Thinking back to the moments that made up 2016 makes my heart swell because they were filled with adventure, laughter, travel, family, new experiences, delicious food, friends, and all of the things that make my soul happy. Kim and I were lucky enough to start our third year living abroad as I continued to teach High School Art as well as starting as a Technology Integration Specialist at the elementary level of an International School in Yangon, Myanmar. We spent the first half of the year in our apartment we shared with two dear friends, then I spent the beginning of the summer becoming a certified yoga teacher before sharing the rest of the summer with my family in Maine, and returning to Southeast Asia in the fall, traveling in bits throughout the whole year. I still enjoy going back to visit my 14 Adventures of 2014 blog post as a little peek into that year of exciting changes so I thought I would return to the idea and create another reminiscent post for 2016. So here it is, 16 Epic Parts of 2016:
Kim and I woke up on the first morning of 2016 to the sound of the ocean lapping against our boat as we cruised through Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most beautiful landforms. The limestone crests jutted out of the water to every side of us as we peacefully sailed along into the new year. After that we found our way up into the mountains of Sapa and spent days motor biking the chilly twisting mountain roads. What a way to start out the year!
15. Biggest Buddha in the World
When we do my dream road trip across the US I am going to have to plan lots of extra time because I am a sucker for “biggest in the world” things. Let’s be honest here, who isn’t? Okay, maybe it’s just me. Nonetheless, when we visited the quiet Myanmar town of Hpa-An I heard that there was the biggest reclining Buddha in the World just a short ways away and I was sold. Of course we HAD to go see it. I also thought it was a great idea to take the scenic route which ended up being a very long, very dusty, dirt road. Our motorbike was not impressed (nor was the driver – Kim). Just as the sun was setting we managed to pull into Win Sein Taw Ya and it was quite the spectacular site. This paired with a weekend of cave exploring and motorbiking with friends made for a memorable time.
14. Our First No Plans Trip
10 days and no plans, that’s how our trip to the Philippines started in April. With nothing booked besides our plane tickets, we backpacked our way through the Philippine island of Luzon where we hiked to see hanging coffins, ate empanadas on the cobblestone streets of Vigan, and enjoyed to waves of Pagudpud. Although it was not the “perfect” vacation that I could have neatly planned, it was worth it in so many surprise ways.
13. Solo Art Exhibition
In May I completed one of my top artistic goals, to host my first Solo Art Exhibition. The body of work was a series of digitally manipulated (glitched) photographs of Myanmar culture. Since this country is still not completely free (earlier this year a man was imprisoned for using an image of Buddha in a bar advertisement), I held the show in a private location as invitation only. The completion of the show was also intended to model the process of exhibiting your work as a working artist for my advanced art students who also had to host similar shows on their own.
12. Yoga Training in the Indian Mountains
I’m not sure how to summarize the life-affirming experience of yoga training in one simple paragraph so please head over a read the long version of my month in India learning the traditional and modern approaches to yoga. After a month of practicing, learning anatomy, questioning everything through philosophy, and more practicing, I accepted my yoga teacher certification as a full fledge yoga instructor.
11. Megan’s Nashville Bash
Directly after yoga training I flew from India straight to Nashville, Tennessee where the beautiful Meg was parting away with her fantastic gang of girls. It was a weekend of cowboy boots, honkey tonks, and tons of drinking. Unfortunately for me it also included catching some sickness on the plane and being in bed for a good chunk of the time. Nonetheless, it was a time to remember, cowboy hats and all.
10. 2 Weeks (2 Short) in Maine
Such a short amount of time but in just two weeks I squeezed in SO much love, laughter, and memories. For what felt like a blink of an eye, I was surrounded by all of my favorite people and just thinking about the long summer days we spent camping, BBQing, lounging around, and just hanging out fills me with so much happiness.
