking, heavy fines must be paid: Throwing away a chewing gum on the street, eating in the metro or „public peeing“ in the city park can become very expensive when noticed by a police officer!

Beautiful architecture in Singapore

Beautiful architecture in Singapore

After 24 hours in Singapore, we continued our trip in direction Hong Kong, the second country within 11 days: Our aim was to celebrate Veronicas birthday with real Chinese food. This goal, however, we have missed, as we took a trip to the third country within 11 days on exactly that day: to Macau. This city-state in the south of China is mainly known for its countless casinos, which are said to earn more money than those of Las Vegas. Since Macau was under Portuguese administration until 1999, traces of this land are visible everywhere: There is, for example ,Portuguese food, bilingual street signs, and various Catholic churches.

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A truly exceptional city is Hong Kong! Since we spent most of our time there, we want to give you some personal impressions, facts and thoughts about this „country“. Have fun! (By the way, we got more than enough Chinese food in those 11 days. However, Veronica only did get 99% satisfied, because ….

– Hong Kong is not China. Who ever has been to China knows that Hong Kong (not only politically) has little in common with China. (So is the food: Only 99% Chinese! That explains Veros slight disappointment.)

– Hong Kong is the city that looks like a fog blanket during the day and shines like a sky full of cars during the day.

– In a big living house in Hong Kong live twice and three times as many people as in the village where I grew up.

– In a business center in Hong Kong work every day as many people as live in a small town in Switzerland.

– Hong Kong is the city where you can get something to eat at any time oft he day. Guaranteed!

– Hong Kong is one oft he few cities where football is not „king.“ (It is horse racing: The people here love gambling more than anything else!)

– Hong Kong is the city where eating ist he most important for ist population (followed by work and Horse Racing.)

– Hong Kong is the city, where you never should measure the quality of the restaurant by the cleanliness of the toilet (otherwise, one would starve, and on the other hand, one would miss a variety of delicious meals).

– Hong Kong is the city with the very finest and cleanest toilets. But only in the shopping centers. And not in the restaurants.

– Hong Kong is the city where business men after work leave the office and return by boat to their little house on a secluded, quiet, green island.

– Hong Kong is the city which at night often ist visited by feral boars (75% of the city are unsettled: there are huge forests, green areas … and accordingly boars.)

– Hong Kong city is only one side of the island. The other side is mostly green bushland.

– Hong Kong is the city with the most free campsites (in the green!)

– Hong Kong is the city with the most skyscrapers and the (by far !!!) smallest hotel rooms (our room – incl. bathroom – was approx 10 square meters).

– Hong Kong is the city where you can walk safely even in the middle of the night.

– Hong Kong is a city where pregnant women always get offered a seat in the subway.

– Hong Kong is the city where we never got bored. Not even after 9 days. And we would go back there any time!

– … and at least: Silvan and Vero are the two travelers who now go to sleep after a long day of traveling. All the best from Mandalay (Myanmar).

(more pictures under „Fotos Aisen“ / „Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore“

Hong Kong in the day...

Hong Kong in the day…

...and in the night

…and in the night

12 months on the road – 12 answers to 12 question

12 months – one year have we been traveling. And we are still not a bit tired! As a „special“ for our 12-month anniversary, we provide answers to 12 questions that might be of great interest for our „public. Have Fun!

  1. The most beautiful experience

Impossible to answer! It can simply not be put into words what we have experienced in 12 months traveling. To answer the question at least a bit: The warmth, generosity and hospitality that we have experienced again and again are probably the biggest and best part of our journey. No sight, no tourist attraction can keep up with that!

  1. The most beautiful travel destination

Each country has its charms, pros and cons. For Veronica, the most beautiful travel destination would be China with its diverse cuisines and unique culture.

Silvans favorite is India: This country offers live theater 24 hours a day. No other country is so diverse, magical, wierd and enchanting at the same time!

