We began Day 7, our second day in Mandalay, with a brief foray into temptation. We went to visit a gem shop, where I looked at and tried on rubies. It’s not well known that everyone in my family, even right down to Munchkin, is a rock hound. We all have little collections of minerals, gems, and fossils. I grew up vacationing in the mines of North Carolina. So I could hardly pass up a view of lovely rubies and sapphires from the famed Burma. I confess, we were tempted, but we did not buy. When we returned home, David watched the movie Blood Diamond. Although that movie is about diamond mining in South Africa, David said he could imagine similar conditions in Burma. We were glad we had not succumbed to temptation.
This is the least expensive of what I looked at!
After this, we went to tour a factory where they make gold inlay. The photos below show a strip of gold that is pressed in a presser as well as "annealed" (that’s what my husband says) in a hot fire. They said this piece of gold we are handling in the photo is worth about $1,500. Then, after it’s pressed as thin as they can make it, it is cut into tiny pieces about 3/4 of an inch square. It’s placed between two flat pieces of leather, and then beaten with a sledge hammer for an hour. It gets thinner and thinner. You can see the guys with their sledge hammers. I picked up one of the sledge hammers, and it felt like it was about ten pounds. The four guys would make a rhythm. I found the rhythm very musical. When one of them would stop or slow down or get out of sync, the rhythm would change but they were clearly all listening and working together. I’m sure the rhythm helped them keep the pace and probably (in the real world) alerts overseers if someone is slower. I asked our tour guide what the men made per day. This is when she told me they make 3,000 kyet per day. In hindsight, I bet there may have been a language difficulty, I bet it was 30,000 kyet per day. But I don’t know. She did tell us that the work is so hard the guys can only work an hour at a time and then they must take a break.
After the gold leaf has been hammered for one hour, it is already quite thin. It’s cut again, changed over to a new leather patch, and then hammered for another three hours to make it very, very thin — thinner than a sheet of paper. After this, it is cut and put onto small square sheets for sale. I have a photo of the ladies doing this. Devout Buddhists then purchase these and apply the leaf to Buddhas at the temples.
We also toured an antique shop that had all kinds of things. We were short on cash . . . did not shop at all . . . but I saw some really neat things. I didn’t think to take a photo. I really loved an intricate, hand sewn tapestry that had a jungle scene with elephants. I think the asking price on that was $250. There were antique guns and swords, dating from the colonial era. There was pottery and statues of the Buddhah. One of the oddest things I saw was lots of opium weights. When you see all these little gram scales shaped like different animals that were used for weighing opium, and when you see opium pipes and various other things, it brings it home that the opium trade was (is?) real. Scarey (and sad) thought! I read that the British would cultivate opium in this area of the world and then sell it around the corner, so to speak, in China. So much for any view of Britain as being a Christian society or colonialism as having arisen out of any sense of noblesse oblige. Pure, bloody mercantilism is more like it. Though, since law and order were also necessary for commerce, we can also thank them that their legal system followed the colonial path.
Leaving there, we went to Shwendandaw Kyaung, which houses a large, golden Buddha.
It also has some seriously amazing antiquities, including some things taken from Autthaya which in turn had been raided from Angkor Wat. Since I’ve visited both these places, it was interesting mentally to follow the journey of these artifacts and to marvel at their age.
At Shwendandaw Kyaung, women are not allowed to approach the Buddha. Munchkin wanted to know why. I told her it was because in the Buddhist faith, women are just above monkeys in their spiritual qualities. I know that my personal beliefs are not going to change God’s reality or the order of the universe, but I am firmly convinced that any views placing women on a lower level from men, spiritually speaking, are human in origin. For me, that is a good enough reason, sufficient in and of itself, not to be Buddhist. More importantly, however, is my utter faith in a God who loves me in a personal, passionately engaged sense. Only the God of Christians loves each of us with the same intensity and care that can only be analogized to the love that a parent has for a child. Nevertheless, Buddhism has much about it that appeals, and in honesty I believe the more devout Buddhists may come closer to the Divine Truth than the heretical, fundamentalists of many faiths (including Christian) who try to limit God to their own views and needs. I don’t think God fits neatly into a package prescribed and defined by humans, do you? Even if I view it as an incomplete truth, Buddhism clearly points the way toward a vision of a way that is better than that offered by the World. And the temples of Myanmar would put modern day Christians to shame. As one of our tour guides pointed out, while we are human is our only opportunity to make offerings. The devout of Myanmar make many of these offerings in the form of gold and jewels to create bedazzling temples. This temple, like many others I saw this week, was no exception. The golden Buddha is a sight to behold. I spent a bit of time sitting in front of the Buddha image in the area reserved for women. There were two areas, in fact. I found a spot fairly close up at first, but then Clarissa came over and told me that I wasn’t supposed to sit there — it was reserved for wifes of the generals in the military junta. I wonder what the Buddha would think about that?
