So when we last left off D and I were in Nyaungshawe, a small town 4km north of Inle lake, a large fresh water lake quite high up in the mountains (evidenced by the cold! although we didn’t' see frost again after the first day).
Our guesthouse people were super friendly, one boy seemed to do EVERYTHING for the first two days, baby-sitting a couple of young-uns the whole while. And we were given pancakes for breakfast (breakfast was always included in the room price in Myanmar) but unfortunately the tea and coffee was the crappy powdered instant stuff with about a table-spoon of sugar in each cup. How is it that in a country with a tea shop on every corner, where the men go to smoke, drink tea, talk sh!t and watch sports and karaoke (like a bar at home), and a country once lorded over by the British a good cup of tea was a rare thing? Never mind... now we're in the land of Lipton Yellow Label which is almost as bad, yuk.
Through our guesthouse we organized a boat tour of the lake, all day for $10 for a boat. They found an Italian family with a super cute child with a head full of curls (1 year, 8 months old as they were asked his age about every two minutes) to share the boat with so it only cost us a few dollars. On this boat (leaving late, the Italians weren't ready when we were) we were taken on a tour of the lake's souvenir shops and associated workshops. All well and good but we are bad customers and didn't buy a thing the whole time. It was good to watch the blacksmiths and silver smiths though, and I have a thing for fabric so I always like to watch people weaving. But as usual touring souvenir shops is a little dull even if they are suspended out over the water.
At one place the women were Padang, also known as Karen in Thailand (and here also) famous for wearing thick brass rings around their necks, arms and legs. The rings are heavy and push down their collarbones giving them an appearance of an elongated neck. One older woman seemed quite happy to see us, giving us peanut sweets and smiling happily the whole time. By her side was a young girl spinning out thread, maybe ten years old with smaller rings about her body and a sad face. Honestly she looked so unhappy, and more than a little bored and I felt like such a yucky sort of tourist ogling this girl like a creature in a zoo. She was very pretty though, and before we left I said goodbye and thank-you to her in particular and managed to get a small smile out of her so it made me feel a little better.
The water in the lake was crystal clear, you could see right down to the bottom when the weeds weren’t too thick. Lots of small fish, I kept my eyes peeled hoping to see a big one but alas, no luck. I’ve heard since that special effort is made to keep the water clean here which is commendable so maybe there is at least a bit of environmental consciousness beginning here.
Amongst the souvenir shop visits we were also taken to a couple of monasteries and temples. The first one has a story I love to go along with it. In the center of the temple are five blobby gold figures that to my mind look at lot like those blocks of mozzarella cheese you buy at the supermarket with a body and a head (know the ones?). They are supposed to be 2 Buddha figures, and 3 disciple figures (or 3 Buddha’s and 2 disciples maybe) but they are so covered with thick gold leaf pasted on over the centuries they are indistinguishable as anything other than a short fat blob.
Anyway, for years (years and years ago) all five figures were loaded up on a ceremonial barge each year during a certain festival and taken in a parade around the lake. One year, the boat sank taking the figures with it. Four of the figures were recovered but try as they might, the fifth statue was lost in the lake.Despondent and downcast, the remaining four figures were taken back to the temple where to the amazement of the people, the fifth statue was found on the dais, wet and dripping with water weed. Since then only four statues are taken on the festival tour, the fifth is left behind in the temple like some misbehaving child. Cool huh?
The second monastery we visited is famous for having lots of pet cats which have been trained to jump through hoops (all cats at rest when we arrived though). It’s also a well respected center of learning. There was a monk talking and a small group of people listening intently to him (and cats) which was nice to sit and watch for a while even if we didn’t understand a word. It’s probably fortunate for the cats that the Italian child had fallen asleep in the boat, exhausted from being played with and cuddled and adored by every person we came across (curly hair you see). He loved cats and had spent the day (in between adorations) harassing every one we saw with cries of ‘gato gato gato’ and vigorous patting.
On our way back to Nyaungshawe