Bagan. November 8th

posted Nov 8, 2013, 4:39 PM by Jacqui Stanley   [ updated Nov 8, 2013, 6:12 PM ]
Up very early this morning to take advantage of the morning light to photograph the hundreds of pagodas and temples along the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. 
Climbing up the very steep stone steps of the Shwe-Giu-Gi pagoda (pagodas are solid structures, temples are able to be entered) we all looked in awe at the sea of temples and buildings below us. We were seeing the Ancient City of Bagan. Those of us with iPhones walked slowly around the top of the pagoda trying to capture in panorama the old buildings in the morning mist, but although the images came close, it will never really describe the view.
Yet, for all the magnificence, there truly was a sense of calm and reverence across the ancient site. There are thousands of pagodas and temples. Some are in disrepair and some are still used. 
The sun came up slowly and the mist burned away and we could see green fields of grass and corn and black sesame and acacia trees. We heard children and chickens and geese and horses and all the sounds of the small villages waking up. This image is just a very small view from the pagoda.

Later, we drove over to visit the Jetawan Monastic Education Centre. The school is situated in Ancient Bagan and was established by a monk in 2006. The founding monk spoke and our guide translated that he had a very poor childhood in Yangon. Late 1990, he traveled to Bagan and he told us he realized that education was the way to lead a valuable life. He told us that "Education is a very good friend."
 He said "you can lose everything, but education remains inside you and can never be taken away."
Two elderly ladies taught English at the school, and although they stood while the monk sat in a chair, and slope, their pride in their little school was so strong, they often interrupted him and spoke to us telling us about "their school." Lots of wonderful images including the shoes neatly stacked in shelves at the edge of the building.
It was wonderful.
We spoke with the monk for quite a while before meeting the students and speaking with them and hearing their lessons and their singing. This was by far the best event of our trip. So much to say about this school and this web space will not be enough!!
We very reluctantly left after spending the morning with these humble and hard working people.

We stopped at a market, and walked through a maze of fish, fruit, clothes, vegetables, eggs, rise, plastic ware, you name it! Life in Ancient Bagan! It is common to see people - men, women and children - wearing a mask like make-up on their faces. This is a paste made from the thanaka bark They grind it up and add  water and they apply it is decorative ways on their faces. It is used as a sunscreen and a blemish remover!

We returned to the hotel to pack and then had a fabulous Thai lunch before visiting a sand painting workshop. Such an interesting form of art - I am looking forward to trying this at our school!
Then we all climbed up on horse drawn carts and slowly ambled through the Ancient Bagan city, right up close to the old buildings we had looked down on that morning. The driver was a young boy. He finished school, he said, at grade 8 since that was all he was going to need.  
He took us to another temple with four huge gold buddhas at each point of the compass and we wandered, barefoot again, through the cool building.

Later at another temple, we climbed to the top and this time it was to see the old city at sunset.
Finally, on to Bagan Airport for the flight back to Yangon. 
We had a dinner with the university directors at the hotel, and although it was very late by the time we landed and found our luggage  and checked in to the hotel, the university faculty was waiting for us.
After dinner they presented each of us with the portraits that the students had worked on a few days ago and they also gave us a marionette puppet! It was very unexpected and so very characteristically thoughtful.

Today will be our last day in this gentle, relentless, humbling country. We will spend time in the market and then visit the Art Institute before heading out to Yangon Airport for our bid flights home. I am looking forward to getting home, but also sad to leave this place.We keep hearing about Myanmar being an "emergent" nation. I am just not sure about into what they are emerging. Easy for me to judge!  I know I have seen it at what Wordsworth calls a "spot in time" where it has made a life long impression and will not ever be the same again.
What a privilege to meet these kind, gentle people who have so warmly welcomed us all to their country.