After leaving Shwendanaw Kyaung, we traveled on to Ava. An ancient town that no longer exists except as ruins among rice paddies, Ava was the capital of Burma from 1364 to 1841. There is no bridge to get to Ava. First we took a ferry, then we had lunch, and then we rode by pony cart (two per cart) to the Bagaya Kyaung, a teak monastery that dates from 1834.
Along the road, we passed some villages with people going about their ordinary business, and we passed by many nameless ruins.
Like most teak monastaries in the area, the Bagaya Kyaung is built upon pillars that raise it up from the flooded plain during the rainy season. It was very beautiful. The inside was dark, cool, and inviting, as if it had been build to provide shade and coolness in the tropical environment. Which, of course, is exactly right?!!
Inside the monastery there is a school run by two monks for rural children who couldn’t otherwise afford to go to school. I’ve read that they like for visitors to help the children learn English. When we arrived, it was still the afternoon reading time for the children. They were supposed to be quietly reading their lessons, while the two monk teachers rested. Our presence was immediately disruptive. The children gathered round Clarissa’s camera and wanted to see photos of themselves and photos of where we had been.
I wondered how we could be helpful in a non-disruptive way. A thought flashed through my mind. I quickly engaged them in learning the song "Heads and shoulders, knees and toes," complete with motions, for an impromptu English lesson. The youngsters, who seemed to be between the ages of four and seven, enjoyed it. Then we left them to resume their readings.
We all enjoyed the pony cart ride each way to return to the jetty. At the Jetty, somehow the other three members of my family got ahead of me, and I was sacked by what seemed like hoardes of women trying to sell me jade necklaces. The necklaces were carved jadeite and very inexpensive (about $3 U.S.). I would have been willing to buy one, but I simply got overwhelmed. Each of these women was holding up one or two items and desperately trying to get me to buy from her. I got overwhelmed and didn’t buy anything at all. David shot my photo as I was saying to him, "Don’t you take my picture!"
The women and children followed me to the car and continued to hound me after I was in the car. Our driver, whom you can see in the photo, didn’t seem to know how to handle the situation. Munchkin quickly defused things by handing each child a few pieces of candy. It was a way to give them something without buying anything. Munchkin has pretty good social intelligence!
Leaving there, our next destination was Saigang Hill. We drove to the parking area and then walked to the top because the elevator wasn’t working. At the top there was a very nice view, a breeze, and we could hear Buddhist prayers being chanted / sung over a loudspeaker. It was very peaceful and pleasant, with a nice view of the Irawaddy River. There were some artists at the top of the hill as well. I think if we hadn’t been short on cash, we might have bought something. But we didn’t.
After this, we drove to catch the sunset at U Bien’s Bridge in another nearby ancient capital, Amarapura. This bridge is the subject of many famous photographs. It is the longest teak log bridge in the world. It’s getting pretty weather worn, worse for the wear, but it’s a very pleasant place to go and mingle, if one can tolerate the touts. Here is a photo from Clarissa’s camera:
Here is a photo of what you think it is: an owl. People on the bridge were selling doves, finches, and owls. One can purchase them and then earn merit by releasing them into the wild. Hmm. I wonder in the great scheme of merit, if the person who caught them in the first place got a demerit? I wonder how the merits all balance out?
From where we were on the bridge, as sunset approached, we saw many boats of rowers collecting people to watch the sunset from the boats. David didn’t want to do this, but Clarissa, Munchkin, and I opted for it.
A young boy had been following us. His name was Michal, and he looked to be about twelve, maybe fourteen years old. He was selling necklaces on commission. His necklaces were many times higher than the price of the necklaces at the jetty. I guess you have to add in for the location and the middle men.
Michal (not a good photo!)
Michal told me he comes every day after school and sells necklaces on commission. His little brother was there selling post cards. He said his father doesn’t have money to buy a boat, he simply works as a fisherman and sells the fish in the market. He said his mother stays home and cooks. Clarissa told me that Michal also told her that he has an older brother who does own a boat. Michal acted as translator for us to find a boat and catch a view of the sunset from the water, while David stayed up on the bridge. Unfortunately, the camera gave out of batteries right at sunset.
While he was on the bridge, David struck up a conversation with a young girl who, like Michal, was selling things on commission. They had a very nice conversation. Neither of these two young people pestered us to buy anything, content to practice their English. I asked Michal if he had email. Of course he didn’t have a computer, but he might possibly have internet access to send email back and forth, which is a way he could improve his English. He seemed delighted when I gave him my email address, and shocked and even more delighted when I gave him some kyet as well. Likewise, David’s young friend gave him a jade ring and he gave her a small gift of cash as well. Here are some photos. We hope we may see or hear from these youngsters again some day!
Just about sunset, our camera gave out.
David’s young pal
When we left there, it was dark. We were all tired. We ate Indian food on the street at a Chaputi stall, total cost for five of us was 9,000 Kyet. Then, after a very brief break in the room, David and Clarissa went to a traditional dance performance at the Mintha Theater ( http://www.minthatheater.com/info.html ). Munchkin and I stayed in the room. I packed up for our flight to Heho airport the next morning while Munchkin crashed to sleep.