Thursday, August 19
I started the day off in fine fashion with a couple of curry dishes--vegetable and potatoes--at Marie Min, a good yet low-key restaurant hidden away in a back alley a block away from the South side of the moat. Then I rented a bicycle again and went on a relatively relaxing ride around the wide, divided avenue around the moat up to Kuthodaw Pagoda, near the Northwest corner. This Buddhist temple really stands out from the pack with its 729 blinding white stupas, each of which contains a portion of the Buddhist Tripitaka story, bestowing upon it the world's biggest book status.
Another young Buddhist monk befriended me, and we sat and talked for close to an hour, practically grilling each other on our respective lives. A little while later, an older monk joined in the fun. As the sun approached the horizon, it really set the stupa field aglow, so I set off on a quick photo mission just before sunset. One of the two most persistent hawkers I've encountered on this whole trip followed me around every step of the way. He had originally approached me as I first entered the compound, then he continued his efforts to sell me a little metal Buddhist animal figurine / prayer bell.
It was actually really nice-looking and emitted a very relaxing ringing sound, but I'm just not the kind of person who collects knick-knacks. But, this man would not take no for an answer. He didn't give up until I said goodbye to the monk and made my way out of the temple--now with a total of three Buddhist monks' email addresses. This monk even said he was on Facebook and MySpace, which surprised me. It's hard to picture those guys hanging out on the Web.
As night fell, I took a trishaw (bicycle taxi) over to Mintha Theater, a new little venue that opened in 2006 that's all decorated up to charm your pants off. There I saw an hour's worth of traditional Burmese music and dance. Some highlights performed by the eager young ensemble included an intricate and stately harp solo, followed by two dances from traditional Burmese nat pwe spirit invocation ceremonies: Dance of the Spirit Medium and Dance of the Guardian Spirit of Mt. Popa.
On the lighter side was the funny Spirit Boozer U Mingyaw Dance, in which the performer humorously staggered around the stage in a stupor. More slapstick arrived in the form of the Jolly Joker Dance of Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe. The ender was scored by a juggler who stood on two bottles on top of a chair while juggling a ball with her foot and rings with her hands, among many other stunts. All of the colorful dance was supported by a small, traditional Burmese orchestra consisting of circular drums, gongs and shrill horns which bashed out a loose and boisterous yet oddly melodic cacophony.