Wednesday, August 18
I headed to the Southern area of Mandalay again in search of Shwe In Bin Kyaung, an amazing Buddhist monastery made out of teak wood. The quest turned out to be as fruitful as the destination, as it resulted in some my favorite photos I've taken on this entire trip. On the way South, I had a chance encounter with a street procession action unit called Thone Yaung Chael, who plied the roads of Mandalay with pushcarts, bashing out a brash rhythm on drums, cymbals and a wooden block--all strangely accented with a solemn Indonesian gong--while an amplified vocalist sang and let the neighborhood know what's up.
Under a searing sun and suffocating humidity, I then rode my rental bike up and down one bumpy, rocky, dusty and / or flooded alley, street and road after another. Around in circles, squares and Isosceles triangles I went looking for the monastery. At one point, I pedaled past a pond where young boys were fishing (with strings tied to sticks) off of a small wooden footbridge. I know an obvious Kodak moment when I see one, so I slammed on the brakes, turned around and captured it. A little while and a few more photo ops later, I even found myself on the trash-strewn banks of the Ayeyarwady river.
A few blocks away, a couple of nice, young Buddhist monks pointed me in the right direction, and I finally made my way inside Shwe In Bin Kyaung. Built in 1895, its dark wood is, of course, well weathered, lending the intricate carvings that cover it more character than a Warner Brothers cartoon. I met a couple of more nice, young Buddhist monks, one of whom was named Pyanyananda. He chatted me up for quite a while and practiced his English in the process. Just like the monk down at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, he also gave me his email address.
As night fell, I headed over to Marie Min restaurant for dinner, which serves the best food in Myanmar I've tasted so far. Right before I made it there, I bumped into another pushcart band called Shwe Pone Taung, who were quite similar to the first outfit I encountered earlier in the day, except they added keyboards into the mix. Since it was totally dark and street lights in Mandalay are dim and few and far between, they had bright florescent lights bolted onto their carts, along with huge amps blasting out their repertoire of traditional Burmese music, one song of which I've heard before on a Nat Pwe CD. I followed Shwe Pone Taung down a flooded back street for a spell, wading through the black water and shooting photos and video the whole way. One crusty old man even shimmied a wild jig to the music in the middle of a giant puddle out in the dark.