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Tag Archives: Yangon

Riding the Circle Train around Yangon

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While in Yangon, one of the best ways to see the area surrounding the city is to hop on the train that runs a loop around the city proper. I love public transit anyway because you’re exposed to what a city is like day to day, and you get to people watch.

I don’t know what I expected on the train ride, but I certainly got a feel for the people and the culture throughout the duration of the 3 hour ride.

As we approached platform 6 and 7, we were ushered into a ticket office and an official looking ticket was issued after we handed over our crisp clean $1 bill. While we waited for the train to arrive we were entertained by an adorable little girl and her even littler sister who high fived us and hopscotched and showed us their Gangnam Style abilities.

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Initially the train was packed, but as the train moved on away from the city, it began to empty out. As I effectively emptied my camera batteries by photographing the train, landscape and stations we passed, Eira set to filling her pocket sketchbook with quick drawings of people on the train. Initially I had hoped that we could hop on and off and visit the towns around the stations, and while you’re allowed to do just that and make an entire day of it, we had a bus to catch that evening and opted for a walk home and some dinner in a tea house. So we stayed put, sketching, watching, photographing the scenes and sharing cigarettes out the window with the old man sat next to us.

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I’m glad that the train was simple benches along each side instead of sections of seats because it was much more conducive to creeping everyone on our car.

As we reached one station in the country there was a giant commotion as the car emptied out and people started chucking parcels of produce through the window. Bags upon bags of Chinese kale, holy basil, chilli peppers, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, and anything that grows in the countryside around Yangon were hoisted through windows and settled anywhere there was space. As the farmers themselves jumped on the now moving train and organized their packages the security guard, who had previously been oblivious to passengers and tickets, now went around collecting fees for all the extra parcels from the newly boarded.

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It was after this that the atmosphere on the train changed. It had started out as a packed commuter train, but was now a joke-filled little community. As the farmers and produce sellers organized their product they teased each other, shared leaf-rolled cigarettes and bettle nut and dozed off cross-legged facing the window.

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Feeling like part of a community, we disembarked back in Yangon proper and wandered around until we met a couple ladies who wished us a happy Easter and chatted with us for a bit before leading us to a tea shop employed entirely with boys under 17 years old for a delicious lunch of pasada’s.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Yangon’s glistening jewel

When people get ready to head to Yangon (or Rangoon, depending on who you ask) the first thing they add to their itenerary is Shwedagon Pagoda.

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Shwdegon Pagoda is the first pagoda in the known history of Buddhism. After two merchants from Okkalapa (current day Yangon) became the first followers of Guatama Buddha shortly after his enlightenment, they returned home and built this shining golden pagoda which quickly became one of the most important centres for Buddhism.

DSC02336With the sun setting on it, the main spire looked absolutely stunning. To add to my enjoyment of basking in the golden glow, I made friends with yet another monk who showed me pictures of his travels through Thailand and Angkor Wat in Cambodia and tried to continue my Thai lessons by attempting to teach me the alphabet. (Ugggh 32 vowels… NEVER going to happen!)

Throughout the most visited middle level there is an abundance of pagodas, stupas, shrines, pavilions, Buddha’s and bells all the way around the towering middle stupa.

The importance of this pagoda quickly became apparent during my visit as many families were initiating their sons into Buddhism, with Community Shinpyu Ceremonies, which requires an elaborate procession around the central pagoda, complete with prayers and offerings to Buddha. Because of the expense required in the preparation of this initiation the family often will initiate all their sons at once. The boys were carried on shoulders by family members and done up in the most ornate gowns, make-up and jewellery, with the entire family done up in their most special finery and carrying donations for monks at the temple.

While we were in Burma, we saw this happening in most cities. In Mandalay we watched and listened as families crammed into songthaews and pick-up trucks blaring music with their children sitting on chairs in the back under golden umbrellas, prince for a day. In Nyaung U, we watched as young boys were paraded down the road on a horse and friends and family danced down the street in front and behind them.

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Smiley older brothers carry new initiates on their shoulders at Shwedagon

A young boy during a parade to the temple at Inle

A young boy during a parade to the temple at Inle Lake

Getting lost in Yangon

Despite the common belief that Burma had little to no internet connection, we were able to find guest houses that supplied us with our regular doses of Facebook and email. However, I decided to keep a notebook that I regularly updated as I was experiencing the country. Despite having been in Burma at the beginning of April, most of my Burmese blogs will be written in present tense, copied directly from my notebook.

Just a few years ago Myanmar wasn’t even on my radar of places I dreamed of going to. I had heard of its beauty, but after all the protests and unrest it just never seemed like a place I’d even be able to go to. But here I am, sitting in Bogyoke park resting my aching legs and trying to dry out my sweat soaked clothing. To my left is Kandawgi  lake, to my right are some young lovebirds hiding from the sun and kissing behind umbrellas. Strangely enough, Michael Jackson is blasting from the garden centre we just walked through.

Despite it only being 2 in the afternoon, I feel like we’ve done enough in a day to give us a really good feel about what Myanmar is really about.
On the way to the Aung Sun museum, a woman in the street stopped us and gave us each a beautiful lotus flower for donating at Shwedegon Pagoda. “No money, gift for you,” she said asking only for chocolate (In this heat? Are you kidding me??!!) or pens. Pens we could part with and gladly handed them over.

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The last hoorah

I’m back in Lopburi. Although in approximately 24 hours, I start my journey home in a bus that will take me and my accumulated mementos to the airport.

I thought that I would have time to write and relax and catch up on everything that I haven’t been keeping up with while I was travelling. I have not. Instead, I’ve been catching up on the gossip, drinking until the sun comes up and sleeping until I have to peel my melting skin off the blankets. Then repeat.

Instead of writing about the monks in Yangon, the feet steering fisherman in Inle Lake, the art and architecture in Penang, or love notes to this crazy little town I’m leaving, I’ve been lazy.

Being in this unemployed transition is quite depressing, and I’ve had no shortage of craving to stay. Most people that are here at the moment are no longer in this transition. They’ve moved into houses, moved into new jobs, started their regular routine again. It’s making me wish that I had decided to stay on for another term, another year, for life.

While I do have to be home for some of the best moments of my best friends’ lives, things that I wouldn’t miss for the world, I really only have a 6 month obligation to Toronto. I love my city, and it will be where I eventually settle down. But, unless I find the job of my dreams, meet the man of my dreams or am simply too happy to get the itchy travellers foot (how likely is that, really?) Than it’s quite likely that I could pack my bags and leave again once those 6 months are up. Now that I know just how easy it is, and just how happy it can make me, I’m ready to take on the world.

We’ll see just how much of the world I can afford in 6 months’ time though…