Greetings from Yangon, Burma!
I don’t have much internet so I don’t think I’ll be blogging nearly as much as I wanted to. But so far, we’ve been here for ~16 hours and it’s been craaazzzyyyyy.
The first thing I’ve noted is that it’s definitely a third world country. I’ve been here for less than a day and I can already say I’ve never had a more humbling experience. The living conditions here would never, ever fly in America, but they’re the norm everywhere here. You’ll see little fruit stands on every corner, manned by women with small children. You’ll see elementary school- aged girls who have become nuns because their families are too poor to support them. You’ll see men at street intersections selling everything from mosquito repellent to jasmine flower necklaces. And more…..
We started the day off with a traditional Burmese breakfast in our hotel: ခေါက်ဆွဲကြော် (khauk swe kyaw – fried noodles), ထမင်းကြော် (htamin kyaw – fried rice), and ကြေးအိုး (kyay oh – noodle soup). So yummy.
After breakfast, we drove around Yangon for a bit, taking in all the sights. We drove by the Scott Market, which is pretty much just a huge bazaar. We’ll be coming here at the end of our trip for all our souvenir shopping.
We also drove by a couple of streets that my parents grew up around. Lots of things to see.
We then visited my mom’s childhood home (we have relatives that live there now) and it was another huge shock. My mom’s family was considered very well-off, but if you grew up in America, you wouldn’t be able to tell that from their home – it’s probably equivalent to the size of 1/5 of my parents’ current house. It’s very cozy (put in a nice way), and I think that if I’d lived in Burma as a kid, I could’ve enjoyed living there with my siblings and cousins, but I’ve definitely, definitely, definitely been spoiled.
On the upside, the people here are so friendly. It’s shocking. I don’t think it’s just because we’re foreigners, I think they’re just generally good people. I think they really know how to appreciate everything they have, and that’s really nice to see.
The weather could be better, but apparently it could also be a lot worse. It’s 90 degrees, so you think a California girl would be used to a little heat… but the humidity here is on it’s own level. Thankfully there’s no rain in our forecast! Knock on wood.
Anyway, more to come later – we’re heading out to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which I’ve really really wanted to see for years!
Back from the Shwedagon Pagoda! Wow. This place is insane. It’s the most sacred pagoda in Burma, and tons and tons of people travel from all of the world to visit. At some point I overheard a tour group talking about President Obama coming here recently.
Anyway, this place is HUGE. There are 4 entrances here – most pagodas only have 1 entrance. Beside the main stupa, there are hundreds (thousands?) of smaller stupas and temples. I’m still kind of speechless. This place is gigantic, and it’s kind of hard to describe in words.
Once you’re there though, you definitely get the feeling that you’re in a really sacred place. You aren’t allowed to wear any footwear once you reach the steps leading up to the entrances, so everyone’s walking around barefoot. Also, you can’t wear shorts or dresses above the knees, or “revealing” tops (I had to rent a shawl because my tank top exposed too much of my shoulderblades). Everywhere you look, you see people praying, lighting incense or candles, or making offerings of flowers or streamers. There’s a special Burmese prayer at pagodas that has to do with astrology – the Burmese recognize 8 days of the week (Wednesday is split into morning and night), and there are always 8 shrines in each pagoda that correspond to the days of the week. Each shrine will have the name of the day of the week, as well as a statue of Buddha and a statue of the animal that represents that day. The custom is to make a prayer and a wish at your shrine (your shrine = the day of the week when you were born) and to pour water on the Buddha there.
We will definitely be coming back to Shwedagon during the day (probably next week), but I have a feeling it looks prettier at night. Not sure if all that construction will look so great in the sunlight.
Anyway, that’s all for today! We’ve got a 2 AM wake up call tomorrow -__- hoping for a few hours of sleep now!