24 Feb
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Morning at the Monastery

I stayed two weeks at the Shwe Oo Min Monastery, which is a little more than half of the total time I was in Burma, and in some ways it was the most exotic part of the trip — because I was actually participating in the culture, as opposed to staying at hotels, visiting sites, and passing on through. It was also the most boring part of the trip…because it was pretty much the same thing, day after day…but now that I’m back and into my “normal” home-town life, it’s what I remember most vividly.

Especially the mornings.

The wake-up bell rang at 3:30 am (!) and the first sit of the day was from 4:00 to 5:00 am. I stayed in bed the first morning, but on the second, I decided to get up, because I imagined how lovely it would be to sit in the cool and the quiet of the morning, in the big hall with its wide-open windows, all peaceful and comfy under my sweet little canopy of mosquito netting.

And it was like that. For a few minutes. Then the young monks in the building next door started chanting…which was lovely. But then a clock somewhere in the hall started chiming and bonging…Big Ben style…only off by about 10 minutes — and THEN a loud speaker, from somewhere just over the monastery walls, started BLASTING out Asian pop music at MAX VOLUME!!! Which didn’t seem to bother anyone else in the hall. No one was getting up to MAKE THEM STOP (which is what I wanted to do). No one was even turning around in their seats to see what the heck was going on.

And then the cows at the dairy farm nearby started moo-ing. And then the birds–big, LOUD, tropical birds–started screeching and squawking. All different kinds of exotic birds, all with different calls, all QUITE LOUD. And then someone just outside the windows seemed to be shoveling gravel. And then someone else started snorting and coughing and hawking up great globs of mucus and spitting it out, with great gusto.

Eventually I came to realize that this was all perfectly normal. The loudspeakers especially. They didn’t come on every morning, so you couldn’t exactly get used to them. But they came on quite often. And they didn’t just broadcast pop music. Sometimes it sounded like a radio program, with a canned laugh-track. Or a political harangue. Or traditional Asian music. Or a sermon. Or chanting. And sometimes there wasn’t just one loudspeaker. Sometimes there were competing loudspeakers — all at MAX VOLUME — broadcasting all kinds of different music and/or programs.

It was crazy. This went on about half of the mornings, until just after dawn. Then it was quiet during the middle (hot part) of the day, but then it would often start up again around dusk…especially on weekends or if it was some kind of holiday…and it would go on late into the night…sometimes all night!

Nobody, except the newly arrived Westerners, seems to mind it in the least.

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