09. Meatless Me
Okay, this one is not one moment in time but it is HUGE and deserves a slot; half way through the 2016 year I decided to no longer eat meat. It is something that I have considered for some time for many reasons, health wise, ethics wise, and environmental wise. It has had its challenges but for the most part has been rather easy thanks to the goddess that is my wife who has taken on my vegetarianism as inspiration and is constantly concocting delicious new meatless creations. Mainly I feel like I am living less in duality now, that my beliefs match my actions, and that makes my soul happy.
08. Maine Island Clam Bake
Cabbage Island is a small piece of land just of the coast of Boothbay harbor, Maine. It is also the location of one of the oldest Clam Bake traditions in the North East. Kim and I spent an afternoon with her family, Robin and Steve, sailing about the coast before enjoying lobster, clams, corn, potatoes, onions, and other goodies that were cooked under a blanket of seaweed. Nothing tastes more like Maine than that!
07. Road Trip Around Israel
What is better than a summer road trip? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people!? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people discovering a new country!? On our way back to Southeast Asia in July, Kim and I stopped in Israel to visit my sister Amanda and her husband Josh (who were there while Amanda completed a summer program and internship for her Law degree). Our short visit brought an overflow of fun as we road tripped around Israel. We explored the city of Tel Aviv, walked through the streets of Jeruselum, stopped to ride a camel in the Judaian desert, awed at the mini grand canyon in Ramon Crater, and took a mud bath in the dead sea. I don’t think there were another four days this year that were filled with more fun, exploration, exciting new things, adventure, or love.
06. Meandering Through a Japanese Garden
I did not expect to find peacefulness when I went to the giant city of Hong Kong for a work conference in September, actually I didn’t expect to like it all that much. Fortunately, both of those were way off. Hong Kong is a fascinating city with so much uniqueness, all of which I enjoyed very much. My favorite part of it though was not the huge shopping centers or the bustling streets, but rather a quiet little park called Nan Lian Garden which echoed that of a Japanese Tea Garden. I had learned about these in my college Asian Art History class. The pathways are twisted and uneven to purposefully induce slow walking. Landscapes are created to produce the most picture perfect views with every branch and stone as an intentional brushstroke in the most stunning painting. Water is trickling and soft music is drifting through the leaves adding to the meditative atmosphere. Asian gardens are not manicured pieces of land, they are living art work experiences.
05. Snorkeling in the Andaman Sea
With such an exciting year, Kim and I decided to take our “fall” break and chill out on some of the best beaches in the world. Lucky for us these are found right next door in southern Thailand. We spent the week snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi, enjoying the sunset on Railay beach in Krabi, soaking in the natural hot springs, and adventuring around. The most memorable time for me being the spectacularly turquoise blue waters that were so stunning in color it was almost unbelievable.
04. Half Marathon Trail Run
Sometimes I get some crazy idea in my head and it just sticks. I’m trying to go along with my life and it is sitting over in the corner of my brain tapping its fingers, waiting for me to pay attention to it. This was one of those ideas. On a warm November morning I spent 3+ hours running 13.1 miles through the mud on trails in the Myanmar mountains to complete my first ever half marathon. My legs were shaking but my smile could not have been bigger when I crossed the finish line to a greeting of friends and congratulations. It took a lot of hard work, early mornings, and focused training, but I did it!
03. Yee Ping Mass Lantern Release
When I first decided to move to Asia I began a list of interesting places to visit and three years later I have forgotten everything on that list except for this one. It took a few years to manage the timing and to get ahold of tickets but it was worth the long wait. On the November full moon I joined hundreds of others on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thialand, in a mass release of sky lanterns and it was the most breathtaking sight I believe I have ever seen.
