Saturday 5 April 2014

Burma: Shwedagon temple and puppets

Young monks - Shwedagon temple, Rangoon
Shwedagon pagoda - RangoonWith Mrs M’s permission, I did a bit of work-related shopping first thing in the morning before we took yet another taxi to the Shwedagon temple.

The sun had warmed the air to 39C and the marble tiles to about gas mark 4 which burned the soles of our feet. Families seemed to have settled down for the day under shade, with the older generations resting while children dressed in smart outfits played around them. Thankfully, as this was my second visit, Mrs M was content with one slow circuit of the grounds with several rests to watch people pouring water, lighting candles and incense, singing and chanting, arranging flowers, banging gongs, ringing bells and taking naps.

Ringing the bell - Schwedagon temple, RangoonWe took lunch at the Easy Café behind the Parkroyal hotel which is strangely listed as number 2 in the Lonely Planet restaurant section of the guide. The free wi-fi may be part of the attraction, as each of the smartly-dressed European customers was huddled over an Apple computer - apart from one obviously poverty-stricken woman who had a Windows machine. The menu is provided on old-fashioned paper with arty-farty writing or customers can flick the range of beautifully photographed images on a tablet. The food was certainly very good.

Oil and incense burners - Schwedagon temple, RangoonIn the afternoon, we visited Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppetry in Yama Street near Ahlone market. The family of puppeteers has struggled to survive over the decades. After their workshop and theatre were destroyed in cyclone Nargis, they decided to set up a small theatre in their home in a block of flats from where they conduct regular shows, primarily to tourists.

Htwe Oo Myanmar traditional puppet theatreThe family spans three generations from the master puppeteer in his mid-seventies to his granddaughter aged seventeen and her younger brother. The children’s father, a former merchant seaman who learned to speak English from fellow sailors, hosted the 45-minute performance, which featured highlights of traditional shows which can last for a whole day.

Htwe Oo Myanmar traditional puppet theatreThe show was utterly charming. Photographs were taken with the family at the end and Mrs M ordered two puppets which will take several weeks to make. It was interesting to note that, unlike most of the puppets being sold to tourists, these puppets will include genitalia. The other family that watched the performance gave us a lift back to our hotel in their Toyota Prado which reminded me of our little baby we sold when we left Muscat to replace Salim’s donkey.

We passed the evening in the Ichiban-Kan Japanese restaurant near Bogyoke Aung San stadium. Although smoking is quite common in Burma, it is surprising to see people puffing away in restaurants. Two equally surprised Japanese businessmen next to us joined in our conversation, which eventually steered away from public health to a discussion about what they were eating. Samples were graciously offered and cheerfully accepted.

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