Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 5 -- I Like Mandalay

I like Mandalay. It has life. Maybe it's the motorbikes that are absent from Yangon, or that it isn't holding onto British Colonialism, or maybe just that Ellery and I have been venturing out on our own here, but what's ever makes it this was is good.

Jo picked us up around 8:30 for the one-hour boat trip to Mingun. Although not far from the city center, life along the river is immediately rural. Thatched huts high on stilts to protect them when the river swells, oxen plowing small fields on small islands, workers collecting sand from the banks to be used to construction in the city.

Mingun itself was a bit of a disappointment. Touted as a wonderful, artistic and picturesque place, I found it somewhat uninteresting. The climb to the top of the crumbling brick Mingun Pagoda provided a nice view, but nothing else. The Mingun Bell was a big bell, and the white-washed Hisnbyume Pagoda offered nothing new. And the artisans were less than inspiring.

Returning back to Mandalay, The ferry area was now one bistling with activity, wooden boats tied four and five abreast, people loading and unloading goods from up and down the river, women doing laundry. Then it was lunch at a Burmese restaurant, Amidah, which Jo says is one of the best in the city. It was certainly a crowded, happening place.

Then it was back to sightseeing. The wooden Golden Palace Monastery was the most interesting as it was all carved teak wood. The weather had worn away the gold leif on the exterior, but it was still present on the inside. We also visited Kayuktawgyi Pagoda with its huge, luminous marble buddha,and yet another temple, the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, with a gold Buddha, this one quite crowded. Interspersed with these visits were the obligatory factories - here gold leif (which was actually interesting) and woodworking (which was not).

After a few hours of rest at the hotel, Ellery and I again ventured out, this time walking down 26th street, with it's packed beer gardens and restaurants. We took Jo's advice and had dinner at Cafe JJ. I mention this only because Cafe JJ was clearly where the cool kids ate. Part restaurant, part western coffee house offering expresso and cappuccino, and part ice cream shop, there were no longyis here, but instead kids running everywhere, dudes in jeans talkng on cell phones, and girls with dyed hair and skirts that would put a hooker to shame.

Our evening ended with a traditional Burmese puppet show. It probably wasn't the best, but it was good fun, with several different scenes that made no sense to us, but definitely displayed the difficulty of manipulating the puppets. There was also traditional music and dance mingled in, and at the end the ancient Puppetmaster came out to greet all 9 of us, all visitors, who had come to see the show. Made me remember my youth at the Bob Baker Marionettes.