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  1. Our „secret tip

Russia! This country suffers – completely unjustified – for many Europeans a very bad reputation. You have to experience Russia itself, to experience the beauty of this land and the warmth of its people. The completely „starved“ and constantly drunken Russians in the „all-inclusive hotels“ in south Turkey unfortunately convey a completely false picture of this wonderful country.

St. Basil Church

St. Basil Church

  1. The most annoying moment 

We were taught by the Buddhists to annoy us as little as possible. But as a dog ate our two (!) Electric toothbrushes, our patience was really challanged!

  1. The greatest danger

Poisonous snakes, crocodiles, scorpions … all these wild animals and still many more have we looked directly into the eyes. „More dangerous than any wild animal is man!“, Told us a long time ago an old Indian. How right he is! If you respect animals and adheres to recommended precautionary measures, one gets hardly in dangerous situations.

The greatest threat so far was clearly the road: We had more than once a guardian angel. Also dangerous are drunken people: They are – compared to wild animals – unfortunately totally unpredictable.

  1. What we miss the most

The food from Switzerland and Ecuador. How often would we love to bite into a crispy sausage or a really stinky Swiss cheese! And once again to see a game of FC St. Gallen would be a desirable luxury – at least for Silvan.

 

  1. This makes us sad

… That there is still so much poverty and misery in the world. If we had not seen it ourselves, we would not believe it.

… That in some countries, we are still so far away from equality between men and women.

… That there are still countless wars in July 2015 and no end is in sight. Money, power, religion. Is it worth dying for?

  1. Are you never sick of traveling?

No! And this will surely never happen! Too much is there still to discover and experience. For us there is nothing more exciting than foreign countries and cultures.

We are filled with the deepest gratitude for all that we have experienced so far and will be allowed to experience in the future! (Of course, we occasionally also feel „travel lows.“ But these are not worth talking about.)

with our Chinese friends on the top of Mount Hua

with our Chinese friends on the top of Mount Hua

  1. What we think about life in Switzerland…

Switzerland is probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Just a pity that everything revolves around work and earning money. „I have no time“ or „I have stress“ are unfortunately the standard vocabulary of Mr and Mrs Swiss. Only when we fall in a (health) deep, we realize what life would have (had) to offer. Too sad that so many people only speak of their dreams and never dare to realize them.

10. Tips for traveling

Be honest, authentic and curious. Treat people always with decency and respect. Be tolerant of those who think differently. Get out of your „comfort zone“ and let adventures happen. Trust your gut feeling … and be thankful that you have the chance to travel. Too many people don’t even have the chance to leave their country!

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  1. How will we continue with „our“ Myanmar-school

In August, we will travel for the third time to Myanmar, to teach English. Meanwhile we founded with friends from Switzerland an association in order to realize projects in the field of education and health for „our“ school. More information to follow – we appreciate your support!

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  1. What are your next projects?

Pictures say more than a 1000 words:

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A small but great surprise took place: In the future, we probably will have to reserve a third seat in the planes ☺

We are thrilled for this event and are grateful for it!

(Our curent Australia-Report „No stress down under“ is further down on this page)

No Stress „down under“ (english)

Already 10 weeks in Australia

Before we begin with the travel report, here a little riddle:

In which monster-animal’s eyes looks Vero here that she makes such terrible face? You will find the answer at the end of this report …

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So let’s get started …

Stress ?? What is that? The last time we had stress was … when we started our trip exactly 12 months ago. In the meantime, we have banned this word from our vocabulary. In particular, the last eight weeks here in Australia were anything but stressful. We are currently experiencing the most quietest weeks of the whole trip so far. And that is – according to the current situation – a good thing. But what happened in the last couple of weeks?