02. A Month on the Indonesian Islands
I didn’t have a lot of expectations, or plans, when we got on the plane for our winter vacation in Indonesia but by the time we left three weeks later I was head over heals about the string of islands. Starting off on Java we adventured to the highest peaks at the top of Mt. Bromo, an active volcano, then down into the blue lake Ijen Crater to view the blue fire alight from the sulfur gases. By the time we got to the island of Bali we more than enjoyed a much needed rest at our friends Ashley and Matt’s villa. The day after Christmas we grabbed a motorbike and hit the road to spend two weeks cruising along the coast, up the mountains, through the rice terraces, and by the temple towns of Bali. We spent New Years at a black sand beach, saw dolphins, got drenched in a mountain down pour, enjoyed mornings of yoga and monkey walks, and so much more. I can see now why Bali stays in the heart of so many, it has a way of rooting down into your soul.
2016 was a year of epic proportions filled with more adventures than most people get to experience in a lifetime and I am so very grateful to call this my life. Yet, not one of these moments would have been half as amazing if I didn’t have my beautiful wife by my side. Her constant encouragement and support through all of my dreams, big and small, makes my life so much fuller. Whatever plan or crazy idea I conjure up is always met with a Yes! My travel companion, my fearless motorbike driver, and my goddess of a chef; the one who always makes me laugh (even when it’s the last thing I want to do) I am so thankful to have celebrated two full years of marriage this year. I read somewhere once that if you love someone, travel with them, for then you will know their true self; happily I can say that I have found someone who loves my truest self right back and that is the most epic part of them all.
November was an exciting month when the country of Myanmar had the world’s eyes watching as it held its first fair election. The energy was electric leading up to the big day when the town was eerily quiet. As everyone anxiously awaited the news, we held our annual International Day at school and the connecting International Party at the teacher housing. At the end of the month we headed to the beach where we celebrated Thanksgiving and the Myanmar full moon holiday.
Not my photo! Credited to BBC
I’ll start by admitting that I don’t know a great deal about Myanmar politics, so if you want a history and in depth explanation of the election start here. There. Now, let me tell you about what I do know.
First for a little background: Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was colonized by the British in the 19th century. They left behind a great deal of influences including colonial buildings, Brittish words that are still used today, bidets, and tea – lots of tea. The next great leader of Burma was General Aung Sun Suki, he helped Burma gain its independence and was held in high regard until his assassination and a coup d’etat in 1962. In the next five decades the military dictatorship greatly hurt the country. The whole country was mostly closed off from foreigners during this period. Thankfully in 2011 this leadership formally ended, however the government still was led by former military officers. Which leads us to now.
This year was the first democratic election in Myanmar’s history. HUGE, right? There was an extraordinary amount of worry and anticipation regarding the election. Everyone was worried about what might happen, that there would be unrests and the government would strike back painfully. No one believed that the election would actually be clean, but the world’s eyes were all looking at Myanmar and some countries even flew in specific organizations to see that the election ran successfully.
For the past few months there have been more and more political rallies. The main party that held these were the National League for Democracy. This is led by Aung Sun Suki’s daughter (of the same name) who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her stance against the government. The rallies were spirited events with supporters wearing the red symbol for the league in support. You could also see the golden bird holding arrows sprinkled throughout the city on cars, pins, banners at houses, and photos in shops.
In the weeks leading up to the election everyone blamed everything possible on the election. The internet is running especially slow today? It’s because the government is controlling the level of internet usage to not let election news out to the world. There is more traffic than usual? Lots of foreigners are flocking in for the election. You couldn’t do your homework? Only because my camera was taken by my mom to get coverage for the NLD rally for the upcoming election. It became a game with me and my friends to try and think of a connection between any occurring problem and the election.
In all serious though, even my school was setting up for a worse case scenario. ISM has a faculty evacuation procedure set that involves flying all of the foreign staff to Bangkok and camping out there until the said even dies down. They even have a plan in case we could never get back that involves packing or securing our belongings and sending our remaining pay home.
Although I would have loved to be out photographing the election events on Nov. 8th we were advised to stay inside and to certainly not go anywhere near the voting locations for fear of a riot. So I will include photos by other photographers here. On the day of Kim and I went to a friend’s gathering to share the excitement with our friends. When we taxied there the roads were completely deserted and every single shop was closed. I have never seen our street so quiet.
