Thursday, 13th August 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Myanmar (Burma)

Posted on 07. Oct, 2015 by in Books, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Myanmar (Burma)

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Myanmar (Burma)
True Asian Tales of Folly, Greed, Ambition and Dreams

Buy the book:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Explorer’s Eye Press. Geneva. 2015.

ISBN: 978-2-94-573-02-8      Kindle
ISBN: 978-2-94-573-01-1       Print on demand
ISBN: 978-2-94-573-00-4      Ingram



This is the first book in a five-book series of unusual (and true) personal travel tales. Within the first three days of the book’s publication it has become an Amazon best-seller in its category.

What do jumping cats have to do with Buddhism’s Middle Path?  Did Orwell really hate everyone in Burma? How did Myanmar’s ruling junta use white elephants to consolidate their power?  Will a synagogue caretaker’s improbable dream ever come true? What arrogance drives western travelers to seek the “unknown” in Myanmar’s Nagaland?  And why should you never disrespect the nat spirits who guard a sacred forest?

This is Myanmar as you’ve probably never imagined, full of curious people, startling happenings and unexpected moments of humanity and introspection, giddiness and solemnity, avarice and ambition.



“In the great tradition of Asian reporting.  The humanity of Somerset Maugham, the adventure of Joseph Conrad, the perception of Paul Theroux, and a self-effacing voice uniquely his own.” Gary Braver, bestselling author of Tunnel Vision

“The spirit of Kipling in contemporary Asian journalism.  This collection is essential reading for anyone who wishes to pass beyond even the unbeaten track, right to the heart of Asia.” John Burdett, author of Bangkok Eight, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts

“A fun, and funny, introduction to some of the most interesting people, places and sights of South and Southeast Asia.  A must-read for all serious travellers.” Jonah Blank, author of Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana through India and Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras

“If anyone can pull off something as innovative as Curious Encounters, it’s Paul Sochaczewski. Expect pellucid writing, insightful irreverence and universal truths elegantly presented, in a genre that defies categorization.” John Keay, author of When Men and Mountains Meet, India: A History, China: A History, and Mad about the Mekong

“Most of Paul Sochaczewski’s curious encounters start out as intelligent travel writing, exploring hidden corners of Asia and characters very much out of the ordinary.  But this series works on a more complex level, he frequently zooms in out of left field with a curious tangent, a sensitive reminiscence, a provocative opinion, a new way of looking at events that already are beyond most “normal” travelers’ tales.  I read each story feeling refreshed, enlightened, and curious to see what the next stage of Sochaczewski’s journey would bring.” Judith M. Heimann, author of The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and his remarkable life and The Airmen and the Headhunters: a true story of lost soldiers, heroic tribesmen and the unlikeliest rescue of World War II

“Constructed on a base of strange but true personal travel adventures, Curious Encounters adds elements of history, an edgy sense of humour, mysticism, political-incorrectness, current affairs and memorable characters you’ll wish you had the pleasure to meet on your travels.  Consider each book in this series like a good curry — the result is more than the sum of its parts; each tale has its own zing.  Travel with these books to the little-visited corners of Asia, and savour them.” Jason Brooke, director of The Brooke Trust

“Paul Sochaczewski skips about Asia like a Monkey God hopping from mountain to mountain, bringing back life-prolonging peaches while annoying the gatekeepers. Whatever you do, follow him on this journey!” Lee Chor Lin, director of National Museum of Singapore, former curator of Asian Civilizations Museum-Singapore, author Batik: Creating an Identity

“In this series Sochaczewski explores the hidden corners, the forgotten people, and their surprising tales.  All the personal traveler’s tales in these volumes are captivating, all filled with humor, drama and insight, with an edgy take-no-prisoners voice; you won’t find anything else like this on the bookshelf.” Jeff McNeely, chief scientist, International Union for Conservation of Nature

“Sochaczewski is a world-class searcher, reporter, and observer who has criss-crossed Asia for forty years, pausing in the most unlikely places and finding extraordinary people.  The essays in this insightful and witty chronicle present a rich tapestry of eccentric nobles, self-serving naturalists, scoundrels who will make your teeth ache, celebrity monks and memorable folks whose stories are too good to be true.  But they are.” Christopher G. Moore, author of the Vincent Calvino novels, and Heart Talk

“The Curious Encounters of the Human Kind series is a delicious stew of improbable characters and intriguing stories, served up in thoroughly pithy style, and with a hearty dash of irreverent humour.” Tim Hannigan, author of Raffles and the British Invasion of Java and Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis: the Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation

“The Curious Encounters series is proof positive that a writer/traveler can immerse himself in Asian cultures and yet remain objective enough to write extremely entertaining and often irreverent articles and colorful stories about what he has experienced.  From Indonesian mystics to Burmese white elephant hunters, the descriptions are spot-on.  There is something in these articles and stories that reminds me of the writing of Paul Theroux — not as cynical, perhaps, but the author is just as able to look at events with a clear, unsentimental and yet sympathetic eye.  You won’t regret a moment spent reading these tales which perfectly capture the allure and spice of the places visited.” Dean Barrett, author of Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior

