Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Diary on Fast Forward – Yangon, Myanmar

I wish I could say that I have paid my homage to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi this year. The truth is, while visiting Myanmar in May, I was not as much the individual me, but merely a representative of my Ship. We have been strictly briefed about the Country’s regime and we knew it was no joke, when one of the two pilots that came on the Bridge was there not for giving navigational guidance, but for writing down on a notebook everything said and done, day and night. - “Forget about silly curiosities, we’ve been told. People’s lives could be at stake. Never ask about Aung San Suu Kyi, or about the Military Junta. One will never know, but with a simple question, you could send someone to jail, or even worst, sign his sentence.” Of course, many of our passengers did not think too much before the questions came out…but I don’t want to talk about that.
Before I even start talking about Yangon, I cannot stop but smiling, at the thought. It’s a bit of a paradox, I imagine, that although everyone is sustaining Burma’s Freedom Campaign, their chosen names of their country and former capital are still not fully recognized. Old Burma and Rangoon names have been obliterated by the people of Myanmar and Yangoon. I am soon to discover there is a never ending debate about these names… The name of Myanmar has been used since the 13th century. The country became known as Burma, under the British Empire and then dubbed again “Myanmar” by the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1989, in a continuous effort to erase the British reminiscences.. While the United Nations accepted the name of Myanmar, the Burmese oppositions groups still refer to “Burma”, as their sign of protest, not recognizing the legitimacy of the military group to name the country. The European Union conveniently refers to the country as Burma/Myanmar. Beyond any etymological, political or purely semantic dispute, I chose to describe the places as I have come in contact with it. I visited Yangon, in Myanmar.
Hope is human, no matter how bad things have been described…We are still set to explore Yangon, with its thousands years of history and cultural relics. We are soon to discover that there is a reason why we have been told to exercise caution. We gave up the thought about investigating the whereabouts of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest; we’re docked quite away from the city, we have only few hours and we decided to take a different spiritual trip. We’re only going to have a furtive look at the pagodas.. The cabs in Yangoon are a bit different. The driver is never alone and he never speaks directly to his passengers; conveniently, a “guide” rides along and tells you little stories about the city. It’s actually an enjoyable talk, until he tenders you a notebook, asking for your name and full contact information. It’s funny how many people have listed their phone numbers, address, personal and work emails…
Despite everything I’ve heard and read, Myanmar is still a very beautiful country. I am the white foreigner, peering at this mystic, fascinating world. I get the pale glimpse of a tormenting glory. People praying, their hands with the fingers widely spread look like a star, touching their forehead. It’s like their inner energy is spreading towards the world, including me. Too ignorant to know, too shy to ask. Small, long haired girls pass by me, laughing innocently at my green skirt. Shaved monks, smile, waiving at me. Downcast eyed novices, carrying the black bowls with their supper. I am not supposed to talk to them, but I can at least return the smile.

The Golden glory on an ancient empire is lying ahead. Shwe – gold and Dagon – former name of Yangon. There it is: Shwedagon Pagoda -The Golden Pagoda of Dagon. Buddhists believe that for this planet, there are 5 Buddha meant to bring Enlightenment to our world. Four of them have already come – the last was Siddhartha Gautama of Kapilavastu in India. Shwedagon Pagoda was built over 2600 years ago, in the time of Gautama himself. If I am not mistaken, this is the only Pagoda containing relics of all 4 past Buddha. I learn there is still hope: one more Buddha is still yet to come…

And if you honestly cannot picture all the gold....well, here it is...

At the end of a day, everyone gets fed, no matter where you’re coming from.

Life has its course, as elsewhere. People make plans, pray or fall in love. Every day is a new beginning for someone, or for another.

Strictly men allowed in here; yet I get a furtive look to what it looks to me the temple of a man’s peace of mind.

Back on my ship, from the height of the Bridge, I take a last look on the fields. I get a new, awakening lesson about what being humble means. I am ashamed I wear silk stockings, while people out there live half of their life with their feet in the mud. I am ashamed I get breakfast, lunch and diner served every day and yet I still find reasons to frown at it…while others are working hard to get a bowl of rice.
We set sail, while the people of Myanmar bring their salute: "Come again to Myanmar"!

The months that followed after, I received a new lesson about the power of a silent protest. Forgive me, Daw! I wished I had your strength. I wished I could have said something, when I had the means to do so.

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