about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

searching for nature in Yangon, Part Two


An essential place to visit in my nature quest was the largest market in Yangon, Thiri Mingalar Market. To call it busy and bustling would be an understatement. Trucks and bicycles loaded with produce from the countryside were being unloaded. Crowds of people milled around - shopping, selling, looking, talking, eating, drinking or just being.  There was a remarkably good vibe.




Durians. I have not yet been able to bring myself to take a bite of this popular fruit, although my Asian friends assure me they're delicious. All I know is that they smell disgusting, and signs in guest houses sometimes say: No Durians Allowed. 




In the market there are red, yellow and green bananas displayed for sale. They are sold on their stalks, in large bunches.


Flowers are important in Burmese culture as offerings to Buddha.


Lots of places to sit and have a healthy home cooked snack. No fast food here. This product was strictly not for vegetarians.


Bamboo had been prepared for cooking. It must have been hard work - cutting it down, cutting it into pieces, stripping the tough exterior, exposing the soft inner shoots that will be cooked and eaten. Bamboo has many uses in Southeast Asia. As well as food, it is used for baskets, hats and building materials.  It grows easily in the tropical climate, but bamboo forests are so vigorous they can choke out everything else, reducing biodiversity.


Chilis, green and red, and various varieties, also grow easily here, are an essential ingredient in Asian cooking, including Myanmar cooking.


You see people carrying incredibly heavy loads on their backs or bikes. There are no giant supermarkets (yet) with large organized supply chains. There's still opportunity for the small farmer to make a living, even if is by back breaking labour.



Next site in my nature quest was a train carriage. The Circle Line goes around Yangon and the surrounding countryside. The round trip takes three hours. It was a bit like being in the cinema. I just sat there and watched the ever changing varied cast of characters getting on and off the train.

This man was puffing contentedly on a cheroot, a locally grown and produced cigar. The Myanmar cheroot consists of a mixture of chopped tobacco and dried wood, wrapped in a thin leaf from the tha nat tree. Cheroots vary in size and strength, depending on how much tobacco they contain.

Cheroots are very important in Myanmar culture. According to writer Daw Khin Myo Chit, there is a traditional sensual Myanmar love song, still sung today, about a lady who gives her lover a cheroot. Her maid tells him she did not buy the tha nat leaf from the market, but picked it from the tree with her own hands, and let it dry under her bed from the warmth of her body.


Many people use the train as a means to transport goods. It is cheaper and much better for the environment than road use.


People selling food and drink get on and off the train. In this case the man is selling sliced pineapple. Another person was selling bottled water, another bananas.




This child has thanakha paste on her cheeks. Thanakha is a popular natural sunscreen derived from the shaved bark of a tree in the orange family. It is massaged into the cheeks of women and children. It is also believed to soften the skin and is used as makeup.


A man got on the train carrying two cages full of birds. He was taking them to Yangon to sell them, so people could set them free, thereby accumulating merit. According to Buddhist teachings, accumulating merit in this life is important in relation to your next incarnation.  This man had obviously trapped the birds specifically for this purpose. I worried about the welfare of the birds, and wondered how they would get on in their new environment. 


Last year an article in Scientific American discussed research in Cambodia that estimated nearly 700,000 birds go through this trade every year. They include 57 different species, including some that are threatened with extinction.

The Buddhist ritual of merit release, common throughout Asia, raises concerns about cruelty to the birds, and the impact on threatened species. The aim of the action is to show compassion, but the current context has clearly debased the noble intention. 

This is the last of my three posts on Myanmar. I only went to Inle Lake and Yangon. One day I hope to return to explore more of this fascinating country. 

28 comments:

  1. How interesting! What really stood out to me was how colorful everything was - especially all the different colors of the food. The natural sunscreen is fascinating! I would much rather put that on my skin than the chemical sunscreens I use every day.

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    1. I agree, Holley. Maybe it's an opportunity for some clever entrepeneur.

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  2. That last bit is hard to read. I wish they wouldn't poach birds....not good at all. Many don't have the education to know better nor the money....hence the poaching. Sad.

    As for the cuisine!!! Oh my gosh, I think I would get sick to my stomache from trying everything. It kind of looks delicious. As for the smelly fruit.....try it!!! You only live once:) It would be a funny picture of you biting into a piece:) Your shots are wonderful.

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    1. hi Chris, normally I am adventurous about trying different food when travelling. But during the rainy season there are a lot of bugs and my tummy wasn't very strong. Without going into gory detail, I'll just say I spent most of the time restricting my diet to plain rice and bananas! The exotic food was saved mostly for the camera.

      Seeing those birds closeup was very painful. I tried to talk to the man about it, but either he didn't want to talk to me, or he didn't know any English. Probably he didn't speak English, but I felt a bit suspicious ...

