Mediocre to Majestic Mandalay
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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Our first stop of the day was the money changer at a nearby hotel where forty US dollars gets you in return a stack of Kyats (pronouced "chyats") roughly a inch thick
I've grown jaded to the wonders of Asia's temples, wats, pagodas and stupas but to be fair an exceptional structure can still generate excitement. Such is the case with the famous Mahamouni Paya [temple]. Our trishaw driver dropped us off several yards before the gate that lead to the main paya, which was surrounded by several minor payas within the complex. From a tower a military serviceman beat a drum and clanged a gong intermitingly. Broadcast throughout blared the mystical chanting drones of the monks while inbetween breaths the thousands of tinkling chimes that adorned the main stupa sounded an overlapping chorus of dainty tings
The famous and much-revered gold-covered bronze Mahamouni Buddha is said to have been cast in the First Century and some claim that it was actually modeled after the Buddha himself. The faithful believe that the Mahamouni Buddha is the most true to form rendering of the Buddha and that it is also the very first statue in his image. It is a holy site for millions of Burmese and most make it at least a full-day pilgramage and will eat, sleep and shop within the tremendous compound. Once while jocking for just the right shot of the Buddha I was squating and angling my lense upward when a woman and her child offered me some of their lunch. I gestured toward my stomach and smiled and wai'd shaking my head. It was touching to be offered food from someone who clearly had so very little to offer and it humbled me. Next to her a family laid their mat down as one would at a picnic and organized their little setup. Across the way families admired postcards of the paya and craftsmen carved and gilded statues. This is what I've come to call many of the vast Buddha temple complexes here in Myanmar, "Buddha Lands".
One of the most amazing aspects of the Mahamouni Buddha are the copious layers of gold leaf that are applied by those seeking to gain merit
For lunch I had our driver drop us off at a tea shop where I'd eaten yesterday. We sat on stools at wooden stables below which were the ubiquitous spitunes used for trash and the expunged red bettlenut juice. We ate Burmese versions of Indian breads with various curries of peanuts with white beans and spicy English peas with onions. The waiters wore tee-shirts advertising a condensed milk called "My Boy", which featured a smiling blond-haired Aryan youth with Burmese subtitled text. We had to have them. I inquired where we could possibly buy some but was told that they were uniforms and that it was impossible
After returning to the hotel to freshen up a bit we chartered a clown-like tuk-tuk to see the world's longest teak bridge in a town called Amarapura. The rides there and back were far more intersting than the actual rickety pedestrian bridge, which was nonethless of minor interest. The people along the way who saw us in the back of the tuk-tuk waved and shouted "hello" all along the way. A mother and her two children on a motorcycle followed us closely as the eldest child waved wide-eyed. A school girl was riding her bike across a dirt road waved and stared with such abandon that she ran into a another rider who was looking at us. They laughed as they harmlessly collided.
By the time we got back to the hotel the heels of cocktail hour were upon us and I couldn't let my nightly ritual go by the wayside and was eager to share it. We showered up and walked over to what has become my favourite evening restaurant and what I called "The Grill" since the signs were in Burmese and no English translation is available. Without a doubt The Grill at 82nd and 33rd has the best and most attentive service of any restaurant I've dined in during my journey. No sooner had we arrived than I pulled out my bottle of gin from my purse (I'd bought it there for 80 cents two nights prior) when a can of tonic and a can of Coke were placed on our table. Regardless of where I sat for the four nights I'd eaten there the same waiter took excellent care of me and my dining companions -- this could be that I was tiping him each time a whopping fifty cents a pop. We couldn't linger as long as we wanted since we had already bought tickets to see a marrionette show, which we didn't know was clear across town.
Our trishaw driver was waiting for us outside and with only five minutes to spare before curtain he huffed and grunted us toward the puppet show. We ended up being 25 minutes late for the one hour show, which if truth be told was just about the right ammount of time for an adult to watch even the most exotic of marrionettes in any country
The dark trishaw ride back home gliding smoothly and cooly under the trees past the expansive palace moat was a relaxing end to a full day. Even under a bottom slice of a Burmese moon people called out greetings to us. Lovers sat silhoueted by the dim light of the palace walls on park benches as we passed by and would look up seemingly embarassed and smile. Upon delivering us to the door of our guesthouse our driver tried to organize the next day's adventures with us. While I was happy to say we were leaving before dawn on a ship bound for Bagan I was also happy to say that I'd be leaving Mandalay with a far better impression than I had when I had awaken this morning.