Temple bike tour, monastery, Moustache Brothers, and gold markets
02.02.2015 - 02.02.2015
There weren't a lot of early risers in our dorm except for the man who was meditating in his bed for an hour. Breakfast spoiled us again with endless toast, juice, tea, eggs and generous fruit plates. We also met 'Moma', the guesthouse's operator, that everyone raved about when we requested a coupe bikes. It was a good thing we'd asked early because when we came down ready with our day bags, there were none except for the ones we'd reserved.
We biked through smaller local streets until we found Skinny Buddha by pure luck. If you found your way to 30th street, it was hard to miss the 75 foot statue done in a very different style to what were accustomed to seeing. We parked our bikes near a golden statue of a person playing the harp. The tall bronze coloured statue of Skinny Buddha had his ribs showing as well as his spine as he sat meditating. There was also a reclining Buddha at the site among other statues. There area was quite open and almost empty at this hour.
As we got ready to leave, we found more puppies playing, sleeping or in open boxes set up with a blanket for them. They nipped at each other and ran around the grounds.
We later stopped off at the Air Asia office to confirm there was a shuttle for our flight tomorrow. Then we ventured into a bookstore next door so I could acquire another Burmese short story book.
Sri Ganesh Temple was open this time so we went inside. It was described in our guidebook as a Hindu temple whose gopuram (tower) could excite us if we'd never been to Southern India or Singapore, which we hadn't. It was quite tall and impressive, but despite that we took no pictures. Once inside, we were approached by an impromptu tour from a local Indian man who explained the roles of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, Shiva the destroyer and Ganesha. The explanations were hard to follow at times and remember so hopefully looking some of this up has helped ensure that it's correct.
Brahma has four faces just like the four directions and four Veda, sacred Hindu texts of hymns believed to be divine revelations. He was the revealer of sacred knowledge including the Vedas. Shiva is the destroyer, who will eventually be responsible for dissolving the world into nothingness at the end of creation. In the mean time, Shiva's destruction serves a different purpose to promote progress and regeneration. Our guide explained that Ganesha had an elephant head as after he was beheaded. Ganesha was Pavarti's son and Pavarti was Shiva's wife. She created her son to have someone loyal to her and asked him not to open the door for anyone. Her son listened which angered Shiva who wasn't able to enter the home even after revealing his identity. Shiva cut off the boy's head which enraged Pavarti to the point that she wanted to destroy all of creation. Brahma, the creator, came to an agreement with her. Her son would be brought back to life and worshiped before all other gods. Brahma set out to find the first creature laying with its head facing North for Pavarti. He returned with an elephant head which was fixed onto Ganesha's body and new life was breathed into him.
After our tour, we tipped, as was expected, our guide and he recommended a good Nepali vegetarian restaurant. Although we didn't understand much of the tour, the recommendation alone was worth it. Ryan had a potato paratha which was really good, like a pancake stuffed with savory potato and spices. My curry and puri (thin crispy, fried bread) wasn't quite as great, but still tasty.
The Hindu population in Myanmar is estimated at 2.9 million of an estimated total population of 53 million. Much of the Hindu population came from India or Nepal at different points in history. The Manipuri Brahmins were brought to Myanmar 500 years ago by the King to perform rituals and give advice on astrology, scriptures and medicine. Some Hindu lineages go back as far as 2,000 years. The main influx of Hindus came in the mid-19th century when the British who had taken over, brought a million people from various regions in India to work in government, the army, build roads and railroads or do business and farming. The Nepali Gurkha soldiers settled around a similar time, but post-war. The Nepalese are generally well respected as during the Second World War, they helped fight the Japanese army and reclaim the country. Post-war, the government considered Indians "resident aliens" regardless of how long their families had resided in the country. Property was seized by the government, businesses were nationalized and people were forced to return to India. By the 1980s, those Hindus that remained were allowed to apply for citizenship and own property again.
