A short boat ride from Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State lies Wabo village. The settlement is known as the “weaving village” and here you’ll see women working hard at looms in the sheltered areas located below the ground floors of their stilted homes. Wabo is famous for the design and quality of its longyis, the traditional, wrap-around garment still worn by a majority of Myanmar’s inhabitants. While walking around the village—it was in 2008—I came upon this school, and the kids had just been let out for a short spell. There was something about the school’s wooden structure and the children with their smiles, framed within a break in the surrounding lush foliage, that made this, for me, a memorable shot.
Mrauk-U differs from the older, regional temple-complex centers it’s sometimes compared to. Unlike Angkor Wat, it was never completely abandoned to the elements as it hosts a rural population who live amongst the remains of the past. And unlike Bagan, those local people weren’t booted out to make way for what Myanmar’s military junta thought a potential UNESCO world heritage site and tourist attraction should look like. Successive Myanmar governments have wanted World Heritage status for Mrauk-U and a decision was to be rendered this year. However in light of the current coup and violence against anti-junta demonstrators, that might well be on hold. Mrauk-U and this building (Shittaung Temple) are located within Rakhine State, a region that’s been in turmoil for some time. In 1977, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in the state were forced to flee for their lives after a brutal military campaign that targeted their villages. Thousands were murdered.
Not just a shirt
Myanmar is a land of beauty but also one of turmoil. Aside from an over-mighty, unaccountable military, one big reason has been the inability of the majority Burman population and the myriad ethnic minorities to agree on an equitable division of political power and national resources, as well as on access to security and other basic human needs. The flag shown here represents Kawthoolei, a putative independent Karen nation and shows that the man wearing this shirt is himself a Karen, one of Myanmar’s largest ethnic minorities. The bearded figure is that of the late Saw Ba U Gyi, a British-trained lawyer who went on to lead the Karen revolution before being killed in an an encounter with Burmese soldiers in 1950. After his death, those soldiers took his body to the coast and tossed it into the sea in an attempt to forestall his supporters making him a martyr. But that’s exactly how many Karen view Saw Ba U Gyi. At a Karen Revolution Day ceremony inside Karen-controlled territory, I once listened to Ba U Gyi’s daughter speak about the need for educating young Karen students so their people as a whole could go forward.
Synthetic rubber is readily available but, as the saying goes, there’s nothing like the real thing. This tree is very close to what once was Camp Carroll, an America artillery base in the Republic of Vietnam. To get there, I traveled along Route 9, the originally French-commissioned colonial highway located close to the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam. The base, run by South Vietnamese soldiers after the Americans downsized their force commitments, fell in 1972 to North Vietnamese soldiers. Closer to the highway, I encountered local people heat-testing the sap for quality and then, if satisfied, pouring it into large containers for transport to processing facilities. It was late 2017, and I was traveling from Dong Ha to Khe Sanh, site of the former American combat base. The battle there formed a prelude to the politically-momentous 1968 TET Offensive.
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, is one of Japan premier attractions and one of it’s most-photographed religious shrines. Seven centuries ago, it served as residence for a powerful aristocrat before being converted into a Zen Buddhist temple. While its appearance might normally lead one to conclude the structure is the original one, that is simply not the case. The wooden structure has burned down at least twice, most recently seventy years ago, before being rebuilt. When I visited, there were scores of other photographers—many with large, heavy tripods—moving around and looking for the best locations to set up and capture the interplay of color and light. Considering that other visitors simply wanted to linger or stroll around the scenic grounds, one often needed to wait some time to get a shot like this.
Island with a past
It’s not every restaurant with a view like this. The small tropical island in the background looks inviting enough, but today you can only go there by special invitation. In the past, you didn’t want to go there, invitation or not. Devil’s Island in French Guiana was part of France’s colonial penal system, and while it was gloomy enough for prison officials or soldiers to be there, it was worse for the poor imprisoned souls who had to languish on the island. The most famous internee was Captain Albert Dreyfus, an innocent man convicted of treason and condemned to serve a life sentence there in 1895. Dreyfus was Jewish and the Dreyfus Affairs exposed the malign influence of anti-Semitism in French society. It was said that any time an unknown ship came close to the island, a French soldier pointed his revolver at Dreyfus’ head in case, lest someone try to rescue him. Dreyfus was released in 1899 and exonerated in 1906.
Here We Go!
This will be the first post of a new blog. I do, for now, have a separate photography gallery website but wanted something more focused on easier blogging. Like the photography site, there will be plenty of visuals, but I hope to provide more written context. As one might infer from the tagline under Roaming Wide above, travel will be a major though not the only focus of this blog. I’ll also touch on art, culture, politics, conflict, human rights and anything interesting that I see, or that pops into my head. If you read the About Me page, that will also give you some idea why. I’ve written a few books which I will refer to from time to time, and my separate Author webpage is www.richardwriting.com, easy to remember.