I guess we are slow. Today we start by having to make up time for what we missed yesterday. First stop the gold leaf making shop.
I am just as interested in what is happening on the street as I am in what is going on in the gold shop. I wander away onto a main street and watch the traffic. I have yet to see a traffic light, Ow says there are 20 sets, and this is a city of 1.5 million people. Not everyone owns a car but there are a good number of vehicles plying the road. Yet, and as I approach the intersection, I realize there is an implied set of lights that seem to be what controls the traffic pattern. First the traffic builds up in the east/west direction, and when there is a slight pause in the north/south traffic, the e/w traffic flows through enmass and the traffic in the n/s direction builds, a pause in the e/w traffic then allows the n/s to move, this is repeated time and time again. It is a bit scary but it works and I did not see a single fender bender.
As we progress through the city I realize where it is that Myanmar reminds me of. I traveled to Sumatra, Indonesia in 1989, it was my first trip to SE Asia. I see Myanmar to be in a similar state of tourist development as Indonesia back then. There are a couple of differences, first, the electronic age is upon us and second I think Myanmar will change at a much faster rate than Indonesia in the late 1980’s. So if you want to visit, visit now, right now. For the most part there is still a labour based economy here, it takes so many more people to do the work than it does at home, there are not as many machines. The gold leaf factory operates without a single power machine. The gold is melted in a small furnace, loaded and unloaded by hand, rolled flat in a hand cranked roller, similar to an wringer on an old washing machine, (you youngin’s will have to look it up), pounded manually with a sledge hammer, and lastly assembled into 50mm X 50mm squares by hand. This will change in the future and it is one of the things that makes this place interesting to a traveller. Us North American types cannot even imagine this kind of manual process going on at home.
One thing does bother me somewhat. There is a ‘tourist trail’ and we are following it to the letter. I am not sure there is an easy way to deviate from it. Debbie and I like to wander around neighbourhoods and see what is going on. We are driving by what I think would be very interesting and are heading right to another temple with another 200 traveling foreigners. It is only day 2 and already we have reached temple overload. I did come to one conclusion though. I am not going to turn Buddhist, I don’t really like all this bare foot travel. It is far too much trouble to keep taking off and putting on my shoes (and socks here in Myanmar).
Next stop, the longest teak wood bridge in the world. In my mind this must be some bridge. From a distance it looks relatively impressive. We park 100M away and approach the bridge from a side street. When we are finally on it Debbie says, “This is teak?” Another of our NA ideas is shaken. Teak to us is that $5000 table grandma has, the one used only once a year usually at Christmas, the one that is finished so nicely and whatever you do, don’t scratch it. The bridge we are standing on is unfinished, worn, weathered and frankly falling apart. The wood resembles any piece of wood one might find in the back yard stacked against the garage and kept in case some scrap lumber is needed, but this is SE Asia and teak is readily available and not really anything special so instead of fine furniture they build a bridge.
Another thing about the developing tourist trade is the sophistication of the touts, the gauntlet of hawkers confronting us as we approach any touristy sight. They are everywhere in the world and depending on where, they differ in the degree of annoyance they can conger up. Here these folks still seem to be learning the trade. They ask and ask politely, but when the answer is no or a shaken head they do not, for the most part, persist. For us tourist types this behavior makes for a much more pleasant trip. There is of course one or two that have learned to be annoying, ahead of the curve I think, but most are respectful and do not get over zealous. This behavior also makes for fewer sales but personally, even though I do not need or even want what these folks are selling, I would be far more likely to respond to an innovative marketing approach rather than persistent badgering.
As the day progress we stop by a monastery, along with all the other tourists in town, to observe 1000 monks partake in lunch, a short boat trip and a horse cart ride around and through the ancient capital of Ava, a trip to the relocated teak palace building now the Shwenandaw Monastery, a trip to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset, and a stroll amongst the carnival venders set up as an adjunct to the festival of light that has just ended.
I was slightly peeved on the trip to Mandalay hill. Our guide paid the entrance fee to the shrine. A fee only non-Myanmar residents have to pay and when we reach the top of the four story, one way (up), escalator we were asked to pay a 1000 kaht ‘camera fee’. Not only do I consider ‘camera fees’ a rip off and will not take my camera into places requiring I pay to do so, to corner us with no escape route is downright rude. We had 4 cameras and our guide said we did not have to pay but R and I gave the folks 1000 each, which gave me something to complain about the entire time we were at the shrine. The entrance fee should be enough, everyone carries some sort of camera these days and this is a blatant money grab. It just shouldn’t be charged. If you are going to Mandalay beware of the oddity and maybe leave your camera elsewhere or hide it in your pack.
We obviously didn’t pick up speed today because we have to meet early again tomorrow and hit the road by 8:30 so we can try and clean up today’s agenda tomorrow.