After our campervan-tour through the Australian outback, we made the first stop in Proserpine, a small town on the east coast. For three weeks, we lived and worked in a small campsite, where we helped with the catering and cleaning. Kay and Ray, the owners of the camp, made us from the very beginning feeling like family members – we spent a lot of time with them, and they thaught us the real Australian way of life (BBQ, beer, rugby … and endless generosity and warmth). One oft he most fascinating things oft he camp was the big fridge in the size of a living room: A true land of plenty, wchichs, contents were free available for us day and night. We gladly would have stayed longer with Kay and Ray and their lovely family – but we had to go north to Cairns to sell our campervan on time.

on an excursion with Kay & Ray

on an excursion with Kay & Ray

Veronica and Kay preparing Pizza for 70 guests

Veronica and Kay preparing Pizza for 70 guests

the very best fridge in the world...!!!

the very best fridge in the world…!!!

In Cairns (where we still are), we live and work with Michelle: For „food and accommodation“, we help with various repair and renovation work in her home, do cooking, take the dogs daily wor walks on the beach… and enjoy the beautiful excursions and conversations with our wonderful „boss“: Michelle loves the nature and national parks around Cairns. And her passion for it is highly contagious! Again and again she brings us to hidden natural beauties that remain hidden from the „normal“ tourists. She surprises us with picnics on the most remote places in the Daintree rainforest. This rainforest north of Cairns deserves special explanation: As the oldest rainforest in the world, he is a real gem! Between gigantic trees, giant ferns, palms, wild streams and impenetrable thicket one can imagine easily how our planet must have looked like, when it was still inhabited by dinosaurs.

Silvan painting the gutter

Silvan painting the gutter

lovely waterfall-breakfast with our gorgeous "boss" Michelle

lovely waterfall-breakfast with our gorgeous „boss“ marvelous Michelle

Daintree National Park

Daintree National Park

Actually, everything is wonderful – if it were not still our campervan which we should sell before our departure of Australia. Slowly we get into time pressure (we deliberately do not want to use the word „stress“). Because already on 23 July we fly via Singapore to Hong Kong, before we fly on August 8 for the third time to „our“ school in Myanmar.

If you want to know why we are so much enjoying the momentary calm times here in Cairns, and why our next travel months should be rather quiet and stress-free, you are most welcome to read the article above „12 months – 12 questions – 12 answers“. The answer ist fo find in the last question – question number 12.

Oh, and here is the solution to the riddle at the beginning, why Vero looks sooooo anxious:

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The „horrible monster“ only turns out to be a harmlesss kangaroo that just wants to be friendly and say „Hellol“ to Veronica by (very surprisingly though!!) shaking her hand. Here in Australia, the kangaroos are just more well behaved!

Kind regards – until the next report (expected in mid-August).

Silvan & Veronica

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More fotos in the menu under „Fotos Australia“

First steps in Australia

Why going to Australia ??? 17 of the 20 most poisonous snakes and spiders in the world live on this continent, in the waters are polluted with up to 7 meter long crocodiles, and you can swim anyway nowhere, because the sea is infested with deadly boxing Jellyfishes and sharks. So again: Why Australia?

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Honestly, it was an extremely spontaneous decision: On the Internet we found a very cheap flight to Darwin – a few clicks, a day stay in Kuala Lumpur, and we were in Australia. (The fact that we were traveling with the infamous „Malaysa Airlines“ made the whole thing even a little more exciting, but despite all the negative headlines of this airline: the flight was wonderful!) After arriving in Darwin, we knew at first did not know what we should do. After more than nine months Asia we needed at the beginning a few moments to find our way in the „western world“ again. Our plan was it to buy a campervan in order to explore the „Red Continent“ on your own. And this went surprisingly fast and uncomplicated: After just three days, we were already owners of an old campervans, and only two days later we set off into the „wild Australian Outback!“

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That everything went so quickly and smoothly is thanks to two wonderful people: Dino and Winnie. We had the good fortune to get to know this Australian-Taiwanese couple shortly after we arrived in Darwin. They helped us right from the start with advice and assistance when buying a car and helped us to prepare the old van for our adventure. Most importantly, however, were Dinos advice about life (and survival) in the Outback: The proper handling of wild animals, bush fires, small car repairs … In short: Everything you need to know for traveling in this for us brandnew world. For example, it is most important to always have a extra container with fuel in your car. Fuel stations are sometimes several hundred kilometers away from each other – but this does not mean that if one arrives there with an empty tank that fuel is actually available.

