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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Sleeping under mosquito nets

It was the first night that I had to sleep under a mosquito net. I was told that without it I wouldn't be able to sleep. It was very cold in the morning when I got up. There was no hot water in the shower room, and the cold water ran just for a few minutes when I was all soaped. In my Burmese longyi I walked downstairs and told one of the hotel help that I needed some water to rinse myself. Since Taunggyi is built on top of the mountain all of the water has to be pumped out of the wells. It just happened when I was taking my shower that the pump which pumps the water out of the well stopped. One thing I noticed, when you visit that part of the world....don't look for conveniences. After a good breakfast the bus of Tourist Burma was waiting for us to take us to Inle Lake.

Lake Inle in Myanmar

Before we left the Taunggyi Strand Hotel I gave the driver and the guide of Tourist Burma each a little pocket money. As we were driving around I noticed that we were going in a different direction. When I asked the guide where we were going, he told me that money I had given him he was going to share with his sister who lived not too far in one of the Shan State towns. When we got to the little town and the driver parked his bus on the side of the road, a skinny woman with a baby came out of this very poor looking bamboo house. When I saw this I wished I had given the bus driver a lot more money. In front of the U San Lin I didn't want them to know that I had given the bus driver some money. From there on we drove through the Shan Valley. It was still early in the morning and the mist was hanging over the villages. Most people in the little bamboo houses had little wood fires. I could see them sitting around it and sipping tea. It was a nice sight seeing all those little bamboo houses with smoke coming through the roofs. Then the smoke would hang together with the mist in the air until the sun would clear it. Children were carrying small bundles of wood on top of their head. Others were carrying buckets of water from the well. It seems to me each of those children had a job to do in the early mornings.

After a little drive through some more little villages we arrived at the town of Yaungwe. There we took a narrow boat outfitted with a motor to take us for a 7 1/2 mile tour on Inle Lake to the next Inle village of Ywama.

Mystical. Magical. Outrageously picturesque. There are no other works to find for this fairy-tale land of Inle Lake. The Inthas who are a minority tribe have adapted so perfectly to its lake environment that its homes are built over the water on stilts, its vegetable fields float on the lake surface, and its fishermen troll their long, narrow boats with a unique leg-rowing motion that has made them famous. As the boat took us to a water channel, on both banks there was a snarl of silt and weed that the Inthas use to build their gardens on top of the lake. This snarl of silt and weed, left to its own devices takes about 50 years to produce a meter-thick humus-like layer. The Inthas cut those humus-thick layers into 328 foot by 6 1/2 foot sections and then tow the floating gardens across the lake to their homes. Once the garden is at their home it is anchored to the bed of the lake with bamboo poles, and then filled with mud ladled with long-handle scoops from the lake bottom. These gardens are cultivated from boats by the women, who use both sides of the fertile strip to plant and harvest crops year round. I could see the cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, peas, beans and eggplant and so many other oriental vegetables. There were also so many flower beds around. With the gardens on top of the lake all plants flourish year round with the moist condition.

There are about 70,000 Inthas living on the lake or near its shores. The reason these people live on the lake is because of a conflict in the 18th century between the Burmese and Thais. They have become one of the wealthiest tribes in all of Burma. The famous Shan shoulder bags and longyis, sold throughout the country, are manufactured here on the Intha's looms.

All over Inle Lake I saw fishermen in their narrow boats carrying a tall conical bamboo trap. Whenever a fisherman moved a trap, he let it trail beside his boat, holding it with one hand. With the other arm and one leg he propelled the oar, making good speed forward. Nearly as curious is their method of fishing, spearing for fish caught in his bamboo trap. It's so amazing to see those leg rowers standing on one leg, balancing surely on their shell-like boats, and moving their boat with the other leg. The Inthas were the only leg rowers I had ever seen.

CONTINUED: The Last Day in Burma
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index