As you can imagine, there was a great deal of talk about the elections, especially on social media where my Burmese friends proudly showed off their inked finger - after someone voted they dyed their finger with ink so they couldn’t vote again. There was over an 80% population turn out for voting. Everyone was very excited! After the elections there was also quite a lot of talk about whether or not the elections were actually clean. There were reports of rigging the votes which may or may not have been true.
There was still some very apparent corruption like the fact that the vote of every soldier automatically goes to the military party and how there were people “registered” to vote that have been dead for years (seemingly so the military could just take those votes too). But after everything it was announced just two days later that the NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR DEMOCRACY WON THE ELECTION!!!
Not my photo! Credited to The National
This means that the country finally gets to be run by Aung Sung Suu Ki, the lady of the people. Unfortunately in the Burmese Constitution it says that you cannot be president if you have a foreign spouse or children, which Suu Ki does. The word is that she is going to choose a person that will act as president but will actually just respond to her wishes. I have noticed mixed feelings about this when talking with my Burmese friends. On one side, Yay! Suu Ki is finally in charge, on the other side it seems unethical to have a president that is not actually in charge but just reporting to someone else.
Either way, the officers will be elected and put in office at the beginning of next year. Unfortunately none of the officers will have had any sort of political experience because none of them are a part of the military. It should be an interesting next five years. Also, 25% of the seats automatically go to the military and – get this – in order to change any part of the constitution you need over 75% of the votes.
Nonetheless, the energy in the country is one of hope, excitement, and relief. Myanmar finally has “our lady” leading the country and is looking forward to see what great things will happen. It was a special time to be here and experience this history changing election. Maybe now when I tell people that I am in Myanmar they might know where I mean.
Not my photo! Credited to BBC
Every year ISM chooses one day to celebrate the diversity in our school and our world. International Day involves the entire k-12 school coming together to showcase different cultures around the world. Students dress up in traditional dress representing their heritage or join in to learn about a different culture. A parade was held to show the variety of clothing and countries represented. After, all students and families got to enjoy the booths that each represented country set up. These booths were filled with games, information, and traditional objects available to teach others about the what makes that country different and unique. The PTA provided food of various cuisines and the band played music highlighting different styles. It was a fun and colorful day!
At the end of the month we had a long weekend where we were able to escape to Ngwe Sung, a small beach town about 6 hours West of Yangon. I got so much more than I expected from this trip.
We left late one Wednesday night and endured a twisting and turning and bumpy 6 hour bus ride to arrive at this little bungalow hotel. But every second was worth it when we saw the beauty of the beach. Almost deserted, it stretched lazily for as long as you could see. All along the shore were small restaurants that served up only the freshest seafood for insanely cheap prices. We spent the entire four days lounging in hammocks, playing with our favorite little kids in the sand, swimming in the perfect temperature of the ocean, and enjoying the crashing waves at night with some good friends. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed a seafood feast at a local restaurant with an accompanying fire show.
I’ve never been much of a beach person but the simplicity and calmness that blankets Ngwe Sung is just perfection. Kim and I even got a motorbike one day and spent some time cruising along the quiet ocean roads. With so many places to visit in the world, there are few that I plan to return to but I know that I will see Ngwe Sung again soon.
We have been back in Myanmar for over a month now and we are settling in quite well to our jobs and home life. It seems crazy to be back, yet comfortably familiar at the same time. The amazing summer we had back home left us feeling reenergized and refilled with the calm patience necessary for life in Yangon. This crazy city with its insane traffic, constant market callers, chanting monks, dinging bells from passing trishaws, and always bustling streets, has welcomed us back with its usual chaos and smiles.
