Friday, November 27, 2015

Animals In A Zoo: Mandalay, Monywa, Bagan Nov 20-dec 2, 2015

Mandalay and area 
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay

Longest teak bridge in the if the world was filled with teak bridges

Stuck in the dustbowl town ( they all are) of Moanywa, I scraped bottom. In retrospect going from Japan to Myanmar, and glued to your wingman 24/7 to solo was a leap I didn't expect. Nothing tests your capacity for loneliness and solo travel like being ill. Nothing plays with your mind quite like shivering in an airless concrete cell within a concrete echo chamber that dares to call itself a hotel. All this while the full blast of the street din carpet bombs your head. You ruminate about malaria. Dengue fever. Yellow fever. You wonder if you've fired your last six shots. Fortunately the hotel's wifi was good enough for me to research symptoms of each and I was confident Trish would not be widowed.
Before long I got the melodrama out of the way and was back on my feet but spooked just enough to blow off a trip to the remote, malaria zoned Mrauck U. That's another trip, joiners?

Gold gold gold....the locals are crazy about it and they will pay good money for some Joe to pound it down into butterfly wing thin sheets of it, then plaster it onto a stupa, or a Buddha, thus demonstrating their devotion and piety.

Sagaing, one of the ancient former capitals outside Mandalay. The countryside is dotted with Temples n stupas everywhere. Great spots to hide CCTV cameras.

This Buddha in Mandalay gets so fat on gold paper that he looks like the Elephant Man, except for his face where no gold paper has soiled it. Every few decades they shave the gold off.
Only men are allowed to touch Buddha's fat gold bod.

Animals in the zoo:
Almost 4million people will tour through Myanmar this year, most in what I call old lady bus tours (sorry Doreen and mom, but that's also me someday). They photograph everything and anything, which is fine until they turn their cameras on people and treat them like pandas at the zoo. And the biggest zoos are where the cookie cutter tour stops.
Like the famous Ma(something) Monastery, home to over 1000 monks.
The tour groups time it so they all arrive as the monks do their alms then sit down to eat. Imagine 1000s of pale faces watching you do your chores then ooohhh and ahhh as you have a meal.
Yes I'm guilty, too. I hired some dude with a motorbike to show me around, and he all but replicated the gringo bus trail. 

Coming from Japan, I wasn't expecting to find local monasteries and temples to be similarly oasis-like, never mind esthetic masterpieces. Truth is here they're rather dumpy, nothing in the way of landscaping or architectural marvels. They are however open for panda viewing and can be quiet and reflective places, especially when you can catch them chanting.

More Panda viewing. These newlyweds actually gave me permission with a smile and were married in this beautiful all teak monaster.

Another hair or tooth of Buddha, can't remember....still no toenail

45 statues of Buddha, 1 for every year he lived after achieving enlightenment....or was it 1 for every hair he donated?

Moanywa and area 
I don't think I acclimatized to Myanmar until I hit bottom in Moanywa where I met Moo. I flagged him down off the street to take me around the countryside. He makes $45-70USD monthly as an electrician....married, child-free but not by choice. At 37 he believes he's old.
His 125cc motorbike is the the transport du jour, selling for only $300 plus USD, all poorly made and from China. No license required, so I see some kids motoring around, and everybody is suddenly a taxi driver.
Moo showed me what many local had already been doing for most of my stay. And that was a calm, understated decency. Only with him did I begin to get Myanmar and its Cuba-esque backwardness (lots of mustard on that last assertion). Their innocence in this dog eat dog make nothing but money world, is disarming and charming in its own humble way. Thailand is just next door but it's so overrun with westernism that it seems shallow compare to Myanmar.
Okay the lack of food hygiene isn't so hot in Myanmar (once I saw a coconut vendor re-use straws and others food vendors barely rinse dishes, I was done with roadside fare). Having said this, to any who'd consider coming, whether in a bubble like the old lady bus tours or however, do it NOW! 

Moo and me

The locals possess a peculiar alchemy. Their piety and devotion would make many Catholics look skanky. They all but claim Buddha as their own (it helps that the land that gave rise to him India, turned to Hinduism). They practice what they preach, yet the undertones of xenophobia are evident. Yet their Theravada Buddhism mixes in superstitions and folklore and a level of gaudiness and garishness that would make Liberace wince. We're not in Japan anymore, that's for sure. Amidst the stunning ancient ruins in places like Bagan are neo, Vegas class places like Moanywa.

This is he world's second largest Buddha statue, the largest being in China, of course.

You can climb halfway up inside and see images of Buddha's life and enlightenment, but first you have to go through hell (the lower levels, of course)- which quite frankly were way more interesting.

Ripped to shreds is fair game, but spitting is just mean!

Wait, there's more.... A 95 metre recliner in front, and a third under construction.

I forget he name of this ode to clutter and neon, but it has 900 stupas on top, and 500,000 Buddhas inside, the bigger ones garishly framed in neon.

The road to Bagan on this 'high end van'...which packed in a motorcycle....
Then a washing machine, baskets of God knows what, my knapsack and 20 other sardines like me.

Too many temples for me to name, you'll just have to look them up yourself, you have better wifi than me, that's for sure.

So just how innocent and unsullied are the locals?
Here yet another full volume stadium speaker driven street fest takes place. Kids in makeup (not just the usual decorative face paint that everybody does, but eyeliner, mascara, etc..) dance around with money attached to their body. The name of their group?
Boy Select

 Name Change 3.0
Having already changed their name from Burma, here are suggestions for the next update:
The Land That Wifi Forgot
China's Little Bitch

In the 3 plus weeks I was here, Paris was attacked and the world seemed to fall part again.
But not in Myanmar. They're  all just so happy having discovered Twitter andFacebook. 

Overnight in Bangkok, then India.

For Wayne Ng's latest travel adventures and book " Finding the Way: A Novel of Lao Tzu ," please go to his website and blog at...