I posted the first couple of entries for this journey by typing draft in the small Android tablet I had with me and copied to WordPress when I was online. Only now did I realise how many typo I had in there! But no excuse. Poor writing is poor writing. I have been also aware that there was very little in terms of images and stories around my experience. I was conscious of the limited capacity to upload photos. But now that I am back home, let me quickly come back to my Mandalay experience.
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I wonder how many people use Mandalay as their gateway for arriving in Myanmar for the first time. As I mentioned earlier, I was initially planning on arriving in Yangon, spend a couple of days there, before heading up to Bagan by train. But at the last minute, literally while I was packing my bag to go to the airport for an overnight flight to Bangkok, I realised I did not carefully check my connecting flight from Bangkok to Yangon. I was probably confused by itinerary that was shown in am/pm rather than 24hr. Long story short, my itinerary had a half day waiting in Bangkok, which meant I’d arrive in a foreign town of Yangon after dark. I was not keen on spending half a day at the airport, and I was as unhappy about arriving after dark just to go to bed. Looking for an alternative, I found an agreeable connection from Bangkok to Mandalay, though this time, I did not check which Bangkok airport I was landing in and then flying out of. Fortunately, this did not cause an issue as I had more than enough time.
I got to Mandalay relatively cold. By that, I mean, I was probably still carrying with me some negativity, or fatigue, or feeling of using the trip as an escape, rather than a positive move with eyes open. I kept envisioning having a close friend walking with me on this trip. Mandalay is a fairly large city. It is not as easy to get close to people and start talking like small country towns. I decided to do what I always do; carry a bottle of water and my camera, and walk.
My hotel in the west side of the city was near a busy market. I love markets, did I tell you?
Would you find anything interesting by just following recommended sites on guidebooks? Turn the corner, see where people go, hear the festival, prayer, or children playing. As they say, it is the curiosity to find out what’s around the next corner that may give you that wonderful opportunity. Or just tired body and blisters on your feet.
Kids came trotting towards me, carrying a big bamboo basket full of rubbish between them. As I pulled up the camera, one of them tripped, turning their basket upside down.
They broke out into a laughter. It is beautiful to be kids. The chores are missions, and making a mess of it is just laughable, not something to sigh about.
If you are following my blog/Instagram/Facebook page, you would have seen this next image. It is just the best moment that I came across when I turned into this residential street just behind a temple I was at.
Two kids were kicking a ball to each other. But one of them was not playing nice, and the other one fell to his butt, starting to cry. What you have not seen before is how the mother picked up the two little ones together, wrapping them with her loving arms.
While I was sitting in a temple nearby, it got completely dark. I continued to walk across the city, now slowly making my way back towards the hotel.
On a street with many double-story houses, I saw a crowd of people in a corner. They were buying this lottery of some sort. They could win some sort of household supplies and stuff. Another shop nearby had a board with this folded paper stapled down on it, which was the same entertainment/business that must be popular here.
As I already described, the second morning started early. I was not motivated enough to go out in response to all the beautiful sound from outside, the Buddhist monk’s prayer, Muslim’s song announcing time for their morning prayer, people going by to the market. Towards the end of the day, after I posted my story to the blog, I was talking to the manager of the hotel and realised my assumption about people going to market so early around 5-6am was incorrect; we were near a wholesale market and flower market, which sold products on special discounts in early hours. I did not quite gather why they do that. Perhaps that was the way to encourage people to come to the market early, while everything was fresh, and keep the business moving.
After I bought the train ticket for Bagan at the station, I cycled straight down in a relatively busy traffic towards Mahamuni Buddha Temple. It was a large temple that served the people of town, as well as drawing a lot of foreign visitors.
I was shooting for 2 days with my digital view finder set to monochrome. I envisioned some images to be presented as I saw them. Others, I could appreciate work better with the beautiful colours of the day. I apologise for the lack of consistency in this blog.
Looking around all that sounded me and Buddha images, I couldn’t help imagining how overwhelming it must have been to visit this country, with its power and wealth, especially because more of those would have been made of actual gold at that time.
I was not in the mood for a very touristy place. Instead of going further south towards the famous bridge, I turned west along the stream of water, and looked for the monastery described in the guidebook. And there it was, a London clock tower showed me exactly where that school of Buddhist novice was.
There are always shy ones and brave ones who want to practice their English (or Japanese) skills. One such novice told me of their multi-story building that I was allowed to go up for a view. It even had a lift. But I chose to walk up the 6 flight of stairs, just to keep the direct feel of ascending, then took the modern lift on the way down for an experience.
When I arrived, it was just towards the end of their lunch break. Novices were bringing out their cutlery and plates to wash in the water outside the gathering hall. Stepping inside, everyone looked but I could not really find people curious enough to bring me in. Some of them offered to eat, but I was conscious most tables were clearing up, so I declined. Still somebody pushed those apple-like fruits into my palm, which I enjoyed after the heat of the sun. It is important to offer what you can give. It does not matter which religion, I find this practiced in not-so-modern places in the world. Do we get too busy and forget what is important in life? It is the kind of moment that reminds me of the fact that I am like that, too. This is what I was looking for, when I planned a trip to this part of the world. I was glad I felt being back.
Another stop was Shwe In Bin Monastery, which was recommended for the central teak building which needed repair. It was indeed a beautiful building, with a sense of peace and tranquility inside the main chamber. In a way, you would not want it to be restored to allow a large group of tour-bus visitors coming here as it would totally destroy this silence. But to me it was a kind of space you could just sit for a long time and connect with the presence beyond the Buddha images that were vaguely glancing towards me.
Under the floorboard, you see a lovely tiled floor and timber pillers that are kept in good condition. Perhaps there have been a restoration or repair not many years before.
Cycling along the wide river at the west end of the city, I made a wrong turn and came across a more modern Chinese temple. I decided to capture my partner (i.e. the bicycle) with the typically chinese gate.
While readying myself to photograph the entrance for one of the buildings inside, this girl came out, pulling the hand of her brother or cousin, and posed right at me.
So I did not go to the U Bein bdige, nor did I maange to go to Mandalay Hill (which I originally intended to visit but just did not realise how far it was – not on foot!) and probably did not even come close to some of the temples and historical locations near the city that Mandalay was best known for. But it was a starting point for my journey, and by walking around for hours I slowly got warmed up, opening up my senses again, learning to speak to people again, and I felt ready to capture all the inspiration that was to come my way for the rest of my trip.