|We spend the entire day walking the streets of Mandalay. It was hot, sunny, dusty and teeming with life at every corner. We visited many tea shops, which give one a great vantage point for observing what goes on, without being observed. After sitting in one spot for a while, people stop noticing your presence, and you become a fixture. There are many little alleys connecting major streets, where people live in very close proximity to each other. There is an undeniable sense of community as you pass through them. Most people seem rather surprised to see us in their alleys, and many eagerly practice all the English words they know on us, usually accompanied by a huge smile.
At one point during the day, I felt something clamping my heel. I looked to see what it was, and found a female dog, who just had puppies staring up at me. A few steps further we found two puppies, huddled together in the well of a large tree. She was just trying to protect them. We ended up buying her a bunch of meat from a nearby food vendor, and he supplied her with some rice and meat sauce. She ate it up.
In the evening, while walking through a night market, we were accosted by 6 or 7 novice monks, all eager to practice their English. They each took turns, asking us the same questions. Most of them were 14 to 16 years old, and had been novice monks since they turned 8. They all wished to become full monks, at the age of 20. As it turns out, if you are 20 years old, you need to spend just a day being a novice monk before you become a full monk. These guys are definitely doing it the hard way. They rise at 5 am, and go around collecting alms. They fast everyday from noon till the morning, and some have to rise at 1 am to practice meditation, depending on the monastery they're from. They all agreed that meditation is hard. Your mind is difficult to turn off, and it tends to wonder off unchecked. Three of them (Shir, Suriya and Kumara) walked us back to our guesthouse. They were excited to see our bicycles, but didn't want to try riding them. They left us exhausted, it took a lot of energy to keep up with them.