You don’t have to go to the countryside to get a nature fix. Wherever I go I look for plants and animals. Just like rural spaces, cities consist of a series of ecosystems, in which humans, plants and animals interact. The culture of a society affects how animals and plants are perceived and treated, so this is one way of helping me understand the beliefs and practices of the people around me.
This was my focus in exploring Yangon (Rangoon), the former capital of Myanmar (Burma).
Yangon is changing - fast. It is barely two years since the military junta relaxed its authoritarian grip and introduced an era of greater freedom and liberalization. This led to the lifting of sanctions and with it, the veil of isolation. Enter the developers, with their promises of progress and wealth, and enter the environmental challenges and threats that go with development.
|The old and the new side by side|
It's not all so beautiful though. I saw the largest rats I've seen ever in Yangon. Many of the footpaths are broken and in disrepair, and there are open drains as well.
The Betel Nut Palm, or Areca Palm, is a small palm tree widely cultivated throughout the country. It is native to Malaysia. Chewing betel nuts is a traditional social custom throughout Myanmar as well as many parts of Asia.
In Myanmar the betel nuts are chopped into small pieces and mixed with spices, such as clove and nutmeg, then wrapped in a leaf from the betel pepper vine (Piper betel). Many people set up stalls along the streets of Yangon, making up the packages to order, and selling them.
Chewing the nuts, I am told, gives a euphoric feeling. It also stains the mouth and teeth bright red, and has been found to be a carcinogenic. Often people in the street spit bright red gobs of betel nut juice.
Of all birds, pigeons must surely win the urban survival stakes. I've never seen as many pigeons as in downtown Yangon. Particularly around the Sri Kali Hindu Temple.
The race is on to try to save the gracious old colonial buildings from the bulldozers. One building has been preserved by turning it into a boutique hotel. As a special treat we stayed there for a couple of nights. I didn't care about the service, comfort or food. I stayed there because of the beautiful garden, in which my camera and I went on a bit of a rampage.
These tiny frogs lulled me to sleep each night with their loud calls. Apparently only male frogs make these sounds, in order to attract females of the same species. And apparently the rainy season is the breeding season.
I tend to think snails don't get the interest and respect they deserve. This snail, covered in its protective slime, is far more delicate and attractive looking than the common old garden snail. Identifying snails is very tricky. Shell colour, shape and markings, as well as body colour and markings, vary among individuals of the same species. So you need a combination of things, and even then, it's only to narrow down the range of possibilities. It's doing my head in ... so, enjoy this snail, that I am taking the liberty of naming Helix boutiquehotelus.
There are lots of poisonous snakes in Myanmar, but I don't think this little beauty was anything to worry about. It was a member of a family of water snakes living in one of the ponds in the garden. They were very small and inconspicuous - this photo was enlarged to show the chequered markings on the skin. Unidentified. But it knows who it is.
Some of the plants in the garden were unfamiliar, some were familiar to me as indoor plants and some were familiar from the blogs of friends like Stephanie, who gardens in the Southeast Asian region.
This was a flowering grass growing in the water. It is highly magnified. I love the way it dresses in pink and white bows and green hairy caps.
This is a Heliconia, one of a group of tropical plants with large leaves and colourful flowers.
In the garden was a group of broad leaved foliage plants, artfully placed so the light and shadows played on their leaves in changing patterns throughout the day. This would never happen with indoor plants!
Banana trees are common in Myanmar, both cultivated and wild. This is the banana flower.
The garden reflected in the swimming pool ... serenity at a price.
Lovely orchids in the garden ... I think this is Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi, an epiphytic orchid native to the region. In the wild it is found in lowland forests. This species appears to have been domesticated for garden use.
In the second (and last) post on searching for nature in Yangon, I visit a market and take a long train ride around the city and into the surrounding countryside.