Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 3 - January 8, 2008 - Mandalay, Myanmar

Day 3 - January 8, 2008 - Mandalay, Myanmar

"A busy day - best day in Mandalay so far."


"No good deed goes unpunished."

Got going somewhat late, breakfast at 8:30, and decided to rent bikes for the day (1500 Kyat each). I got a big heavy clunker. Sun-Ling got a light hybrid. Perfect for her.

Rode over to the Chinese Consulate at 35th between 66th and 67th. The entrance is down a smaller unpaved road. As we got close I saw a Burmese soldier with a machine gun behind a bank of sandbags. Dismount! We walk by the soldier. He smiles.

A small sign says the consulate is OPEN: 8:30 - 11:30. We went in. The young lady behind the counter speaks English, Chinese, and Burmese. She is Mian Dian Ren - a local. The Chinese word for Myanmar is Mian Dian (緬甸).

After getting info, we decided not to get our China Visa in Mandalay. Too expensive we think... But it later turns out that the cost of a Chinese Tourist Visa went up from $100 to $130 dollars on Jan 20th. So....

Back on the bikes and we headed west on 35th street over the railroad bridge and on to the Irrawaddy River docks. A nice ride on a fairly good road. Most of the smaller roads are a maze of potholes or just poorly paved or a very narrow strip of pavement or all of the above.

Parked our bikes at the jetty and inquired about ferry schedules to Bagan. Our guidebooks said that there is a slow boat every day and a fast boat twice a week. At the fast boat ticket office they told us that the only goes to Bagan when they have a tour group going. Then independent travelers like us can hitch along for a price. The so-called slow boats goes everyday. No decision by us. We will check later with the front desk of our hotel. They seem to have reliable information.

The Irrawaddy River is slowish, greenish, and not inviting.

The jetty is quiet. No goods loading or unloading. No boats arriving or departing. Women are doing laundry and bathing.

Rode back towards town in a SE direction. Small school kids were going home for lunch. They shout "hello' or "hi" and run along with our bikes or wave furiously.

After some navigation we found ourselves by the famous Jade Market which is part workshop and part market. Not impressive.

Then on to the very impressive Shwe In Bin Kyaung, both Buddhist Temple and Monastery. It's a traditional temple built of teak and resembling a on old sailing ship as it stands on silts with broad wooden decks surrounding a wooden temple soaring to the sky like masts and sails. See my photos below.

Not much activity at the monastery grounds. I took a photo of the wooden dinner bell with a carved parrot towards the top. I learned last year that most Buddhist temples and monasteries have a wooden bell that is struck in times of emergency or to summon the monks for dinner. So I'm now trying to amass a collection of photos of these bells. Many of the ones in China are shaped like a fish.

Lunch! Stop at an outdoor place near the kyaung. There is a roof but no walls. It's during the lunch rush. Rice is cooked in big pans and scooped out by hand onto plates and then various curries are added. We have a rice plate with lentils, corn and veggies, plus lemongrass soup, plus hot sauce all round. Very tasty. In addition, an older man is walking around filling up a bottomless salad bowl at each table: carrots, turnips, cabbage, and parsley. All for 600 K - about 50 cents.

Observations on this restaurant:
-Turns out that this type of open-air restaurant is very common all over Burma.
- The toilet was very clean as were almost all the toilets in Burma.
- The patrons were eating with fork or spoon or chopsticks.

Biked around the block with a brief stop at a temple where a Chinese speaking monk tried to be helpful and show us around. He seemed a bit too pushy and we escaped with a "that's too much trouble for you". A couple of men were mediating there.

Then around the corner to the big Monastery south of Shwe In Bin. This was a real monastery. Monks were studying in 4 to 5 buildings. We saw at least one dormitory with shoes and bowls neatly stowed outside. However, as the monks studied, a gang of young women were hauling concrete around to fix the road. We wondered why the monks were not working on the monastery.

Finally we headed south, passing a small factory that makes stone Buddha images, to the most famous temple in all of Mandalay - the Mahamuni Paya.

We entered from the West Gate. A woman vendor motioned that either she would watch our shoes or that our shoes and bikes would be safe. So we left them at her stand. Then down the long dirty corridor to the main temple where the famous Mahamuni Buddha sits covered with 15 cm of gold leaf to the point that he is unrecognizable below the shoulders. Only men can enter the inner sanctum and apply gold leaf. Women sit outside.

It's a very busy place. We only saw three other Western tourists but there many Burmese visitors and vendors. There were bells ringers, and gong bangers, and water pourers. Book sellers, food vendors, fortune tellers, and beggars line the walkways. There were several museums about Buddhism with artifacts, photos of temples, and maps. At one point in the 19th century, and maybe still today, Burma was known as the "Center of World Buddhism".

We returned to our bikes and headed north on 83rd street to 30th where we cut over to 80th and entered the second level of the train station with its confusing "car and bike" ramp over the tracks. We should have entered at ground level on 79th, but after a few minutes Sun-Ling found the ticket office. Inquires were made. Information was written down. No tickets were purchased.

Returned bikes to hotel and walked the 6 blocks or so to "Mann Chinese Restaurant" which had about 15 tables, most filled with men drinking Grand Royal Whiskey mixed with water and ice, and nibbling. Sun-Ling was the only woman in the joint. No Chinese was spoken, but no problem, we had veggie soup + veggie fried rice + veggie fried noddles + 2 x Dagon Extra Strong Beers; all for 6100 Kyat. And we sent a veggie fried rice out to a woman who was sitting on the sidewalk with an infant.

Normally we do not give handouts to beggars as most are professionals, but this young woman looked distressed, had an infant, and had not motioned to us nor bothered us at our table. When the waiter took the food out, the first thing she did was feed the infant, then herself. So probably a good deed. Your run-of-the-mill professional beggars don't need food.

Then, as no good deed goes unpunished, we stepped into a ditch in the darkness on the walk home and got fairly banged up, John on his left palm and right shin, Sun-Ling on the right shin. She would bleed a bit for several days and not heal completely for weeks. But it could have been worse - broken bones - so we felt lucky.

SLHOTD: bike ride
JHOTD: temple like a ship

Ferry moored at the docks.
Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Shwe In Bin Monastery - the decks.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung (Monastery) - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Shwe In Bin Monastery - the masts and sails.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung (Monastery) - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Remnants of lunch.
Mandalay Restaurant - Myanmar (Burma)

Young women hauling concrete.
Ladies - Mandalay

Monk Dormitory with shoes and wash bowls and robes.
Monk Dormitory - Mandalay, Myanmar

A horsecar passes in front of the Gem Market.
Horsecart - Mandalay, Myanmar Burma

The Maha Muni (Great Sage) Buddha.
Mahamuni Buddha - Mandalay Myanmar

Wooden Drum with bird carving.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung (Monastery) - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)a>

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