Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Met Prince Charming on the Way to Mandalay

7 April 2015



We got up early this morning to make it to the airport in time for our flight.  The airport is quite a way out of the city, and traffic is Bangkok is notorious for being backed up.  The usual trip to or from the airport can take up to two hours, although this morning it took just over 30 minutes.  Ah well, better to be safe and all that.

While we were waiting for a taxi, I saw these four young women all dressed up in dancing costume, taking selfies and waiting for some event.  They let me take their photo, and even offered to take a photo of me with them.  (I don't bother doing that, I just wanted a picture of them in their gorgeous costumes!)  Anyway, we chatted and yes, they were at our hotel to do a dance performance for a special event.  All related to the holiday, Chakri, which commemorates the establishment of the Chakri dynasty in 1782 (the first king of the current dynasty).  This first king moved the capital to Bangkok, so that's part of the celebration as well.   

There were also tables of food and flowers and other offerings set up by the two shrines or altars at the hotel - absolutely beautiful towering piles of fruits with flower embellishments, bowls of golden chrysanthemums, other bowls of mixed flower petals.  

Anyway, while at the airport, I ended up chatting with a young American man while waiting to go through passport control (where you get stamped out of a country).  He and a friend were heading off to Jakarta for a job.  So of course I asked what kind of work does he do.  He's a figure skater for Disney!  I looked at him, this nice looking all-American boy-next-door type guy, and asked what is his role, figuring he's too cute to be hidden under a mask as Mickey Mouse or something.  So he asks if I know the current Disney movie "Tangled," based on the Rapunzel story.  He explains that he's the lead in the ice skating version of the story.  So I started laughing and said, "You're Prince Charming!  That's exactly the role I'd give you!  Prince Charming!"  Of course, he blushed and said yes, he's Prince Charming.  Don't you just love it? 

Okay, so, Myanmar and Mandalay.  Mandalay is in the central part of Myanmar, in the middle of a plain and somewhat ringed by mountains in the distance.  It's flat flat flat here, though we see the mountains in the distance.  Hot and dry - we're toward the end of dry season, with the rains due to begin next month - and average daily temps are about 100 F, or 38 C.  Hot and dry, but not a desert, because there's a river near enough to keep things somewhat green. 

On the drive from the airport, we went through miles and kilometers of flat dry land with low trees, dotted with temples.  The Buddhist temples in Myanmar mostly look like huge stupas, the shrines we saw all over Thailand.  These are the bell-shaped structures rising to a point - or maybe looking something like a chess bishop or pawn.  Although some of them look, as Richard said, more like a serving of soft serve ice cream coming to a pointed peak.  We saw temples in gold, white, and sort of a terra cotta clay color.  Just scattered all across the landscape.

So I look forward to lots of temple visits!

The airport had interesting towers that are sort of a cross between northern Asian pagodas and SE Asian temples.  There's also a wonderful gate in the middle of a roundabout right in the city of Mandalay, similar in design.  The architecture here is interesting, with Thai influences but uniquely Myanmarian.  (Burmese?)

And the men wear sarongs (as do many women).  Our taxi driver had a light button-up shirt, and a dark mini-plaid sarong.  (Long sarong, small plaid weave.)

The money is pretty, but, well, odd.  One thousand kyats (yes, that's the name of the currency) equals one dollar.  So if something costs 5000 kyats, that's $5.  We followed our usual practice of just getting cash from an ATM at the airport.  So, imagine receiving about $200 from the ATM, but only in $1 and $5 bills.  The lion is the 1000 kyat bill.  The elephant is the 5000 kyat bill.  I have so many bills, I can't even fold my wallet!  But I really like having money with elephants on it!  (It seems that Myanmar, like Cambodia and Vietnam, doesn't have coins.  There are bills all the way down to 100 kyat bills, which would equal a dime.  So there's only paper money.  Interesting, isn't it?)

Next week is the Myanmar New Year, followed by the Water Festival.  There are massive water fights all over, apparently, with huge platforms where people shoot water at other people.  Or something like that.  So of course we'll be out there, and I'll try to get some photos while keeping my camera dry.  It definitely sounds like the kind of craziness and fun we enjoy!

Besides, in 100 degree heat, getting drenched with water should be wonderfully refreshing!


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