Tuesday, July 25, 2006

June 15th - 19th ... Mandalay daze

Clothes soaked with sweat (not the rain), and feet dirtier than ever before!

- 8:17am... Wake up and unpeel ourselves from bed like male and female velcro. Turns out sheets are a polyestery-rayon blend (what the hell?) and since the power is out again, we're sweaty-sticky and this fabric doesn't breathe. Ugh!

- 10:22am... Continually feel like visiting celebrity because people greet us with stares, smiles and a gleeful "hello". We're so visible because Andy isn't in a finely-checked plaid sarong (local word is "longi") and I look like a derelict Southern Belle as I've taken to using either a hand fan or umbrella (though in my mind, I like to call it a parasol!) to protect myself from the searing heat.

- 11:04am... Wander around Mandalay Palace and note that Myanmar's intrinsic architectural style seems to look like a Baroque chandelier crossed with an X-Wing Fighter. Unique, for certain!

- 1:09pm... Mull over the fact that Myanmar is auspiciously nestled between Thailand and India, countries with some of the best cuisine in the world, and yet their food is filled with either blandness, eggplant or shrimp paste. We just don't get it! Luckiy, we try one salad with pickled tea leaves, fresh ginger, toasted peanuts, fried garlic, sesame seeds and chickpeas that redeems the country's food status.

- 2:51pm... Curse burmese Buddhism about the "take your shoes off rule" at Mandalay Hill. I continue to question whether Buddha would really want us to be climbing up 1,729 stone steps in our bare feet...? I say doubtful. Especially when the steps smell of incense, urine and peanuts. ~> read more


- 3:26pm... "My skin is like an oil spill meets mud wrestling," says Andy at the top. I am dripping too and look like I've wet my pants, but it's sweat, I assure you. (see photo) View is stunning. See velvet green fields of rice and tapioca, a brown-blue river snaking like a serpentine of cigar smoke through the dry plateau, gold pagodas that look like giant bells and the wedding cake-like tiers of the merlot and canary colored Mandalay Palace.

- 3:27pm... Andy and I determine the view from the top is one of the only exotic elements of Mandalay and think it's extremely funny they named a fancy theme hotel after it in Las Vegas. This place looks NOTHING like their lobby, and the vegas hotel undoubtedly uses more electricity than the entire real city!

- 5:12pm... Recover at Nylon Ice Cream, our favorite place in Mandalay and a complete misnomer in Asia. Nylon is an old-fashioned soda fountain type place with outdoor cafe tables, unique ice cream flavors like taro and durian and rare because it's neither a Western chain nor does the ice cream melt before arriving at your table!!! Even with the crazy eight hour power cycles and outtages, our ice cream was perfectly cool and delicious every time. Andy and I still don't how they do it either. Some kind of dry ice and generator wizardry we guess. At Nylon, myriad young boys whip around in a blur of sarongs serving the iced treats and the only adults in sight are customers. Wealthy Myanmar families (either government or police) pull up in their fat Chinese-manufactured SUVs and the boys race to the windows, take the order, run back behind the revolving door of Nylon's kitchen and then dash back out to the cars with orders in brown bags -- all in under 3 minutes flat. Nylon is magic, mystery and madness rolled into one and I told Andy this could be a setting for a Burmese musical...the orphan boys of Nylon ice cream dancing about in sarongs, singing and serving customers and yet no one knows what goes on behind the counters and in the freezers. Bizarre, yes...but that place just had a feel to it!

- 7:41pm... Andy and I become truly Asian!!! Ride on trishaw 2-passenger 1-driver bicycle wearing flip-flops and holding umbrellas in a steamy-hot monsoon downpour to see a Burmese puppet show. You just don't do this in America...!

- 9:02pm... Best puppet show yet. Learn that Myanmar actually invented the marionnettes! Who knew? A Bamar king wanted a wholly-new type of entertainment and tasked one of his ministers with developing a new form of entertainment. After a few months, this genius presented his monarch with a cast of marionettes acting out tales from Buddha's life and the Ramayana and gave birth to fun with strings attached. Myanmar's puppets are incredible because they're complicated and stringed to the hilt; many of the puppets have over 50 strings and the puppet master can manipulate their eye lashes, eye brows and petticoats!

- 9:03pm... Too bad that culture minister didn't do a better job on Myanmar's traditional music. A live "band" played with the marionettes, including a gong, a xylophone-contraption made of more gongs, three drums, two wooden flutes and an oboe gone wrong. To me, for over an hour, it sounded like someone was stomping on one of those plastic, steak-shaped, squeaking dog toys. Odious, not melodious!

- 11:17pm... It's a miracle! Our guest house has power...government power...and that means the air conditioning is already on and our room is beautifully cold. We settle in to the delicious chill, reveling until 6:00am when it goes off again and sticky velcro routine begins anew.


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