Monday, June 17, 2013

The Golden Land Pagoda and Teahouse in Yangon

My friends Brad and Marilyn told me I had to try Lucky 7 Teahouse before I met up with them for dinner. So, after the train ride I walked over to the teahouse to have a meal. The area is surrounded by trees giving it a secluded garden feel and shutting out some of the noise of the city traffic. There are young boys working and all of them have a Lucky 7 jersey. I was greeted and shown to a table on the sidewalk. They brought a fresh pot of tea and a cup along with a menu in English. As I looked through the menu, a plate of fried spring rolls and samosas appeared on the table. I was famished and ready to have a snack. I decided to order a lime juice, a fresh chicken spring roll and a red bean dumpling. Mmm mmm.
I sat enjoying my tea and snacks as I waited for my meal. The first thing I noticed is the teahouse was busy with locals. But they were not just eating and enjoying a cup of tea. This was meeting place for friends and business transactions. People were looking through documents and signing papers. They sat and talked with friends.
My food arrived and it was delicious. The spring roll was steamed and delicious. Not what I was expecting but really good. I enjoyed every bite of my meal. Then, sat and relaxed with a cup of tea.

It was getting late in the afternoon and I had an hour before I was meeting my new friend at Shwedagon Pagoda. I decided to walk back to my hotel and rest for an hour and charge my camera battery.

I freshened up and was ready to see the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is the most famous structure in the city of Yangon.  This religious structure is the most sacred site in all of Myanmar.  I arrived at the Southern entrance (not where I had agreed to meet my friend Oon) but where the taxi driver said he was allowed to drop me off. It was raining and I did not argue. I entered the building, removed my shoes and left them in a bin and paid my $5 fee. I was shown to the door and told to take the lift to the shrine. I had read the travel guides and new that the stairway was much more beautiful. I went outside and walked across the parking lot to the stairway.  I am a wimp and winced with each step until I go to the stairway. As I entered the stairway I was in awe of the teak carved ceiling. There were sales stalls along the sides with flowers, umbrellas, books, gold bowls, incense and souvenirs. As I walked up the steps I wondered how I would find Oon in this giant complex. I figured in reality, he would locate me first. As I exited the hall I looked out to see the large gold pagoda. It was massive. I was awe struck by the size and the small stupas surrounding the main pagoda. As I stood there in wonder, my friend Oon found me. He had met up with another friend and they greeted me in Burmese.
Oon started by explaining it is customary to walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction. Oon had spent 5 years as a monk and his friend Nu has lived in a monastery as a lay person for 7 years. They started with a brief explanation of the history of Shwedagon. It is enshrined with four Buddha relics and is 325 feet tall and covered with solid gold plates.
Even in the rain the structure is truly amazing. The size is incredible. As we walked around the pagoda, Oon and his friend explained the history of Buddhism and the significance of the different temples. They stopped at one small cave where a baby was held in the arms of a man. He explained this was the site that couples come to that are trying to have a baby. I told him we could skip over this, I am too old and have no personal interest in a baby! We all laughed and moved on. Next Oon asked me what day of the week I was born. I told him Sunday. He explained that in Buddhism there are 8 days of the week with Wednesday morning and afternoon counted as separate days. Oon explained that there are statues for each day of the week. When we arrived at Sunday (galon), he had me bow my head three times as is tradition then, he took me to the statue and instructed me to pour cups of water on the images. One cup for each year I was old. I told him this was going to take awhile. He laughed and promised not to count since age was something westerners are sensitive about. I laughed and said no problem asking a western woman her age. We need to be proud of what we have accomplished in life. He was shocked because he was taught in tourism class never to ask a western woman her age because it is offensive. I admitted some woman are highly sensitive about it but I was not. I am 44 and proud of it! He laughed and helped me keep count.

One of the first things most Myanmar people will tell an American is "Obama visited Myanmar. Obama good. Help my country tourism. Obama born on Friday." I didn't understand why they cared what day of the week Obama was born until I visited Shwedagon. It was because they had seen him pour water over the Friday statue when he visited. You also get told with pride that Aung Sun Suu Kyi (Myanmar people are hopeful she will be the next president) is born on Tuesday. In Myanmar, the people believe astrology will guide your future. Oon suggested I visit a fortune teller at the Sule Pagoda and have my future told before I leave Myanmar. The Myanmar people do this regularly. Historically, names of children were even chosen based on the day of the week a child was born.

As we walked the pagoda in the rain Oon and Nu laughed at my slippery western feet. They said that years of wearing shoes had made my feet slippery since my toes were squished together. They pointed at there feet and showed me how their toes were spread, "like web duck feet." We all laughed. I was not use to walking barefoot let alone on the slippery marble. I was hoping to survive the night without landing face first on the ground. I am a little bit of a clutz! It was a beautiful night. I watched in awe as men and woman meditated. I enjoyed the peaceful sounds with the chimes of the bells from the umbrellas on the top of the stupas.
Oon and Nu walked me over to a large bell. He picked up a piece of wood and handed it to me.  It was time for me to ring the bell. I laughed and thought he was joking. He explained that I needed to make a wish, bow my head three times to Buddha and then hit the bell three times. I took the large piece of wood and hit the bell. It was at this time my battery died. I had forgotten to charge it! Ugh! Oon told me many tourists visit the pagoda at the beginning of their trip and the end. I was obviously going to be back at the end of my trip.
The Shewdagon Paya is topped with an umbrella that has 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies and the top is crowned with a 76 carat diamond. Oon and Nu took me around to different locations to see the jewels reflected by the lights. I was impressed with the site and appreciated the time Oon and Nu spent explaining the history of the pagoda to me. I offered to buy them dinner but they refused. It was something they did because it gives them a chance to practice their English and prepare for their tourism exams. I thanked them and asked if they needed a ride. We decided to share a taxi and drop them off at the bus station on my way back to the hotel.
I returned to the hotel and went for a quick dinner. I walked to the neighborhood Myanmar restaurant and who did I find? My friends Brad and Marilyn! I walked in and Shelly was lighting Brad's cigarette. I laughed and pulled up a chair to share the events of our days over dinner.


No comments:

Post a Comment