When Places Vanish

One of the strangest experiences as a traveler is to visit a place that later vanishes. I’ve visited two countries that no longer exist: West Germany and Czechoslovakia.

Uwe and I once stood on a part of the summit at Mount Etna on Sicily. A few months later a flow of erupting lava buried the very spot where we’d stood. It’s in the nature of Nature to be transitory. Nothing lasts forever.

Maybe that’s why Sicilians pray when they drive by spots where the lava flow stopped just short of towns. Every single time an Italian car passes, the driver makes the sign of the Cross. I laughed – but they sure know something about life’s fragility.

Some changes are somber. In 2009, before Myanmar briefly opened up to the world, Uwe and I spent a month exploring the country. Once known as Burma, Myanmar was closed off to the outside. We needed special permits to be allowed into several places.

We explored spots that seemed to have sprung out of fairy tales, like this market in Sittwe.

Market, Sittwe

We took off our shoes to enter temples.

Those areas of Myanmar are shut tight again. It feels like a book of fairy tales that has been closed and locked away. All the mysterious creatures can’t be seen anymore. But the ogres and demons and the special people with their magic remain…

Pa-O guide to Kakku Pagoda Complex, Taunggyi in the heart of Shan State
Inle Lake
U-Bein Bridge
Mrauk U
Chin village elder

When places vanish from our consciousness, they aren’t really gone. Sometimes, they are simply hidden.

As you drive past the spot where they were once visible, be sure to make a sign to ward off bad fortune. And make sure you acknowledge the spirits now unseen…. but very much still there.

Bagan

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and named a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

 

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Chugging Slowly Upriver in Northwest Burma, Part 2

We had arranged in Sittwe for a guide, a boat and a special day visa in order to travel on to the semiautonomous Chin State. The ethnic Chin struck a deal with the Myanmar government at the Panglong Conference. The Chin won’t fight for their own independent state. In return the government basically leaves them alone to manage their affairs.

As we headed up the river the small boat traveled slowly. It was the last day of the year, a calm morning with no winds.

Sky and water reflected one another like twin mirrors.

In a mirror
In a mirror

We sailed on for several hours, and I was overtaken by a sense of displacement that was complete. It was preternaturally still, so quiet and without movement that it seemed we had sailed to a place located somewhere between firmament and earth. It wasn’t quite attached to either.

Finally the boat came to a stop and we debarked and began our walk up into the first Chin village. The villages are extremely remote and what makes them extraordinary (for us anyway) is the fact that the Chin practice the art of tattooing. The tradition had been strongly discouraged by the government since the 60’s, and was believed to have almost died out.

In the villages we sailed to by boat, only the old women were reputed to still have the facial tattoos. The men had gone out into the jungle and gathered the materials necessary for the tattooing process. Several days of painstaking tattoo work ensued; only faces of  young teenaged girls were transformed.

We walked through the village with our guide talking to the locals.

Chin village path
Chin village path

Pigs and puppies tumbled on the path as people worked. The tamped dirt was cleared and clean.

After perhaps 20 minutes of walking through the village and watching and being watched, the female elders suddenly appeared to meet us.

Part 3 to be posted soon.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Chugging Slowly Upriver in Northwest Burma: Part I

I met my Australian mate Iain in immersion language class: he’d married a German, too. Together we confronted the ‘small’ detail of learning the native tongue. That was 19 years ago. Both of us are still here, still married to our Germans, and we’re still friends.

Iain likes my blog, but he’s irritated with the photo I selected for the top border. “Why do you say ‘Greetings from Germany’, and then use a photo on a river somewhere?

Billowing sail
Billowing sail

“It’s a nice picture and all that, but why don’t you have a picture of Germany?” he went on. “When all’s said and done Deutschland‘s your home now.”

“It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want,” I thought. But he’s right, and I promised Iain I’ll work up a post about beer or Christmas Markets or beer at the Christmas Markets. (Actually, at the Weihnachtsmarkt everyone drinks an amazing hot mulled wine called Glühwein, but that’s a different post.)

So, in the interests of clarity:

The photograph runner at the top of my page was taken as we chugged slowly up the Kaladan River in northwest Burma. For close to 8 hours we sailed by other boats.

Family transportation
Family transportation

We passed a continuous landscape of grazing water buffalo,

Water buffalo

high round haystacks,

Haystacks along the river

and villages along the water.

Everyone works busily

Our goal was to travel from Sittwe to Mrauk U (pronounced more or less “Mrou Oo”), once capitol to the ancient Rakhine kingdom that based its money and power on maritime  trade with Europe, India, and Arabia. Mrauk U’s king employed Japanese samarai as body guards!

There is just 1 road over land to Mrauk U. As of 2009 only the Burmese were permitted to use it. Tourists arrived by boat, or not at all.

The excitement of a boat sailing past

We needed to reach Mrauk U as a jumping-off point to get to the villages of the Chin State. This semi-autonomous region is very near the border to Bangladesh. We hoped to see the traditional tattoed elders and could visit the area with an assigned guide, a special day visa, and a goodly dose of luck. Maybe the elders would come out to meet us; maybe they wouldn’t. We’d have to hire a boat to take us even further upriver and see what happened from there.

On the last day of the year 2009 we climbed into a second, much smaller boat, this one on the Lemro River, and continued up to the Chin State.

Part 2 to be posted soon.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)