Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Myanmar


At the end of my second week in Myanmar I traveled to Kalaw where I booked a trek through Shan country from Kalaw to Nyaungshwe on Inle Lake. Here are a few pictures from my slide show to give you an idea of the varied terrain. The only thing you won’t see in the photos, however, is how broiling hot it was. Thankfully, Taung Yo, our superb cook, lent me his long-sleeved shirt so I avoided certain sunstroke!

I traversed with a French couple, a guide, and the cook. We walked through numerous villages and tribal enclaves, stopping frequently to exchange greetings with an assortment of people. Everyone was eager to be photographed. It’s the instant replay that fascinates. I’ve discovered that one of the best things about digital cameras is witnessing the glee with which the children view their photos. They squeal, jump up and down, run to show their friends, and immediately want MORE.  Kids are the same everywhere—a delight to behold.

Taung Yo, our cook. Farmer met along a bumpy country road

Wandering up and down dale

A lazy day in the village

We met lots of children along the way. Notice the sunscreen….

They found us quite a curious lot….

We camped at a Buddhist monastery along the way. Was fascinated listening to the youngest monks learning their chants. Here I am standing with the head monk.

Taung Yo’s makeshift kitchen. The food was a wonderful vegetarian cuisine. Each of us enjoyed a whole avocado daily!

Fishermen on Inle Lake.

A coveted job…digging rich soil from the lake bottom. Notice how one foot is used to paddle and steer the boat

Floating flower and vegetable gardens made from the fresh loam

More fisherman plumb the depths of the lake

Bridges and pedestrian walkways abound on the lake

A typical house on stilts on the lake shore


ImageMore scenes on Inle Lake


Many temples along the lake

Morning chores in Nyaungshwe

Heading for work

In front of the gate of one of many temples

A haircut right in your own backyard, before school….

Headed out of town on a Myanmar super highway, circa 2008. For the few who own cars, gas is sold in quart bottles

I’m not finished with Myanmar. Indulge me one more time as I post a series of pictures of the Golden Rock, the ancient city of Bagan, with over 2,000 pagodas and temples, Mandalay and environs, and Hsipaw, high in the mountains. I shall be back in July after attending the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering in Newport, PA, and spending a week with my two sisters at our cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Summer is finally here and I love it!

Footnote: What a season this has been on Broadway! I managed to take in most of the Tony winners and especially liked Peter and the Starcatcher, the clever, fast-moving prequel to Peter Pan, and the hilarious Venus in Fur with Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy. Also, a special treat was Harold Pinter’s Caretaker, starring the inimitable Jonathan Pryce, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and Simon Gray’s Common Pursuit. I was thrilled at long last to see the stunning London production of War Horse...a birthday treat from Paul Sharar and family. There was also a provocative English import, Cock, and the Signature Theater’s revival of Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! that I had seen in 1989 shortly after I returned from my initial trip to South Africa. It still packs a wallop. And guess what…tomorrow I see Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. How good is that!

Finally, I wish you all a happy, albeit not too warm summer. Let me hear from you.


Those of us who have traveled to and fallen in love with Myanmar and its people are overjoyed at what seems to be the beginning of a new era in its troubled history. With the release from house arrest of Nobel Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her election to Parliament on the National League for Democracy ticket this year—the first free election since the military junta took over 50 years ago—there is reason for hope. When I was there for a month in 2007 I traveled throughout the country, very much off the beaten track! I was met with open arms and smiling faces. How could these people be so happy when faced with daily deprivation and tyranny, I asked. There they were…working together, laughing together, worshipping together at their temples. One elderly man with a long white beard looked me in the eye and answered my question. “We have struggled for years and we know it will take a long time to regain our freedom. But we are living in the present and we can either choose to be miserable or we can choose to be happy. We choose to be happy.”

Let me share another portion of my slide show, entitled Countries in Crisis: Myanmar, Tibet, and Ladakh. This week I will concentrate on Myanmar.

Feeding the monks outside the Motherland Inn (2)

                                        Yangon street scenes:

Family travel

Street vendor

Many open air markets

Repairing pavement

On-site muffler repair

Being watched during work

All in a day’s work

For your protection?

                                 Scenes from Shwedagon Pagoda:

A little whimsy at the elaborate entrance to the temple

Women volunteers for clean up on their birth date….

Men volunteers putting fresh flowers on the altars

Proud Papa

Proud Papa

Proud Mama (white cream is sunscreen)

Beguiling children

That’s one large bell!

Historic ceiling decoration

Open air praying

Many small alcoves with gold statues that light up at night

The temple is made up of many sections….

Pagoda at sunset

Relaxing outside the temple

Next week I’ll post more slides of Myanmar showing my trek from Kalaw to Nyaungshwe, the Golden Rock, Bagan, and exploration around Mandalay.

For those of you eager to hear more about Broadway, I ‘ve seen some wonderful shows since I last reported in March, beginning with a repeat of the Million Dollar Quartet and the unbelievable new musical, Once. Others include The Lyons with the inimitable Linda Lavin; Leap of Faith with an impressive Raul  Esparza; a neat local production from the What Exit Theater Project of Christopher Durang’s comedy, Miss Witherspoon, with a electric performance by Bev Sheehan; a disappointing comedy, Don’t Dress for Dinner, and an amazing performance by John Lithgow in The Columnist.

