Sunday, December 28, 2014

All that Glitters...

They say that all that glitters is not gold.  As an art teacher I've got enough experience with glitter (which never, ever goes away) to know the truth of this saying.  However, I also know that nothing has quite the same glow to it that gold does.  And across Mandalay and heck, let's go ahead and say it - all across Myanmar - you will see gold glittering.
Enough gold to draw the attention of a dragon (AAGH!  HOW EXCITED AM I TO SEE THE FIVE ARMIES IN THE NEXT DAY OR SO WITH DOUGIE-POO?!?)  Kristen had a philosophical disagreement with all this gold, but who am I to judge...I belong to a temple-building religion and they don't come cheap.  On my final day in Myanmar I decided I needed to visit one more of these temples, because at the Mahamuni Pagoda, they did a special ceremony every morning - the washing of the Buddha's face.
My driver from the day before told me he would pick me up at 4am to take me there.  It's funny that I keep getting up early - traveling is not exactly a relaxing time for me like it is for other people.  We got to the pagoda around 4:30, where he had me wait to be let in by the gate, where people were selling flowers and snacks to give as offerings during the ceremony.  There were plenty of mosquitoes and they all seemed to think my ankles were a great place to grab a snack.  At 5 they opened the gates and let us in.  My feet (bare for the last time!) were struggling after I spent a good long while wandering around on them the previous night, so I did not hot-tail it down the corridors where vendors would be hawking their wares in a matter of hours, but I was close enough to the front of the pack that I got to sit in the women's enclosure (behind, of course, the men's section, but since I could still see just fine we'll let it pass.

After sitting for another half hour (in which more mosquitoes dined on my sweet, sweet blood), the ceremony finally started.  The monks opened the room where the statue waited and set up a scaffold just in front of the Buddha's chest, then brought in offerings of flower arrangements, which they set up on the scaffold.  Helpers in white robes came in and mixed up the liquid that they used to wash the gold and removed the flowers so that the monk could climb up.  Three sheets of saffron silk were draped around the statue's shoulders, reminding me of a bib, especially with all the food offerings that people had bought, but I attempted to squelch this thought.  Finally, the bucket of suds was passed up and the monk began to bathe the Buddha, gently rubbing the wet sponge over his glowing visage.  The water which ran down and dripped from his chin was caught by the cloth, preserving the gold which covered his chest.  When the Buddha was clean (or as clean as you can be without scrubbing behind those big ol' ears), the monk dried and polished his face, using two or three different cloths to buff the statue until it had a countenance like lightning.

I finally got up and unfolded my legs, stepping out of the little sitting area.  I returned past the shops, some of which were beginning to open, until I made it back out to my taxi.  As we drove back through the pre-dawn streets, I couldn't help but notice who was out at this hour - monks and pilgrims - and contrasted it with the saying I tried to remember about how drunks and whores are the only ones out before dawn.  Meanwhile I was growling with hunger.  I'm so accustomed to the cold that in these suddenly hot climates I haven't had much of an appetite.  However, there's nothing like rolling out at 4 in the morning to make you remember you haven't eaten much since yesterday afternoon.

After winding down post-python the previous day, I decided to go out for a walk and find the Shan noodle shop that Kristen had taken me to the night before.  She and her friends knew the best places for food, and the Shan noodles were no exception, so I wandered over in the general direction and eventually found it for an encore (with the yogurt she introduced me to for dessert).  I decided to go ahead and see the Moustache Brothers show that night, which didn't start til 8:30, but I thought I might just wander til then.  Eventually my feet let my brain know this was an idiotic idea, so I went back to the hotel and chilled for a couple of hours before walking over.

The Moustache Brothers are fairly well-known for their political satire.  Two of the three served prison time for telling jokes in a country that didn't find them funny.  I may not be a great student of history, but I wanted to understand Myanmar better, so I chose to go to their show instead of the puppet show, which I'd been considering.  When I got to the house where they perform, I was greeted warmly by Lu Maw and his niece, Par Par Lay's daughter.  The night's show could more easily have been the Moustache Sisters, since Lu Maw was the only one of the original performers that night - the rest of the ensemble was largely his wife, his granddaughter, his sister.  Par Par Lay died in 2013, and the third brother, their cousin Lu Zaw, was absent.  After the show, I talked to some French people who were looking for a taxi at the same time as me, and they asked what I thought.  I told them I enjoyed it, and then they started talking about how hard it was to understand him and that they weren't sure if it was right for such a serious subject.  Which I guess I can understand, but the fact that he can maintain a sense of humor after all his family had been through instead of being bitter and angry is remarkable to me.  If I'd been going to see a kickass comedy routine, I probably would have been disappointed.  Lu Maw had some good jokes, but I could feel the absence of his brothers...he was one man doing the job of three.  What happened instead was that I got to feel something, a part of history, a subversive agent against corruption, a memorial to a moment in time.

I was going to share a taxi with them, but beyond the fact that they didn't get it, they just stood there waiting when no one was coming, and I'd rather at least be walking in the right direction, so that's what I did.  After about 3 blocks Par Par Lay's daughter rode up and asked if I needed a taxi - the vocation she had chosen rather than comedy.  I was thrilled to have a ride, to get back that much of the sleep I needed before the next morning's early roll out but also to contribute a little more.  Someone on TripAdvisor was disgruntled with the fact that the family sold their services after the show, as if it was a scam, but I was ecstatic.

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