Dino, Winney & Zoey

Dino, Winney & Zoey

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The vastness, the loneliness and the endless distances in Australia are something truly special and for us Europeans simply unimaginable! You have to experience it to believe it! Bernie, a pub musician me met on the way, explained us that his „work area“ hast he size of several hundred square kilometers. He „supplies“ regularly several pubs in the Northern Territory with his live music. To do so, he travels sometimes 350 km through the most remote areas from one pub to the next to play for farmers, drivers and miners (The term „remote pub“ means: a lonely pub on the road, the nearest house 20 minutes and the next village an hour away.)

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On our trip we visited, among many others, the world-famous Kakadu or the (much nicer) Light Field National Park with its refreshing waterfalls and pools. Always impressive were the red shining sunsets and probably the clearest and most beautiful sky of stars, as you probably only can see it in the Australian outback! Our journey took us further to the Katherine Gorge, to Edith Falls and towards Tennant Creek to the probably largest pearls in the world, the „Devils Marbles“. Of course, not everything went quite smoothly, and every now and than we got really afraid: for example, there was this bush fire which surprised us suddenly, as we enjoyed the evening peacefully on a remote campsite with a glass of wine. Or the dingo (Australian wild dog), who showed a little too much interest in Veronica („he only wanted to play!“). Or the snake that suddenly surprised us on a hiking trail (normaly we always wore shoes for walking – but precisely on that day we were with sandals!). But everything went off easily – the mentioned dangers at the beginning of the article are in fact much less dramatic than they seem to be! If you follow some minimum rules, you will almost certainly never be in danger! In our case, the mentioned bush fire was under control by the authorities (which of course we learned only after!), the dingo would probably have left Vero alone even without our intervention, and the snake did exactly what probably all the snakes do when they perceive a man: It moved away instantly.

...also Krocs!

…also Krocs!

 

What we value most here „down under“ are the openness, friendliness, serenity and humor of the Australians. People here always seem to have a solution for everything – „the Aussie way of life!“. And if there is no solution, then you can treat yourself a few drinks and watch how the world looks like the next day. „No worries, mate!“ Is a motto that has transferred in the meantime also to us.

Particularly impressed were we by the unconditional helpfulness and hospitality we have encountered here. Representatives of these are Dino and Winnie: Neither have we met the two oft hem before, nor were we family or relatives: yet they treated us right from the start as best friends and supported us in all respects. Without them, our previous trip would hardly have been so beautiful and happy. Or Ray and Kay, on their campsite where we lived and worked recently, who can not be surpassed in generosity … But what we exactly did in this camp and what we are heading for next, you read it in early July here on our blog. Stay tuned in…

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Want to know how it goes on with our Myanmar project? Sorry, we need to ask you for a little more patience. Just this: We are very active! We hope that we can inform more in the next report.

Devils Marbles

Devils Marbles

More pictures under Menu /  „Fotos Australia 1“

Life in a Buddhistic Monestary

Myanmar without Buddhism? Never ever! Buddhism without monks? Just does not work! Buddhist monks without meditation? Impossible! Therefore: If you want to integrate into Myanmar and ist culture, you just have to study about their religion and, of course, meditation.

Since we are planning to return in August or September to „our“ Buddhist monastic education school in Sagaing Hill to continue teaching, and because we have always wanted to learn more about Buddhism and meditation, we decided to go for 10 days at a Buddhist monastery.

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Ponchi, the director of Aung Myae Oo, chose for us apparently the most famous meditation center in Myanmar and personally took us there. On the way to the monastery, we were privileged to visit several pagodas and other known religious sites. A rumor says that there are more Buddha statues and pagodas in Myanmar than residents. And after this trip, we can confirm: in this rumor, there is definitely some truth!

