While traveling around Mandalay and the surrounding ancient capitals, I came across several dozen workers loading barges with large rocks from the mainland. Just carrying rocks and dumping rocks and repeating the process ad nauseam. It was poetic and interesting in that way that sometimes very repetitive things can be poetic and interesting. I stuck around for a bit and took some photos. I also climbed the planks up to the barge and almost got bounced into the water (apparently long thick unsupported beams BOUNCE like all get-out, I learned almost tragically), which elicited cheers and laughs and bonding and all that. Once up on the boat, I had to steel myself for a good 15-20 minutes before making my way back down. The beams are steeper than they look. In the end, it was kind of a leap of fate.
Anyway, the rocks were being transported to build highways. A few boats down, people were hauling lumber and smaller rocks and charcoal. All back and forth, back and forth. For each trip, an individual earns one stick. At the end of the day, the sticks are traded in for 50 kyat a piece. About five cents. A good worker can make as many as 300 trips during the day. So that’s like US$20 a day, when there’s work. No clear answer on whether or not there’s always work.
So while walking around Sagaing today–one of the ancient capitals around Mandalay–I started following what seemed like an oddly large number of monks and nuns all making their way toward one riverside monastery, and when I walked through the entry gate there were thousands of people all gathered around a central podium and there on the podium was this really intense man doing wild and uncanny things with his body, like punching through ice with his face and hanging from teak beams by his chin while doing leg lifts and walking on his toe knuckles (?!) and bending knives with his stomach and pushing thick iron stakes through thick bamboo trunks with his throat. Which is pictured above. And which was definitely real because he was bleeding from a large hole in his neck when he was done. His Burmese name translates to Superman. Right on.
Landed in Mandalay around 1200hr this afternoon and spent the day trying to orient myself in the city. I’m staying a bit further away from the center than I’d like, as I didn’t realize how quite enormous and sprawling this place is. Still trying to figure out my next movements. Either Taunggyi or Kengtung or Nyaungshwe. Then who knows. I eventually need to make my way down to Yangon to meet some people, but other than that, this little slice of Asia is my oyster. For now, let’s open things up with a little cliche. An elder monk at Tingaza Kyaung.