FOR THE RECORD:
Myanmar monastery —An article in Sunday's Travel section about the "jumping cats" monastery in Myanmar said Nyaungshwe was the closest town with an airport to Inle Lake. The airport closest to Inle Lake is in Heho; Nyaungshwe is the tourist town at the north end of the lake.
The Intha are known for the strange way they propel their small wooden fishing boats. The fisherman stands at the stern, balanced on one leg, and rows with the other leg by wrapping it around the oar, leaving both hands free to work the net.
Although this method of fishing is unusual and something to see, it's starting to be overshadowed by some unlikely local residents — Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Tina Turner, among others.
Our driver cut the longboat's engine, and we glided gracefully toward Nga Phe Kyaung, the abode of these local celebrities. Nga Phe Kyaung, an 18th century Buddhist monastery built from teakwood on stilts over the lake, is known more affectionately among its visitors as "the jumping cat monastery." For more than 20 years, the monks here have trained their cats to jump through hoops.
U Nan Da, a young Buddhist monk, met our boat. He led us inside the temple, where Chinese green tea, roasted barley and bananas are served to those who visit.
As I sat on the teakwood floor sipping tea, a feeling of peace prevailed. Beams of light streamed through the open windows, and the eyes of 64 golden Buddhas seemed to watch me from every angle. I sensed another pair of eyes, those of a curious cat, but when I turned to look, it had disappeared.
"That's James Bond," the monk said.
I laughed, but he assured me he wasn't joking.
"He is a very secretive cat," he said. "He likes to watch, but if we try to catch him he always escapes. So we call him James Bond."
It didn't take long before the cats' curious nature overcame them, and they began to appear. They were very friendly. One was bold enough to climb up into my lap and fall asleep purring; the rest played and basked in the sunlight.
I counted 10, but U Nan Da said 15 cats lived at the monastery, including Demi Moore, the cat curled up in my lap.
The famous names are just for fun, he said. He pointed to a beautiful white and gray cat with piercing green eyes. "He is very pretty, so we call him Leonardo DiCaprio, from the 'Titanic,' no?"
The monk placed a bigger ginger cat in front of him. He raised a hoop above his head and without hesitation the cat jumped more than 3 1/4 feet into the air, through the hoop and landed gracefully.
"This one is a natural jumper, so we call him Michael Jordan," U Nan Da said, laughing along with some novice monks at my obvious enjoyment of the spectacle. It was refreshing to find a sense of humor among the monks and such open laughter in a place of solemnity.
The cats' training starts when they are about 3 months old, the monk said. They learn fast, and it takes just one week for them to complete their training.
On the first day a monk gently provokes the kitten into jumping over his outstretched arms by touching and lifting its chin. Each day the monk lifts his arm higher and higher for the kitten to jump over, until finally it jumps through the hoop.