On the Road to Myingyan

Myingyan is a major city on the Ayeyarwady, about halfway between Mandalay and Bagan. My friend Daw Ma Ma Naing, owner of ‚Mandalay Marionettes‘, invited me to accompany her on a trip in the early 90’s. Not far from the city was a village where relatives of hers lived. And they owned an old marionette with sixty (60!) strings!! I had read about such specimens before but never seen one. So I couldn’t resist! It was the full moon day of the month Thadingyut. The puppet was beautiful and impressive, unfortunately the strings were missing. And they didn’t want to sell it either. Nevertheless, this visit was very interesting for me. I witnessed a gado.bwe:. On this day, Burmese people honour their parents and grandparents and ask forgiveness for actions they have committed against them, even unintentionally. It was a strange sight for me to see the educated, seasoned businesswoman kneeling on the floor in front of a few wizened old women and touching their feet with her forehead.

Then we were invited for lunch. Shortly after I was introduced to a girl with Burmese features but freckles and fair hair in a kind of freak show. She obviously wasn’t happy with the way she looked. They told me that she was a descendant of the Bayingyi, Portuguese gunners who had been deported to Upper Burma after the fall of Felipe de Brito .
On the way back we visited a monastery where the deceased Venerable Soonlun Sayardaw monk was ‚on display‘ in a glass coffin. According to my companions, he had been lying there for many years and was not decomposing. The curator told us, that his fingernails and hair continue to grow and have to be trimmed regularly. Apparently that’s not an uncommon occurrence in Myanmar. Not much later (it was already dark) I was in for a shocking experience. We drove on the highway towards Mandalay. Suddenly, in the headlights of the car, we saw a man lying motionless on

the road. I suspected he’d been the victim of a hit and run accident or maybe he was just drunk. So I expected the driver to stop the car and take care of the man.  And what did he do? He accelerated and swerved in a wide arch around the man. I was flabbergasted! What had gotten into these people whom I had known as being extremely friendly and helpful so far? How could they behave so recklessly? I protested loudly and appealed to the empathy of my companions. Asked the driver to stop immediately! But he ignored my plea and kept racing. Then Ma Ma Naing enlightened me: This was most probably a trap! The man might be a member of a gang of robbers hoping for sympathetic drivers. As soon as a car would stop, his accomplices would rush out of their hiding and rob the car’s passengers. Or worse! My suggestion to stop at the nearest police station and report the matter was received with great amusement. Go to the police voluntarily? Then rather fall among robbers! Lesson understood …