My daughter’s best friend, Victoria, is a globetrotting citizen of the world — and she is only nine. Due to her parents’ work, she gets to spend summers in places like the Philippines, Indonesia and most recently Myanmar. I spent a year in neighboring Thailand myself and during that time was only able to peer over the border into Myanmar, but this isolated little Buddhist country has always piqued my interest.
Like Cuba, Myanmar is somewhat of a time capsule and has changed little since British occupation. Men go about their business wearing a skirt-like longyi, the horse and cart is the most popular form of transportation and betel-chewing octogenarians smile at you coyly with mouths bursting with the telltale blood-red juice. Then there is Shwedagon Paya, a glittery golden city within a city.
But what I didn’t know about when I was living in Thailand were the jumping cats of the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. If I had know about these jumping cats, I surely would have crossed the border back then! But alas, I only found out about these acrobatic cats when Victoria returned from her summer adventures last year.
The jumping cats, in fact, were the first thing she told us about upon her return. These kitties, she gushed, lived in a beautiful wooden monastery situated right on the green velvet edge of Lake Inle. The monastery is built on stilts so it appears to be floating on the water. Inside the intricately carved doors are lots and lot of cats, a fair number of monks in colorful draping robes and statues of Buddha gilded in gold leaf. Despite the religious significance of the statues, most visitors come to see the cats. In their spare time, the monks taught their furry companions how to jump through hoops and through enclosed circles of arms. The cats can jump straight up surprisingly high (some better than others, of course) or lunge forward like a circus tiger. Not surprisingly, Nga Phe Monastery is now on the bucket list of many people who travel to Myanmar.
Next Page: Video of Jumping Cats
After hearing Victoria’s stories about the levitating cats and the stunning beauty of Lake Inle with its floating markets and villages, gilded temples, lakeside weavers and children who row their boats with their knees, I was all ready to pack my bag, my camera and some kitty treats and go! But then while researching the jumping cats a bit further to write this post, I learned that the military junta that runs the country with an iron fist had enough with the jumping cats and recently – and inexplicably – shut the show down.
No one apparently knows why, but it is quite likely that as more tourists made their way to the monastery, the monks improved their English and they started engaging visitors about the less-than-pleasant political situation that has choked the country for decades. If so, the cantankerous generals who rule the nation would not be amused. Or maybe some official in Rangoon demanded a bribe from the monks at Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery – after all they were rolling in alms from all of the tourists – but the monks refused.
Who knows what the real story is, but I do hope Myanmar transitions soon to a more benevolent government, that the monks can resume welcoming visitors to their magical monastery and that, of course, Buddha’s jumping cats will be allowed to jump again to the delight of people from around the world.