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Rangoon Days

sunny 37 °C

Although many men still wear the traditional sarong-like longyi in Burma, western dress is catching on in the cities. However, many women still paint their faces, and their kids’ faces, with thanakha – an inexpensive yellow cold cream made from the pounded fibres of a local tree…
The seemingly random splodges of yellow make-up, coupled with the red-stained teeth and gums of betel chewers, gives many of the locals an oddly wild appearance. But there’s nothing wild about Rangoon. Despite vestiges of medieval life, and some dirt-poor back streets, Rangoon is quite a modern city. There are plenty of late model cars, (split 50/50 between left and right hand drive), and there are some contemporary office towers and shopping malls. Our 4 star apartment hotel has a cosmopolitan restaurant and well stocked international bar, and the English-speaking Burmese staff are irrepressibly helpful and kind. Nothing is too much trouble - for instance when we pointed the waiter at these unusual wall hangings…
… he thought hard for a few seconds before his face lit up knowingly. “It is a dartboard, Sir,” he said, and when we finally got him looking in the right direction he went off to consult with his colleagues. After a few minutes he returned with a sagacious grin and gravely declared, “We have no idea what they are, Sir. But there are lots more of them over there”. We eventually discovered that they are the Burmese equivalent of a family crest and denote which of the ethnic groups the family belongs.
The Burmese are made up of seven distinct tribes and have differing religious and political affiliations. While Buddhism is the dominant religion there is no shortage of Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches in Rangoon. However, Buddhist monks in their flowing maroon robes can be seen begging alms everywhere, and the centre of Rangoon is dominated by an extensive Buddhist temple complex atop an enormous hill...
The Shwe Dagon golden stupa can be seen from every corner of the city and, despite a nationwide shortage of electricity, it is brighter than the Eiffel Tower at night. But it is not just the stupa itself which is illuminated. Most of the hundreds of Buddha statues housed in the complex are garishly haloed by pulsating discs of lights which gives the whole thing a touch of Disney…
Once we had taken off our shoes and climbed aboard the high speed elevator we were on a glittering journey through a theme park featuring eight centuries of Buddhism.

Most of the stupas, pagodas and temples date back to the 12th century – and most are covered in real gold leaf - and each of the buildings houses numerous statues of Buddha…
However, this is not a temple. It is an ultra-modern reverse-osmosis water purifier in religious disguise...
These flambouyant VIP worshippers were each shaded by their own parasol carriers, while their offerings and their gold-encrusted children were lugged around by a retinue of servants...
These worshippers had to carry their own offerings...

While Burma may have been left behind technologically during the past couple of decades, there is nothing old fashioned about the Shwe Dagon golden pagado in Rangoon. This place is just about the 'hippiest' eclesiastical monument we've ever seen. Buddhism rocks!

Posted by Hawkson 06:03 Archived in Myanmar

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Those temples are absolutely stunning. Has Sheila tried the makeup yet?

by keith and helen

What a fascinating place to visit. You have made me curious about the current political and social complexities of Burma, Am always interested in how the past and present coexist or do not. Thank you once again for sharing your travels.

by Sue Fitzwilson

What a fabulous place. Kudos for being in before really dramatic changes ramp up. I wonder what those Buddhists are doing for Valentines Day! If nothing yet, give it a decade.

Looking forward to reports from Pagan.

by Tom Whalley

I hope these monuments survive, they are beautiful.

by Janet

Buddhism does rock !

by Pat Goodeve

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