Posts tagged ‘buddhist new year’

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July 28, 2009 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment


We should have bought tickets to Mandalay the day we arrived in Burma because the bus station was close to the airport and the upcoming festival would induce tickets to sell out. But we didn’t know. So we spent three days walking around the city before even budging about tickets to Mandalay.

When we finally tried to buy tickets we were told by every vendor that none were available. Not to Mandalay, not to Bagan, not to Bago, to Inle; nowhere. We met one vendor who said he had tickets but the date and price were undesirable. So we frowned and went away.

The next day was a restless one, mostly because of our mood. Dmitry wasn’t happy being stuck and me – I just felt unlucky. I didn’t mind spending more time in Yangoon. I enjoyed the vibe of the city. But I was troubled by one prospect. Being that we were now a group of 4 we were constantly looking to one another before making choices. Have never been in this kind of arrangement before, it exhausted me. I felt like we were a train, a very very slow one. (There are also great benefits to traveling in a group such as constant companionship and always some to lookout for you) But had I been alone I would have bought that ticket to Mandalay for that undesirable price and date. Later in the day Dmitry and I did buy these tickets. We were to depart on the night of April 12. The others stayed in Yangoon.

On April 12 we found our bus. “Mandalay?” “No.” That was my first exchange. And then there was someone in our seats and he wouldn’t move. I was told to sit behind him which I did until a smiling woman with a smiling daughter came to claim their seats and tried to nod me away. “Please…” [get out] they repeated, never loosing those beaming smiles. But I didn’t budge. The bus was crowded and I these were the last empty seats. I waited for D to return to the bus anxiously. I didn’t want to deal with problems on my own. When he came he quickly used his masculine um bravado to compel the man in our rightful seats to move and all was well…almost. It was a long and uncomfortable ride although fortunately I had xanax to help me sleep and a pair of knees to sleep on.

We arrived in the morning, the first day of the water festival. Supposedly Mandalay has the best one in all of Burma. As we rode the taxi on the way to a hotel we both wondered whether we’ll get splashed on the way. We did – just 10 meters away from the hotel.

The water festival lasts 4 days (April 13-16 this year; the dates vary by moon) and leads up to the Buddhist New Year. The reason behind the water is to cleanse all the dirt you’ve accumulated throughout the year. Everyone participates. Children, teenagers and adults throw water on pedestrians, drivers, riders… Some fill up huge tins and use smaller plate type buckets to throw it over others, some simply empty whole buckets. Some pour it down your back, others over your head. The youngest children usually wet your legs. Some do it gently. Some do it with a lot of force (and if they were aiming for your head it does not make your ears very happy, mine still hurt.) Sometimes you walk while they wet you, sometimes you stand still. Sometimes parents guide very young children who are apprehensive about throwing water at strangers. Sometimes the water comes from trucks driving by or a roof above your head. Sometimes you don’t even expect it. Sometimes the water is very warm, sometimes it’s very cold because they used melting ice. Sometimes they use a hose. Sometimes 40 hoses all at once.





Sometimes you crave it so much because the sun is hot and you are hot and you want to be cooled and cleansed – other times you just want to be dry and left alone but you’ve forfeited choice. You’re going to get wet, soaking wet, several times, every day, for the next four days. Welcome to the Mandalay water festival!

Soaking wet...

Soaking wet...

I started a fever that first night. Only 38’c. Next morning it was 39. I had a really unusual dream, of a kind I haven’t had in a long time if ever, the kind of dream you need chemicals to induce, not just surreal but melodious.

The morning turned into shit. I couldn’t find my Tylenol. I’ve traveled for over 7 months and never used any and now that I needed it I couldn’t find it. I checked my fever again. It was approaching 40. So we went to a clinic in a bicycle taxi, pleading with the splashers not to water me. At the clinic they tested me for malaria and something else (I asked for typhoid but I don’t think they understood) and told me to come back at 5 for the results. Before I left I almost fainted. This sensation of your legs and hands becoming numb and your eyes loosing focus and blackness overcoming your vision…. to be conscious of the possibility that any second now you may loss consciousness is a particular feeling. In this state you are aware of your helpless but all emotions are blocked.

I spent the rest of the day in bed with a 40+ fever, mostly sleeping clothed in several layers and a blanket. I ventured out after sunset back to the clinic. I didn’t have malaria and whatever other mysterious illness they tested me for. It turned out to be a well run establishment, open 24 hours and full of doctors and nurses. Strangely, there were hardly any men on staff. An older doctor listened to my symptoms while Dmitry filled out a form. No one cared about my passport and visa numbers, which is unusual in Burma where all hotels and trains require them. She suggested that I have the usual travelers upset stomach problem and prescribed an intravascular transfusion of salts and oral antibiotics. By this time I had taken something for the fever and was in a more reasonable state.

I lay for 4 hours in a room, separated from everyone else by green curtains. The nurses visited me now and then, one brought me a blanket, another picked up my water when it fell. Next to me a man had smashed his head and a group of a dozen or more people stood around laughing and prodding him. To my left (before the curtain was completely closed off) an old woman was wheeled in. She was accompanied by two adult sons, who resembled each other and yet one was very handsome while the other lacked everything that make a man handsome in my view. The woman closed her eyes. She had that earthen look of old age, serenity, wrinkles. I love old ladies like her and I didn’t want to part with her site. I must have dosed off though because when I opened my eyes she was gone.

By the time I returned to the hotel at midnight my fever was 37 and within two hours I was as boisterous as I usually am at 2am. The next day we visited Mandalay hill which required a fatiguing climb up many steps to the top. The view wasn’t impressive, mostly because it was a cloudy day. We passed hundreds of drunken youth, vivaciously dancing to Burmese pop set to American melodies and eagerly inviting us to partake in their fun. Mostly we declined. Had I been feeling better I’d probably join every dancing party.


April 19, 2009 at 1:19 am 1 comment

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