And the Return of Dr. Myint
27.02.2010 - 02.03.2010
We took a long car ride to the airport, and then a short, cheap flight to get here, saving us many hours on the bus. In this most famous of Burma's ancient sites, we were met by Yu Yu's cousin, who we first thought was her brother. Yu Yu, for those just tuning in, is one of my English students in Rensselaer, New York. Through the efforts of her cousin and several of his colleagues, all of whom work on a 10 year hotel construction project near the ruins, they had borrowed a company car, and took turns showing us the pagodas. As each of them gets a total of one day off a month, this was no small sacrifice, and yet they acted really pleased that we had come to see them. Bagan is huge, much like Anchor Wat, and takes several days to see. It is comprised of hundreds of pagodas, and temples, many of which date back 1000 years, as it was the site of number of ancient empires. The buildings are mostly made of red brick and stone.
In the morning and early afternoon we viewed some of the oldest, though they didn't always look it, because many had been restored after a major earthquake hit in 1975.
A Sense of Scale
Not appearing very impressive at first, the ruins really come alive as the sun settles lower in the sky, and the bricks reflect the warmer oranges and pinks of the afternoon sky, instead of the white heat of mid-day.
Rebuilt and Old Pagodas
Photo by Nanette
It is dry here, even more so than Mandalay, and dusty in this period before the rains begin in June. Bagan has had a serious drought during the last several years, and the Irrawady lies low on its banks. We were told it increases in flow and size many times during a normal rainy season.
In the afternoon we took a dip in our hotel pool. It is a relatively upscale place with air-con, a welcome change after the rigors of the monastery. Late in the day we were again picked up by our new friends to look at more pagodas, and also the construction site, of which they all seem very proud. When it finally opens, it will be the fanciest and most expensive place to stay in Bagan. It is hard to imagine that it doesn't have some government connection, though they told us it was privately financed.
At sunset we climbed up the narrow stairs of a nearby pagoda to watch the sun set over the river.
Then it was back to company headquarters to meet the family. They served us cold drinks and Burmese appetizers.
Left to Right: Cousin, his Daughter, Work Colleagues, Cousin's Wife, Another Spouse
We switched to a company van so that everyone fit in, and drove to some of the other pagodas and zedis that were lit up at night. It felt quite special.
On day two we took a horse drawn tuk-tuk because the company car was not available. Once again the engineers took turns acting as tour guides. It was an adventure, as the narrow dirt roads were rutted and bumpy, and the cart was small for three people. At one point I lost my grip and almost bounced out.
Power Rangers appeared out of nowhere and ran after us, grabbing hold of the back of the buggy.
We narrowly escaped by ducking behind some of the many Buddhas.
Above by Nanette
Cousin's wife had prepared a lunch of mohinga after we said how much we liked it. They served us in their simple home at the construction site, and in typical Burmese fashion everyone sat around and watched while we ate the bowls upon bowls of spicy noodles, and then more bowls of fruit. They seemed grateful to us for our interest in them, and for the opportunity to talk to foreign visitors about their lives and culture. We too felt grateful for their incredible generosity and openness.
After lunch, more pagodas.
At the end of the day, we clip-clopped on the paved road to town, in order to deliver the third and final letter from our Burmese student at home. We were told it was for someone fairly well known locally, but were it not for the efforts of our engineering friend, we never would have found Ki Ki. He seemed a bit suspicious when he saw us, checking up and down the street to see if anyone was watching as we handed him the envelope. As it turned out, his suspicions might have been justified. When we returned to our hotel, Dr. Win Myint (our erstwhile spy,) was talking to someone in the lobby. Oh no, we thought, not him again. We were hundred of miles from Yangon, and so this could hardly be a coincidence. We became more convinced than before, that he was a government agent.
"Dr Myint, what a coincidence. What brings you to Bagan?"
"Oh, I'm here to meet a Swiss tour group," he said nonchalantly.
"When do you return to Yangon?" he asked. "Nanda (the Burmese monk we had met in Bangkok) wants to know."
Hmmn, I thought, why wouldn't Nanda email us directly, as he had done in the past? I was deliberately vague with my answer. " We're not sure about our itinerary, so I don't really know."
We rambled on with small talk, and then I realized that Dr Myint obviously had his own ways of finding out where we were. I should have asked to take his picture, but didn't think of it at the time. It would have been interesting to see his response.
The next day we rented bikes on our own to explore more of the nearby ruins, and spent much of the day relaxing by the pool. Luckily, we did not run into Dr. Myint again. In the end, I suspect luck had nothing to do with it, but we were thankful nonetheless.
When we left at dawn, our Burmese friends insisted on driving us to the airport, and once again, we were showered with gifts and souvenirs. How could we refuse? Of course we didn't, knowing full well we would have to leave some of our stuff in Bangkok and buy an extra bag to to lug it all home.