In Mandalay, we did what any good tourists would do and that was to make it up Mandalay Hill on the infamous 45 minute barefoot ascent.
I timed it.
We made it to the hill top, including photo stops, in 40 minutes.
When we reached the summit, we were greeted with a government employee who wanted to charge us C500 to take pictures, but we opted not to pay the photo/video fee. Although, we did sneak in a few pictures just for memory sake. I’d be more comfortable paying the fee if I knew it would be used to help keep the Hill clean but it was far from immaculate.
After 15 minutes of exploring, we began our descent on a dirty staircase in hopes to find the two welcoming dragon/lions we didn’t see earlier. Suddenly, a lady on the top of the staircase yelled that there was no way out in the direction we were heading.
We didn’t believe her.
We waited until a monk, who was walking up the very same staircase, confirmed what that lady had stated.
We backtrack to the summit to take another set of stairs down the mountainside. I made sure to thank the merchant lady who tried steering us in the right way.
“Jezu tem bade,” I said.
During the walk down the hill, we found another Buddha statue standing gracefully holding his robes. I decided it was time to take a picture of all three of us.
I saw a young monk walking up the stairs and asked him to take a picture.
He asked me what country I came from in which I replied, “America.” He beamed at the opportunity to speak with tourists who spoke english. I can’t recall his name, but he was a 23 year old monk, who has been in the monastery since he was 7 years old. He confirmed the pride families have in having a son as a monk.
He told us that he comes up Mandalay Hill everyday to find tourists to converse with in english. He has been learning english but access to books and other proficient english speakers are limited.
[quote]”Most english books available in Myanmar are basic level,” he stated.[/quote]
So up the hill he goes…
…to listen to how words are spoken and hopefully make connections with the outside world.
I was completely surprised by this young monk’s outlook on Myanmar life. He stated how not too long ago many would fear speaking freely. Especially about the many issues that plagued this country because of its military rulers. He was comfortable in speaking about the changes that are happening within the country that look favorable. He was excited to share with us – his activism in HIV prevention, birth control and other taboo subjects not spoken by anyone, especially in his role.
He was opinionated, smart, witty.
I wonder how long he’ll be in the monastery. He stated he wasn’t sure as well. Given the opportunity, I see this monk becoming an active leader to help steer his country into the 21st century.
As I look back at this picture, I can’t help but wish that I grabbed his contact information. He did take my Facebook url and hope he reaches out soon.