Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 6 -- Two Weddings and a Funeral

No, you really can't make this stuff up.

We left the hotel earlier than normal today to attend the 8:30 a.m. wedding of his friend, the son of the owner of the puppet show. (Evidently, Jo worked at the puppet theater before becoming a guide). The wedding ceremony was held at a large restaurant. Upon arrival, we were handed flowers and, for those bringing gifts, they were also given a bamboo fan with the equivalent of a NY Times wedding notice printed on it, including degrees received and employment held by the bride and groom. At the front of the room were large white chairs and on a curtain hanging behind them the names of the bride and groom. A band played quietly off to the side of the stage Seating was open, and upon sitting at a table, a plate of chinese dim sum and bowl of ice cream were provided. (Remember, it is 8 in the morning).

We sat with two of the puppeteers from the evening before, and Jo was quite animated as he chatted with them. People were dressed in everything from beautiful silk longhi style dresses to everyday wear. As weddings are held on good luck days, although today is Sunday, apparently they are held any day of the week, so people may come for the ceremony and then go straight to work. Apparently, this part of the wedding, the morning reception, lasts about 5 hours during which time friends and family come and go at their leisure. We were warmly greater by several family members, and made to feel very comfortable despite the fact that we obviously did not belong.

At 8:30, the festivities began. While the singer and the band played a traditional wedding song, the bridesmaids walked down the aisle to the front of the room, the first one dropping flowers from a silver bowl, very much like a wedding in the US. Then the bride and groom came in together, wearing traditional clothing in white, beautifully decorated. They were followed by the parents and other relatives. The master of ceremonies then began reading the bride's and groom's many accomplishments. The ceremony itself appeared to have three main parts. First, the bride and groom placed flower garlands on one another. Then the brides parents placed the wedding rings on the fingers of the bride and groom, rather than having them couple exchange rings. The reason for this is to bestow on the new couple the same longevity of their marriage. (The groom's parents did not participate because they are, I'm divorced. No longevity there). Then there was a hand washing or shaking ceremony, although this I couldn't quite see. Finally, the Master of Ceremonies announced that the two were married. No kissing followed, however, just the obligatory many family photographers. All told, it was about 1/2 hour and not so different from our weddings. Later tonight, there will also be a large reception, although this is not always done, and has only recently been adopted from the west.

From the wedding g we headed out of town to see the three historical capitals, Sagaing, Ava, and Amarapira. We drove along the river, and one of the most striking things was how much teak is being harvested. It was piled up all along the river and on large barges, headed for export. Deforestation must certainly be a big problem here.

Before reaching Sagaing, we stopped to visit in a small village known for its woodworking. And this time, it was very interesting, as the people were truly engaged in their work, and not part of a factory for tourists. At the first house, on a table sat a wedding fan like the one from the wedding we had been to just a half hour earlier. It also said June 24, and then we began to notice that many of the women were wearing nicer silk longhi, not the normal village wear. There was music in the distance and as we wandered through, we eventually came upon the wedding party. What a difference! The event was in a brightly painted canopied area, and the music was blasting from loudspeakers. It was so colorful and festive; nearly the opposite of the city wedding.

We eventually made it to Sagaing, which seemed to have as many whitewashed temples spilling along the hillside as there were brick ones in the valley in Bagan. It is home to numerous monasteries and meditation centers, and we traveled first to the temple at the very top of the mountain to take in the view. Then it was another pagoda and a nunnery and a pottery factory. (These "factories" as they are called, are really just shops, with 10 or so people using traditional methods of craftwork). At which point I'm thinking I don't need to see any more temples, monasteries, or craft factories on this trip. There are only so many Buddhas one can take.

After Sagaing, we took a short ferry ride to Ava. A very bumpy one hour horse cart ride took us around this little river island where we saw ... yes, an old monastery and an old temple. The monastery, however, was all black teak, with children studying under the not-very-watchful eye of a monk. That was different and worth seeing. Lunch was also on Ava, where we were joined by some chameleons, a snake, and about 10 Spaniards on tour, before taking the ferry back and heading to our last destination of the day, Amarapura.

The only thing worth seeing in Amarapura is the U Bein Bridge - a 1.2 km teak footbridge that connects Amarapura with a neighboring village. This appears to be quite the Burmese tourist attraction, with many people strolling along the bridge and taking pictures.

The final stop was, of course, a silk textile shop, where the workers truly labored to make gorgeous fabrics. When I first traveled to this part of the world, in 1987, I was amazed at the craftsmanship of this work. But 25 years later, I am saddened by it; it is hours of hard hunched over labor, mostly by young girls, using ancient tools, yes, what they make is beautiful and it provides them with a living, but a machine can do the same, and not grow old hunched over a loom for 8 hours a day, every day, for one's entire life.

Then it was back to Mandalay. But first ... Yes, the funeral. The "hearse" was a brightly decorated truck; I thought for sure it was some festival. Nearby was a long line of marchers walking down a road. Only then did Jo realize that it was a funeral. Two more weddings and we'll have a movie.

Back in Mandalay, we passed one last interesting site - the motorbike registration line. Sounds ridiculous, but evidently motorbikes - which are everywhere - did not need to be registered before this month. But now they do, and there were hundreds of bikes and owners lined up waiting to register their bikes on Monday morning. Really, it was like being in Sitges, but with scooters rather than Harleys, longyis rather than leather jackets.

Dinner tonight was at a small restaurant near the hotel - chicken noodles for $2.00/pp. Can't beat that.