Episode 3 – Myanmar


Arrived in Myanmar yesterday — a very interesting country. This part of the world had a series of internal and external struggles that led to the formation of the Bagan Empire between the ninth and twelfth centuries. We will see temples built during this period. Later, the locals fought three wars with the British, who really wanted the natural resources found here. The Japanese took over for WWII, followed by a return of the British. Finally, “Burma” became independent.

The people didn’t really like the British and tried to erase all associations. The name was changed to Myanmar. Later, the military took over from the civilian government and their record on civil rights brought on many a boycott. A woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the Nobel while under house arrest. The military passed an edict that she could never be President. This year, she was released, the military gave up power, and she was elected to a position where the new President answers to her.  The people see this as a new beginning and are very excited.

We flew this morning to Bagan, the ancient Capitol of the Empire.  We stopped in a local market and walked around for a bit. I included a photo of the apparel worn by the citizens. They are wrap-around cotton dresses and pants that reminded me of Samoa.

The market was very primitive. Most people were buying their food for that day. Our lecturer made the comment that a Myanmar market is still much alike the markets found on the shores of Galilee during Biblical times.  Except Peter didn’t have a motor on his boat or scooter.

As we walked, I was attacked by two women who applied creams and soaps that made me a local.  It is part mystical ceremony and part local sunblock. Lela thought it was stupid. The locals and bus mates loved it. Picture is of me “annointed.”


Gold Temple

IMG_0989Our next stop in Bagan was this beautiful temple, originally built in the 10th century.  It was damaged by earthquakes and restored. You can see the three tiers in this picture.

The temple has over 600 tons of gold plating.  I asked if the gold was mined locally. Our guide said it was given by the people in small amounts, melted, and added to the plating.

Old Bagan

OK, I admit it.  I can be really skeptical and tacky.  So, when I saw that we were doing a “pony ride,” I thought it was just a local deal, like taking a carriage in NYC.  But no….the carts took us on a two-mile route past roughly 200 temples.

Editor’s note – I hope that, like me, you were mentally picturing my father on the back of a pony. As it turns out, as you can see in the picture, a carriage ride is a more apt comparison. But the image of the Bear on a “pony ride” is one I will enjoy recalling for some time.

Given the temperature of 100+ degrees, it was not realistic to walk through this complex. The temples were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Some had been renovated, but most had not. Almost all seemed to still be in use as Buddhist shrines. If the temple was freestanding, it was used by the people; if it had a wall around it, it was used exclusively by the royal family. The complex was vast and continued way past the pony route.

Bagan was also quite different than Angkor Wat. The temples in Cambodia were much larger, usually having multiple shrines and praying sites. The Bangar temples were smaller with usually one altar or shrine site. I am very glad we did both. Another visitor told us that both sites were in an article that listed the 28 places to see in the world.  We will visit another in a few days when we arrive at the Taj Mahal.

Ananda Phaya

The next temple we visited was the site of a Buddha that stood roughly three stories tall. The first picture is a close up in the spot that was designated for the King.

The second is further back where “the people” worshiped.  The Buddha’s face shows different moods. The designer did not like the King. So he made Buddha’s face go from calm for the King to smiling further back for the people.

The Ghost Temple

We visited the Ghost Temple next.  We did not see a ghost, but loved the shrine and caught the beginnings of the famous Bagan sunset.


The Temple of Buddha’s Golden Hair

The last stop of our very long day was to “Buddha’s Golden Hair,” or, at least, that was how the temple’s name translates. It is a reference to the renowned sunsets that can be seen by climbing the steep steps to the top.  It was every bit as steep as the guide wires at Half Dome. What a way to end our visit to the Bagan Temples! I sent a video along because pictures don’t do it justice.

Then it was back to our beautiful hotel. We made it to Happy Hour. Two local beers and two Coke Zeros cost us all of $7. I haven’t missed the $9 beers at my local club. Another airplane back to the ship, and then we cruise west across the Indian Ocean for three days.  A great chance to rest up, slow down, and learn some new dance step.

Final Thoughts on Myanmar

We are now back on our ship heading out into the Bay of Bengal.  During our flight and bus ride back from the Bagan Empire, I learned a few interesting things:

IMG_1065First, most people here do not even think much about traveling. They are totally confused when people like us spend lots of time and money to come to Myanmar. Our guide said that most of her countrymen maybe travel to Rangoon (where we tied the ship up) once in their lives.  It is like their NYC to come to Rangoon.  And most come to visit the holiest of pagodas.  In that way, the people are much like the pilgrims to Mecca. They have no concept of a hotel. They either stay with relatives or in a monastery. BUT our presence has influenced the younger generation. They think about who we are and where we go when we leave.

Second, the people are very close knit.  It is normal for three generations of family to live together. Newlyweds must live with the parents, but they can choose, at least, which set of parents.  Those fortunate enough to live in the high rises of Rangoon have a status reversal from the way we use high rises in the US. Those on high floors pay less because there are no elevators. The eighth floor can have a great view and be good for your heart.

Third, the family dynamic is interesting. The fathers bring home the money and run the families, but the mothers take care of the fathers and steer them where they want to go. So, in many ways, it is a female-dominated society.

Finally, I realized yesterday that I had only seen one moment of anger amongst the people since we arrived in Singapore. A boy was on the back of a bike and the lead rider almost knocked him off. He had a couple choice words. But that was it. No moaning. No road rage. No demonstrations of anger. Despite living in third world conditions, the people of Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, are pleasant and content. Compare this to NYC. Everyone has so much more, but everyone is upset about something. In Myanmar, I never worried about someone grabbing my camera. Maybe the people here are better off . . .

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