Tuesday, February 17: After leaving the Mandalay Royal Palace, Mimo drives me to the Gold Pounder’s District, where we stop in at the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop. Here, workers laboriously pound gold into 1″-square gold-leaf sheets for male worshippers to buy and place on sacred Buddha images.
I watch the process and find it fascinating, but I’m not interested in buying. For one, I’m not a Buddhist. In addition, I’ve been told only the men can place gold leaf on the Buddha images. Mimo tells me I can buy some squares and have a man at the pagoda place the leaves on the Buddha, but I think it seems pointless if I can’t do it myself.
We then go to the Mahamuni Paya, where the thirteen-foot-tall seated Mahamuni Buddha (literally “Great Sage”) bronze image is worshipped. Ancient tradition tells of only five Buddha images made in the Buddha’s lifetime: two in India, two in paradise, and one in Myanmar: the Mahamuni Buddha. According to legend, the Buddha visited Arakan city in 554 BC and King Sanda Thuriya requested that an image be cast of him. After casting the Great Image, the Buddha breathed upon it, and thereafter the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni (Wikipedia: Mahamuni Buddha Temple).
The Mahamuni Buddha image sits in a divine posture on a throne within a small chamber. Male devotees regularly apply gold leaves to the Buddha. Centuries of gold leaf application have left the Buddha with a gnarly 6-inch layer of gold on his body. Only his face is gleaming because it is polished daily at a 4 a.m. ceremony with a series of fresh towels offered by devotees; at that time, monks also brush the Buddha’s teeth. The monks then apply sandalwood paste, wipe the face down with more towels, and then sprinkle it with scented water. The devotees later place the towels on sacred shrines in their homes.
I sadly can’t get close to this famous Buddha because, first, the spots closest to the front are reserved for men, and second, the temple is packed with worshipers.
Rather than trying to find a decent view of the Buddha, I decide to take a stroll on the grounds.
The central shrine has a multi-tiered gold roof. In every direction from this shrine are long hallways filled with kiosks selling religious paraphernalia and souvenirs. I came in through one of these hallways, but I make my way out of another exit into a courtyard now.
I come full circle and find the worshippers are still thick around the Buddha. I can barely see him inside his secluded chamber.
I finally walk out one of the long hallways leading from the central shrine and go out another exit to explore.
I find an ornamental clock tower near this exit.
I also find a little man-made pond with vendors selling fruits; looking around, I realize I’ve left the complex, so I head back in. I have to meet up with Mimo after all.
I see all kinds of cool souvenirs I’d buy if I had a giant container ship to take them back to America.
At this point, after two full days in Mandalay, I am ready to go back to my hotel to relax. I ask Mimo to drive me back to the Mandalay View Inn, where I rest a bit before heading out to dinner.
Tonight I decide to try the Green Elephant, with its pretty outdoor garden seating area. Bloodthirsty mosquitoes are hovering and biting, so the waiter brings me some mosquito spray and some lit candles. I have brought my iPad with me because my hotel internet is pathetic, and I need to reserve a room in Yangon, which I haven’t yet done. While here enjoying my dinner of vegetable curry and a Myanmar beer, I check my emails to find that Chen, the person in charge of personnel issues at Sino-Canadian International College, has written an email to inform all teachers that we won’t get our February paycheck until sometime between March 10-20. I am infuriated by this as we are supposed to get paid on the 25th of February and I’m counting on my paycheck to finish up my holiday. I send a couple of heated emails to Chen and a flurry of emails go back and forth between us over the next several days. What kind of employer would tell you one week before you’re due to be paid that you won’t in fact get your salary until 3-4 weeks later than it’s due? I’m outraged, so this bit of news ruins my evening and puts me in a less than stellar mood for the next couple of days! In the end, Chen admits he made a mistake by not informing us of this earlier, but he doesn’t back down on the fact that we won’t get paid until mid-March.
After dinner, I return to my room to pack up my stuff for my early departure tomorrow morning. I’m to leave at 5:45 a.m. for my 6:30 check in at the jetty. I’ll be taking a 10-hour boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan on the N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat. 🙂