Wednesday, January 15, 2020

It's All About The E-Bike

There are over 3500 Temples and Pagodas to think about posting even a sampling of all the pictures I took. Click on this Google Images link. These images are impressive. I am also not going to try and write a historical narrative for any of the sites. When in doubt, check out Wikipedia.

After my first day and night in Bagan, I woke up and added two more nights to my stay. The owner was great and gave me a nice discount on my Ebike rental. I love this place. There was a way to much to see and do to try and pack it into 3 days, just to say I have been here. I was staying in Old Bagan and it was a bit rustic but with small modern hotels and shops scattered about. There was a New Bagan, built-in 1990 to upgrade services for tourists. Then there were the villages to cruise through, the waterfront and the reason I was there the temples and pagodas.

My routine was as simple as it was fun. I get up for sunrise. Get back to the hotel for breakfast and get cleaned up. Jump on my scooter around 10:00 AM and off I went, no direction, no mission. I would stop for lunch when I was hungry at a spot that looked good, street or restaurant. I would return back to the hotel by around 3:00, have a little nap, then up and out for sunset. Grab a few beers and sit in the common area of the hotel, which was outside, and either chat with who was there or listen to music. This rock-star was in bed every night by 10:00 PM

The people of Bagan were friendly and not pushy. I have noticed that the people in this country always seem to be smiling. Not the Thai "l want your money" smile, but they have genuine and calm happiness about themselves. It translates well to a great experience.

When I was in Peru years go one of the people on the bike tour mentioned to me how sad she felt to see members of our group give things to village kids for no reason. It was great they were giving them pens, pencils, and small notebooks but it encourages begging and expectations that rich white tourists will "give us things". It took me some time to wrap my head around the idea but it made so much sense. This was not about having the kids or the adults "dance like monkeys to get a prize". Maybe the kids learn to barter. Maybe they have colorful rock or a nice leaf or tell you a story. Anything to learn the art of communication and not the grift of begging. This has always stayed with me.

There was a floating coffee shop in New Bagan and an hour staring at the river life sounded great. When I stopped at the steps down to the boat a kid from the village came running over to me. He had postcards to sell for 1000 Burmese Kyat. He was showing them off to me will of pride. I half ignored him when I notice the postcards were hand-drawn, by him. I said something like "great work" and started on my way to get my expensive coffee. I was 3 steps down when the past hit me across the face. I immediately called him and he came running back excitedly. I told him I would buy two packs of his postcards and handed him 2000 Kyat, about $1.50. He was so excited that he yelled back to his house. His brother came running over and just stared at me. The parents waved and smiled from about 30 feet away. Lesson learned, lesson remembered, lesson acted upon. A happy moment.

This is not just a growing tourist attraction. These temples are still and places of worship. As a child, every boy must be a monk for at least 7 days. First to learn humility and second to determine if they want to chose that as their life. Being a monk is serious begging, I mean a serious commitment. On my first day, I found myself at The Ananda Temple. A massive white complex that was well preserved and is used in all it's glory.

There was a long procession of Monks complete with music, chanting, and gongs. At first, I thought that they were putting on a show for the click-happy tourists. After walking through the gates and into the courtyard the offerings were on full display.  Huge tables, piled high with food, drinks and naturally money. Local worshipers were giving their offerings to the monks and it was on grand display. There is a practice in most places where monks walk the streets early in the morning with their pots (think of Catholic baskets) and go door to door looking for offerings. It is normally in the form of cooked rice and other foodstuffs that they have for the day. I get that. This was blatant overkill.

I am sure that the generosity of the flock is well received and these monks live humble lives, relying on the givings of their flock. However, I have flown all over Asia and I get tired of hearing about the simple lives of monks and then seeing them fly business class hitting the keypad of their iPhone 11s. Yes, they also get priority boarding.

Anyways, I had to look past my personal disgust of anything religious and I just took in the grand ceremony of it. There were female monks (Pali) dressing in traditional pink which added a nice blend to the colors and texture of the ceremony. The important take away was that this was a very real traditional ceremony and not just something for the tourists. People here are very strong in their beliefs and you can see it at all the various temples with worshipers stopping to pray before entering any building housing a Statue Of Worship.

I am not flogging Buddhism. My views on organized religion are well documented. I thoroughly enjoy the pageantry of the moment. Knowing this is a ceremony that dates back thousands of years puts everything into perspective. The modern world seems to take away from that at times. Regardless, there were other temples to visit and be awed by.

Finally, I was approached by a guy on a bike with his son. He confidently pulled up beside me asking the first question I always got asked. "Which country are you from"? After a few minutes and me getting bored, he said quite plainly, "do you have any paper money from Canada?" This was an epic question. It turns out he was a collector of paper money and had currency from 184 countries in a book that he was carrying around with him. He flipped to alphabetically listed Canada and pulled out A Canadian Tire Bill. He knew it was not worth anything but said it was the best money in his collection. He had old Canadian 1 and 2 dollar bills because he said he has been collecting a "very long time". We talked about the Canadian Loonie and Toonie and he said he only collected paper money. I respect a man with convictions.

Bagan was everything I had hoped for and more. I put over 300 KM on my little Ebike and at times felt like Peter Fonda cruising the back roads without a helmet and not a care in the world.  Well, that and I was not transporting the proceeds of a cocaine deal and did not get blown away by a truck driving Redneck with a shotgun.

So nothing like Easy Rider but I was not wearing a helmet like a 70s rebel.

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