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The welcoming to the monastery was everything but friendly: As soon as Silvan and I arrived, we were literally separated and sent to different monasteries. They collected our passports and sent us straight to bed. Briefly we were informed about the daily schedule: Waking time 3:30 am, 4:00 a.m first meditation, breakfast 5:30 a.m, meditation, lunch at 10.30, meditation, meditation, meditation… and go to bed early. But without dinner – monks are strictly not allowed to eat anything after noon!The cell was exactly like you would imagine a monestary cell: a simple wooden bed (no mattress!) and a small cupboard to one side.

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We quickly got used to our new lifes. Every other day we had the opportunity to see us for about an hour and have a chat on our experiences. The Convent of Buddhist nuns (located near the town) is located just over 2 km away from the male Buddhist monastery, which is quite hidden in the woods, away from everything. (Surely they did this intentionally for preventing men going out at night for having a beer!) Knowing that we were only here for 10 days, we have been able to keep almost all the strict rules. There were some very strict rules: Theoretically we were not allowed to use any cell phones or talking to other people (there were even nuns who had a sticker on their chest where was written: „Please do not talk to me“). Even jewelry, books (apart from Buddhist literature) or music were prohibited items. And for monks there is apparently the rule: ONLY urinate while sitting, NOT standing. As we said, we (or Silvan) respected almost all the rules.

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More than just „relax“

Most Western people think that meditation is mainly a relaxation technique. This is completely not through, thoug, according to what we have learned in these 10 days. It is much more than that. If you want to properly learn about meditation, 10 days are not enough at all. Let’s describe it with a comparhison: If the actual „distance of meditation“ was 1 kilometer long, then we „walked“ only 1 Centimeter during our 10 days stay at the monastery. Got it?

Cobra next door

Many of the monks living in the monastery live in small wooden huts (called „Kuti“), which are isolated in the woods. There they meditate several hours a day without being disturbed. Had it not been for Silvan who spent his evenings exploring around the monastery and discovering even the most distant Kuti. Silvan always explored armed with a wooden stick to fend off snakes that occasionally crossed his path. A special meeting was in a small cave, far away from the monestary, at the foot of a slope. For seven years, this cave was inhabited by a monk in ordert o meditate. Silvan asked the monk if he had no fear of poisonous snakes. He gently smiled – just as soft as a Buddhist monk can. Then he pointed to a small cave, about ten feet from his cave, and said calmly: „For several years, there has been living large cobra. We have been best neighbours so far.“ „But the snake can be very dangerous!“, Silvan responded quickly. „The Cobra does not bother me – because I am a monk! „was his reply, again accompanied by the soft smile. What can I say to this point? But apparently he has is right, as you can read ruther below…

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No typical monk

In another walk Silvan met by chance Mokkhita: At first glance he did not seem tob e a Buddhist monk with his blue eyes, bare chest and large tattoo on his arm. But, indeed, he was. He is a German naturopathic doctor of 33 years, which has lived and meditated here for several years. This encounter was a real benefit for Silvan: he was the only monk who could clarify a number of controversial questions about Buddhism and meditation (the other monks did not want to talk about it because it distracts them too much from meditation). He even allowed Silvan to accompany him to his place of meditation, far from the monastery on a hill with a fantastic view. The exposed place with its breathtaking beauty remembers on the „King Rock“ oft he Disney film „The Lion King“. If Mokkhita is not healing other monks or goes on „food tour“ (as it is common for Buddhist monks), he lives, meditates and sleeps on this hill. One meal a day is enough for him. He walks the road through the forest to go to his place barefoot. „Are you not afraid of snakes?“ Silvan asked. „Snakes do not make me anything – I am a monk!“, was his response. Silvan reflects: „Have I not heard that before …?

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Valuable experiences 

One thing was certain after these 10 days in the monastery: we will definitely never become monks. But the experience was indeed very valuable, and the fact of not having any comfort for 10 days and focussing only on meditation and teachings of Buddha, was very enriching. And now we understand better „our“ young novices in Aung Oo Myae: It is particularly difficult for young men and women getting up early every day, eat the last meal before 12am and still concentrate in school.

