Friday, December 27, 2013

Going for a Sunday Ride to Sagaing

One of the best things that's happened to me recently was meeting my new friend Sai.  He's from Mandalay, in his early 30's and just returned from 10 years studying and working in the United States.  He's a kind, intelligent man with a great sense of humor.  He's homesick for America and enjoys hanging out, speaking English and talking about the United States.  I love his knowledge of Myanmar along with his understanding of an American perspective.

He picked me up last Sunday so we could spend the day checking out the sites.  We started at a local monastery.  To celebrate recent special occasions (father's birthday, sister-in-law's birthday and brother and sister-in-law's wedding anniversary) the family was providing food for the monks at the monastery they "attend".  I put that in quotes because it's not quite the same as when Christians or Jews in America attend weekly services at church or temple, but Buddhist families have relationships with their own monastery and get to know the monks.
On our way to the monastery, we stopped to check out this upscale resort.  Very nice and prices are about the same in the restaurant as the US.  Rooms are more expensive than a comparable hotel in the US.

Sai at the monastery

These are the more senior monks who are also teachers.

Harry is Sai's nephew and attends Montessori preschool at AIS.

This is his big brother, William.  He's one of my first-graders and how I met Sai.

Mother of Harry and William, sister-in-law of Sai.  Beautiful Myanmar woman who exemplifies the beauty, grace and style that is valued here.

The monks range in age but the requirements are the same.  These young boys are students.  Their families choose for them to be monks at this age.  When they are about 18, they will decide if they want to remain a monk for life.

The food looked and smelled delicious.

Monks and nuns only eat once a day, before noon.  On special days, like this one, Sai's family told the monks they wanted to provide food for that day.  They actually provided the money and the monks bought the groceries and cooked.  Sai's family (and the family's servants) helped serve the monks and also ate, after the monks were done.

The food looked delicious but I'd just finished breakfast so didn't eat.  There was chicken, a variety of vegetables, lots of rice, fruit and cake for dessert.  When the monks aren't provided food like this, they take an alms bowl out on the street to silently ask for food.  It is considered a blessing or mitzvah to give food to a monk or nun.  The monks and nuns are not allowed to wear shoes during this time, which is usually early morning and this time of year, very chilly.

When all the food is collected, the monks return to the monastery and all the food they've collected is pooled and then divided equally and eaten communally.

After an hour or so at the monastery, we headed out.  I asked if we could stop at a shop I'd seen that sells wicker chairs like the two I recently bought.  I wanted to buy a foot stool and was in luck.  Found just what I wanted and got to take photos of the nice ladies working there.  People in Mandalay are getting used to seeing Caucasian tourists, but not so much in stores like this that cater to locals.

These young sales people were giggling and trying to hide behind each other for the photo.  They're wearing traditional longye clothing and thanaka on thier faces.

This woman is making a chair like the two I bought from another store.  I got a foot stool to match.  My apartment is now furnished!  Chairs, btw, were $25 each and foot stool was $8.

We continued our drive to our next stop - Sai's family's manufacturing plant.  He was excited to show me and I couldn't wait to see it.  They make plastics for the agricultural sector.  One major product that they were producing that day is batter operated backpacks used by farmers and landscapers for fertilizing, etc.  There are over 160 employees and almost all are women.  We discussed that and Sai explained the women just show up and do the work.  Men tend to argue, fight and waste time more.  The employees were very quiet as they went about their work.  Apparently that's not typical but when an owner and foreigner stroll through, everyone is on their best (and quietest) behavior.  Still lots of smiles for me from the women though, who giggled when I said hello in Myanmar.
After leaving the plant we drove through a relatively new, very affluent residential neighborhood.  It is near the new stadium, which was built for the SEA games.  The houses are each worth millions of US dollars and most are huge since they house multi-generational families.  Land prices here have skyrocketed.  That, combined with hard working people, has created a whole nouveau-riche culture.  Mansions are springing up everywhere.  Some look more like hotels than houses.  Because there appears to be little, if any, city planning many of the mansions are on dirt roads next to scum filled swamps and make-shift housing for those who haven't struck it rich.  

As we moved past the mansions to an area which is more representative of where the workers from Sai's plant live, we passed men playing sepak thakraw.  Very popular in SE Asia, it is amazing to watch.  Normally played with 3 on each side, it is like beach volley ball.  But played with a softball sized ball made of bamboo.  And with a net but you can't use your hands, only your feet or head.  It is amazing to watch and as much as I wanted to take photos I didn't want to disrupt their game any more than I did by just watching for a few minutes.  You can see a sample on this video.

We also passed a boy and girl at a small shop playing some type of board game.  Not quite checkers, not quite chess.  Again, I didn't take photos, although I suspect that while they would have been a bit embarrassed, they wouldn't have minded.  Sai explained to them that I'd never seen the game and was just curious.

Continuing on our way to Sagaing, near Amarapura which is like a suburb of Mandalay, I asked Sai what was going on on the other side of the divided road.  We stopped so I could take photos and we could watch.  It seems an entire village was celebrating that their young boys and girls were being taken to the monasteries to become monks and nuns.  For some children, this is very temporary, only ten days.  For others, it's the beginning of a life dedicated to Buddha.  All Buddhist men are expected to serve as a monk two or three times, once as a child, once as a teen and again in their 20's.

This was in no way a tourist event.  I was the only one snapping pictures.  People did not seem to object and most smiled and many waved.  The rock band on one "float" kicked it up a notch when they saw Sai and I watching and taking photos.  It was the kind of amazing experience that makes me so love living here.

I'm having technical challenges in putting captions to these so I'm going at it a different way.  From top to bottom:  This woman was wearing a traditional longyi and carrying what I assume will be an offering for Buddha at the monastery.

Next, several groups of women were wearing matching longyis.  Members of the same family, I'm assuming.

The next two photos are boys going to become monks.  You'll notice they are wearing makeup and look like girls.  Seems that's the tradition to dress boys like that because that's how a former king dressed.  I don't completely understand it and need to do more research.

Next came a float with a rock band, blasting music.  They were one of 3 or 4 trucks blasting music as the procession moved down the highway.

After the rock band comes the special carts pulled by oxen.  They carry the young girls who are going to become nuns.  The carts and oxen are highly decorated.  There is a company that rents them for events like this.

The final picture is the end of the parade and the traffic which had been backed up as people tried to pass.  This is a major road leading into Mandalay and there were hundreds of people, horses, oxen, etc. walking in the procession.

As the procession moved on, Sai and I got back into the car and headed toward Sagaing.  There's not much to see there, except the hill covered in temples and pagodas.  The views are amazing and this was my introduction to a week in Bagan also filled with temples.

Because I seem to be having technical problems, I'll post the Sagaing photos separately.

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