My Canon Powershot screen is shattered. Which is doubly unfortunate since I’ve visiting the village of Inthein today, which may very well prove to be one of the most scenic parts of this trip. On the plus side, I have my iPhone.
I’ve hired a boat to take me out on Inle Lake to the five-day market, the village of Inthein and the “jumping cat monastery”, where monks have grown so bored they’ve taught their feline friends to leap through hoops.
Reaching open water, I pull a blanket up around me, chilled but happy, intrigued. Not dozens, but hundreds (maybe a thousand?), of the famous Inle Lake fisherman – fisherboys, rather – hover on the tail of their narrow wooden boats, simultaneously balancing on one leg, rowing with the spare (wrapped around a paddle) and fishing fly-style. It’s not possible, what they do.
I’m so grateful not to have been born into a life of fishing Inle Lake, wiping monkey crap off Mount Popa’s steps for pocket change, transporting bushels of branches atop my head for miles, hauling rocks to build roads to temples, or any of the other back-breaking, soul-crushing livelihoods I’ve witnessed in Myanmar. Life in this country can be cruel.
I empathize with people trying to survive these harsh conditions, but (admittedly) only for a few weeks, then out of sight, out of mind. I know, one month from now back in Chicago, I’ll be lamenting that I have to forfeit an evening in front of the internet to take another customer to another dinner at another steakhouse. It’s not right but it’s true.
Instead, my misplaced heart bleeds for the plights of the animals I encounter, and those memories linger and haunt me long after I return home. This morning at breakfast I observed a woman kicking a puppy in the ribs because he attempted to gnaw at one of the fish she was selling. I brought him my breakfast cheese and meats wrapped in a napkin – a good deed, I thought – until a bigger puppy attacked him for it. Seems like every minute of Myanmar life is such a struggle for man or beast. Why they’re so friendly, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be.
Thankfully we stop at the five-day market, interrupting my heavy thoughts.
If the Authenticity Scale goes from 1 to 10 with 10 being most authentic, I rate the five-day market an 8. The market legitimately exists as a place were indigenous people can trade goods for goods, or goods for currency and we pale interlopers are just a bonus side business.
Sold at the market: “authentic” jewelry, calculators, candies, clothing, linens, pharmaceuticals, knickknacks, stuffed animals, smart phone cases, cartoons, DVDs, electrical outlets, books, betel nut, knives, flowers, oils, motors, toiletries, hair accessories, clocks, coins, fried foods. Seems like everything can bought here, except digital cameras, that is.
The route to Inthein snakes through canals overrun by ambitious vines challenging the constant parade of bows, paddles and motors that thwart the plants’ attempts at Inle Lake domination.
My boat captain drops me off on the Inthein bank and points me in the general direction of the sights. A wrong turn here, a wrong turn there, and I’ve reached its crumbling, leaning stupas.
I love it. Decay, dilapidation, mold, decrepitude, ruin and rubble. So mysterious. So scenic. So photogenic. And I’m taking pictures with a goddamn iPhone.
JUMPING CAT MONASTERY
Returning to Viewpoint Lodge from Inthein, we stop at the Jumping Cat Monastery. There are plenty of cats here, but they’re lying atop each other in the sun, a’dozing rather than a’leaping. Good for them.