Today Hinduism isn't as widespread as the dominant Buddhist culture, but its presence is accepted by Buddhists. Some Buddhists will go to Hindu temples to worship the Gods or for other ceremonies in addition to their Buddhist religion. The Chinese population will visit Hindu temples as well. (for more information on Hinduism in Myanmar see: https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5647)
We rode our bikes over to the start of the Lonely Planet bike tour and as we found our bearings. A woman came to speak to us in English. It was hard to understand her, but she kept trying and apologizing. She reached in her pocket and gave us 1,000 kyat before walking away. We were pretty confused and decided to donate the money at one of the many temples we'd be visiting as we didn't feel right keeping it.
The self-guided tour took us down back roads and past older homes wedged together. We stopped in a few Buddhist temples and were greeted warmly each time. One had an indoor worship area with shiny mirrors and some interesting colourful statues outside. We weren't really sure if this was on the tour, but stopped in anyway.
Later we passed some teak and bamboos weave home as well, though we never found the jaggery place. We'd been craving the sweet since our Mount Poppa tour.
Next, we arrived at Eindawyar Ceti (chedi) which was said to be build around 1200 BE, though the current pagoda was potentially built in 1847. The temple grounds had many interesting statues including meditating monks sitting in front of Buddha and a tree, skinny Buddha, golden statues, a re-creation of golden rock, and Buddha and the naga (snake). We wandered around that section as it was shaded. There was a beautiful golden chedi lit up in the sun and four smaller ones surrounding it that had some animal-man statues at the bases. Even though the temple seemed important, it wasn't terribly busy.
Near the temple was the crocodile bridge representing Ngamoe Yeik, the servant of a Burmese-chronicle hero Min Nandar.
We continued past some old colonial building remains nearby. Next on the itinerary were the monasteries so we entered one at random to look at some of the statues. One of the monks held a rock in his hand aiming at a dog. An older man shook his head at the monk but he unleashed the rock on the perfectly innocent dog. Weren't monks supposed to respect other life forms? Though he was young and potentially still in training. The monk approached us and gave us explanations in very few words of the temples/ stupas as well as the nearby Italian building. He brought us to the back to see the other monk who explained a prayer booklet to us along with a math equation that showed the number of verses. They kept repeating it with joy. The older monk showed us the monk robing procedure and his alm he used to collect food.
The younger monk took us into the old Italian building with photos of monk gatherings and pictures with special visitors. There were books too. We visited the rafters for some reason. The smell was quite funky up there and the heat was intense. Apparently there were birds to see. The monk wanted us to take some photos with him as well. The lighting made them fairly blurry but he was happy. As we left, he asked for a 3,000 kyat donation which wasn't what we'd expected. We gave him the 1,000 we'd received from the lady early and left a bit unsettled with the slightly disorientating tour. No more monasteries for awhile.
We biked on until we found Mandalay's own mini teak bridge and eventually carried our bikes over it as well when we could find the proper way. This bridge had far fewer tourists, some resting locals and a temple to see behind it. The waterway divided the two roads and smelled a bit worse than the water around U-Bein.
Our journey continued to see cargo ships and passenger ships on the Ayeyarwady river, the country's largest river flowing North to South.
We ventured into the new and impressive Jin Taw Yan Chinese Temple after that. There was a vibrant archway that led to a three story temple, conference room and gift shop. To the right was a smaller temple with paintings of mountains where people played mahjong. We walked up to the third floor to see the incensors, carved pillars, and sloped roofs that all reminded us lots of China and had us missing it.
Our bike tour finished with a visit to the fancier Riverside Hotel. They even had a pool. We went up to the rooftop and after looking at the menu decided to have dessert and overpriced drinks. I scurried around to get some nice photos of the city and the river from both sides. The coco chocolate crepe was pretty good and my golden watermelon fruit shake as well
On the way back, we got a touch lost trying to find our way to the gold markets. We passed through a bustling market overtaking the street rich in smells, colours and sights where our biked slowed to a crawl.
