This is (NOT) really about Aung San Suu Kyi but….

Yangon Travel Blog

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A Buddhist Monk at Shwedagon

    It’s difficult not to be political about
Myanmar.  Not when the whole time I was there, I can’t access the internet nor avail of international publications (except for the Singapore Straits Times. which I’m sorry to say isn’t really my idea of in-depth reportage) because the military junta isn’t exactly press friendly. Not when the only report I hear or read about Myanmar is about the repressive military regime and the widespread poverty in Myanmar. Not when I had to lie about my real profession when applying for a tourist visa in Myanmar’s Embassy in the Philippines.

There are no fast food in Yangon. But the roadside stalls are a great place to eat - especially if you're hankering for fluffy white rice, tomato and sesame seed salad, and fish curry

    This, even if my intention to go there was just to join my sister and her chili friends in their temple tour and NOT to report on how the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) continues to put Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi  under house arrest.

    Well, I would be lying if I say that I’m not dying to do just that. Any ambitious journalist would have done that. But of course, I also heard that it’s illegal to go to Suu Kyi’s place and you can be incarcerated for doing so. Since I’m such a coward who cherish my freedom and creature comforts, I’d rather pass up that interview thank you very much.     

     The only thing that I actually loved about the SLORC’ decision to keep the Myanmar isolated is the fact that the city didn’t lose its old world charm to the vagaries of modernity.

Rainy Day in Yangon
 Driving around Yangon is akin to watching a 50s movie �" a sepia toned, laid back city  filled with Chinese shophouses, trees in every street corner,  and colonial style buildings, free from shopping malls, subways, cable tv and fast food.  Of course I find that quaint at first. But what is sentimental isn't always pragmatic. A few days later I was already craving for Starbucks and HBO. After a sojourn in Myanmar I immediately went to Bangkok where I was veeeeeery thankful that I can stroll all day in an air-conditioned mall, have my coffee and cake in a western style cafe and travel around the city through the skytrain .  

    I always felt some sense of peace whenever I’m inside a Buddhist temple (like the time that I was on a temple tour in Bhutan, Bangkok and Vientianne).

My lavender umbrella at the Shwedagon
  But it wasn’t like that in Myanmar where, although I never did feel any negative vibe, I also didn’t get the aura of tranquility. Perhaps it’s because Myanmar’s history, (monarchs who fight each other to unify a divided kingdom, the Mongol invasion, the Anglo-Burmese war, the fight for independence from colonial rule) is filled with violence and strife, and some of its sacred sites even used to for political means.

    Take for instance the Shwedagon Pagoda. Shwedagon is Myanmar’s most enduring, most famous and most photographed cultural icon. Its soaring gilded stupa dominates much of Yangon’s landscape Built in the 6th century, the Shwedagon is home to the hairs of the Lord Gautama Buddha and pilgrims from all over Myanmar (and abroad) come here as it’s considered one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites.

at the Shwedagon

    We were there for hours, and despite the drizzle (it was raining the day we arrived from Singapore. The cyclone will only come in a few days after that), we spent the day just taking photos of the stupa and the compound itself an of course posing for numerous photo ops.  Devotees are however oblivious of these photo-happy tourists, as they were busy reciting their mantras, clicking their beads and making offerings to the Buddha.

    But more than a holy site, Shwedagon is also a very political area.  In fact, Shwedagon was in the news in late 2007, when thousands of monks who marched around the pagoda to protest against recently enacted price increases.  (the protest  was later crushed by Burmese security forces).

    Not that this is anything new. Shwedagon has always been a potent political symbol and its premises used as an avenue for protest.

At the town center, nostalgia in Yangon. That is the city hall (the building at the background).

    In 1852, soon after the second Anglo-Burmese war, the victorious British forces occupied and controlled the Shwedagon, using it as a fortress that can lord over the city. Decades later, Burmese students will meet in Shwedaghon to plan a protest strike against the new University Act believing it would only benefit the elite and perpetuate colonial rule.

    In 1946, General Aung San addressed a mass meeting at the stupa to demand for independence from colonial rule. His daughter will follow his footsteps. In 1988, Suu Kyi addressed another mass meeting at the stupa, this time demanding democracy from the military regime.

smurfbee says:
great article. it IS important to remember Yangon for its politics too. not many people learn anything at all about Burma!
Posted on: Apr 05, 2011
gypsygal75 says:
ay naku day, thats not part of my ambition hehe
Posted on: Jul 31, 2008
planisphere says:
do you want to stay for another 3 years in burma? hehehe
Posted on: Jul 29, 2008
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A Buddhist Monk at Shwedagon
A Buddhist Monk at Shwedagon
There are no fast food in Yangon. …
There are no fast food in Yangon.…
Rainy Day in Yangon
Rainy Day in Yangon
My lavender umbrella at the Shweda…
My lavender umbrella at the Shwed…
at the Shwedagon
at the Shwedagon
At the town center, nostalgia in Y…
At the town center, nostalgia in …
photo by: aleksflower