Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Pagodas, Stupors and all ...

Mingalarpar!!! Literally translated means 'auspicious to you all'. A very respectful way of greeting someone as opposed to 'alright mate, how's it hanging' or 'whatssup'. Which sums up my experience with the Myanamese people so far - very respectful.

Today was a lie in, we weren't meeting until 8:00! And all things considered I managed to sleep through the night, bar one loo break. Which, to be honest, I was slightly nervous about attempting, considering the window in the ensuite bathroom is on the same wall that TC's bed is against! So not only could the bathroom light going on and suddenly shining directly in her face wake the sensitive sleeper, but, she would then be treated to a lovely blurred (thank goodness the glass is frosted) image of me sitting on the throne - as it were! 

Luckily TC slept through the nights disturbance and considering she claimed to be too knackered to eat and not that hungry, i noticed that she still managed to eat a full breakfast of soup, noodles and veg. Mind you I wasn't that far behind but on a more continental breakfast of choice.

At 8 o'clock, our group piled onto the coach and we set off for down town Yangon and all it had to offer, (by which time TC had already devoured a packet of chocolate chip Belvita biscuits).

Rangoon became the capital of The Union States of Burma after the independence in 1948. The old colonial city was expanding rapidly and in 1989 the military rulers changed its name back to Yangon where it remained the capital until 2006, when it was moved midway between Yangon and Mandalay to Naypyitaw. 

Our tour leader Kay, says the reason for moving it is apparently so that the government could show the world just how powerful it was, but rumour also has it that General Than Schwe was advised by his personal astrologer that the stars had predicted it wasn't safe to remain in Yangon.?!

And so the capital and all it entailed was moved, leaving behind an assortment of old colonial style buildings that had been used for governmental departments and were now looking rather dilapidated and converted into apartments, shops or market places.

Kay gave us a quick lesson on how to wear your Longyi. Sounds painful I know, but in actual fact Longyi is the general name of the sarongs worn by both men, women and children out here in Myanmar. There are many types of ways to wear them, one of which she demonstrated,  after informing us that they weren't worn the same way Scotsmen wear their kilts. Ah the bonnie Scotsmen! 

Another tradition over here is wearing Thanakha; a yellowish paste smeared on the face of women and children. Kay told us that it is used as a natural make up, sun block, general skin care treatment or even a mosquito repellant - at which point I saw TC suddenly take an interest and look up from her first fruit bar, having already doused herself in 'Deet' and Citronella. The Thanakha is either painted on in swirly patterns or sometimes just smeared over the face; an interesting look and something perfectly normal over here and yet they stare at me when I go past because I've got curly ginger hair! 

The morning walkabout took us past the Sula Pagoda, found in the heart of Downtown Yangon. With its magnificent stupor clearly visible, all streets converge at this point. In fact, it is such an important icon that all distances to other areas of the nation are measured from here. 

The pagoda has a spiritual history: being built during Buddha's lifetime, the stupor is supposed to enshrine one of his hairs. To me, that seems to represent peace and harmony, yet is sadly juxtaposed by its position of being a rallying point for the 2007 Saffron revolution, resulting in a brutal massacre of nine unarmed people when the military opened fire on the protestors. 

We walked through the Mahabandoola garden, towards the Independence Monument at the far side and admired the colonial architecture down some of the adjoining streets and ended up at The Strand Hotel (sister of the well known Raffles Hotel in Singapore). Feeling decadent we strolled in to use their toilets (most importantly) and sip on a rather expensive glass of orange juice before going for lunch.

The group split up; TC and I hurried off to The Yangon Teahouse with Nicole and Sal, both from London and Chen from San Francisco. 

'The teahouses' are a long standing Burmese institution where friends and family gather and many business meetings take place, with each teahouse having its own speciality. Myanmar tea is extremely sweet, made from condensed milk and a complimentary pot of green tea is always served alongside. There is no one to rush you out of your seat, in fact, if you want, you can stay all day chatting and continuously topping up your drink with no complaints - it is the Myanmar way. (Hardly surprising there are no Starbucks or Costa Coffees out here!)

But we weren't there for the tea, we were there for food and after a rather large bowl of biryani we headed back to our hotel for a quick power nap before the afternoons adventures.

And the afternoon began with a coach ride up to the Kandawgi Lake ( translates as

'The Great Royal Lake') where the British had channelled water over from Inya Lake to create this stunning body of water that lies just east of The Schwedagon Pagoda - Myanmar's greatest temple - which was our next destination.

According to tradition out here,  Myanamese people do not have surnames, in fact their first names are given to them depending on what day of the week they are born. Each day has a given sound that the baby's name should start with. And although they too agree that there are seven days of the week, as far as naming a baby goes there are eight groups of sounds and eight 'animals of the zodiac' affiliated to that day (rat, dragon, lion, mystical bird, guinea pig!?, elephant with tusks and elephant without tusks and the eighth one I can't remember). You see for some reason that I am not sure of, Wednesday is divided into two - morning and afternoon. 

For example, I was born on a Wednesday morning of which the sound 'rah/rrr' is given? Which seems perfectly right considering my name is Rosalie. However my zodiac sign out here is therefore ... The Elephant With The Tusk! Now considering I wore a brace from the age of 11 to 16 maybe I should've been born that afternoon and lost the tusk?

The Schwedagon Pagoda dates back to around 588 BC. It consists of a magnificent golden stupor, a stunning temple and various images of buddha both large and small scattered all around it.  As you walk around the giant temple, there are shrines placed equidistant from each other, each marked by a day of the week. The idea being you can go to your particular day and pray. TC did in fact take a picture of me stood by my Wednesday morning shrine. However as much as she insisted that she pressed the right button on my camera, when it came to uploading my photographs at the end of the day, there were none. So maybe I'm not really the tusked elephant after all, but the long toothed vampire who cannot be photographed? Either way TC proved yet again that she definitely fits into her birthday zodiac sign - the mythical bird, or as she rightly put it "Just a Mystery".

The day came to an end as we watched the sunset over the Stupor and we all returned to the hotel, ready for an early night, for at 4:30 am we had to be up and out to catch a flight to Bagan.

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