For our next stay in Myanmar we are best prepared with more knowledge about the life of a Buddhist monk and Buddhism in general!

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Back in the „Land of Gold“

The Golden Rock

The Golden Rock

It was a special feeling, tob e back in „our“ school in Myanmar after more than three months. We left the place in late November with the most beautiful experiences and memories. How would it be this time? Will they still recognize us? Wouldn’t it have been better just to keep on traveling with the beautiful memories of the past and never come back?

No! We were convinced that we were doing the right thing, doubts and uncertainties were deleted immediately at the time we got to school. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted warmly by our former students and friends. At this point it was clear that the two of us just belong here!

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Education and Health

Our last mission in November, unfortunately was very short with just two weeks. Not so much oft he English that the children learned back than was left. Once again we realized that if we really want to achieve something sustainable, we have to stay longer in place. However, our first mission was extremely important: We have created a solid foundation for our future missions and this enabled us to establish trusting relationships with students, teachers and the principal. Right on the second day, we started working again. While Silvan mostly confined to lecture in English, I also worked to organize the small school clinic.

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Marriage in the morning

The days flew by, and every day brought new encounters and exciting experiences. Once, for example, we were invited for a wedding of a master: Compared to „our“ wedding ceremonies in the „western world“, the party in Myanmar starts already at 7 in the morning. The Gents are greeted with cigarettes, and ladies get flowers. Than comes a colorful ceremony with an endless photo shooting with bride and groom. And then the guests are being served (almost like breakfast) an endless amount of cake and ice cream until you just can’t eat it any more. And even then the clock strikes 11 am and the wedding ends. We were very glad that we had the unique chance to be guests at this beautiful event.

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The happy wedding couple

 

As guests, we were dressed in the traditional Myanmar dress.

As guests, we were dressed in the traditional Myanmar dress.

Plans for the future …

Although we are used to the warmth of the people of Myanmar, we were astonished again and again by their kindness. Daily we were surprised with small gifts from students, friends or complete strangers. And no matter where you look, people always respond with a smile! No other smile all over the world is so warm and honest.

Although we sleep on the floor, we bathe in dirty water and disclaim all amenities, we feel more comfortable Myanmar than anywhere else.

As already hinted, we plan to return to the „Land of Gold“ in August or September 2015 for the third time and plan to stay for about 6 months. Only then can we continue our long-term project and sustainably and we can provide a bit of a better future for more than 2100 children. We are also trying to establish an organization and raise funds to implement projects. (You will get more information about it around June here in the blog.) We do this not for political, religious, and certainly not for economic reasons, but simply because we feel we are doing the right thing and the best reward is the smiles thank us.

Almost we can not wait to return to Myanmar.

Would it not be nice if every student had at least his own bed?

Would it not be nice if every student had at least his own bed?

Travel south!

First, our journey takes us in a completely different direction: the next three months we will spend in „Down Under“ (Australia). It is less for traveling, but more for learning English. We are excited to once again have real beds, eating pizzas, muesli and all the other delights that our „body and soul“ of the Western world needs!

Want to know what Australia offers more beside kangaroos and koalas? Or are you interested in supporting our „Project of Myanmar“? Stay tuned – by early June you will be supplied with more news !!!

Best regards,

Silvan & Vero

P.S: More pictures under Fotos Asien/Myanmar 2

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Through South India (Part 2)

Of tigers, temples and tea plantations

 

Auge in Auge mit dem Tiger...

Auge in Auge mit dem Tiger…

The beast is only 5 feet away from us: We can look him straight in the eye. He opens his mouth, showing us his fearsome fangs: What an exciting feeling, to be so close to a tiger…! But unfortunately only in the zoo of Mysore. We only wanted to see how these animals look in reality. Three times we were on tiger safari in Bandipur National Park (South India). And three times we have „only“ seen deer, elephants and other beautiful animals. But the 100 tigers and leopards were hiding from us until the end in this 800 km2 National Park. It would have been too good to see them – but all the other wonderful experiences we have been allowed to take so far on our trip to India, made up more than enough for the hidden tiger.

