(1) The moment the rusting green ferry touched the banks of the island not far from Mandalay, children swarmed the gang plank, hawking the usual wares: plastic-wrapped postcards, jade bracelets, bronze bells, wooden elephants. My special tormentor was Ida, a 14-year-old with an engaging smile and extraordinary persistence. “You buy,” she said, taking a small bell from her pack. “Very good price.” “No,” I said, and repeated as she pulled out a gong, a necklace, bracelets. “No. No. No.” “Please, Jamie,” for by now she knew my name. “You make me happy.” She walked with me to a horse-drawn cart that would take me to an inland temple, producing ever more baubles from her bottomless pack. “Maybe later,” she said, following the cart on foot. I looked away, and when I turned back she was on a bicycle, looking determinedly at me. At the temple I succumbed, buying two bracelets for a $4. “I remember you” were her happy parting words, but she had already locked her eyes on someone else. (2) Descending the covered stairway from a large pagoda, running the usual gauntlet of vendors, I saw a man painting lacquer ware. He had no arms, and one leg ended at the knee. I thought of thalidomide babies and those suffering from mercury poisoning in Minamata half-a-century ago. With his stump, he clasped the bowl against his body and, with his paintbrush between his toes, he drew the delicate lines required of his art.
It’s amazing, when I look, how many scenes I see that remind me not to feel sorry for myself.