On Saturday, CeCe and I fly to Yangon, Myanmar for two weeks in that amazing country. Our Chinese visa only allows us 90 days here in one continuous stretch so we need to leave and return to continue to reside here legally. Also, to be honest, we’re wearying of Weining and are anxious to return to Myanmar, a place that we both remember so fondly from our big trip. If any of you have friends, or friends of friends, in Myanmar (or Tibet our November destination), please let us know. We’d love to meet up with them while we are there.
I composed the text below long ago but never published it. It concerns one of our most memorable days in Myanmar last time around. Unfortunately the accompanying photos (and video!) are somewhere on a hard drive in New Jersey. (Here are links to our other posts from our time in Myanmar in March and April 2009.)
On a quiet Tuesday morning in March 2009, CeCe and I found ourselves striding up the steps of a Buddhist temple outside Bago, Myanmar (Burma). At this point in our journey we knew what to expect: a gold-plated stupa, loads of golden Buddhas scattered about the compound, many with psychedelic flashing lights emanating from behind their serene heads, and a handful of worshippers in the midst of incomprehensible rituals, many involving the pouring of water over deities and the tossing of flowers.
This time though, thumping music caught our attention. A little sheepishly we rounded a corner and found a tiny orchestra flailing away on their instruments, a few ritual dancers in tight, sequined skirts, and a gaggle of middle-aged women with fistfuls of money. Our presumptive hosts quickly seated us front and center, our apprehension totally unwarranted. Everywhere we went in this shunned, closed and impoverished country, we found nothing but warmth, generosity and curiosity.
This time though, the curiosity was almost entirely ours, as it soon became apparent that there was more than met the eye. The female dancers at the center of this ritual were oddly muscular and overly make-upped. Then it hit us: these “ladies” were not ladies at all, but nat kadaws, transgendered mediums whose role is to communicate with village spirits, called nats.
Nats typically inhabit the forested center of a village and each town has their own nats which are near and dear to the locals. They are a curious animalistic holdover from Myanmar’s spiritual past which have found a comfortable spot in modern Myanmar’s Buddhist pantheon. The nat kadaws are specially gifted in their ability to communicate with these spirits, and it was this quality that the worshippers in the room had travelled to see, coming all the way from Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar’s traditional capital.
Two and a half years later, and without access to our journals from the trip, the rest of the day’s details are lost to us. But it’s this kind of jaw dripping experience, a daily occurrence for us in Myanmar last time of round, is what has us so looking forward to our return in a few days.