Wilde Elefanten, Bandipur-Nationalpark

Wilde Elefanten, Bandipur-Nationalpark

For example, the countless black tea plantations around Munnar. Rolling hills, covered with irregular green spots, forming a very charming landscape. We just could not get enough of this unique landscape. Especially nice was that we could share all these great impressions with two other people: for more than three weeks we’ve been traveling with Sebastian and Leah, the youngest members of our Indian „family“. Being in a group makes traveling even more fun, even if sometimes things do not work out as planned: For example, we visited for two days an ashram, a kind of Indian monastery, where people lived according to strict rules of a guru, spending their days praying and meditating. But just after a few hours, we realized that this cult-like states do not meet our expectations: Instead, it seemed to be very appealing to a uprooted Western travelers or very strange Indians. Characteristic of this was a young, arrogant American: He humbly asked the Guru in the public question round for suggestions on how he could be a better person. Despite the wisdom of the „highest authority“, he did not even make it to meet his fellow man with respect by answering a friendly greeting. He is just one example of a very own off-hook person, we encountered there.

Maybe it was the bad karma for our evil mockeries of the bizzare life in the ashram, which brought us a negative surprise: A few days after our „dismissal“ from the Ashram Silvan found himself in the ICU of an Indian hospital. The diagnosis was „only“ a pneumonia, but the situation was anything but funny. It was very helpful for me (Silvan) to have an experienced (and even very beautiful) nurse by my side. Finally, we are grateful that everything went well and we are grateful for Sebastians and Leahs support.

 

Unsere Freunde Sebastian und Leah... über 3 Wochen haben sie es mit uns ausgehalten ;)

Unsere Freunde Sebastian und Leah… über 3 Wochen haben sie es mit uns ausgehalten 😉

India is religious: Although we have had a little bit too much of the cult of the more than 3000 gods, sacred cows, etc. Nevertheless, it is still fascinating to visit Indian temples. Fire, smoke, water, flowers, animals and all sorts of (to us very strange) rituals offer every time a new drama and spectacle.

After almost 2 months India, we now have an overdose of monkeys: Everywhere one encounters these annoying beasts! With each encounter, we hide immediately our cameras and food, and we are happy if they stay as far away of us as possible! Several times we had our bags or cameras make them into custody. Once even three monkeys stormed our bus (as there are no windows) and had not left until they had stolen enough food from the pockets of frightened passengers. Once, they even have burgled literally in our hotel room and have a stolen a two kilograms (!) watermelon. Ever since, there is a real war between them and us. (No one can imagine how much we were looking forward to that melon that day!!! Stupid monkeys !!!)

Eigentlich hätten WIR gerne diese Melone so genüsslich gegessen...

  Eigentlich hätten WIR gerne diese Melone so genüsslich gegessen…

Blöder Affe mit UNSERER Melone!

Blöder Affe mit UNSERER Melone!

An exciting experience was to attend the wedding ceremony of an Indian bride and groom. Spontaneously we were invited to this event and warmly received as guests. What a beautiful, colorful experience! The wedding-couple met this evening for the first time ever. For India, nothing unusual: Weddings are often arranged and driven less by love than financial interest. No need to mention that this can also bring problems.

Mit dem Brautpaar

Mit dem Brautpaar

Antother issue in India are the rights oft he women: Often, unmarried women are not allowed to leave their homes ater 6pm. Som young Indian women told us even about violence against them by their drunken husbands. Fortunately, the situation is getting better and better and a change is in sight. But it will take time – especially in the countryside.

We are extremely grateful to all our new friends („Indian family“), and for the great memorable experiences that we were allowed to do in India. Thanks Luke, Robert, Stefan, Leah & Sebastian. This contrastful country is probably one of the most fascinating that our planet has to offer. It is just impossible to escape the magic of India … Either you love it or you hate it. We love it!

