Tuesday, August 17
I rented another bicycle that was somewhat easier to pedal than the one yesterday, and ventured in the opposite direction of Mandalay Hill down South to Mahamuni Pagoda, Myanmarâ€™s second holiest temple, after Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangon. First, let me say that many intersections in Mandalay have no traffic lights or stop signs, so anarchy pretty much reigns supreme. You have three choices: Just go for it and charge straight through; weave your way around all of the bicycles, motorcycles, cars and trucks like a basket case; or make a slight turn until everyone whizzes by and the coast is clear, then head straight again. In a small park outside of Mahamuni Pagoda, I felt like I had stepped onto the set of Alfred Hitchcockâ€™s The Birds as folks fed a million pigeons, which occasionally got fed up themselves and flocked into the sky around in a half circle, descending to the ground once again for more grub.
Inside the temple, long corridors full of shiny, glittery souvenirs led to a 12 foot high Buddha statue coated and re-coated in so much gold over the centuries that most of the original detail is hopelessly obscured, forming some gloriously blobbed Buddha bling. A huge compound surrounds the shrine, complete with ornate roofs, huge prayer bells, and a giant 10 foot diameter gong that could wake the dead. When the temple was finished stoking me out, I rode around on a random photo mission in the raw back streets of South Mandalay. I saw the most ridiculously rigged truck with no hood, front fenders or anything covering the engine. It was the funniest, loudest, smoke-belching, chug-a-lug contraption ever to roll across the Earth. I chased it down the street, passed it, then waited and tried to shoot a video clip, but after it drove by, I realized I had the camera on the wrong setting. Argh! I tried a new eatery later that night called the BBB CafÃ©, where I ordered a veggie sandwich and French fries. As soon as the waiter set it down, I counted the fries, and there were exactly eight of them. There must be some kind of French fry rationing program going on in Myanmar. Also, this meal had the same odd taste as the one I ate at V CafÃ©. What the hell is up with the food in this country?