Thursday, August 12
Since yesterday was a travel day, I woke up exhausted this morning, as always. I ate my free breakfast, which consisted of toast, eggs, banana and a piece of cake, then sat and stewed in my room for a spell under the relative comfort of the ceiling fan. I ended up laying down again and falling asleep until about 5:00 p.m. I was so lethargic, I screamed, "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" then turned into a huge, human pancake, pleading with the Jolly Green Giant to scrape me up off the griddle with a giant spatula. Once I got going, I walked a half mile down to the 2500-year-old Botataung Pagoda, a big complex of Buddhist temples and shrines. The place is dominated by a huge, hollow, gold-covered chedi that contains the Buddha's First Sacred Hair Relic in the center of a pizza slice-shaped labyrinth.
The gold and mirror-tile-covered floors, walls and ceilings provide eye candy galore in a short yet dizzying walk. I even saw a young man who sat and meditated while facing into one of the narrow corners. In the center is the relic that supposedly contains an original hair from Guatama Buddha. The shrine that supports it and the floor around it are covered with piles of money tossed by the faithful. I took my chances on the rain-slicked ceramic tile that covers all of the compound outside, almost slamming a couple of times, to check out numerous other shrines, where small clusters of people prayed. During the walk to and from this place--through the roughest-looking shantytown you could imagine--the streets were flooded from all of the rain, and at least seven or eight different people smiled and said hi to me.