Our biggest news is that we moved to a new apartment. Not only are we no longer living in school provided housing, but we are living in a more local area only a short walk from school. We found our apartment before we left in May with two friends of ours. Shelly and Luis both teach at ISM with me and have been awesome roommates! This apartment is very inexpensive which means we will be saving even more money this year with our housing allowance that the school provides. It has great qualities to it like a huge living area, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large open kitchen, and lots of windows. We were able to buy all of the furniture from the previous tenants so we were all set to move in as soon as we returned from summer break.
The move itself was interesting. Back home we would call up a friend or family member with a truck to help us move, but in Yangon no one we know has vehicles. We could have gotten a few cabs together because we did not have that many belongings but we do have a large house plant and two chairs. So we arranged for a truck through a kind friend of ours who has local connections. It was a confusing time meeting the truck and a scary ride to our new place with Kim and our plant hanging out the back, but we made it and only had to pay $15 (plus a $5 tip for each of the guys who helped us lug everything up stairs).
We have had a couple of challenges like bugs and electricity. But instead of waiting hours or days or even weeks for a worker from our old condo to fix our issues we are able to fix them quickly ourselves with the help of our attentive landlord and our kind neighbors. There was this one time when the power went out, not unusual for Yangon, but annoying nonetheless. Strangely it was still out a few hours later even though the other apartments in our building had the power returned. So Kim tried to talk to one of our neighbors, the man didn't speak any English so he went and got another man who got another one who got another one. This final man, Aung, not only spoke some English but he "make power work" (works as an electrician). He quickly got his toolbox and came up to the apartment, took an hour working on our regulator, and finally fixed the problem. When Kim tried to give him a payment he simply replied "We neighbors, we help."
Then there was the first morning of school when I woke up early to have a quiet start to my morning, I poured myself a cup of tea and opened a window to let some air in, and sat down with my journal when a BAT flew in the room! It was an entertaining 30 minutes of running around with a laundry basket trying to catch it as it swooped around my head. In the end everyone in the house was up watching me trying to usher it out and it just flew right back out the same window it came in.
A few weeks ago we hosted a big housewarming party in the new space. It was great fun to have our friends over to fill the apartment with great vibes.
Here are a few pictures from around the neighborhood
Living close to school has so many benefits! Instead of dreading the hour plus bus ride home in the afternoons I have been staying late to enjoy teacher activities that other teachers offer like ultimate Frisbee, yoga, and work out classes. I feel very lucky to be able to take advantage of all of these great things!
Plus, Kim is so close on her days off that she has been joining me for breakfast or lunch occasionally. We usually eat at our favorite shan noodle and tofu noway stand in the mornings and enjoy a lunch stall run by a Pakistani man in the afternoons.
On the school front I have been busy as a bee developing a curriculum that better fits my teaching philosophy and designing two new courses. Last year I taught Art 1 (foundations, intro art class for mostly freshman) and AP 2D Design (advanced placement digital art course for upper levels). Continuing with those classes I have also added a Digital Art course (photography, digital drawing, animation, and other graphic media) and an Advanced Digital Art course (independent study for a small group of students interested in continuing their work in digital art). Having four different classes to prepare for has been challenging but so rewarding! Here are a few photos from different classes that I have taken this month.
I am very proud of the classroom website that I have redesigned. I have used various methods in the past but feel satisfied that this website is one that can grow with me as an educator. I have set it up with resources for both students and fellow teachers. I’m excited to continue growing the content of this site and making it usable for a wider audience. The site is called In The Art Room, take a look at it here.
Kim has been enjoying being back at work too. For those who don’t know, Kim is the executive chef/kitchen manager for a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant called Fahrenheit. Taking the tex-mex basics and infusing Asian elements, Kim has created a truly original taste that people love! The chic atmosphere and the craft cocktails make for a perfect surrounding to enjoy a great night out. Since Kim has returned, she has been hard at work making new delicious concoctions for the new menu. Favorites like the pad thai chimichanga and the garlic curry chicken tacos will now be joined by items like pumpkin tofu empanadas and (my favorite) frozen margarita pie. Kim is really going to the extremes at stretching her culinary skills to bring together two of the top cuisines. Just wait until you try her hand made chocolate ice cream with chili hot fudge sauce. I joined a few friends down for a private tasting a couple weeks ago that was out of this world!
