Tuesday, July 25, 2006

June 20th - 22nd... Bagans will be Bagans



Above: The corncob in question

- 5:42am... Get shot up with more adrenaline at this ungodly hour than we've had on the whole trip. Have what we've now come to call "The $20 bill incident".

While buying a ticket for the Mandalay to Bagan "fast" ferry (which took 9 1/2 hours on the Ayerwardy river) the government agent wouldn't accept one of our $20 bills because it had a small black pen mark on it. The bill was perfect -- no creases, no corner bends and crisper than both us and our clothes in this heat -- because Andy and I were taking great care to keep the cash in pristine condition. We'd heard people were picky about their greenbacks in Myanmar, but hadn't experienced troubles with any of the moneychangers or cashiers yet. However, this was our first encounter with a government agency, and unavoidable since they've cornered the market on all river ferries.

And thus, at the butt crack of dawn a Burmese man was criticizing our own currency to us, and asking for a new, even more perfect $20 bill!!!

Impossible!?! Yet possible -- this is Myanmar. Andy tried to explain~> read more

 that the black on it was a bank mark used for cataloging, that his dad had been a bank president and these markings were perfectly irrelevant, blah, blah, blah. I seethed because the situation was just flat surreal and then tried to explain to the ticket man that he needed to educate his government on our currency...since they were dollars belonging to our own damn country and maybe they should critique their own kyat instead of ours. It was to no avail. He looked at us solemnly and just said, "Need new money. The government say this is no good." Finally, after letting the nonsense of the situation course through us, we smiled painfully -- very painfully, I assure you all -- and found a new bill in our stash of cash and handed it over in exchange for tickets on the "fast boat".

- 3:46pm... Step off the "fast boat" and feel grateful for the adrenaline crash precipitated by "the $20 bill incident". Why? Because it allowed us to sleep for 6 hours of the ride to Bagan!

- 5:12pm... Stand on red-dirt path in the middle of the Bagan plain surrounded by hundreds (literally -- this is not an exaggeration) of cinnabar brick and whitewashed stucco pagodas and prepare for sunset. Many of the temples have honeyed and ornate stupas rising up into the wispy, clouded sky that reflect the sun with blinding intensity. Marvel at the massive amount of gold and realize this amount could probably feed the whole country. Oh well...

5:22pm... Get accosted by temple sellers. No, I don't need a lacquered bamboo bowl, thank you very much.

5:24pm... Take off shoes for what seems like the jillionth time in Myanmar.

5:49pm... See what is quite possibly our 8,236th Buddha image. I ask Buddha frankly about his opinion on the shoe thing and if he can reign in these temple sellers. Buddha doesn't answer. Andy does answer, however, and tells me I'm nuts!

6:14pm... Climb up steep stairs oh-so-happily in barefeet and avoid bird droppings. Gaze out across the plains and Ayerwady river, seeing temples and shiny stupas north and south, east and west. Marvel at their familiar appearance. What do Bagan's fabled, golden stupas remind us of...? The temples of Angkor? Wat Pra Kaew in Bangkok? Something in Rajasthan?

6:16pm... Determine they look like gilded corn cobs!!! Yes, that's it.

6:17pm... Realize we're templed out and have lost the edge on enjoying monuments. Determine we're changing our flight and leaving Bagan early. It took seven months and eight countries, but we hit our wall. When something wondrous and beautiful reminds you of corn, it's time to leave!

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