Sunday, September 30, 2012

the tail end of the rainy season

Lots of things going against us here today, but I do NOT care. Our plan today was to go out in a boat, on Inle Lake. So much to see here, including the fishermen you see in the blog masthead. But it's the tail end of the rainy season, and today it's a pretty constant drenching rain so we plan to try again tomorrow. Also going against us is the lack of reliable internet connection, which is doubly unfortunate since it's raining.

The flight was interminable; by the time we got to Frankfurt -- a 7-hour flight -- we still had so much ahead of us. Luckily, though, we had the middle seat empty between us, so we had a bit of luxury of space to spread out. I slept a little, a couple of hours, and we were stiff and tired when we got off the plane. Marc said he kept hearing the flight attendants saying blitzkrieg, and after the first flight attendant served us, with her brilliant blond hair and bright blue eyes, her shiny healthy face and large white teeth, the song Tomorrow Belongs To Me popped into my head (from Cabaret) and I sang it in my head the whole trip. Poor Germany, poor Germans, bearing the burden of that history. We hung around in the Frankfurt airport for a few hours (and yeah, Marta, there are still showers there!), and then boarded the 10.5-hour flight to Bangkok. That was a very very very long flight, and I was stuck in the middle seat. To my right was a very large German dude who reeked of cigarette smoke, and who took up all his space and usually half of mine. Bangkok was rainy, but we got on our flight to Yangon without trouble and flew away, entirely unsure what to expect.
Here's the Bangkok airport -- rainy there too!

i always take this shot -- such exotic place names!

Well. Yangon is just wonderful. When we exited the airport, we both felt like we were back in Hanoi, there's something similar about the airport. Our driver was waiting for us, it was easy getting through immigration, and our luggage arrived. That's a successful arrival, no matter what else may happen. It was a 45-minute drive to the airport, and we were both kind of exhausted and dazzled by the lush green of the place. The architecture is unremarkable -- not like Hanoi or Paris, with an architectural sense of place that's immediately recognizable -- and much of it is very old and falling apart but there are also a lot of new buildings.

Our room was just fine, with a view of the Shwedagon Pagoda out the window. We settled in a bit and then took off to see it; it was incredibly hot and steamy, and the sky was filled with black clouds, and I'd had a total of 4 hours of sleep (in bits and pieces) over the past 28 hours, so we decided to come back to the pagoda later in the afternoon. We spent some time wandering through the markets......what you buy here are gorgeous fabrics, so I'll do that when we're back in Yangon later. We stopped at a little food stand and Marc got a couple of pieces of grilled chicken and then we went back to our hotel, where we crashed hard and slept deeply for a few hours.

that's the view from our room -- you can see the Shwedagon Pagoda from everywhere in this part of Yangon, I think

When we woke up, it had rained and the sky had cleared, so we headed back to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Here's where I really wish I could show you the pictures because it's utterly amazing. As soon as I can, I'll come back and pop them in here. Here are some bullet point impressions that will be replaced by photos:
  • We don't know if this is a regular occurrence or it if happens after rain, or what, but there were a couple dozen women with brooms, lined up in rows, pushing the water away. Maybe people always come to keep up the place, maybe it's just a post-rain deal, maybe the day was special in some way because there was a photographer who was taking pictures of the sweeping women.
here's one of the posed shots for the photographers. otherwise, they were just sweeping
  • People put something on their faces (and arms, often) that looks like light-colored, thin mud. I think they use it as sunscreen, but the application is interesting, and varied. Some people smear it all over their faces, jawbone to hairline; some women apply it in neat circles or squares on their cheeks; some people do a smeary wipe; some people put it on in dots, including a dot on the tips of their noses, and some people smear stripes. Most people have it on their faces in one form or another.
this application is a little bit unusual in shape and density. 
  • I saw a monk sitting with one foot pulled up against him, watching some children. His bare arm was covered with tattoos -- but not religious-looking designs, more like something from his pre-monk life.  We saw several monks escorting a very elderly monk, and the entourage was allowed into the large central pagoda. No one else got to go through that gate, just them. 
  • The large pagoda is more than 2500 years old; the story is that a couple of merchants from Myanmar presented Prince Siddhartha with some honey cakes, and in return he plucked 8 hairs and gave them to the brothers, who returned to Yangon and built the pagoda to house them. The first pagoda was 66' tall, but from the 14th century onward, monarchs rebuilt and regilded it to its present height of 326'.  The spire is decorated with 3,154 gold bells, 79,569 diamonds and other precious stones.  
these smaller structures surround the giant gold pagoda

more -- it's really quite stunning

it's a whole city of pagodas and stupas and temples

some are very glittery

most are gold

these sweet nuns were chanting so beautifully

i just stood there, awestruck by the beauty of the nuns' chanting

quite often the statues are clothed in real fabric, like this one

gold city, gleaming in the sun

and reflected in marble, all around

Marc, resting at the foot of this funny statue

late afternoon sun on the buildings

it just went on and on and on, quite stunning

here's where we entered, through this structure that's guarded by giant dragons

we never could figure out what was going on; these monks were part of a photo shoot with Burmese movie stars, for some product. very strange.

huge and striking and awe-inspiring

monks on cell phones, and sharing a laugh with each other

We ate dinner at this wonderful restaurant called Feel Myanmar, and we were so pleasantly surprised. We'd read things about the Burmese food like "don't feel you have to eat all the oil at the bottom of your bowl, even the Burmese don't always eat it." Not very encouraging! But so far it's all been delicious, even if I couldn't characterize it in some unique way as Burmese. At Feel Myanmar, you walk to the back of the restaurant and point to the various dishes you want, and they bring them to you. There are friendly boys there who explain what they are, with big smiles. We got a number of small dishes, salads, and a tofu dish and a pork dish, and they also brought rice and soup (soup is served with every meal, including breakfast, and you sip it throughout the whole meal). Our dinner was just great, and I have a photo of the spread.

this is how Burmese food is served -- lots of small dishes for the table. meat sitting in oil, which characterizes Burmese food
We got up the next morning at 5:15am to meet our cab downstairs at 5:30 for the trip to the airport, to head up country to HeHo. More in another post.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you are off to a great start! I have seen some of your pictures from Facebook and it looks like an amazing place! Looking forward to hearing more...