We finally found the correct street for the gold market and went to watch the demonstrations. Workers bashed away with larger hammers to create thin strips of paper from bamboo. They'd repeat the process: cut, smash, enlarge for hours until the bamboo was fully utilized and turned into shiny paper. Swinging those hammers was hard labour in this heat. The process for the gold leaf was the same, but they didn't demonstrate it out on the street. We walked through the gift shop and saw people in a closed room cutting up the golden paper. None got wasted, just re-pounded into larger sheets. The sheets were applied to the Buddha statues in religious ceremonies and prayers as we'd observed at Golden Rock.
After a rest back at the hostel and chatting with a few people like an Australian man with plenty of diving recommendations, we took a taxi to the Moustache Brothers show. Our driver dropped us off early and recommended Star 81, a busy three-story restaurant where Ryan had fried rice and I had their potato and broccoli off the BBQ menu. Mine was meager but cheap enough. The restaurant was quite accommodating to get our food to us as soon as possible so we didn't miss the show.
We ran down to the Moustache Brothers home and sat in plastic chairs. They gave us laminated articles to read about the comedy show. Both brothers Par Par Lay and Lu Maw were arrested and spent five years in jail after a performance for Aung Sun Suu Ky and others in 1996 while she was under house arrest. They made a joke about the government's sticky fingers. Par Par Lay was subsequently rearrested in 2007 as part of a crack-down on anti-government protests. In 2013, Par Par Lay, who had been released and was still performing the show, was diagnosed with kidney disease. The brothers believe it was caused by the lead paint in the water tanks that were in the prison. Lu Maw and their cousin Lu Zaw continued the shows afterward in his absence just as they had during his time in prison.
Their shows are referred to as a-nyeint pwe, which according to Kyaw Phyo Tha's article "Junta Satirist From ‘Moustache Brothers’ Trio Dead at 67" is a traditional Burmese vaudeville performance in which a female performer dances and sings to light music while supported by comedians. While the government had banned them from touring the countryside as they used to performing to local audiences, they were allowed to perform from their homes exclusively for tourists. (http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/junta-satirist-from-moustache-brothers-trio-dead-at-67.html)
Soon the plastic chairs filled up and the two remaining family members came on stage. Lu Maw showed us the scene from About a Boy where Par
Par Lay was mentioned as well as a clip from the 1996 performance, during which the brothers were arrested.
Lu Maw, with his colourful lettered signs, explained today's government as the military without uniforms, still acting in the fashion they did before. He had little hope for the upcoming election. He asserted that the only thing keeping his show alive was tourism because the government wanted to please foreigners to get their cash. For this reason, they'd let the brothers perform exclusively for foreigners, which they did nearly every night.
This was one of his well-known jokes.
“I had a toothache, so I went to Thailand to visit a dentist.
"The dentist asked, ‘Do you not have dentists in Burma?’
"'Ah, yes,’ I would say, ‘but in Burma, we cannot open our mouths.’”
Lu Zaw came on stage to do some dancing in costume with an umbrella. Afterwards Lu Maw introduced his wife who was also featured on the cover of Lonely Planet a number of years ago, but he held the book up to her face for reference anyhow. Many of the shows jokes were about her. She had been a dancer in their troupe when it toured locally. He was a few years her senior, but they got married. Their daughter now worked as a taxi driver mainly for tourists and the young granddaughters danced on the stage with their grandmother for a few of the acts.
The dances signified certain messages or acts, one of which was carrying the harvest. One dance they had a mask that reminded us of the Sichuan opera a bit. The costumes were quite bright and colourful. A performer studied for three years before joining the troupe. The troupe was then hired to perform at events around the country. Hiring a troupe for an event was considered a prestigious thing.
The finale featured seven dances and much of Lu Maw's family performing as monkeys, ogres and a prince. After the show they had t-shirts for sale and called for some photo shares on social media. Our splurging couldn't go any further today as we had just enough cash to get ourselves home and to the airport tomorrow and we didn't plan on exchanging or withdrawing anymore. Even though our day was quite busy, it was a nice way to spend our final day in Myanmar.