A year and a half ago, after my first year in Abu Dhabi, I travelled through Southeast Asia for six weeks with Trevor. That was his first trip to Earth! He loved SE Asia so much that he knew he had to come back to check out the rest of Earth with yours truly. Now here we are…
First stop on that trip was Thailand. It was my third visit to Thailand. I can’t get enough of that lush green paradise.
This was to be the beginning of an ambitious project of mine. I wanted to interview musicians from all around the world about their passion, their craft, their inspiration, and why they do the things they do. This project never came to be, simply because it was too difficult to find actual musicians in some places.
However, the project wasn’t a total failure; it gave me two awesome new friends in Josiah and Nok. Jo was to be my very first musician.
I visited them and their adorable kittens…
…in the town of Singiburi, and we immediately hit it off. Jo loves making music, playing old school video games, and the Ninja Turtles.
Then when I was putting this grand trip together, Jo asked if I’d be interested in visiting Myanmar with him and Nok. I was planning on being in the neighbourhood around that time, so of course I said yes. How could I say no to this face?
And so, for the first time in a long time, I once again have companions.
It’s also nice to travel with these guys because Jo has basically mapped out the entire 10 days, so I can just kick back and enjoy the ride. (Actually, I’ve been spending every second I can spare planning Japan. Super excited!)
I arrived in Mandalay on the 7th, but by then, Jo, Nok, her mother, and her aunt were already on their way to Bagan. I spent the evening relaxing and Skyping with three different time zones.
The 8th was for getting things done on the computer.
I didn’t really get to see any of Mandalay until the 9th. I hopped on a motorbike taxi, and we drove to Mandalay Hill.
One thing I noticed immediately: Much like Nepal, Myanmar has a lot of women driving motorbikes. Maybe I never paid attention when visiting Southeast Asia in the past, but I feel like in countries like Vietnam and Thailand, it’s mostly men driving motorbikes. That’s not the case in Nepal and Myanmar though. I just hope that the reason in Myanmar isn’t the same as in Nepal. Apparently women are encouraged to drive motorbikes in Nepal rather than ride in cars because of the high rate of sexual assaults that take place in cars.
When the motorbike stopped and I paid the driver, Google Maps told me that I was still a six minute drive from Mandalay Hill. I thought that was weird, but since the driver had dropped me off here, I figured I might as well check it out.
When I realized that the stairs weren’t stopping any time soon, I quickly realized I was climbing Mandalay Hill.
Unfortunately, like with every temple in Myanmar, you have to take off your shoes and socks in order to enter. This didn’t bode well for me, since my knees and calves still haven’t recovered from Poon Hill. They’re still a bit sore. (I’m writing this two full weeks after Poon Hill, by the way; I’m pretty sure I did something no bueno to my legs on that hike. I’ll deal with it later.)
Anywho, climbing bare foot didn’t feel great to me, so I stopped and turned around towards the end. At least, I think I was near the end. I figured 1) I’ve seen lookouts before, and 2) this is only the first stop of the day. As you can see, though, I still got to see a lot of shiny and pretty things. Emphasis on shiny. Man, for a religion that doesn’t believe in material possessions, they sure do like their gold. Just saying…
Once I got back down to the bottom of Mandalay Hill, a motorbike driver offered to be my personal driver for the day.
Our next stop was Yankin Hill. More barefoot climbing.
On the bright side, though, I met this little guy right at the start of my climb.
I’m not going to say how many photos I took of him…but it was a lot…
There were loads of dogs and cats lying everywhere. Not just in Yankin Hill and Mandalay Hill–they’re everywhere! Thankfully none of them look like they’re starving. Jo later told me that Buddhists believe that if you feed an animal you’ll receive good karma.
And thankfully for me, you’re allowed to climb most of the way up with your shoes on Yankin Hill.
Now I don’t actually know how high Yankin Hill goes, but I stopped when I got this far. I figured this was a nice enough view for me, and I missed my shoes.
This was also pretty cool.
Oddly enough, though, while admiring the view and these statues, I was subjected to listening to “Gentleman” by Psy. There were a bunch of teens just off to the side. I think they were on their break or something, and they had the music on full blast, though I’m not sure where exactly the music was coming from. It’s kinda hard to achieve Enlightenment when Psy is playing at deafening levels, y’know?
When I got back to my shoes, I sat down to put them on, and this little guy climbed on my lap.
I stayed there petting him for a good ten minutes. The monks and the middle aged guys sitting behind me smoking were having a laugh at my expense, but I didn’t care; Momo and I were having a blast.
I took Momo off my laugh to put on my left shoe, and he clambered back on my lap, melting my heart in the process.
Eventually, though, we did have to part. It probably hurt me a lot more than it hurt him.
My driver was waiting for me down at the bottom. We headed to Mahamuni.
Along the way, we almost got into an accident–something I should be used to by now, but I most certainly am not. We were making a left, and there was another motorbike coming towards us. My driver assumed that the guy was going to slow down, and the other guy assumed we were going to wait for him to pass before turning.
