Kerala, India
Red Lantern Journeys

Red Lantern Journeys specializes in arranging sightseeing tours and adventure travel packages to Asia customized to fit your schedule and interests. We focus on the best destinations in Asia including, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Mongolia, Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, and India.


Article by Laura Finkelstein | photos by published | august ‘09

Monks in MyanmarAsoft tapping on the door woke Noa and I from our daydreams and in walked two of our boat friends with a young novice monk trailing behind them. This was our third day floating down Burma’s Ayerwaddy river so we recognized all of our fellow passengers. This boy must have just boarded the boat at our last stop. At first we didn’t understand why our lady friends had brought him to us until after exchanging a few gestures we realized they only wanted us to keep him in the privacy of our front room. This was a sign of respect for the boy. Our boat had only 2 areas for passengers -- our room with about 8 passengers and the open top deck where the other 40 to 50 passengers each staked out their own territory by laying mats or plastic on the hard wood deck and surrounding this square with baskets of food and clothing.

"The open look of wonder on the boy’s face is something I will never forget."

We welcomed the novice and immediately warmed to him. He was about 12 years old and wore dark orange robes and had a lovely shy smile. We were at a loss as to how to entertain him during the several hours remaining until we reached Bagan. And then I remembered the slinky. The psychedelic, glow-in-the-dark, plastic, made-in-China slinky that Noa had bought me in Darjeeling. This slinky had charmed and befriended many children in Northeast India and Burma. I handed him the toy after showing him a few basic slinky maneuvers such as sliding it quickly from one hand to the other to watch the coils spring together and apart. Immediately he was mesmerized. He must have spent the next two hours just watching the slinky spring about because when I returned from wandering around the deck he had created several new slinky tricks. Never had I found someone who was so creative with this simple toy. Then I had a brainstorm. I thought back to my childhood days when I would spend hours walking the slinky down the 11 steps that lead from my bedroom to the downstairs landing. I still remembered how the slinky appeared to be alive as if it were walking on its own.

temple 1I beckoned the novice to follow me to the 15 or so stairs that led from the upstairs passenger deck to the lower freight deck. These steps were very wide, maybe 4 yards, and surrounded by a wood railing on 3 sides. First, I directed him to the bottom of the steps, strategically positioned to catch the slinky. My theory was that, much like riding a bike, even 20 years later I could recreate the "slinky-walking" motion. I placed one half of the slinky on the second step and arched the other half back onto the top step. After adjusting the slinky to just the right angle I let it go and watched as it sprung down the stairs like a young child just released from school would skip home. The open look of wonder on the boy’s face is something I will never forget.

The boy threw the slinky back to me and beckoned me to release it once more. Again and again we played this game in front of an increasing audience until we were surrounded by beaming Burmese faces. This was the true culmination of 3 amazing days of bonding with my fellow passengers. The boy became even more creative than I ever imagined with this game. He would bolt to the top of the stairs, let the slinky go, then sprint to the bottom and place one of any number of body parts under the slinky as it landed. His favorite seemed to be his head. The clean-shaven globe acted as a perfect slinky deflector. Eventually he found a few compatriots who released the slinky for him, allowing him enough time for fancier catches such as twirls and dives.

temple 2As they played, I left to talk with the sailors over lunch at the other end of the deck. I lost track of the monk and the next thing I knew the boat was stopping and the plank was pulled from the lower deck to the sandbar. A giant pagoda stood 1/3 of a mile in the distance. This must have been the novice’s home because when I turned to look out the window he was standing on the sand, holding the yellow and orange slinky proudly in his hands. I hadn’t meant to give him the toy, but how could I not, when he had been the most imaginative and joyful slinky player ever? Instead, I met his eyes and then made hand motions to indicate different slinky positions. Each time I made a hand motion he would immediately copy me with the slinky. I motioned a rocking, a balancing between two open turned-up palms; he did the same. I motioned a right-hand pull and he did the same. I gave him a goodbye wave and a big smile; he did the same and then ran off towards home.

Two years later as I write this. I like to think that somewhere in Burma along the Ayerwaddy River there is a whole monastery of very advanced slinky tricksters whose eyes are glowing and mouths are open wide in cheerful smiles as they watch their slinky walk down the pagoda’s broad steps.

Laura Finkelstein has spent several years traveling on and off throughout much of Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia by foot, bike, bus, rickshaw, camel, boat and nearly anything else that moves. Now she dreams of travel while planning trips for clients and keeping the office in order at Red Lantern Journeys in Seattle, Washington.

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