One of my favorite things I have started this month is baking bread. The other week Kim was planning our weekly dinner menu and I voted for homemade pizza. She agreed on the deliciousness of that idea but said that she wouldn't have time to make the dough. I piped up saying that I could make it. Seeing as Kim is a professional chef and I well ... burn things, she reasonably laughed. A lot. I tried to defend my capabilities by evidence of the last time I made dough but it had been so long that she didn't believe me. This made me so sad to realize that something I love, baking doughs and breads, hadn't been experienced in so long that it was forgotten. That week I made the pizza dough and the smell of the yeast mixed with the kneading of the dough and the anticipation of the rise brought it all back. Since then I have spent the past two Saturday mornings devoted to making bread. Such a calm, meditative, and satisfying time creating something from nothing. Plus, there is nothing like the taste of fresh made bread straight from the oven.
Another perk to living in SE Asia is insanely inexpensive spa treatments. I joined my friend Ashley on a weekend trip to her favorite spa to get pampered. I got an hour long full body massage that was on the rougher side (I had requested oil massage since they are not so rough but it got lost in communication) (cost $10). Then I enjoyed a “Shampoo” which I found out did not only consist of shampooing my hair but also a 30 minute head and shoulder massage that finished with a blow dry and style (cost $1.50). Afterwards we both got our nails done by a spectacular nail artist who did immaculate designs by hand (cost $6.50). It was such a fun afternoon! A treat that I never would have been able to afford in the States, my total cost was $18.00!
A week after my spa day with Ashley, I was home with the roommates on a Saturday afternoon when the power went out for the whole neighborhood. I suggested that we take the opportunity to check out one of the many hair salons on our street. So we went across the road and found a place offering “Shampoos” for $3.00. After listening to them pump water from a hand pump in the back of the salon Kim, Shelly and I all enjoyed a (slightly rough) massage and (slightly chilly) shampoo. Luckily they had a generator that they turned on to blow dry our hair. Shelly also got a trim for $1.00.
We bought a rice cooker (one of the only things that didn't come with our apartment, a necessity in Asia)
They are now selling frogs at the market.
I ate my last bowl of honey nut cherieos from the stash I brought back from the States.
It rained. A lot.
We were reunited with our favorite expat family.
Overall it has been a fantastic month reconnecting with friends and students. We have had dinner dates, night wanderings, rainy afternoons inside, school events, parties, and so much more! I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue working and living in this still confusing, still frustrating, still enigmatic place. I am happy to have a great place to live with great people making my day to day life so much easier. Here are a few random photos from different times throughout the month.
Easily one of the funnest experiences I have had, Holi is the Hindu festival of colors. Celebrating the beginning of spring, Holi was originated in India but has spread all over the world and is especially popular in Southeast Asia. I was lucky to be invited to join the Myanmar Association of Indians at their annual Holi festival in People's Park in Yangon. I wasn't sure what to expect but I showed up giddy at the idea of a free-for-all carnival of colors. I jumped in the fun and "played Holi" with a group of 50 or so others where we chased, danced, a laughed as everyone threw colored powder at one another. Everyone at the event was covered in the bright colors as we frolicked around the park. Water sprayed everywhere from a makeshift fountain, individuals wielding hoses, and children squealing with delight as they refilled their water guns. Group games were organized, pass-the-hat, smash the pot, jump rope, collect-the-ribbons, all thoroughly enjoyed (my team won - go yellow!). The whole event was a blast as I progressively got more and more colorful; I left that afternoon with new friends, an ear-to-ear grin, and covered head to toe in color.