“What a discovery!  Paul Sochaczewski is that rarest of writers, who knows that the real “Asian miracle” isn’t malls or computer geeks. In his years traveling the continent he has discovered an eternal assemblage of arcane explorers, putative emperors, frivolous mystics, sacrosanct elephants and, yes, miracle workers. When Sochaczewski finds them, in Javanese palaces or sacred forests protected by spirits, they are caviar (or sweetened bird’s nest) for his fascinating portraits. A book for everyone who knows that the Mysterious East is alive and well, and more how-about-that-wonderful than you perhaps imagined.” Harry Rolnick, author of The Chinese Gourmet, The Complete Book of Coffee, and Spice Chronicles: Exotic Tales of a Hungry Traveler

“I never tire of living vicariously through Paul Sochaczewski and his writing adventures. He keeps finding these wonderful details that miraculously open up entire worlds to be explored.  Paul is the last of the Great Hunters, only instead of trophies, it is stories he brings home for our admiration, wonder and delight.” Mark Olshaker, Emmy-winning filmmaker, author of Einstein’s Brain, The Edge, and Mindhunter



Tina Turner does it, Tom Cruise does it, so does Arnold. Is the Middle Path suitable for trained felines?

Can rare pale pachyderms make a ruler righteous?

Caretaker of Rangoon’s only synagogue dares to dream. Will his children go forth and multiply?

Ganesha, who removes obstacles, isn’t helping much in this particular quest

Burma photographer has achieved success by realizing that size matters

What’s a more powerful conservation incentive — a government jail or a spiritual punishment?

Nat spirits, hermit monks and a farm boy who plays off eight make Mount Popa Golf Course an other-worldly experience

A backwater town in Upper Burma was the site for Orwell’s Burmese Days, a book that takes no prisoners

A traveler’s dream — being the first foreigner to trek in Nagaland


Sample Chapter (excerpt)

Tina Turner does it, Tom Cruise does it, so does Arnold. Is the Middle Path suitable for trained felines?


Is training cats one way to achieve the Middle Path?


“Come on Brochette, jump through this hoop. Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it — it can’t be that hard.”

Our ginger cat in Geneva was doing what cats everywhere do – exactly what she felt like. Which at this moment was not jumping through a hoop.

I was trying to accomplish a similar coup de persévérance to that which some monks in Burma have achieved.  Teaching cats parlor tricks.  But Brochette wasn’t buying it. What did the monks have that I didn’t?

Lots of patience and an abundant supply of Friskies, as it turned out.

I was introduced to the famous Burmese jumping cats at the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery, on Inle Lake.

The “jumping cat monastery” is a key stop for the trickle of tourists who visit Burma.  There I met Venerable U Nanda, 25, one of a dozen resident monks.

“It’s easy to train cats,” he said, somewhat reluctantly putting down his Burmese comic book.  With a large dose of ennui he explained that you simply start when they’re kittens, scratch them under the chin, say kon, and reward them with kitty treats.

Obviously, it works.  Every 30 minutes or so, when a group of visitors would accumulate, San Win, an assistant in the monastery, would put the cats through their paces.

“What’s that one called?” I asked, pointing to a black and white tabby.

World-weary U Nanda explained “That’s Leonardo di Caprio.”

“And this one?”

“Demi Moore.”

“Can I try?”

I held the wire hoop in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger,” paradoxically one of the skinnier cats in the temple.  I gave him a little nudge, ordered him to kon, and after he jumped I rewarded him with a biscuit.

Meanwhile Tina Turner was curled up on my backpack, asleep.  “Don’t leave your things on the floor,” U Nanda lectured.  “She pisses everywhere.”

After a while U Nanda started to open up. Perhaps he saw that since I wasn’t going to go away he might as well have a discussion.  I was interested in Buddhist history, he was interested in conjugating English verbs.

Throughout our conversation, the abbot, Sayadaw Kite Ti, 68, kept his distance and read a book. I don’t read Burmese, but from the pictures of cowboys and horses I was pretty sure that it wasn’t a religious text.  He didn’t glance up as visitors stuffed tattered kyat notes and a few dollar bills into the offering box.

I left Inle Lake to travel around Shan state, and returned a few weeks later and sought out U Nanda.  I felt I had unfinished business with the young monk, a feeling that there was more to him than a saffron-robed feline-inclined impresario.

“You again,” he said when I walked in.  He wasn’t hostile, but he wasn’t overly welcoming.

I deliberately avoided the handful of curious visitors watching Brad Pitt and Michael Jackson leaping about on the linoleum. “Tell me about the temple,” I asked.  And he did.  He showed me around the 160-year-old monastery, the oldest on Inle Lake.  Proudly, he turned on lights so that I could better see the six two-meter tall Buddha images made out of lacquerware, and the gilt-encrusted wooden statues and carved pillars.  He took me into the abbot’s room to show me old, sacred Buddha images.  In half an hour of looking through different eyes, the monastery for me had evolved from a tourist site into a combination art museum and place of worship

“What do you do?” he eventually asked me.

“I’m a journalist.”

“Then tell people the monastery is more than cats. It’s Buddha.”


Buy the book

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