March 12-13: Yangon
We arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, at 2100hrs local after 25 hours in transit. The hot, humid ride by cab to Kanadawgyi Palace, accompanied by a very pleasant local tour guide provided our tired sensory overloaded brains with more information than we took in. Sleep was evasive despite my best pharmacologic interventions, and we declared ourselves to be awake for the day at 0500 local. From our window we could see in the day’s first light, the gleam of Shwedagon Pagoda – “shwe” means golden – dominating the scene. It is little wonder that it shone, as it is covered with 60 metric tones of solid gold plates. We decided to mobilize and walk to this most venerated of Myanmar’s shrines.
We had some difficulty in gaining entrance as our American currency was not crisp and new, but with a sad demeanor and patience we were permitted to take off our shoes and ascend in an elevator to the pagoda’s level. We were surprised to see so many worshippers, who may enter as early as 0400 hrs.
As we became accustomed to the new time zone, we were taken on a walking tour of Old Yangon where we saw buildings from the Colonial period of British rule when after three wars, the British succeeded in adding Burma as a Province of British India, thus controlling the trade route along the Irrawaddy River for teak, oil and rubies.
On Easter Sunday, we worshipped at this restored Armenian Orthodox Church with Sharman Minus who is a descendent of its founder.
During our walkabout, we saw both the results of investment in infrastructure and a level of poverty which surprised me.
We visited the home of U Thant, Third Secretary-General of the United Nations,
a Reclining Buddha, Kyauk That Gyi. Depictions of the Buddha are objects of veneration and are considered to have cosmic power, showing the Buddha both as a divine figure and as a human being capable of fulfilling wishes and a potent reminder of the “way of truth” and “right action”. Thus for Burmese Buddhists, donating or buying a Buddha confers merit, the more so if it is a big one.
We saw the first of three puppet shows that evening.
To wrap up our first stay in Yangon, we revisited the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset.
Next we depart Yangon for our cruise on the Irrawaddy River.