Only once a year do lions dance through the streets of Yangon. They dance to celebrate Chinese New Year, the festival that marks the turning of the Chinese calendar. Since January, we had been looking forward to participating in some of the festivities to mark one of Southeast Asia's biggest holidays. When the big day finally rolled around I was giddy with excitement at the uncertainty of what I would witness. The difficulty of finding out any information on any large event in Yangon meant that we did not know what was happening or when. All we knew was that it was Chinese New Year and we were headed to Chinatown.
*For video footage of the Lion Dance scroll to the bottom of the page*
Our 'go with the flow' attitudes paid off because as soon as we got downtown we heard drumming. We followed the loud banging and clashing of cymbals to the entrance of a hotel where there was a large crowd gathered. In the center we spotted our very first lion! It was a spectacular site, fluffy purple puffs were accompanied by gold and silver sequence that sparkled as the lion danced around. It was controlled by two extremely skillful and acrobatic performers, martial artists who train long and hard to receive the privilege of performing. A troupe of supporters from the same martial arts studio accompanied the lions in their dance. This lion was visiting the hotel in a customary tradition that involves performing a special dance called Cai Qing which means "plucking the greens."
In this dance the lion must "pluck" greens from an area in the establishment. It stalks the greens like a cat in hunt and then eats them a bit before spitting them out (see the ground of the picture below). Along with the greens the lion will also "pluck" a red envelop which customarily contains money to compensate for the performance. The purpose of this is to bring good fortune to the establishment for the coming year.
After our serendipitous find, we made the short trip over to Chinatown (which is between 20th and 18th street) to make our first official stop at the Chinese temple. I'm not sure how many Chinese temples there are in Yangon but I do know that this one is the largest and grandest.
Bonus points if you recognize what the containers with sticks in them (right side of the picture set above) are ^ . If you don't know or don't remember, check out when we visited the Chinese temple in Bago and our friends Alex and Meme showed us how to use the traditional Chinese fortune telling sticks.
As we were approaching the temple, we could smell it before we could see it. When we arrived there was a cloudy, smokey atmosphere that was so strong Kim had to stay outside. Come to find out, it was coming from all of these HUGE incense spirals. There were hundreds of these hanging up inside and outside of the temple, each one accompanied by a small purple tag. I couldn't read what was written on the tags but my guess is that it was a person's or family's name that donated to the temple.
The main section of the festival was held on Sinn O Dann street and featured a Lion Dance competition. Although the signs said that there were Dragon dances we did not see any during our time. We were lucky enough to see a lion practicing his dance. This was exciting for me because I was able to get up close and grab these great shots of the lion in motion!
We took a few hours as the day turned into night to wander the streets of downtown with our hearts set on our usual search: the quest for new, tasty food. This time we were hoping to try some special cuisine for the Chinese New Year celebration, maybe some Chinese food (?) but with no avail we settled for a tasty bowl of our favorite shan noodles instead.
It's not just the lighting here, the picture above is of an actual golden watermelon. Bellow is a stall of small bite-sized candies that were all over the place during the New Year Festival.
We left the vibrance of the night market and returned to the main festival to wait for the competition to begin. Sure to arrive early, we grabbed some seats (tiny plastic stools) on the sidelines and watched the small street fill in with more people than I could have ever imagined could fit in the space. After a long wait, a parade of all the competitors, some sort of performance that I think was the lion performers paying their respects to the temple or the association or someone, the dance finally began.
There are many legends about how the lion dances began, my favorite involves a fierce creature named "Nain" who liked to terrorize villages and kidnap children. One year, a lion was stalking near a village when the Nain creature appeared. The lion attacked the Nain and frightened it away. After the lion also retreated, the villagers decided to make a costume of a lion to scare the Nain away if it were ever to return. The dance is accompanied by loud banging, music, and fireworks to continue to frighten the Nain. Since this the dance became a yearly ritual, the word Nain has become the Chinese word for Year. Happy New Year everyone!
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world