You know that scene in action movies, where the villain realizes he’s about to die moments before he actually dies? His plane/car/boat/whatever is about to crash after the hero got out of the way at the very last minute, the camera focuses on the villain, and all they can say is a frustrated, “Oh, s**t” a millisecond before the big explosion. That’s how I felt as the motorbike was coming straight for us.
I’m pretty sure we would have collided had it not been for the other guy’s fast reflexes. He swerved to the left just in time. Of course, my driver cursed at him, because it’s always the other guy’s fault.
We arrived at Mahamuni, and I was quickly asked to wear a longyi, since I was wearing shorts. (It’s basically a towel folded around your waist in a particular way.) However when I went inside, I saw quite a few tourists walking around in shorts. Meh. Got suckered for a dollar.
To go back to the whole thing about Buddhism and materialism, I just don’t understand how a place is supposed to be spiritual and help one reach Nirvana when you have stuff like this going on in the background in the temple.
Also, what’s up with women not being allowed to enter certain parts of the temple? Instead, they were only allowed to pray outside of the shrine area while everybody else lined up to place a gold leaf on the Buddha’s face for good luck (I’m good, thanks). So women can’t wish for good luck?
I just looked it up online, and it has something to do with menstruation making women “unclean” and having some sort of mystical powers that would tarnish the sacred nature of the Buddha’s relics.
ALSO, check this out!
“In Theravada Buddhism, it is impossible for a woman to be a bodhisattva, which is someone on their way to Buddhahood. Bodhisattva can be a human, animal, serpent, or a god, but is never a woman. The Theravada does not deny women to become awakened, but they are unable to lead a Buddhist community. If the aspiration to Buddhahood has been male and a Buddha of the time confirms it, it is impossible to be reborn as a woman. An appropriate aim is for the woman to aspire to be reborn as male. They can become a male by moral actions and sincere aspirations to maleness. BEING BORN A FEMALE IS A RESULT OF BAD KARMA.”
Double you tee eff, Buddha! That’s messed up! It seems misogyny reigns over all the religions.
I became the centre of attention at one point when I was taking a couple Metallica shots. There was a teenage girl who took a liking to the boys, and so she asked if she could take a picture of them. Then a man who spoke English started giving me photography advice on how to properly angle my camera for the best shot. Finally, the same man then asked if the teenage girl and her family could take a photo with me. I actually thought they were all together, and so I happily agreed. I thought he was the father.
After the photos were taken, though, the guy stayed with me while the rest of them continued exploring. I thought maybe the father was just keen to interact with a foreigner like myself.
Took me about ten minutes to realize this dude had slithered his way into becoming my tour guide.
Too bad that, like most guides in Myanmar, I could only understand every third word the guy said. So unfortunately, I have no idea who this person is.
However I can tell you that this giant thing has something to do with good success and health. Touch the nipple in the middle and some of these words, and the universe will bless you with these things, apparently.
I can also tell you that these came from Cambodia via Thailand.
This has something to do with a rabbit and a peacock, as well as summer and winter.
And this is the Buddha’s footprint.
This is his life story. I don’t know if it’s available on Audibles.
The last stop for the day was Shweinbin Monastery. This one was a bit of a flop.
Monastery was pretty and all, but I was hoping to chit chat with some monks while I was there. It was a bit of a ghost town.
Though I did see a fascinating sight: A monk texting with one hand and holding a cigarette in the other hand. I don’t think he’s reached Enlightenment yet.
I saw a lot of that around. Monks enjoy their cell phones apparently. I’m pretty sure I saw one guy swipe left. Not sure what he was swiping on though. One can only wonder…
That night, I met up with Josiah and Nok. We went out for dinner and then proceeded to watch…I don’t even know what we watched. I don’t know how to describe it. I can tell you that it was called The Moustache Brothers though.
Back in the early 90’s, the brothers in question rose to international fame for putting together a comedy show that torched the government at the time. One or both of the brothers was incarcerated as a result of the show. However over time, they lost their political and cultural relevance. Today, only one of the brothers is alive, since the other one passed away four years ago. He tries to keep he Moustache Bros legacy alive and well, but the truth is that it’s kind of just limping along at this point.
The brother in question made many references to the show’s heyday, like Al Bundy constantly reminiscing about his washed up high school football days. He even played a clip from some Hugh Grant movie in which his brother’s imprisonment is referenced.
There wasn’t a storyline or anything to the show; it was just the dude rambling about random topics. Obviously, he talked about how dangerous it was to speak badly about the government back in the day, but then there was just a whole lot of nonsense. A picture of Obama kissing State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, followed by a picture of her “getting revenge” by planting a kiss on the former POS. Lots of jokes about his wife plotting to kill him. He also mentioned Canadian ice a whole bunch of times, because that’s apparently the only thing he knows about Canada–that we have ice. And a whole bunch of random dancing.
I wish I could say that it was so bad that it was funny, but it was actually so bad that it was a little sad. It might be time for the curtain call on Moustache Bros. Perhaps if we had downed a few more beers before the show it might have been a little bit more entertaining. I’ll give them one thing, it was certainly a memorable performance; memorable in the way a trainwreck is memorable. And certainly a unique Myanmar experience.