Monday, February 27, 2012

Day Trips Through Bagan: Shwe Zigon Zedi and the Woman who Threw my Shoes Out of the Temple

Hoped on the back of a little horse buggy and rode out through the dusty roads toward the massive sprawling fields of Bagan's Old Temple District
The first stop was the golden domed temple: Shwe Zigon Zedi.
Ceremoniously I was greeted at the gate by a bevy of scarfed women...two quickly pinned butterflies on my chest, officially claiming me as "their" tourist. Oh, and they took my shoes and socks. (No footwear in Burmese temples...which is hilarious, because they are covered with dirt, cigarette butts, trash, yucky discarded food, and in many cases, crazy screeching wild monkeys)
I then follow my nose toward the temple, through the gauntlet of postcard sellers and junk shops...toward the inner courtyards of beautifully ornate buildings.
We got an early start, which was a good idea, though it was a little chilly, there were few crowds and locals were on their best behavior as the common belief of striking a favorable deal with the day's first customer as sign of a good day to come... is still in use.
I was also surprised that many of junk shop sellers were also interested in making trades rather than just accepting cash. Nail polish, rings, make-up, English books, pocket calculators, Rolex watches... (seriously, Rolex's?)
But no matter what, make sure the money you bring is crisp and sparkling...and I mean totally pristine. The Burmese make a point of not taking any note that has even the slightest blemish...which is insane because you will be squatting in filth and feces swatting away enormous flies trying to buy a Coke and ten Burmese will be standing around passing the perfectly good note back and forth from your bank shaking their heads... "Nope! It's not good."
But Shwe Zigon is cool. There are numerous golden domed temples like this of the same name spread out all over Burma. The most famous is in Yangon (See other posts on this blog) and it gets a lot of foot traffic. I had this sneaking suspicion that our horse driver had to drive here first due to government regulations, but still, it was well worth it.
One of the strangest encounters happened when leaving. I mistakenly stopped at a trinket stall to haggle over some little lacquer jewelry boxes for my daughters and was accosted by the women who pinned the butterfly to my chest. She was irate and disgruntled that I dared shop at another vendor when she had "pinned" me first. Throwing my shoes out the temple door, she ripped off the little colorful pin and started screaming at me, shaking a finger in my face.
I laughed it off, I mean, what else are you supposed to do when a group of French tourists are smirking at you for getting caught cheating on the farmer's daughter... but it made a nice start to a day kicking the dirt around a couple of thousand year old temples, and I'm sure, as that old woman's day went downhill fast, she regretted it more.

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