I also was privileged to see the new production of Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera, and the most superb rendition of Verdi’s LaTraviata I’ve ever heard, with Natalie Dessay, Matthew Polenzani, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

The final concert of the Plainfield Symphony featured a program of Gustav Mahler’s songs with Lisa Daltirus and Mark Walters, ending with his Symphony #4.

One last note. I went to Philadelphia last Sunday with Phyllis Bitow, who played percussion for the world premier of a composition by Andrea Clearfield using Tibetan folk music, chants, and instruments. This was done in conjunction with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. There were also dances by Tibetans who live in the area. It was marvelous and brought back so many memories of my time in Tibet. The program concluded with the singing of the Faure Requiem.


It seems impossible that twenty-one years have gone by since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, who won an overwhelming victory (82%) in the elections of 1990, was put under house arrest by the Junta, which failed to recognize her election as the head of the National League for Democracy and future prime minister. To this day the repressive military dictatorship still rules with an iron fist. This past summer Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended until after the upcoming elections this spring. And just today the National League for Democracy disbanded and refused to participate in the elections, saying that to do so would be to renounce the validity of the last democratic election, something that would undermine their dignity and nullify everything they’ve stood for all these years. As you can imagine, this raises questions about both the future of the Burmese opposition and the credibility of the upcoming vote.

Recently, The New York Times had reported signs that a change is coming to the beleaguered people of Myanmar, but only on the junta’s terms. I have my doubts about any real change, from other sources that tell of the continued persecution, torture, and incarceration (under the worst possible conditions) of 2100 dissidents since the peaceful uprising by Buddhist monks in 2007.  This information is widely available on the Internet and I urge you to read it.

Something I had not realized is that during her arrest, Suu Kyi was also awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990. She used her Nobel Peace Prize money (1.3 million US Dollars) to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.

As you know, I spent almost four weeks in Myanmar in January of 2007 and reported about these friendly, welcoming people, who are living under such tyranny and deprivation. I did not dare write to those I met, however, nor mention their names on this blog for fear of reprisals due to their association with me, a Westerner.

Here are some pictures that will give you an idea of a country I hope to revisit at the end of this year. I start at the famous Kandawgyi Gardens that James Wilson and I explored when coming back from a visit to Thipaw in the mountains, reached by going on the train over a notoriously high tressle that nearly scared me to death. The gardens were designed by the English at the beautiful Hill Station of Pyin oo Lwin.

First are some shots of the orchids, then the flower gardens and birds:

The military is everywhere

The next pictures were taken on the all-day boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan

Children playing along the riverbank

Standing in the water and selling to the passengers

Business as usual

Fields of flowers everywhere

Family picnic

Now the Day is Over….


Hiking in Harriman Park

Hiking in Harriman Park

The entrance to Thendara Camp

The entrance to Thendara Camp

I’m not a weather-watcher, but I can stand the capriciousness of April just so long. Two weeks ago I took a great seven-mile hike in Harriman State Park, about an hour drive from my house, and we were in shirt sleeves. Now I’m back in polypro. Think I’ll leave the weather stripping on the windows and doors a bit longer. And the lawn furniture in the garage.

The weekend at Harriman was spent with a group of hikers at Thendara Camp, a rustic cabin near Lake Tiorati on Seven Lakes Drive. Each week there are different hosts who take turns with meals and opening and closing the camp. This week it was Alan and Cathy Gordon, and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. The small lake close to the cabin was a bit too cold even for me, but it was great to get back into the woods, again. We crisscrossed the Appalachian Trail and several local trails, and climbed to splendid views of the Letterback and Hasenclever Mountains, ending up for lunch near a charming old family burial ground circa 1850. It was peaceful, utterly quiet, and somewhat ghostly. I love it just before the end of the winter when you can see the hills more closely through the leafless trees.

After lunch we explored Hasenclever, one of the old iron mines, where ore was dug to make the material for cannonballs during the Revolution. These are dotted everywhere in Harriman and it’s fascinating to see the dark water filling the giant caverns in the earth, and the huge boulders left by the excavation.

I finally taught myself how to upload videos to YouTube. Below is the link. Just click on it. I promise there will be more from my Tanzanian trip in the future. You may notice by the beginning remarks that I was quite a neophyte as I attempted to tape the porters singing and dancing at Lava Tower Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The quality is vastly inferior to the original, due to the size that YouTube can handle, but the spirit of the song is there. Hope you like it.

Here is a video interview with Suzanne Roberts that was made last spring just before l left for two months in Ladakh, India. They filmed for three hours and came up with five minutes. You can imagine how condensed that one was! But at least there were those who found it inspirational that such an ancient creature went to so many challenging places.

Several people have asked me to refresh the links to my facebook photo albums—pictures of my first two weeks in Myanmar. I didn’t realize that they expire after about six months. Facebook “friends” can get them anytime by looking at my profile, but, otherwise, just click on the links below or cut and paste them into your internet address bar. I can’t seem to find the sixth album, but here are the first five.

In conclusion, my big opera event at the Met for the month was a double bill: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. The tenor Jose Cura was the lead in both and is now my favorite post-Pavarotti tenor. Watch for him. He’s terrific…and handsome, too!

© 2024 Meg Noble Peterson