I have not been able to connect to the Internet recently. I have missed talking to you all. There is so much that I want to share but in the little down time that I have, even when I try to fight nodding off I can’t, and succumb to slumber. Then I awake missing you all over again. I do not want to forget any second of this experience. I feel that in having you as my virtual companions, I have the responsibility to try to transmit thoughts, experiences, places and people I encounter. As an after effect to that, you aid me to remember it all through words and photos. I do not want this, however, to turn into a laundry list of where I went. And in the haste to get it all down I may err on that side. I will try to avoid it by all means and what is left will be inked as captions to on-line albums when I return.
I wake early. They are picking us up at 8:30 a.m. I am up at 3:30 a.m. This internal clock thing is playing with me. My adrenaline one-ups it and so far I haven’t gotten cranky and have managed to stay awake while going about town. At 6:00 a.m. I go down to breakfast where other internal-clock-misfits in my group are already. This group has turned out to be wonderful and having Thiha to give us insights has been fabulous. It’s nice to know that everything is taken care of for us and, on a personal level, it is comforting to have others to say good-morning to and share a cup of coffee with. Turns out that in good Myanmar tradition I am also sharing a bowl of Mohn Hin Gar, a fish soup with noodles, peanuts, red pepper, lime and who knows what else. In some parts they would call it a “levanta muertos” which loosely translated is “raising of the dead”. If this doesn’t give me enough energy for the rest of the day, I don’t know what will.
Before we head off to the Market, Downtown and Chinatown, our guide gives us an explanation and demonstration of Thanakha. Thanakha is a paste created by putting some water on a flat, circular grinding stone and rubbing the bark of a thanakha tree on it. This is placed on the face. It is cool (temperature-wise) on the skin and said to tighten pores and prevent wrinkles. May be plastering it all over my body! It is used widely by both women and men. I thought of it as a foundation but it is used in circles or just a swatch on the face. The paste is either yellow or white, so it is quite noticeable. What is perceived as beauty varies dramatically between cultures. Some of our group is adorned with it and out we go.
This city is chockfull of sounds, smells, smiles, temples and pagodas. I thought I was on sensory overload until we reached the market and then I went into sensory overboard. As we zigzag the alleyways we see people smiling at the people in our group with thanakha on their faces. Beautiful, they say. Biggest guavas I’ve ever seen (didn’t taste).
Durian fruit, also called stinky fruit (not as smelly as I thought or that sweet, a bit pasty but not bad.) Dragon fruit (inside it looks like a kiwi but whiter meat and not as sweet) Chicken feet, raw meat, sausages, fish paste, innards. Vegetables I’ve never seen. Food I would not try.
Then we go to Chinatown where an older gentleman approaches the group and starts asking where we are from, what we do and offers to tell us that his son lives in the States, tells us how happy he is we are visiting, points out some places and leaves as quickly as he came. We go visit a Chinese temple.
From there we visit Kalywa Tawya Monastery. At the monastery there are more than 1,000 novices and nuns studying the purity of Buddhist scripture as well as receiving a regular education.
In Myanmar very young children can be sent to study Buddhism to become monks. In fact, girls go to the nunnery as well. Even a foreigner (male or female) can come in on a religious visa and go into the monastery for as long as they desire. I think my heart is smaller now. The girls at the nunnery kept a piece of it. I can’t describe what they elicited in me. Just hope that the photos illustrate it slightly.
After the calmness and discipline we witness at the Monastery we head for lunch at a local restaurant where controlled chaos is what we encounter. It’s a “point and will bring to the table” kind of place.
And then for another mind-boggling, amazing pagoda that stores relics of the past four Buddhas: Shwedagon Pagoda. The complex itself is massive. Many temples around the Pagoda. Pagodas are domes that you cannot go into. Temples usually have Buddha in them and are places of meditation, prayer, where you ring a bell or a metal triangle signifying you have done a good deed. People come from all over. You see monks and families intermingling. Some meditating. Some praying. Some eating. Some changing kids diapers.
This particular pagoda has on the tippy top a 76-carat diamond. Around it something they call an umbrella –iron hoops around the dome- from which jewelry of all sorts hangs, donations made by its people. Everything around me seems to blind me.
It has finally hit me. I AM in Southeast Asia!