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  3. So very interesting to read about life in other lands. I enjoyed seeing the colorful plants and dfferent fruits and vegetables. I have always heard about durian, but have never had the opportunity to try it, although it might be available at our Asian markets, but I'm not sure I could handle the smell either!

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    1. I'm sure you can get durian at your Asian markets, I've seen them at ours. Let us know if you manage to try it - everyone who eats it says it's delicious!

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  4. that sunscreen looks an appealing alternative to Big Pharma chemicals. Wonder if it is commercially available to us? We have citrus trees, but I suppose it is a particular species?

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    1. I just looked up Wikipedia - they said it was mainly from the Murraya species. I wonder if it is available commercially for the Burmese diaspora, but I've never seen Burmese people here using it.

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  5. The bit about the birds is a worry. I have never been much of a religious sort of person, and some religious rituals to me seem ridiculous and even harmful. Great images.

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    1. Hi Karen, I'm not religious either, but I appreciate that Buddhism regards trees, plants and all living things as sacred. In theory this belief should protect the natural environment. But as Chris says, poverty and lack of education are important factors too. I'm so pleased you like the photos.

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  6. So fascinating, Sue! I'm with you regarding the Durian--if something smells bad, I have trouble trusting it (as a food anyway). How wonderful to have all that fresh fruit available! Thanks for taking us along on your adventures!

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    1. so pleased you enjoyed the post, Beth.

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  7. Such a wonderfully colourful and busy place, it reminds me a lot of Sierra Leone in west Africa, where my husband and I spent a month teaching a few years ago. It is hard when we come across customs that we feel are wrong, but form part of their beliefs, do we keep quiet or try and reason with them? Hopefully the birds will be ok in their new environment.

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    1. hi Pauline, it's an interesting question: do we excuse human rights or environmental violations on cultural grounds, or do we regards these values as universal? If birds are becoming extinct or endangered, it must be a bad practice. Spending a month in Sierra Leone must have been amazing.

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  8. You are a very good people photographer Sue. Everybody seems so happy to pose for you. Let's hope that one day in the near future they will realize that this is no way to treat birds. I tried durian once. It is sold in some oriental supermarkets over here. But I won't try it again. I found it tastes just as bad as it smells.

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  9. Hi Denise, maybe you didn't realize you're supposed to put a peg on your nose! Seriously, this is what I feared. Thanks for the compliment about my people photographing skills. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I love capturing shots of people, but it can be hard not to be intrusive. I got a wonderful shot of a little child, who then got terribly distressed. Now when I look at the photo I try to forget what he was like a minute afterwards.

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  10. Oh what an adventure! Everything is so fascinating. When I was there I saw thanakha paste being used to put on the face in various styles and almost every teenager and children has it. It's their beauty secret ;-) Did you buy some back? I actually wanted to but didn't have to the chance to do so. With those street snacks... oh I dare not try haha... And btw, have a great weekend!

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    1. I didn't think to buy some thankha. Next time ...

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  11. Since I likely will never get to Yangon or anywhere over there, I really enjoyed all your photos and descriptions.

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    1. I feel like that when people post stuff about the northern hemisphere. So pleased you enjoyed the post, Linda.

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  12. Sue, it's another world, and one not moving TOO quickly, it seems. I can understand how you would want to simply gaze on your surroundings, how that would be enough. How did you feel coming back home?

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    1. Dear Faisal, I didn't mind coming home, but now I want to go back there.

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  13. Your trip is so fascinating but I'd worry about the birds, too. I hate seeing birds in cages. I've heard durian is delicious, too, if you can get past the smell.

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  14. You really had a wonderful trip getting to know the food, customs and people. I was not too pleased to read that they capture birds even for what seems to be a good gesture in freeing them. It is hard to wrap oneself around how others live throughout the world, just as if they came here and saw some of the actual cruelty we inflict upon animals. Some things concerning animals that go on in this country are very bad and make capturing birds seem like nothing.

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    1. The culture in Burma is very different in many ways to ours, and hard to understand. But I suppose we should speak out against cruelty to animals wherever it occurs.

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  15. All so very relaxed and so different from the lives we lead. I loved your pictures of the people seemingly embracing having their photograph taken. I must say I can forgive the ritual with the birds, it doesn't compare with the shooting of animals for pleasure albeit in the name of sport. Thoroughly enjoyed this post Sue.

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    1. hi Alastair, that's interesting, comparing it with shooting for pleasure. They certainly don't do that, they're too poor. Killing animals is strictly for food. When you said relaxed I thought how different the climate is there to your part of the world. They don't have to wear as many clothes as you do , might that contribute to a kind of laid back look?

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