Thursday, June 09, 2016

Lots of Temples in Myanmar, Also Crickets Are Gross

The Hotel Grand United had a free breakfast so we started our day there. They had quite a spread available. Some of it was pretty Chinese buffet-ish noodles with meat. There were fruits and little cakes etc. on the sweet side as well. The highlight was definitely the mohinga. You had to mix the noodles, fish soup, chilies, lime, and Long John Silver's reminiscent crunchy things together by yourself so I asked one of the worker girls to show me how it's done.

The mohinga had whole onions in it. It wasn't bad but I think one try is enough.

The elevator had a big pile of flowers as an air freshener.

Walking out the front door of the hotel for the first time in a new country is always exhilarating and this instance definitely did not disappoint.

You can see a few cultural differences immediately. A large percentage of the men wear skirts tied on with a big knot in the front that reminded me of the bottom half of a kimono. The women wear big splotches of a mud like substance on their faces, especially the cheeks and nose. It's called thanatkha and it's made by grinding up a specific kind of tree bark and mixing the dust with water to form a paste.

There was a little station at the hotel where you could try some for yourself. I would have done it for a grin but it was so humid outside that I would have sweat that stuff off in about 5 seconds. According to the sign "the tradition of wearing thanatkha is a priceless inheritance, passed down through generations and only found in Myanmar. It is recognized to be of great help to bear the heat of the sun."

Another notable part of walking outside is the delightful open sewers that flow adjacent to the sidewalks. We saw dudes just standing on the side of the road peeing into them. If either of us ever fell in that sludge we'd have to have a serious conversation about whether that person was allowed back in the hotel room. When we saw birds playing around in the sewers and birds playing around on unattended street vendor carts our interest in street food dropped precipitously. Relatedly, I saw a street vendor pick up a rat the size of a chihuahua by its tail with a pair of tongs and carry it away from his food cart. We had Pringles and Oreos for dinner.

This is an aside but Burma is the colonial name that the British called this place. Myanmar is now the name of the country, but my understanding is that "Burmese" is still the adjective used for things like the language.

People here chew betel nut which apparently has a psychoactive ingredient but also causes cancer. The gross part is that people will just spit it wherever and it's blood red. I had a cab driver smile at me with that stuff all over his teeth. Bout lost my lunch. Betel juice betel juice betel juice.

The big welcome billboard by the airport called Myanmar something like "the golden land" and they aren't messing around. It's a Buddhist country and nothing says "I renounce worldly pleasure in order to break the cycle of reincarnation" like giant buildings slathered in gold.

The first golden location we visited was the 2200 year old Sule Pagoda. There's no shoes or socks allowed inside holy sites here and there's invariably a shoe keeper by the door. When you return they demand money for their services. I usually just gave them a dollar.

We did some serious walking in the heat so I was happy to stop at this J'Donut shop we found. I didn't really want donuts but chain places with lovely air conditioning were rare. Their tagline was "never forget" which made us laugh about what sort of donut related 9-11 scale tragedy must have taken place here.

Personally I'm never going to forget that Juicy Brand Green Soda Syrup is fresh fruity forever.

We strolled through Bogyoke Aung San Market a bit.

We then grabbed a taxi to our next location of golden enlightenment: the reclining Buddha of Chaukhtatgyi Paya. Apparently the posture of a Buddha statue is pretty significant and depicts different periods in the Buddha's life.

Per Lonely Planet:

  • Reclining: The exact moment of the Buddha's enlightenment and death
  • Sitting: Buddha teaching or meditating. If the right hand is pointed toward the earth, Buddha is shown subduing the demons of desire. If the hands are folded in  the lap, Buddha is turning the wheel of law
  • Standing: Buddha bestowing blessings or taming evil forces
  • Walking: Buddha after his return to earth from heaven

I was pretty surprised by this particular statue. In my experience Buddhas are pretty serious stately looking things. This guy was pretty flamboyant with flowing robes and androgynous makeup going on.

It was sort of like if Hong Kong's Tian Tan Buddha that I visited had a sweet, sweet baby with--

--Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

Buddha and Lydia had the same shade of toenail polish.

His feet were particularly cool.

There was a giant sign explaining what all of the symbols on Buddha's feet mean. "These marks became apparent right from the birth of the Buddha".

Buddhist sites are very delicious to the senses. There's incense and fragrant flowers, chanting and bell ringing, bright colors and neon flashing lights, lots of big water jugs with communal metal mugs tied to them... something for everyone.

There were some trippy stories about dreams King Pasenadi, the King of Kosala had and asked the Buddha what they meant. This picture's caption was:

"I saw tiny frogs, no bigger than miniature flowerets, swiftly pursuing huge black snakes and devouring them. What can this mean?"

"This dream too will not have its fulfillment until those future days of which I have already spoken, when the world is declining. At that time men's passions will be so strong that husbands will be thoroughly infatuated with their childish wives. Men will lose all judgment and self-respect. Being completely smitten, they will place their infantile wives in charge of everything — servants, livestock, granaries, gold and silver, everything in the house. Should the over-fond husband presume to ask for some money, or for a favorite robe, he will be told to mind his own business, and not to be so inquisitive about property in her house. These abusive young wives will exercise their power over their husbands as if the men were slaves. It will be like the tiny frogs which gobbled up the big black snakes. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your fifteenth dream."

Lydia was just yelling at me about the laundry in Haiti. Eerie.

We saved the biggest and best holy place for last. I usually loathe dealing with taxi guys because I feel like they are often dishonest. They have been great here though. More than once I've been like "how about 5 dollars to drive me to my hotel" and they'll say "how about 2?"

Shwedagon Paya is like the king of all shiny gold places in Southeast Asia.

Rudyard Kipling had this to say about Shwedagon Paya:

"A beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire... The Golden dome said 'This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land that one knows about'."

We had an.. interesting meal at a restaurant called Feel Myanmar Food. We were especially uneasy when we ordered a dessert and the waiter went outside to a street vendor to get it. I've outlined my health concerns with the street vendors pretty thoroughly I think.

This is an interesting way to make sure businesses are paying their taxes. There were several little tax stamps on our receipt. 

We took a cab to check out Chinatown at night. I was looking forward to making Lydia try crickets.

When we saw them though... they just looked so bad. They were so big that I really thought they were crayfish until I got close enough. No thanks.

Exotic fruits were everywhere. Durians were a big draw at the market. They are big spiky green things that smell god awful. Like diapers. For some reason people around here seem to really like them though because they are really prevalent.

Seaweed flavored Pringles was about as wild as I wanted to get.

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