Recently my partner and I had a long weekend abutting a national holiday on a Monday.  We took advantage, with quick holidays being almost all our calendars can manage these days.  Having had Myanmar on our travel list for some time but not yet fulfilled, we took a direct flight from Bangkok to Mandalay for a couple of days.  Jim (my partner) had been to the country several times (but not yet Mandalay) and it was my first. 

The flight was late leaving by two hours!  And became later as we sputtered along.  I had telephoned our hotel, through whom we had booked a pick-up car and driver, to alert them to our tardiness but still worried all during the flight.  What would we do,,, what would we do,,, if said driver just didn’t have enough interest to wait.  The Mandalay airport is quite some distance from the city which, in my mind, would increase the despair of our abandonment should he had skedaddled.

Impatiently we waited in the immigration line for entry, not enjoying the comradely banter among the lackadaisical agents as much as they were enjoying it.  Then more toe-tapping as we waited for that luggage belt to go round and round until it finally began to spit-out a few bags at a time and drop them down the chute to where they could be within arms-reach.

We eagerly pushed through the final swinging doors into the arrivals hall.  Would there be someone there?  Aligned along the railing were sad and tired looking guys half-heartedly holding up their signs with customer names scrawled to where you had to cock your head to be aligned in proper angle to read.  Oh, dear.  I didn’t think we wanted to ride with any of them anywhere.  But then God smiled down and said, “no my sons, none of them are for you!  Look, this handsome young man here in his alluring longyi, with the lovely smile, looking so eagerly right at you, holding your name card so very neatly and attractively printed… he … he is for you.  Go to him.  Greet him.  He is yours for the next two days!”  He told us his name but then said I probably could not easily pronounce it (he’s so astute).  He said we could call him “Rain”, because that is what his name means in English.  So, Rain it was for two and half days.  As it turned out, I surely must be the first guy to go on a weekend get-a-way and be happy to have ‘Rain’.

I could not believe it.  Later in the arrival evening, partner Jim informed that he would like to arise at 03:15 the next morning for Rain to collect us at 03:45, only a small number of hours from that showing on the clock-face at that moment.  I said, good God, what for!?  He informed that he had already mentioned it to Rain (they were ganging-up on me) about taking us to the Mahamuni Pagoda, a very important pilgrimage site for local people, for the daily Face Washing Ceremony of the Buddha image. He further said that it was very important to him to witness and participate in this ‘something’, the opportunity of which all Buddhists hoped-for someday. I then felt the importance and figured I, too, could do something that (most) all farang (westerners) would know nothing of, and could then add it to my little list of odd life events.

Rain was on time, his allure non-diminished.  We rolled through the dark streets of Mandalay.  I could not imagine there would be many pilgrims additional to us.  When he turned down the street to the pagoda, it was stunning – illuminated in colored brilliance.  After parking and walking the paths through the outer buildings to arrive at the one where the image resides, we were met with the throng waiting. I knew then how uninformed my earlier wonderings had been, about how we would likely be part of ‘the few’.  Rain, always only a cuff-link (around his slim wrist) and a light finger touch away, steered us through and we became part of the smaller group admitted to the inner sanctum just steps (or cross-legged seatings) away from the head abbot as he performed the hour-long ceremony.  Jim was pleased and appreciative that we had participated. I too, was appreciative, as these days I am for each and every thing we experience.

Back at the hotel we had our breakfast, even still before the first of any other early risers. The hotel’s restaurant was on the top floor, the entirety of the roof level.  The walls were full-length glass doors in the French style surrounding on three sides.  In the late afternoons, they have “happy hour” wherein they have free pours.  Yes, ‘free’.  The happy hour is ‘free drinks’ of four selected items on their special for-that-occasion menu.  And, they kept refilling.  “Would you like another, sir?”  “Well, yes… I think I would.”  And then later, again.  “Would you like another, sir?”  “Well…..ah….yes…yes, I think I will.”  And then later, even again.  “Would you like another, sir?”  “Huh? ..hmm?  oh!..ah, well….maybe not, thank you, (hic!)”  A don’t recall its name, nor much else about it, but it involved gin.

At roof-top dinner as the sun slowly sinks behind the encircling mountains, the hues build and mutate through the chroma painting the loveliest of tableaux.  Cocktails, views, lovely dinner, and handsome Jim. Several fine evenings.

Copyright 2021 Travels with Gay Papa

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