(Key data of the second part of our trip: Hampi, Goa, Kalgot, Udupi, Cochin (Kerala), Munnar, Ooty, Bandipur, Mysore).

Traveling through South India

A spicy blend of color, religion and adventure.

„India is like being in the cinema: No matter where you look, always is something going on even things that you never imagine that could exist.“ Therefore I will tell you in a summarized way about our impressions during the last four weeks in this country. All strange rumors and stories that are told about India, are not myths: they are true!

The cows in the streets, colorful and vibrant markets, huge temples, spicy food, but also poverty, traffic chaos and mountains of rubbish: this is India!

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Tourism here is not always easy – you have to bring three things: time, patience and flexibility! An Indian person told us briefly about the railway system in this country. „Many, many Indians travel on the train. You can not just buy the tickets and board the train, they must be reserved with some days in advance. You’re not in your country!“ How right was this wise man.

Our journey has been much slower than we thought. There is just so much to explore and discover. It really requires a lot of time to process all new overwhelming impressions: Giant cave temples (Ajanta and Ellora), medieval castles like in the Hollywood movies in Bidar, endless varied landscapes. .. and of course the encounters with the locals. We deliberately chose a less popular route along the southern coast of India, focusing our travel within the country. As a result, several meetings with Indians who apparently never had seen a tourist were given. Indians show a great interest that we almost felt like real stars. On several occasions we were surrounded by many people, asking us „what are you doing?“, „where do you come from?“ etc. And, of course, at the end we were photographed many times. Until now probably more than 1000 photos were taken. This generally requires much time, but we like to take us this time for the locals: It is always a great way to start talks and learn about the Indians and their lifes.

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In return, we were also rewarded with various photo shoots: India is the most rewarding country for amateur photographers: All women in their beautiful and colorful saris, men in their traditional clothes, and children with big and bright eyes are the best motives (see our pictures of India.) Also temples and rituals are spectacular motives. No country has so much variation of religions and gods as India. We have the impression that every movement and action has somehow to do with the religion. The temple visits are always a highlight. Even if it is not allowed to take pictures, the impressions will remain with us forever. All colorful ceremonies, accompanied by a number of elements like fire, water, smoke, etc are a spectacular combination for all the senses.

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Yes, we love India! Did you realize it already? However, this is also due to our little family: As I mentioned before „our“ itinerary was not the typical touristic one and for this reason we do not meet many tourists, but we were lucky to meet a group of very nice and interesting people with whom we traveled different sections. The group is very heterogeneous in age and character, but this group of three generations shares one thing in common: an endless passion for travel and India. The oldest of our „family“ is Luke, a 75 years old American performer. In the United States he suffered from depression, but India has helped him to overcome everything. He says: „When I leave in the morning the hotel and hear the car horns, I see the streets full of color, and breath all the dust, I feel happy and healthy!“ As a reader probably is hard to imagine that this may be true, but it is! India exudes magic and energy like anywhere else, but this spell disappears (temporarily) when you get sick, for example because of the food. And that happens sooner or later. Veronica has been spared so far, Silvan after a  antibiotics treatment (antibiotics can be purchased as simple as buying a chocolate bar) feels now fit and healthy again.

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The places visited so far in the southern part of India are Mumbai, Arungabad, Bidar, Bijapur, Badami, Goa and the incredible ruins in Hampi. Where we are heading after, we still do not know exactly: this depends partly on the plans of our „family“. In mid-March, certainly we will travel to Myanmar and visit for a second occasion „our“ school and teach English again. And then? Everything is possible, but a return to Switzerland at the moment is not in our plans.

We are always happy about  your comments and news. See you soon and best regards, Silvan and Veronica

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P.S: Crazy India! Does anyone know why the traffic law imposes that only the driver of a motorcycle must use a helmet but not the passenger? Or maybe someone can explain us why Hindus drink the tea/coffee from the small plate instead of the cup (although the tea is served in a cup) ??? crazy world!!