This post is filled with random thoughts and snapshots of our days in Mandalay. The experience was more than magic and once again, I am lacking the ability to describe it. But here are a few little stories, with relevant photos below each portion of text. Enjoy!
This woman was selling stuff in one of the temples. I spotted this bag and kind of wanted it. All it took was one second glance for her to start haggling me around the entire temple. I would walk away, she would follow. She kept saying it was handmade by her mother. It was pretty cool. Finally, she offered it to me for $10. Upon looking closer, I could see that it was handmade and she had me convinced. However, there was no way I was going to take her mothers handmade bag for $10, so instead I gave her $20.
She took the money and ran back to her friends seated near her shop. She was smiling so big and waving around the $20. I could tell she really needed and appreciated the money. All those she was with smiled really big too.
Right at this moment, a friend we had met decided he was hungry. Instead of leaving the lady, we decided to ask if we could eat with her. The next thing we knew we were being ushered into their group of people where we were literally forced to eat all the food they had. We sat on the floor of the temple and for the first time in my life, I ate rice with my hands. They laughed as I really needed to work on my hand scooping skills. The woman called her husband and we spoke to him on the phone, it turns out he had made them the food. He makes it every morning for them before they leave for work at the temple.
This same group of people decided we needed Thanaka. It’s a tree bark that when mixed with water dissolvers into a paste and is then put on the faces of the Myanmar people. They say it’s for sunscreen, but I’m pretty sure it’s just what they do to be hot – kind of like makeup. It also had a bit of a cooling effect. Anyways, they had good art skills because both me and my sister ended up with perfectly shaped leaves on each of our cheeks. We were feeling pretty cute Myanmar style. They then forced us to keep the entire piece of Thanaka, along with some Thanaka perfume. It was obvious these people are living off about $1 a day, so we really didn’t want to accept these gifts. However, they were pretty pushy about it, so we gave them our almonds and my pearl bracelet in exchange.
All in all, it was a pretty random, yet entertaining meal. However, to me it was more than that. I gave them my almonds, but that was nothing compared to what they gave me. They showed me the rarely encountered, but utterly special portion of humanity. It was truly heartwarming to experience the openness and humility of these people. Their smiling faces and sharing hearts are what the world needs more of. This short and unanticipated encounter is something that I will remember and cherish forever. Everyone, meet Cherry (like the fruit, as she told us). She is temple beggar. I am only comfortable calling her this because she told me that’s what she is. Our first encounter with her occurred as we were walking by and I heard her shout “Hello, where you from?” in perfect english from the ground where she was sitting. I was kind of intrigued. How did she know such good english?
We ended up sitting with her for ages and hearing about her life. It turns out she used to be an English teacher, until she was hit by a motorbike and lost her ability to walk. When she lost the ability to move her leg, she also lost her job and her life as she knew it. This was how she ended up a beggar in a Mandalay temple.
She told us she had been to Thailand once in her youth. She was a Muay Thai fighter and once went to Phuket for a fight. I plan to return to this temple one day and bring her to Thailand to watch one last fight. It was pretty clear that Muay Thai was her love. I know she didn’t ever give her heart to a man, she was pretty clear her independence was what the valued most, even if she could barely move.
She lived in a house with no electricity or running water, which costs her $17 a month. She is so thin it hurt my heart to hug her. However, in the middle of a life with such apparent suffering, she was truly happy. The smile on her face was genuine, she didn’t think the world owed her a thing. She had lived a good life, found her passion and then taught many children the english language. The current situation she was in now was fine with her, so long as she wasn’t too hungry.
She gave each of us a gift, my sister a jade elephant and myself a Canada pin that someone had given her. We gave her a granola bar. Once again, it was a pathetic thing to give for what she gave us, which was literally one of the most moving conversations I have ever had.
Meeting Cherry was truly an honor. I remember holding back tears and I heard her speak about the life she lives with literally nothing, in a body that is incapable of anything, yet loves each and every moment of her existence.
I have never met anyone like Cherry and I probably never will. I am not lying when I say that I will go back and see her again one day. I would love to do something to impact her life the way she has impacted mine.
She told me she has one friend with access to internet. I gave her my email and she said she would try to send me a message. I have yet to hear from her, but I am waiting. Regardless, I know I can find her, given that everyone in the area knows her by name and she assured me she wouldn’t be going anywhere. In a really sick way I know that’s true, given that she simply isn’t capable.
If anyone is going to Mandalay, please let me know, as I will send a letter with you to deliver to Cherry. Plus, everyone needs to meet her.Stuntman.In a land of Buddhist devotees, this man was the only Muslim we met. He read our palms and convinced us he was super holy. He informed me I would have lots of children and my friend that he would die young. Hmm. He also tied a rope around my wrist. To top it off, he kind of looks like Ghandi.We called it a “pilgrimage”. We walked thousands of stairs up Mandalay hill, barefoot through dog poop. However, shoes were considered inappropriate given that it is a religious sanctuary, each and every step. All levels of the mountain posed a new temple and with it came a new adventure. We encountered all kinds of different people, some of them I don’t think ever leave the level of the hill in which they stay. It was mostly just really, really weird. If you go to Mandalay, you had better climb the hill. It’s the most trippy experience you will ever have without taking any drugs. I know that’s vague, but I’ll let you experience the journey for yourself. The older of my two younger sisters, Kathryn. She was my traveling partner. A traditional Myanmar marionette performance. Although they were extremely talented (the one guy was like 90), I mostly found it super creepy.